There is an ad appearing on one of our city’s electronic billboard—it provocatively asks: HOW HAS CHRISTIANITY FAILED YOU? It then invites people to send in their stories.
When I am stuck in traffic and have to watch this ad come up three or four times, I want to shout—“sure, Christians fail, churches fail.” That’s never been news. For the past 20 years I have been a pastor. There are lots of times I’ve let people down. While the two churches I’ve served have had amazing ministries to our communities, there were times when we failed as well.
Now I am a seminary president. I know full well that religion can be twisted, and that Christians do not always live up to Jesus’ teachings.
In fact, one of the requirements for being a Christian is that we must confess our failures—our sin! Go to one of our churches and you will likely hear Christians confessing the way they and Christianity have failed. It is the only religion I know where our failure becomes a part of the liturgy.
But the heart of Christianity boasts not in the righteousness of Christ’s followers but in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Paul’s letter to the Romans emphatically states that “there is no one who is righteous, not even one.” It celebrates a gospel where there is a righteousness revealed from heaven, from God. It is the righteousness of God’s Son Jesus Christ. This gospel states that we can be justified freely by God’s grace through Christ and his saving, atoning death. God pardons sinners as we put out faith in him, and accepts us through the righteousness of Christ. Christ is our life. Christians don’t spend much time celebrating Christianity. We celebrate Jesus.
As we trust him and follow him and draw our life from him, he inevitably has a transforming effect on our lives.
His good influence on my family now goes back at least three generations. It started with my grandmother who was a suicidal teenager. After wanting to take her own life, someone shared hope with her and told her about God’s love in Christ. My grandfather was a jaded soldier returning from the Great War. When he came under the influence of Jesus, his life dramatically changed as well. He was delivered from substance abuse and committed himself to love my grandmother and sacrifice for his children. And they both gave to my dad what they themselves never had—a legacy of love and a foundation for a full life. But the foundation and change agent was Christ.
Jesus’ good influence extends to me and my family today. It is his gospel of grace that provides freedom, forgiveness and joy to me. His Word helps me make sense of this world—that it was created by a good God, spoiled because of human rebellion. Yet God so loved this world that he sent his Son as its savior. There is hope for the future in Him.
Jesus’ influence has helped me love my wife and sacrifice for my family. Like everyone else, I wrestle with the natural selfishness of my own heart. But it is through Christ that I find the strength to look beyond myself and consider the needs of others.
It is also amazing when one considers the positive influence of Jesus through history. He sets people free from generational cycles of bondage. He has brought the gift of dignity to the least, the last and the lost in countless cultures. His influence has brought “social lift” to the poor all around the world. His teachings have inspired a vast humanitarian impulse. His followers have brought the gifts of language and literacy to one people group after another. His followers have been pioneers in health care founding clinics and hospitals everywhere. Jesus’ influence has profoundly affected the fields of art, music, science, education and leadership.
Read a book like one of the ones I reference below and you may end up agreeing with Philips Brooks, who said, “All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one solitary life.”
Scripture say of Jesus—in him is LIFE, that “from his fullness we have received one blessing after another.”
Failed me?! Hardly. Immensely transformed my life and the lives of countless others? That’s more accurate.
Perhaps that is why I have taken on my new position as president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. It is because spreading the influence of Jesus still really matters.
For Further Reading:
What if Jesus Had Never Been Born, D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994)
“The Gift of Dignity: Where would civilization be today without Christian notions of compassion and solidarity?” Michael Novak, (Christianity Today, December 6, 1999)
The Case For Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity, Lee Strobel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000)
How Christianity Changed the World, Alvin J. Schmidt, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004)
Six Modern Myths About Christianity and Western Civilization, Philip J. Sampson(Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000)
What Has Christianity Ever Done For Us? How it Shaped the Modern World, Jonathan Hill, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005)
Has Christianity Failed You? Ravi Zacharias, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010)