Have you noticed the general tendency in daily life to create neat little compartments where we perform “God-time”? God-time happens at church, in the prayer before we eat, or perhaps in daily devotionals. It is a happy little time that is sectioned off from the rest of our life because, well, not because God isn’t important all the time but because He just doesn’t fit into certain contexts, like work. Work-time is work-time. Work-time has nothing to do with God-time. God-time is holy and sacred – set apart. Work-time is material and worldly – common, of no eternal consequence. As is “eat-time”, “sleep-time”, “TV-time”, “Facebook-time”, etc, you get the point.
The problem with this view—this way of existing—is that it simply cannot be done. It is not representative of the actual teachings of Christianity, nor is it possible existentially. Try as we might, we are simply unable to segment our life like this. Even if at times we are successful at being one person at work, school, play, and another person before God or in church, the only one who is fooled is the fool who thinks he is getting away with such a double existence.
Christianity has forever guarded itself from such attempts at double existence. It has done this, in part, by being an offense. Isa 8:14 describes God as not just a sanctuary but as a rock of offense. Jesus, while teaching the way of the kingdom, said on a number of occasions: “blessed is he who is not offended at Me” (Lk 7:23). Paul said that if he preached a Christianity that was simply a reiteration of the old law, “then the offense of the cross has ceased” (Gal 5:11). But why would the gospel be an offense? Is it not just the opposite—the “good news”. Indeed the gospel is good news for the those who recognizes their lost condition and are repentant. But the real good news of the gospel evades those who simply want to add Jesus to their endless repertoire of self-help guides and attach themselves to some isolated sayings of Christ. Rarely do such shallow views of Christianity perceive that “when Christ calls a man,” wrote the great theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “he bids him come and die.”
Take for example the story of the rich young ruler found in Matthew 19:16-22. This young man expected to find a wise teacher (“rabbi”), a guide who would point him in the right direction. Instead what he found was the way, the truth, and the life. He found God. He was expecting a wise teacher who would tickle his academic curiosity about God. What he was not expecting was to be confronted with God Himself who would make an absolute, either/or, claim on his obedience. After some dialogue, the encounter is finally stripped to its fundamental, eternal seriousness. Jesus tells the rich young man to sell all that he possessed, give it to the poor, and come follow Him. What the young man did next is both honorable and disturbing. He turned from Christ and went away sad. Honorable in that he dropped his pretense of following God and “went away,” rather than continue to fool himself. It was likewise disturbing because when faced with the invitation of Christ Himself to follow, he chose the god whom he trusted more (riches) and went away in the only state possible for one in such a state of existence—he went away “full of sorrow”.
This story is not a commentary on those “wicked rich folk”. The problem confronting both rich and poor is the same—devotion to money (or, more generally, devotion to something at the expense of devotion to Christ). What this story illustrates, as does nearly every encounter recorded in Scripture, is the blaring contradiction of a life bent on serving two masters. One cannot neatly separate God-time from work-time, God-time from entertainment-time, etc, for the simple reason that one cannot have God on their own terms. To be baptized in Christ is to be baptized into His death. And just as Christ was raised from the dead so we also walk in newness of life according to His life (Rom 6:3-4). One cannot “unbirth” themselves from Christ and return to their otherwise God-free zones of life. This is what separates Christ from philosophy and religion. He is not an object that satisfies idle curiosity during a planned weekly inspection. He is the subject with which other subjects (believers) subject themselves to.
Herein lays the offense.
Christ does not require his followers to simply obey a list of clearly defined rules and regulations, nor does He offer a “do-it-yourself” spirituality, the kind of which has always been the natural instinct of humanity. All at once He offends both the one who wants self-justification and the one denies the need for justification. “Where is one to worship, on this mountain or that one” asked the woman at the well. Jesus responded saying, “the hour is coming and now is when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:20-23). The offense is that God wants to reside in His followers and not in temples and mountain tops. There is no hiding from God when He lives within you! There is no outward observance of God or good work that will suffice if the inner reality of the follower is not involved. Consequently, neither does internal “mind-faith” substitute for outward observance and good works. That God would require us to die to our own life and to take up His life is the message from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. The gospel is at once the most beautiful and most terrifying proposal ever. Perhaps the most important part of the life of faith in Christ is found at the very beginning of the journey—the offense.
Blessed is he who is not offended at Christ; God help those who seek to remove the offense at the prospect of filling church pews.