Billy has got his mind made up that he’s a Christian, and for him, that settles it. There’s no need to consider how much he knows about Jesus or his teachings—or how much he understands them. There’s no need to weigh out whether he has learned to reason like Jesus or treat people like Jesus. There’s no need to survey himself as to how much be believes each one of Jesus’ teachings is true and accurate and desirable. There’s no need to consider his failures, and the number of times he does in fact not act like Jesus, nor according to his teachings.
No, he is a Christian, he thinks, precisely because he thinks he is, and there’s no need to survey God’s opinion in the matter—nor Jesus’, nor to compare himself to the standards taught by the apostles in the Bible documents.
Could it be that because Jesus is far away, and is not now holding court here on Earth—and is not living in Billy’s town—that this is why it’s so easy for Billy to take such an unaccountable view of his own religion? Could he stand the heat that the apostles endured when they were near Jesus daily for those years? Could he take the correction and the training, and the rebukes when they came? It doesn’t seem so.
No, Billy is more like someone “identifying” as a this or a that, apart from the actual reality of the matter, than he is like the Christians in the Bible were taught and expected to behave. He has learned some new sensibility about it all, original to what is in the Bible–different from it. He does not consider what he owes, but only that he is himself owed—grace and forgiveness and forbearance and all manner of latitude and patience. And the more of it he requires, the more he credits himself, as with some virtue.
Indeed, he has even learned to see his own hardships as credits to his account—as worthy excuses with which to fend off accountability for his bad actions. If you press him hard enough about his bad behaviors, you’ll soon hear a litany of all the hardships he endures, as if this exempts him from the need of, or even from the desire for, virtue.
Billy and I disagree considerably as to what one might expect in a post-life interview with Jesus. I expect to be held accountable for my behaviors—to have to give an answer, and to be rightfully humbled by God’s undeniable role as the Judge of all, knowing that he has every right to reject me for my sins if he does not find me worthy, all things considered, to enjoy eternal life with him. I recognize that he is the judge, and not me. It is not up to me to decide. I recognize that he is the one–in his supreme wisdom–whose job it is to decide what to do with me. And further, that this is the best possible arrangement—better than if someone lesser being should be the judge.
But to Billy, my talk of leaving it up to God will seem misguided and ignorant and stupid. To him, he is assured of eternal life, precisely because he tells himself as much. And to question that belief is exactly what he would call “unfaithful”. So he gives himself imaginary faith points every time he resists the urge to give careful thought to his ways. And so he has got himself shuttered in, shielded from the greater part of accountability and learning and maturation. And if you press him on this, he will come after you, for he has not learned to be teachable, nor to see the value in it.
Indeed, he has likely already decided to distrust you when he ought not, just as arbitrarily as he decided to identify as one who trusts Jesus when he does not.
And too many churches have too many people like Billy. They’ll have some who aren’t—who manage to be otherwise out of respect for Jesus, where the church would be content to let them be inauthentic if they wanted. But they’ll keep many like Billy around, hoping simply that he doesn’t get out of hand too often, and become too “high-maintenance” a member to be easily handled and tolerated. And they would rather have him like this than to risk making him mad—which apt correction and rebuke would surely do.
And so they are corrupt in the matter, too, putting this tentative “peace” before truth and righteousness.
And I don’t know anybody who hasn’t been caught up in this from time to time—nor any church that isn’t riddled with it, even if they are also better at it than the next. It is the constant temptation to believe that Jesus and God are mostly all kindness, and hardly any sternness—even though the scriptures teach that both are true.
Some want only the sternness, of course, being twisted themselves. And some others want only the kindness, also being twisted, though in a different way. But the real Jesus of the real Bible is both kind and stern. And this balance leaves many looking for some alternative, it seems, as they find the real Jesus unsatisfactory and unsavory. They don’t have to go far, however, to find a church that will teach it the way they want it–often one way or the other.
And go, they do. And having found what they want, they feel wholly justified in ignoring the question all the more from then on.
And that’s my sad story, except that the apostle Paul was like this—until he wasn’t. He changed. And that means we can, too. In fact, he’s the one (being previously too much about sternness) who would eventually write the very passage I’m talking about. And this, he learned from being held accountable and from being taught.
The ones who can handle the heat can change from it. And the ones who can’t, can only pretend to be changed—or, perhaps, not to be in need of change in the first place. And these are the counterfeits who seem to fill the the better part of society. Worse than unbelievers, and muddying the waters for so many with their false religion. They are the kind that Paul and Jesus rebuked the hardest. Yet even so, a few of them finally saw the light and changed.
And this can still happen today. And that is very good.
To be unaccountable as a Christian is to be not a real Christian. It is to have a one-sided relationship with no one on the other end but one’s own projection of someone who doesn’t really exist as they are pretended. God holds people accountable.