"We are not here to entice you into our religion by benefits allegedly found only in it. We are here to introduce you to the true God, for whatever he can do with you—which may well be suffering and oppression." —Philip Melanchthon
I read this quote a few days ago and I've not been able to shake it. It's actually haunted me a bit. Even though Melanchton, a contemporary of and collaborator with Martin Luther, spoke these words almost 500 years ago, they are a prophetic challenge to us today. I think about how many books and sermons and Christian TV programs speak to how we can have a better life if we follow Jesus. I've reflected on how I've shared Jesus with unbelievers and tried to entice them to follow Jesus with benefits.
The problem is that the focus on the benefits gets in the way of the relationship. I'm not saying that there are not benefits to following Jesus. I was a depressed, friendless mess before I made myself vulnerable to the love of God. My life did a radical u-turn in almost every aspect after I humbled myself before God. I moved from knowing about God to knowing God. As a result, there were benefits.
When we focus on the desired benefits, we set up conditions for achieving those benefits. Larry Crabb calls it the law of linearity in his book The Pressure's Off. By it he means: "a law that states there is an A that leads you the B you want. Figure out what A is, do it, and you'll have the life you most desire. The pressure's on."
He is challenging the kind of Christianity that tells us that doing the right things will get what we want out of our life with God. As a result, when when life does not work the way we want it to we focus on what we are doing wrong. When things are going well, then we develop a set of life principles or practical steps to follow so that we can keep getting the desired results.
While we might do the right things (A) to get the life that we want, we miss out on the reality of actually being in relationship with God. We relate instead to a set of rules or principles that gets us the right kind of life that we think we want. This allows us to stay in control of life. Sometimes this life control approach of doing the right things (A) actually works and we get what we want (B) and sometimes it does not. But never does it lead us to our true hearts desire, that is relationship with the God of love. Crabb writes:
"The spiritual journey is rooted in liberty, the freedom of grace. Come as you are, trembling, and learn to rest. Then go out into life doing what's right because you're privileged to do so, because you want to be holy, not because doing right is the way to a pleasant life. Life may provide rich blessings. Or it may not. Either way you can know God."