Muslims think Jesus is a great prophet, but that’s all. Spiritual types believe all roads, including Jesus, lead to God. Cultural Christians go to church occasionally but never surrender their lives to Him. Public schools tolerate Christians as long as they never audibly utter the name of Jesus. A Barna Group study found that 47 percent of Christian Millennials agree “it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.”
It would seem that many people like Jesus but don’t love Him. Our culture appears to accept those who like Jesus but not those who love Him. However, according to Jesus:
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24)
“Whoever is not with me is against me.” (Luke 11:23)
Those statements, taken at face value, characterize the available options (for one’s feelings about Jesus) as binary – love or hate. C.S. Lewis’s trilemma (lunatic, liar or Lord) actually paints a binary picture – “You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
In this era of fuzzy lines and political correctness, we want to believe in a third option, but it doesn’t exist. Man’s thinking may evolve but God’s does not. A world that adamantly rejects distinctions and absolutes attempts to pull everyone toward the middle, where there is no truth, opinions or controversies. Jesus, on the other hand, says that everyone must take a position on either end of the spectrum, such that even “brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child”.
As we will see, modern church growth models are contributing toward the mistaken impression that it is possible simply to like Jesus.
What’s Wrong with Liking Jesus?
How someone feels about Jesus can be distilled by examining where that person’s confidence, trust and hope lie:
- Confidence – In human intellect or in (seeking to know) God’s will
- Trust – In man’s conventions or God’s Kingdom
- Hope – In this life alone or in life after death
Each of us is fundamentally dependent on self or the Holy Spirit. We worship and serve God or money. We give credit and thanksgiving to God or we don’t. We hold a world view that’s perceived either as normal and acceptable or unreasonable and (possibly even) uncivil.
Whereas each of those alternatives boils down to a matter of choice, most churches ignore the warnings to the church in Revelation 3:16 – “So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Pastors hesitate to challenge congregants to take sides, concerned that raising expectations to biblical levels risks an exodus of biblical proportions. In an effort to attract and retain congregants, they leave churchgoers with the impression that straddling the line – in effect, “liking” Jesus – is acceptable to the Lord. They define church as a place, throttle back on discipleship, encourage inviting more than evangelizing, and rarely confront sin. Those unwilling to choose sides come and go as they please, dipping their toes in the proverbial water without commitment for years on end.
Is Hate Too Strong a Word?
Lukewarm believers and non-believers alike have made their decision – they value the world more than Jesus. Attempts to push them closer to Jesus are met with strong resistance. Requests to change their lives or make personal sacrifices are quickly brushed aside – armed with excuses, opinions and agendas. Those unwilling to follow Jesus – and all that entails – are not casual in their reluctance to surrender. It’s not a matter of like or dislike – it’s love or hate. People either want Jesus (an authentic picture of who He is and what He said about how we should live) as close as possible or as far away as possible.
We see countless references to God and Christianity in the news, TV shows, movies and online media outlets. The amount of attention our faith garners shows that secular media is preoccupied with Jesus, but not out of a love (or like) for Him. Most of those allusions are cast in a negative light, with an agenda of discrediting Christianity. In the same breath, they sell and glamorize sex, celebrity and greed – showing their anti-God platform is rooted in being pro-sin.
In their marketing, businesses today play on selfish ambition (“You’re just one product away from self-respect, popularity and happiness.”), self-absorption (“You deserve it. You’re worth it.”) and selfishness (“Be the first of your friends to have this.”). Companies profit from poor or overblown self-perceptions, serving money and defying God by exploiting our deepest, darkest temptation to choose self over Jesus.
Schools at all educational levels, particularly universities, have become altars to human intellect. Only observable fact may be taught on a secular campus and the existence of a Creator cannot be proven via scientific method. Talk of faith is ridiculed as ignorant or vilified as offensive. My son was told last week that he could not talk about God at his middle school, yet the expletive “G.D.” was used in a movie shown to his class a couple days earlier. Apparently, students can only mention God’s name if they are cursing Him. It takes a tremendous amount of faith to place such an enormous bet on human intelligence in light of the expanse and complexity of the universe, DNA or even the ability to reason. Yet in their contempt for God, most educators abandon intellect and choose a belief system that requires even greater faith – that we are all cosmic accidents.
Special Interest Groups
Many segments of society have something to gain by placing their confidence, trust and hope in man-made conventions. If their focus is primarily or exclusively on this life, then they will value government leaders over the Lord’s authority and our legal system over God’s commands – all for their personal benefit. Those grounded in the here and now are highly attune to their personal rights and needs, fighting vigorously to ensure human institutions protect and provide, rather than looking to God first.
Selfism drives today’s culture. Its adherents find it impossible to love (or like) God because they cherish principles in direct opposition to scripture:
- Each individual has the power to define his/her own truth and identity
- Elevation of self rather than dying to self
- Freedom from customs, rules or subservience to authority (of God, in particular)
- Inalienable right to do whatever brings happiness or pleasure, without criticism
Under the guise of compassion, Selfists vehemently speak out on behalf of others in defense of those principles to ensure their preservation, strengthening the “force field” insulating themselves from subjection to God’s principles.
Can We Love Haters to Jesus?
The world demands we do nothing more than “like” Jesus. Truly loving Jesus makes people, even many believers, very uncomfortable. Selfism associates love with diligent efforts to make sure no one feels uncomfortable. So how can we lead those who hate (whether they know it or not) the authentic, life-changing picture of Jesus to know and love Him?
The first step is to understand that God’s definition of love (Agape) is not the same as society’s definition. The love (from God) that fuels evangelism to bring hope to the hopeless far surpasses the worldly “love” of avoiding discomfort. God is love, so speaking truth about Him in essence is acting in love. However, sharing about God’s love can be done in an unloving way. Jesus demonstrated His love first (through acts of service like feeding and healing) before telling people who He is. Jesus had the perfect words so we can’t possibly “outpreach” Him; therefore, we should follow His example and precede “sharing” with “caring”.
Once our acts of compassion have opened ears to hear about the source of the love we’ve shown them, we should share about Jesus with both boldness and kindness. As Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” John 14:1 says that Jesus was “full of grace and truth”. Those who do not know Jesus do not know truth or grace. Grace understands that their words and actions are opposed to Jesus only because they don’t have a relationship with Him. Truth understands that they are most likely to begin a relationship with Jesus if they hear truth blended seamlessly with grace. We must compromise in neither grace nor truth in our presentation of the Gospel to those who (maybe unwittingly) hate Jesus.
It’s Your Turn
Do you know of examples of people who (from your perspective prior to reading this blog post) “like” Jesus? Has this article changed your view on the feasibility of “liking” Jesus?