It seems to me the world has a very skewed view about what living a Christian life looks like. For some reason, people believe that following Jesus is about not doing certain things. I can't help but think this is due in part to our portrayal of God as a grumpy, old man sitting on the porch, enjoying a glass of tea, all the while waiting to pounce on anyone who strays off the sidewalk onto his lush green lawn. We've turned God into a soul reaver--someone that prides themselves on killing the souls of men by sucking every last ounce of joy out of life. Growing up, I used to have a view of God much like this. But I have to tell you, I'm beginning to see him in a much different light.
I wonder if some of this has to do with people who claim to follow the way of Jesus while standing on the corner holding signs reading 'Turn or Burn,' 'God H8ts Gays,' 'Baby Killer,' 'Hell is Hot,' or 'Judgment Day Is Near.' And then there's my personal favorite, 'What Would Jesus Do?' For starters, I'm certain he wouldn't stand on the corner holding a sign for hours on end. If for some odd reason he did, I have a feeling he wouldn't try to convey his message using text lingo or emoticons. Nor do I believe they would have messages like these.
Or perhaps the reason most of us live in fear of God is because we do in fact paint him as a judgemental fun sucker. All of those Sunday morning sermons about everything you should abstain from come to mind. There's the movies and television shows you shouldn't watch. And then there are the stores you should avoid. Of course, you aren't supposed to get tattoos or piercings. Listening to secular music is a no no. Don't forget that you aren't supposed to swear. Don't forget that "you shouldn't drink or smoke or chew, or run with girls who do." Oh yeah, I almost forgot all those things the Ten Commandments forbid us to do.
All of this negativity has resulted in a world that knows more about what God and Christianity are against than what they are for!
I will be the first to admit there are things in my life that have changed--and some that still need to--since I decided to follow Christ. I have had to get rid of certain habits. There were attitudes that definitely needed to go. I had to say goodbye to a few relationships. I even had to do away with certain hobbies. On one hand, following Jesus certainly does require that I refrain from certain things. But what we are to avoid isn't the whole story. The fact that we think Jesus came to take the fun out of life only goes to show his message has been hi-jacked.
As much as it seems that God enjoys telling us no, I don't think that's really the case. God, like a good father, would much rather tell his children "Yes!" Granted, he clearly establishes some boundaries with the Ten Commandments (like any good father would do). And you would be correct in assuming they do in fact discuss things we are to avoid. But they are there for a reason. I have a hunch that if you were to ask God why, he wouldn't flippantly respond with, "Because I said so!" Instead, you would hear some quite sound reasoning as to why he has established these particular guidelines. God would inform you these guidelines are in place to protect you. He might even offer you some reasons--Why can't you live a life of sexual immorality? To protect you physically, emotionally, and spiritually; Why can you not live a life devoted to drunkenness and drugs? To keep you healthy and to protect you from addiction. Why should you tithe? To, among other things, teach you fiscal responsibility. Why can you not simply do everything your heart desires? Because the heart can be deceitful.
You should also notice the timing in which God presents The Ten Commandments. He doesn't lay out these guidelines with Adam and Eve in the Garden. The Bible doesn't open with a list of things we should and shouldn't do. Rather, it begins with a story. The story of creation to be exact. Through this story God establishes his infinite wisdom and power. He then spends a great deal of time building rapport with creation. Time and time again God reveals Himself to humanity and proves Himself faithful before attempting to establish these guidelines. In His vast wisdom, God knows that we wouldn't have listened until we realized He was there for us, has our best interest in mind, and wants what is best. After countless years, God finally gives the Ten Commandments to Moses to give to His people.
Maybe it's time we look at Christianity through a different lens. Instead of focusing on all the things God says we are to avoid, how about we focus on everything he says we are to participate in. Perhaps then, we can gain a proper view of what God desires.
Let's start this discussing by taking into account the reality of our free will. We were not created as mechanical things in which our behavior has already been determined. God has not predetermined everything, making our choices irrelevant. Upon close inspection of most of the New Testament, you will notice a lot of "ifs." It seems to me Jesus makes a lot of suggestions, emphasizing the fact that God doesn't force his will upon any of us. The power to choose has, and will, always lie with us.
All of this has lead me to some eye opening conclusions.
First, I realize that God is much more in favor of life than we are. It is his desire that we live life to the fullest by bringing as much of Heaven as we can to Earth. He calls us to participate in redeeming every aspect of creation along with Him. This, again, is why He has given us various guidelines on life. Things like greed, materialism, envy, hatred, idolatry and adultery (just to name a few) only diminish and destroy life. They remove from us the sacredness and value of both life and humanity. Understanding this, I now see that every guideline and boundary He has established validates, promotes and leads to life.
Then we have Jesus informing us that "[He has] come that [we] may have life abundantly." From my understating, there is nothing restraining about abundant life. Abundance is, by definition more than we require or can even handle. This reiterates why God has asked us to refrain from certain things--so that we may live life to its fullest. In following this suggestion, life will truly be more than we could ever hope or imagine.
I have also come to know a God with limitless possibilities. If we focus on what we are not to do, life seems dull and boring. Following a God who is in the business of bringing forth abundant life through redemption, shouldn't be dull and boring. When we see this, we realize that God has given us, almost, a limitless number of "yeses". Only then will life can life truly be found in abundance. Lucky for us, all that's required to see God in this way is to open our eyes.
Paul tells us, in his letter to the Philippian church, "And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." It's important to notice this passage doesn't put any focus on things we are to refrain from (granted, those things might be inferred). Rather, Paul opens the door of opportunity for us as followers of Jesus. Instead of focusing on the "can nots" he places the focus on the "cans." We can focus on, pursue, and enjoy whatever is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Whatever is a lot; and that's a lot of whatevers!
Again, in Romans 14 Paul tells us the same thing, "For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God. And other people will approve of you, too."
This is why I no longer see a God of limitation, but a god of opportunity. Living life from this perspective will be far greater and have a broader impact. Isn't this a much bigger and better view of following God than we tend to have?