Thomas a Kempis wrote, “Jesus has many lovers of His heavenly Kingdom, but few bearers of His cross.” It was an open acknowledgment that Jesus has many admirers, but few followers – many who would eat of His loaves, but few who would stoop to wash another’s feet. For, if we dare to be honest, we would likely be drawn to admit that while we speak of love and we lift high the truth that God is love, we seldom pause to consider that love, which is a call beyond warm feelings, willingly embraces sacrifice. Unfortunately, in our consumer-driven brand of Christianity, the idea of personal sacrifice – of a faith that costs something – is woefully absent in its practical application. Indeed, we are far more likely to laud “the Gospel of prosperity” – the “name-it-and-claim-it” theology that has come to dominate Christian literature as well as worship – than the so-called “Good News of sharing in Christ’s afflictions.” In that way, we have invented and further developed a user-friendly, low-commitment, version of Christianity – a religion of tolerance, but devoid of love – that has more in common with our culture than with Christ’s unyielding call to sacrifice.
Tolerance is that tendency to turn a blind eye to sin in an effort to be inclusive. It elevates blind acceptance over at the expense of caring and political correctness at the expense of legitimate compassion for others. In that way, tolerance becomes the most insidious form of violence as its motivated, not so much by a concern for others, as it is a desire to avert the personal sacrifices required of love that are presented in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8a:
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (NKJV)
Unlike tolerance then, love recognizes the cost of action and willingly pays the price. Love holds out compassion by refusing to water-down the truth for the sake of pious-sounding platitudes. Loves calls sin, sin and lays down its life to cover it. In that way, love is self-sacrificing rather than self-preserving or self-aggrandizing; it commits all and holds nothing back. And for these reasons, love is sometimes seen as offensive, but it is never offensive for the sake of divisiveness or at the intended expense of relationship. Rather, love is offensive because it refuses to accept – it refuses to tolerate – that even one most remain lost, that a brother or sister be left to stumble in darkness or that even one suffer need. Love is offensive only in its sheer refusal to fail – in its passion, which cannot be quenched! But, which of us has been willing – even wanting – to pay the price to truly love? Are we really committed to following Christ or are we content to remain thoroughly entrenched in our culture?
Christianity must be something more than “after-life insurance.” It must be something more than a self-help, feel-good, religion. It must be (and it is) a life that is found in death – a life marked by sacrifice and defined by love. Christ, after all, does not call us to follow Him to a culture of tolerance, but to a cross of reconciliation. It is a journey that requires commitment – a journey of personal sacrifice that finds its practical application in acts of love.
Christianity is a called to commit all that we are to Jesus Christ – to lay our lives down in service to our God. It is not a casual faith, but a life. And, in the same way, the Christian Church is not to be a temple to tolerance or a fellowship of privilege, but a community of committed disciples who testify as one that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1: 21, NKJV). Will you take up your cross and follow?