Why I’ve never seriously considered abandoning Christianity6
The news has been filled of late with stories of so-called “de-conversions,” especially among some high-profile professing Christian leaders. I’m not here to analyze their lives or their purported reasons for turning away from Jesus. But it did get me thinking about why I am a Christian and am determined, by God’s sustaining gracious presence and power, to remain one forever.
There are, of course, numerous reasons why I find Christianity compelling: its ability to provide the most reasonable explanation for why there is something rather than nothing; the beauty, persuasive power, and self-authenticating glory of the Bible; the overwhelming evidence for the resurrection of Jesus; the existence of the church itself; together with arguments from history, fulfilled prophecy, archaeology, and the inescapable internal testimony of the Holy Spirit bearing witness to the truth of the gospel and the identity of Jesus.
But the primary reason I am a Christian and will, by God’s grace, remain so, is Jesus himself. You may recall that many of those who had been following Jesus turned away, having taken offense at his words (John 6:60-61). This prompted Jesus to ask the twelve: “Do you take offense at this?” It is as if Jesus is asking them, and us:
“Are you embarrassed by me and what I am saying? Does it cause you to want to turn away because of your fear that if other people see you with me they will laugh or make fun of you, or perhaps reject you and cut you off or ignore you? Do the things I say and claim make you feel uncomfortable? Do you wish that I would whisper in private so that others wouldn’t hear me?”
In the early days of his ministry, Jesus had a fairly large following. His teaching, his new and challenging ideas about God, his miracles, the authority he displayed when interacting with the religious leaders of Israel, all combined to mobilize large crowds to follow him.
But as soon as they began to realize that he was more than just another rabbi, that he insisted on exclusive devotion to himself, as soon as he claimed that he alone was the way to eternal life, their applause ceased and they simply left.
Consider how this happens all the time in today’s world. People walk into our building at Bridgeway Church out of curiosity. They’ve heard of us. They are intrigued and curious. Perhaps a friend has invited them to attend. At first, they like the music and the freedom and passion of our worship. Maybe they enjoy the knowledge that comes from listening to my sermons. Then, suddenly, they truly hear and understand what we’re saying, or more accurately, they hear and understand what Jesus is saying. They realize that we really mean what we sing! They are gripped with the realization that what we point out in Scripture is reality, and that eternal life is found only in Jesus, to the exclusion of every other religion and every other leader.
They soon stop coming. When asked why, they may respond by saying, “Well, this isn’t at all what I bargained for. You people actually believe what the Bible says. That’s more than I can swallow.” And they disappear.
It makes one wonder how Jesus felt about so many turning away, so many who before loudly applauded him but now reject him. It’s quite clear that he wasn’t in the least surprised by it. In fact, he knew from the get-go who didn’t truly believe in him. And he actually cites the example of Judas Iscariot. It’s as if he says, “even among my closest companions there is one who will take offense at me and eventually betray me” (John 6:64, 70-71).
Was he hurt by it all? Not in the sense in which you and I might be hurt. He was self-confident and secure. He knew who he was and what he had come to do. But he was undoubtedly grieved at the thought that so many who left would never find elsewhere or in anyone else what they most needed.
So, he turns to the twelve and says: “Well, what about you guys? Am I an embarrassment to you too? Make up your mind. Most everyone else has left. Do you want to go with them?” Peter speaks up not only for himself but for the others as well:
“Where would we go? To whom would we turn? You alone have the words that are true and life-giving” (see John 6:68).
They had been with him long enough to know that to leave him now would be ridiculous and would serve no good purpose. My guess is that Peter and the others reflected on what they had seen and heard:
Here was a man devoid of hypocrisy, unlike the Pharisees and Scribes.
Here as a man whom we also know to be God.
Here is a man who cleansed lepers merely by touching them.
Here is a man who knows the deepest and most secretive thoughts of our hearts.
Here is a man who can walk on water!
Here is a man who would engage a Samaritan woman in conversation and disclose to her the most intimate secrets of her life.
Here is a man who could heal and raise up a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years.
Here is a man of such gentleness, yet unyielding authority; a man of power and compassion; a man of love and justice.
It’s as if Peter said to him: “No one ever spoke like you. No one ever acted like you. No one has ever been so strong and yet so meek, so tough and yet so tender, so authoritative and yet so gentle, so profound in his teaching yet so simple in how you say it, so willing to be killed for sins he did not commit, so worthy of honor and yet so willing to be dishonored, so deserving of immediate and unqualified obedience and yet so patient with people like us, so capable of answering all of our questions and yet so willing to remain silent under abuse. There is no one like you, Jesus. Where do you suggest we go? To whom else do you suggest we give our lives?”
It’s breathtaking to think that what offended others, attracted Peter. What they hated about Jesus, Peter loved. What they found intolerable, Peter enjoyed. What disgusted them, delighted Peter. “Lord,” says Peter, “your words are filled with life! Your heart is filled with mercy! Where else are we going to go to find anyone who can do for us what you can do?”
You know what a Christian is? A Christian is the person who has nowhere else to go. Of course, that’s not because there aren’t other religions and other leaders and teachers. There are countless philosophies and alternative ways of explaining reality. But they all come up short!
So, if someone asked you why you are a Christian, why do you follow Jesus and not Muhammad or Buddha or some other religious faith; why are you not an atheist, what would you say? Aside from the reasons cited earlier, why do you give your life, time, money, and efforts to Jesus? If asked, I would respond by saying what Peter did: “To whom shall I go?” . . .
Nobody else will love me the way Jesus does.
Nobody else tells me the truth like Jesus does.
No one else will always be there when I need him most, like Jesus is.
No one else can comfort me in suffering like Jesus can.
Nobody else can reassure my heart when doubts arise, like Jesus does.
Nobody else can give me peace in the midst of turmoil, like Jesus does.
Nobody else can teach with the authority that Jesus has.
Nobody else will accept me as I am, no strings attached, the way Jesus does.
Nobody else can die for my sins the way Jesus did.
No one else has ever risen from the dead the way Jesus did.
No one intercedes for me at the right hand of the Father the way Jesus does.
There is no philosophy, no political party, no power, no amount of money or prestige that can do for me what Jesus does.
The resolve of the disciples to stay with Jesus wasn’t because of any high hopes they had for fame and fortune. It wasn’t because he promised them power and wealth and comfort. They didn’t stay out of ignorance, simply because they didn’t know any better. They stayed because they knew who he was: as John 6:69 makes clear: “You are the Holy One of God!” You are Messiah, Lord, King, Redeemer, God in human flesh.
Let me ask all of you the same question today. “To whom will you go? What will you believe?” Will you run to a form of spirituality that denies the reality of sin, to those who insist our problem is merely one of bad education or adverse influence? Will you align yourself with those who tell you that personal faith in Jesus is too narrow and exclusive, that God will in the end save all who are sincere? Will you run to another religious system that assures you any sexual expression you desire is entirely permissible? After all, it is only your will that matters, not God’s.
Or perhaps you will run to and embrace the ever-increasing number of professing atheists. There simply is no God, and if there is no God, I can live however I choose and believe whatever makes me happy. But, of course, if there is no God and we are all no more than the accidental conglomeration of random molecules, there is no basis for saying one system of belief is true and another false, or that one action is evil and another good.
In the final analysis, I am a Christian and will, by God’s sustaining grace, remain so throughout my life . . . because of Jesus. After all, if not to Jesus, to whom else shall I go? He has the words of eternal life (John 6:68).