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“That is not Jesus.”
I find myself repeating those words in coffee shops, Zoom chats and text exchanges more frequently these days than ever before. My life is filled with interactions with teens and young adults who feel like they’re at a spiritual crossroad. They observe the most vitriolic expressions of Christianity in North America and can’t find a coherence between the principles they were raised with and what is being bellowed in God’s name by messengers and mercenaries, from pulpits, street corners and social media platforms.
What these perceptive critical-thinkers have witnessed and heard has altered their perspective on faith, far too often in a damaging way—and statistics are beginning to back up what I’ve been fearing for so long: they’re walking away. Faith-curious and faith-steeped alike. They’re walking away.
The spiritual connection their soul may have once yearned for has begun to feel corrupted and unsafe. They don’t recognize this God getting credit for hateful words and actions.
And so, they’re moving on. Sometimes in grief, sometimes in anger, which—let’s be honest—are two sides of the same coin. Young people who may have once believed or wanted to give faith a chance are rejecting it outright, because the slow evisceration of their trust and ideals feels too painful to endure for long.
If you are one of those who feel deceived and disenfranchised, I want you to know that I hear you. I’ve felt it too. And here is the truth I want you to consider:
- Any person or movement that uses its Christian label to harm or diminish others does not represent what true faith is.
- Any person or movement that uses its Christian label to elevate itself to a place of greedy power does not represent what true faith is.
- Any person or movement that uses its Christian label to legitimize hate, dishonesty, corruption and injustice does not represent what true faith is.
Young person—young adult—please know that your qualms are valid.
I see your bright, analytical minds sifting through the soundbites, threats and promises and finding nothing of Jesus underneath the faith-façade.
I hear the disgust and disenchantment in your words. There is so much in the loudest voices of cultural and political Christianity that flies in the face of all you were taught growing up in the church, of all you’ve tried to be, of all you know God wants the world to see.
Please. Don’t. Give. Up.
The Jesus of the Bible is not the one you’ve been shown by the famous feuders who claim to speak for him or in the policies purportedly based on his commands. Though they may contain vague traces of my God, if they contradict his heart, his purposes and his will, they are not of him.
Faith above all is a relationship. It is not about power or influence.
It’s seeking and knowing a person who through the mystery of faith—that indescribable connection in one’s spirit and soul—is just as alive today as when he walked this earth.
Faith is about intimately recognizing him and ceaselessly growing toward a deeper understanding of who he truly is.
Out of that bond will come—must come—the trait by which John 13:35 tells us we’ll be known: Love. It is a giving, investing, sacrificing, challenging, building and freeing kind of love that cannot be found in stature or in clout.
It is the kind of love that elevates others while diminishing oneself. It is a calm, benevolent, unafraid, unflinching force. Unconcerned with temporary gain. Strengthened and fulfilled by closely following him.
If it is not truthful
If it is not loving
If it is not selfless
— it is not Jesus.
I must add this: if you have it in you to give him one more try, seek Him in the descriptions of those who knew him best. In the way he treated criminals, outcasts and heathens. In the way he honored women, men and children regardless of rank, wealth or party.
Look for him not in the shrillest voices that claim to speak for him, but in the less visible light-bearers whose quiet faith embodies the character and passions of their Lord: kindness, compassion, humility, joy and sacrifice. Concern for the hurting. Devotion to the needy.
He was—he is—the healer. Comforter. Restorer. Provider. Motivator. Convicter. Speaker of truth.
Bestower of honor. Condemner of corruption. Repudiator of hypocrisy and pride. Neither lured by power nor tempted by wealth, he is wrapped in a love that cannot be severed.
That Jesus is the core of an authentic faith, the foundation on whom true Christianity is built. That Jesus cannot be coopted by political strategy or cultural debate. That Jesus cannot be used to justify depravity, manipulation and deceit.
Please don’t let those who are his antithesis define for you who Jesus is.
Seek him. Study him. Learn from those who reflect him. And trust what believers across the centuries have found to be true: that authentic faith is neither abusive nor power hungry. It is a relationship with a living, active God who challenges, heals, restores and transforms us—and through us changes the world for good.
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