I saw an interview with a well known actress who was known to be a Christian, and a few days later another interview with a famous singer who claimed to be Christian - yet both women interspersed their interviews with cussing and the worldly circles they lived as part of their lifestyle.
I thought right then all they’ve done is add Jesus to their lives but they don’t want Him to change them – just make the quality of their lives better please, as long as it isn’t too challenging or require changing anything about themselves.
By contrast, when my wife and I got saved we weren’t just asking Jesus into our lives to enhance the quality of our lives – we were coming to Him that He would change us and use us in any way He desired.
We wanted Him and His changes in us so much we lost friends and felt sad for them, gave up education and business opportunities because compared to knowing the Father and Lord pale by comparison, and over the years continually turned down opportunities in business that would have made us earthly rich but heavenly poor.
Today we see this struggle in the body of Christ – those who want Jesus in their lives only to the extent He doesn’t challenge them or require changes, versus those who bring the whole of themselves to Jesus and ask Him to change, grow, knock down and rebuild their lives with free reign, no matter what it takes.
These same things can be seen by comparing Emperor Constantine with Patrick of Ireland.
In the year 313 AD, a little over 200 years after the apostle John died, Emperor Constantine signed the Edict of Milan, which legalized Christianity. It is important to note he Edict of Milan granted tolerance for Christians, but also granted freedom of worship for all people no matter what deity they worshipped.
Constantine did not convert the Roman Empire to Jesus; He brought Jesus into the Roman Empire. Worship of Rome’s gods and goddesses continued without interruption alongside Jesus. Rome wanted Jesus, but only to the extent He didn’t require them to give up their other idols.
That’s how many Christians live; they say they love Jesus, but in fact they love Him only to the extent He asks them to grow, change, humble themselves, and/or obey Him. If He presents opportunity for growth when they are offended, their opinion is challenged, or someone does something they don’t agree with, they back away choosing to justify their actions by blaming the other person.
They want Jesus to answer prayer, grant favor, heal, provide for their needs, but when He asks them to forgive, deal with bitterness, walk in love and patience, they turn away, cutting off friendships, leaving churches, refuse to talk, email, call, or text whoever they are angry with that there might be reconciliation.
As long as Jesus doesn’t mess with their carnality and immaturity (gods & idols) Jesus is welcome.
Let me introduce you to Patrick of Ireland
Patrick’s ministry to Ireland was a mere 30 years, roughly 431 to about 461 AD. He is generally regarded as the first missionary since the original apostles! Here is something else remarkable: When he died in 461 AD the Roman Empire was crumbling into chaos, while Ireland was rising out of chaos into peace and security all thanks to him. What did Patrick do that Constantine didn’t?
Constantine brought Jesus into Roman culture; Patrick brought Ireland into Jesus’s culture
Everything he taught could be traced back to God as the Creator of man, nature, and all good things, holding man accountable to Himself, and as such every decision involving people should be made with that in mind.
He showed them a Christian was brave, honest, and a person of peace even at the risk of being murdered, knowing God and having faith meant He would make all things right in the end.
When the clan leaders wanted to attack and enslave a neighboring clan, Patrick stood up to them showing them scripture, telling them from the letter to Philemon that slaves are people created by God, therefore slavery is wrong. His foundation and all his teaching was built around God as Creator, and that all suffering was temporary and He was the Great Judge of all and would make all things right in the end.
He taught them that as they were created by God they naturally had some of His traits in themselves and in their culture they admired so much, like loyalty and living generous lives. This meant they could have a lifestyle of those qualities if they walked with God, and He would bring out even more traits they admired – as a way of life that was whole heartedly devoted to Him.
He took the good in their culture and linked those characteristics to the goodness of God, and within 30 years Ireland rejected their old gods and goddesses and became a single nation serving living God.
The question for each person facing opportunity for growth: Are we Constantine, or Patrick?
If we are offended by a friend and we know Jesus wants us to forgive and do all we can to repair the relationship, what do we do when He deals with us? Do we bring that hurt to Him and work through it, laying our anger and unforgiveness at the foot of the cross as Patrick would, or do we retain that bitterness as part of the other gods in our lives and just go on living, allowing idols and Jesus to coexist as Constantine would?
Are we harboring sin in our hearts, only letting Jesus in to the extent He doesn’t challenge us, or do we have the integrity to be brutally honest with ourselves and Him and bring ourselves to Him to change us?
Grow up or fall behind
We love Jesus when we can take Him along for the wonderful ride that is our life – our great job, our great home and neighborhood, our community and church – isn’t Jesus great everyone? But do we let Him touch our hearts, our motives, our thoughts to change them to His heart, His motives, His thoughts?
Let the church committee choose a color of carpet for the sanctuary I don’t agree with – well, we have a right to be offended because that burgundy color is just too dark! I’m going to get with others who agree with me and we’re going to ask Elder Jim to be our pastor and we’ll go lease from the 7th Day Adventists who don’t use their church Sunday morning anyway. Or do we take our heart to Jesus like Ireland did?
Let your friend tell you it isn’t convenient to talk right now because their life is too full of stress to listen to your trivial problems, and you have a right to be offended, right Jesus? Think of that, her life is so stressful she can’t listen to my problems…and she calls herself a friend! Allow the hurt and anger with the other idols in your heart like Constantine’s Rome, or bring your whole self to Jesus like Ireland did under Patrick?
Do you take it personally when someone challenges what you believe, and if they won’t agree with you, you end the relationship rather than choosing to focus on all the other things about Jesus and the Father God you do agree on? Do you walk away from a relationship with a person you’ll know 10,000 years from now just because in a couple areas of doctrine they don’t agree with you, revealing your idolatry of self and self’s beliefs, or do you give up your idol to retain a friend? Constantine or Patrick?
Let this distinction stay with you, look for it in others - you can see the decision process working in them - the idolaters who choose Constantine’s way stand out as do those who choose Patrick’s way.
Many would rather let the idols in their soul exist side by side with Jesus than to be whole and pure and mature in Christ – that’s just too hard. They love Jesus, yes they do! They will go to heaven but as Paul said to the Corinthians* who were in envy, strife, and divisions living as he said, as unborn again people…they will make it, but as if by fire, for their lives are nothing but wood, hay, and stubble. *I Corinthians 3:1-15
Rome was crumbling as it allowed Jesus to coexist with the other idols, which is a type of the crumbling condition of a person’s soul when they allow their idols to exist side by side with Jesus. By contrast Ireland was rising to wholeness, showing us when we bring our lives to Jesus, the result is wholeness. Constantine or Patrick?
Another thought next week…until then, blessings!