7. Staying open to Christ

In the last 6 posts/broadcast I’ve shared my own faith journey with you; how I came to believe in Jesus and what my life with him has been like.  I’ve presented what the Bible teaches about Jesus and the way to receive his salvation.  Some of you listening (or reading) are probably already followers of Jesus, but some of you aren’t.  For any number of reasons you’ve hesitated to believe in Christ in this way.  Perhaps you had a bad experience in church growing up – maybe the people seemed hypocritical or the worship boring and irrelevant.  Possibly the moral teachings of Christianity felt too distasteful or confining.  Or maybe there are aspects of God presented in Scripture which you find unattractive or even repulsive.  “How could God do that?” you wonder, “He seems so harsh at times”.   And some of you don’t even wrestle with these issues because you doubt that the Bible is true in the first place.  “It’s a book written by human beings,” you say, “It’s got some helpful ideas mixed in with a bunch of myths and historical errors.”
        These sorts of issues and obstacles are all part of a normal spiritual quest.  I’ve struggled with some of them myself. They deserve to be faced head on.   And I believe that there are some thoughtful answers available.  Yet I want to raise another question right now:  do these difficulties have to be deal-breakers when it comes to exploring Christianity?  Must they bring our consideration of Christ to a screeching halt?  Or is it possible to acknowledge them and still explore Christianity with an open mind? 

    I believe that it is possible and even wise to continue exploring Christianity  despite the obstacles to belief.  The stakes in our spiritual journey are too high to simply slam the door on Jesus.  If it’s possible, even slightly possible, that Jesus is who he claimed to be, then we ignore him to our peril and loss.   Once, after many people had walked away from Jesus, he asked his disciples:   “You do not want to leave too, do you?” . . .  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67, 68).  If Jesus does have the words of eternal life wouldn’t you want to know those words and follow them?  Eternal life is a mighty big deal.  To love and be loved by God forever is the best possible existence. Would you want to risk losing eternal life simply because you had a bad church experience growing up?  Or because you don’t agree with everything in the Bible?  Your spiritual search doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition.  Let me offer a few perspectives here.

1.   It’s possible to remain open-minded yet discerning at the same time

For you to be open-minded need not require that you become gullible or or turn off your mind and pretend that problems don’t exist.  An open-minded person can acknowledge unresolved obstacles to belief while still being willing to receive new ideas and evidence.  They may say, “I still don’t understand why God allows evil, but I’ll continue to consider what the Bible has to say anyway.”  Why say that though?  Why continue to be open-minded in the face of obstacles? This leads to the next observation:

2.   Sometimes further learning helps to resolve, or at least lessen earlier obstacles

Further consideration of Christian truth may help at least soften some of our earlier objections.  Often, those who reject Christianity haven’t put much effort into exploring it in the first place. For example, a careful reading of Scripture will reveal that it’s inaccurate to simply present the God of the Old Testament as an “angry God”.  Frequently, in those pages, he’s also loving, patient and kind, and his anger, when it does come, isn’t random or erratic.  His anger comes when the people he created willfully choose to walk in destructive ways. Or we may discover that the right church, approached with an open heart, can actually be an enjoyable, helpful, and relevant place.  And there are intelligent answers available for our difficult spiritual questions if we’re willing to read or listen with an open mind.  Sometimes further learning helps to resolve, or at least lessen earlier obstacles

3.   Sometimes the biggest obstacle to faith in Christ lies not in our mind but in our heart

My father once asked a man who had objections to Christianity, “If I can answer all these questions will you believe?”  The man’s reply?  “No!”  Sometimes our objections to Christ are largely smokescreens.  The truth may be that, deep down, we don’t want to believe in Jesus.  If we followed Jesus, then we’d have to submit to his leadership and his standards.  In other words, we’d have to stop sinning and live a holy life. Lots of people resist that idea.  John Milton, in Paradise Lost, described this attitude well:  “Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven.”  But does that really sound like a good tradeoff? 

        So what am I suggesting?  I’m suggesting that you can acknowledge your hesitations and objections to faith in Christ without automatically slamming the door on him.  That’s a small price to pay, though, since the potential benefits of salvation through Jesus, if they’re real, are enormous.  Let me offer a few practical suggestions for your ongoing exploration of Christianity.

Practical suggestions for exploring faith in Christ

1.    Try to keep an open mind and heart

I’ve already emphasized this point, but it’s essential enough that I’m repeating it.  Keeping an open mind and heart isn’t easy to do. We all have our biases and filters which get in the way of fairly examining truth.  I believe, in fact, that we need help with this one –which leads to my next suggestion:

2.   Ask God to help you to find him

Even if you’re not sure that God exists, you can say, “God, if you’re there, please show yourself to me.”  What do you have to lose?  The Bible makes it clear that finding God is a two-way street.  We have to seek Him and He has to reveal himself.  This is because, as human beings, our perspective is very limited – we view reality through our own tiny peephole. More importantly, this limitation comes because our sin gets in the way— blinding our eyes and hardening our hearts.  God has to help us in our search by opening our eyes and softening our hearts. So ask Him already.

3.   Focus first on getting to know Jesus

Don’t get stalled down some doctrinal side-street.  Jesus is at the center of the Bible.  Having a life-changing relationship with him is the main purpose of the Bible and Christianity.  So the best place to start is to study this amazing person.  Learn the facts of his life.  Understand his mission.  Feel his heartbeat.  Talk to him in prayer.  See the rest of Scripture through his eyes.  This will allow you to get an authentic feel for what Christianity is all about.  And you may find, as many of us have, that the better you get to know Jesus, the more that the rest of Scripture makes sense.  Will you do that?