Over the past several years I have realized that this is really quite common. Everywhere I look I see a different, one-sided Jesus being proclaimed. If you listen the purveyors of the prosperity gospel and the word-of-faith folk you get the impression that Jesus came to help you get lots of money and really nice stuff and be really spiritually powerful. They say things like “Jesus came so that you can have life to the full,” and “if you give it will be given back to you pressed down and running over,” and “you can move mountains if you just have faith!” If you listen to some of the more radical folks, however, you get the idea that Jesus wants you to give away all of your stuff, become a full-time missionary, and even suffer for Jesus. They say things like, “If you don’t give away everything you have and take up your cross, even hating your own family if needed, you can’t be a disciple of Jesus.” Some hardcore holiness folk make it seem like Jesus was really serious about sin and they say things like “if your eye causes you to sin you should cut it out because it’s better for you to enter into heaven without an eye than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” A lot of atheists, as well as liberal Christians (don’t read what I’m not saying there), like to point out that Jesus was all about love and acceptance and they talk about how Jesus hung out with the sinners and condemned the self-righteous religious people.
But wait a minute? Didn’t Jesus actually say and do some of those things? Yes. As a matter of fact, everything above is something that Jesus actually said or did. Jesus did call people to radically abandon their own lives and follow him but he also promised that his heavenly father would provide for and empower them. Jesus did love sinners and he hung out with them often, but he never condoned sinful behavior. Yes, as cliché as it has become, Jesus loved sinners and hated sin, but not in the same way that we sometimes use that as an excuse to actually hate sinners. Jesus actually loved them enough to spend time with them and help them.
So all of this either means that Jesus was inconsistent and contradictory or it means that Jesus’ message can’t be reduced to simple proof texts that legitimize my own worldview and desires.I submit that if some aspect of Jesus’ teaching doesn’t challenge some area of our life and theology and even make us a little uncomfortable then we probably aren’t reading the Bible honestly.
Maybe instead of making Jesus the champion for our causes, we should become champions for his cause. We are the ones who are supposed to change and be like Jesus, not change him to be like us. That will require us to approach the text honestly, with genuine humility, and, if necessary, be willing to change deeply-held beliefs we may have about him. I challenge you to go back and read the gospels with this in mind.