The last few years of my life have been a journey of stepping outside of my normal christian culture and finding the real essence of the christian faith. Parts of christian culture have a way of manipulating almost every aspect of your life, and until you step outside of it for some time, you don’t recognize you’re being affected.
The heart of the christian faith is justification by faith and that brings with it freedom. However much of our American christian culture does not practice that freedom. We get isolated in our own cultures, we take on the values of that culture, we become a super star according to that culture and we despair when we fail that culture.
Genuine justification by faith is relatable to everyone. Anyone has the ability understand it and connect to it, especially those who have failed in their life. But our christian culture adds so much unconscious manipulation onto that message that we alienate the rest of the world. We are kept trapped in our circle with warnings to never leave, warnings to get more involved, with pastors, teachers, neighbors, friends, and sometimes family keeping us in that circle.
I once felt like I had become a christian super star. I heard the Lord’s voice often and clearly, I had spiritual experiences many evangelicals would envy, I preached to lots of people, I studied the Bible fervently, I went to church multiple times a week, I worshiped with dancing and yelling, I gave generously, paid my tithe, and prophesied accurately and blessed many lives. But for all that I got a puffed up view of myself. I didn’t realize that I considered myself a better christian than others because I had those experiences.
I knew it was not good to have a puffed up view of myself. I wanted to be a humble christian and of course I knew all those things were God’s gift and not of my own doing. But my culture put so much emphases and priority on those experiences that I felt like I had achieved some kind of medal in the eyes of my culture.
And that when I cracked.
The pressure I was under everyday from my christian atmosphere finally destroyed my health. I had not realized how much stress my mind was under every moment of every day. Religious pressure is not like work pressure. In work pressure you may hopefully get a break or weekend off. However religious pressure is always with you, it controls every aspect of your life, you emotions, your thoughts, what you say, what you do, and sometimes even manipulates your dreams and desires.
I would monitor every thought I had to make sure it was holy. I would hide negative emotions because my culture didn’t know how to handle them. I didn’t want to go to work because that was time I wasn’t spending alone with God.
That crack turned out to be a blessing from God. After that, I took a break from church to try to escape from some of the stress I had subjected myself to. During that time, I continued to talk to the Lord and study the Bible and began realizing how much I had missed being the kind of person God wanted me to be. When Jesus came into his culture he connected with all types of people, especially sinners. He rebuked the Pharisees because even though the followed the law to the letter, they missed the heart of what God wants. Humility, dependence on God, compassion, love, and relationships.
Matthew 23:4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[a] and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray,one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
I had become un-relatable. Instead of practicing the heart of what God wants, I had modeled after the values of my own culture and used that to feel better about myself and disconnect from outside cultures. I wanted to be a web developer but was about to give up that dream to become a pastor. I figured God didn’t want me to do the things I wanted but only spiritualized things.
Taking that time off of church turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. I learned and grew so much as a genuine christian. I began to recognize the difference between culture and true christianity, how not to judge people who didn’t see things the way I did, and how to have the heart of the kind of person God wanted me to be.
I’ve learned to let go of the pressures I kept myself in every day. I think one thing I have found is that, you don’t have to be a perfect Christian. That just makes you proud. Instead you need to practice the heart that God wants. A heart that has compassion, that doesn’t consider yourself better than others especially outside of your culture. That doesn’t try to manipulate people who don’t think like you. I would rather have the heart of love and miss a few rules than perfect the rules and miss the heart of love.