American Christianity’s Most Popular Excuses (For Not Following Jesus)
By Stephen Mattson
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? Matthew 16: 24-26
It’s not easy to follow the example of person who sacrificially gave everything, commanded us to “take up our cross,” and was horrifically tortured and crucified. Emulating Jesus is even harder within a society that idolizes comfort, security, wealth, and power. Here are six typical excuses Christians often use to avoid paying the divine costs of serving Christ:
“It’s a Political Agenda”
Loving your neighbor as yourself, fighting systemic and societal racism, empowering the poor, helping refugees and immigrants, and caring for the environment are good, noble, and Christ-like causes—yet a large portion of American Christians refuse to support such holy endeavors. Why? Because many think it’s all part of a political agenda.
Despite strong scriptural basis, and the precedent shown by Jesus himself throughout the gospel, we’ll often refuse to participate in righteous causes simply to avoid anything “liberal” or “conservative”—no matter how Christ-like they may be.
“Nowhere in the Bible does it say that!” / “You’re taking that out of context!”
The bible is easily weaponized. Scriptural support is drastically subjective dependent upon whether or not it supports our worldly agendas.
For example, despite countless commands to help the poor and oppressed, some Christians will retort: “But where exactly does it say America is supposed to take in Syrian refugees?!”
Regardless of the obvious teachings that it’s Christ-like to heal the sick, fight injustice, and uplift the downtrodden, Christians can angrily refute: “What chapter mentions that we’re supposed to raise taxes in order to help the homeless?!”
Unless the Bible explicitly states that an exact modern-day scenario is holy (which it doesn’t) it’s easy to remain stubbornly complacent in our faith, willing to prioritize ourselves over anybody else and justify it with Scripture.
“The Old Law”
In addition to manipulating contextual applications and twisting meanings to whatever slant is most convenient, we also love to use the Old Testament—the Old Covenant—as a way to trump the New Covenant brought in by Jesus.
“Love your enemies?! Didn’t we read that the Israelites crushed their enemies at Jericho?”
For every example that Jesus sets for Christians to follow, we’re armed with a litany of Old Testament references waiting to circumvent Christ’s humble, sacrificial, selfless, and loving life. We know if we just focus on the Old Law, we have an incomplete picture of God’s nature as personified by Christ himself in the New Testament…but sometimes we do it anyway.
“We’re Supposed to Submit to Governing Authorities”
This excuse is especially useful when our particular political party is in power. These often-misinterpreted verses in Romans 13 excuse us from caring for the foreigner, the immigrant, the refugee, the oppressed, the maligned, the suffering, and anyone else who is routinely the victim of one-sided and narrow-minded partisan politics and nationalistic agendas.
Use military action that will surely kill thousands? Submit to authorities. Destroy the environment? Submit to authorities. Close our borders to the most vulnerable? Submit to authorities. Withhold educational opportunities to those most in need? Submit to authorities. Participate in xenophobic politics? Submit to authorities. Restrict funding to the most needy? Submit to authorities.
The irony is that by submitting to authorities we’re often not submitting to Christ, who is supposed to be the ultimate authority (and who was killed, if we remember, for refusing to submit to the ruling Roman authorities of his day).
“The Divinity of Christ”
This is perhaps the most mind-blowing excuse of them all, based upon the fallacy that because Jesus was Divine and purposefully fulfilling ancient prophecies throughout the New Testament, we’re excused from following his example.
“Jesus only got arrested and didn’t submit to authorities because it was part of the Divine plan to die and rise again…but surely we aren’t called to do that!”
Thus, the entire reason Christians worship Jesus—His Divinity—is also a major excuse we give for not following him. As previously mentioned, verses from the Old Testament, and various other contextual passages will be used in whatever way necessary to subvert the perfect example of Jesus himself! We’ll find almost any rationale and example to not follow Jesus to the same radical degree that his disciples and earliest followers did (most of whom were eventually martyred).
“God is in control and completely Sovereign!”
This is the catchall excuse that allows anything and everything to fall under the guise of God’s sovereignty. No matter what sort of evil, corruption, hypocrisy, and anti-gospel thing is happening, it’s tempting for us to say that “God has a plan—and reason—for everything” while simultaneously choosing not to condemn sin and evil, instead remaining passive, apathetic, and even aggressively obstructive to those in need.
This is the escape clause used to ignore the litany of verses and instructions God gives us to actively pursue justice, help others, and passionately love the world around us.
All of these excuses are common, and we’re all guilty of using them at some point during our lives. But right now American Christianity is at a crossroads where we must decide whether to follow Christ towards self-sacrifice or follow political agendas towards self-preservation. God help us.
Stephen Mattson graduated from the Moody Bible Institute and is currently on staff at the University of Northwestern—St. Paul. You can follow him on Twitter @mikta.