How do you know if you are Christian?
The name “Christian” was first given to disciples of Jesus in the city of Antioch in the 1st Century. It was not long after many of Jesus’ followers had to flee Jerusalem because they were being persecuted for their faith. That meant sacrificing social groups they may have had, kids activities and educational opportunities, even livelihoods. Would you be willing to sacrifice these things to hold onto your faith? As I look at the shrinking membership numbers in the Church across the US it would seem to me that many are not. What did those early Christians have that so many today lack?
The apostle Paul writes about a view that many of them must have shared. As he evaluates the persecution and suffering he’s faced he calls it “light and momentary.” He doesn’t use that language because he thinks the persecution and suffering is easy. Rather, he uses that language to show the greatness of what is in store for Christ’s disciples.
Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Co 4:16–18)
I think too many in the Church today lack this perspective. Their eyes are focused on tomorrow and their treasures are in this world. They treasure their comforts, their reputation, their children and their children’s success. These are not bad things, but they are transient things. They are not eternal. Paul urges us to see something more. The irony is that even the noble desire to see your children succeed fails if your definition of success doesn’t include a view toward eternity. Too often I see parents sacrificing this view of eternity without realizing it by prioritizing their children’s success in good, but transient things. Prioritize children’s activities over regular worship is a common theme in the US.
How do we gain Paul’s perspective? There are two short but similar parables about the Kingdom of God that can help. The first shows us how great the kingdom of God actually is, which I I’m convinced people either forget or never knew. To many, I think the idea of the kingdom of God is connected with a duty toward God, and duty connotates drudgery. Jesus likened the kingdom to a “treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44)” The cost to gain the treasure is real. He had to sell “all that he had” for it. The point, of course, is that the treasure he gained is far greater.
The next parable is of equal power. It is similar but with a twist. “the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45-46)” This time it is the Kingdom, or the King, who is in search of fine peals and is willing to “sell all” to gain it. In the first parable you are the one who finds the treasure (the kingdom). In the second parable you are the pearl that is found by the kingdom. In these parables we see that not only is the kingdom worth more than any wealth in this world, but that the king sees you of such worth that he was willing to sacrifice his treasures in heaven to win you.
So, let us take note of the Kingdom of God. When we do, following Jesus becomes our greatest desire, and when trials come, rather than lose heart we cling ever tighter to the king who loves us.