This post by Michael Shaw was originally published at Seventy Two
I remember a few years back, I assisted at an Alpha course. We had the usual big first session, which included a meal and a testimony. The Testimony was a businessman who had come to faith. The location was in the commuter belt, so many of the guests would probably understand. His testimony was a powerful one of rejection of God, until a final acceptance BUT he ended by saying what a difference God had made to his life. He said he still had all the things he used to have – powerful job, sports car, money, home and even his yacht but he also had God as well, the icing on a very abundant cake.
Now this may well have gone down well with his audience, who of course would be unwilling to give up their wealth. But I left feeling slightly disturbed; didn’t Jesus tell a rich man who loved his wealth to give it all up? This was what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace”, it is not the sacrificial lifestyle of Jesus, it is a ticket into heaven, without having to pay the cover price! And sadly, many Christians have fallen down this trap, Jesus and church community have become a bonus to their lives, rather than something that shapes their lives.
I was reading the Northumbrian Communities “Celtic Daily Prayer” as I do most days, one of the morning sessions was a reflection on Acts 4:15-21, where Peter and John are put on trial. The reflection quoted from a book by Arthur Burt and he said, “if you were arrested for being a Christian, is there enough evidence to convict you?”. This phrase stopped me in my tracks!
If I were arrested, what evidence would there be? What witnesses could they call, what would my bank statements, my browser history tell them. If they were to do a stake out, with hidden cameras around my house, what would they learn? Would my life present enough evidence to make a case, to take me to court to convict me?
At the end of Matthew’s Gospel there is a court case, a trial. The goats and sheep are separated. They seem to be unaware of any difference, but Jesus knows! He divides them along simple lines. Not about were they moral enough, did they lead good lives, were they good church attenders, did they try to convert people, but simply – how did they treat the “least of these”. Were they genuinely good news to people who are mostly used to being excluded or ignored? (ps I am fully aware of the hermeneutic that this is about how non-Christians treat the “brothers”)
In the Gospel of John, when we read the story of the calling of the first disciples, what impressed them most was that he was a “man of complete integrity” (John 1:47 NLT). Christians are called, like the disciples, to not just believe in Jesus but follow him. The evidence of following Jesus, is not in whether we believe the right things or say the right things, but whether we live in the right way.
So , “if you were arrested for being a Christian, is there enough evidence to convict you?”