“The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”
– C.S. Lewis
Spot The Difference
I loved playing this game as a kid (and still do). Some can be quite easy, and some can be very difficult. Some people can identify the differences right away, but others may need hours to do so.
However, there is a Spot The Difference in our spiritual lives that can be more difficult than discovering a forgery from the original. This one is even deeper than discovering counterfeit money.
The question is: Which Jesus? Which Jesus is the correct Jesus to follow?
Did you realize there are two portraits of Jesus in our churches?
And the question is… Which Jesus are you following?
Portrait #1 of Jesus
The first portrait of Jesus at first is what you expect: born in a manger, died on a cross, rose from the dead, and we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. Nothing off at all about that, right?
However, the main structure may be the same in both portraits, but the devil is always in the details.
In this portrait you see Jesus giving keys to a heavenly mansion. He points to a door and mailbox with your name on it. He gives you a certificate reading: “Joe prayed to accept Jesus as his savior on June 14, 1987.” We see this image in churches, right? In fact, many of us may have that written in the front of our Bibles.
But the details do not end there…
You see a path behind Jesus leading to heaven. You see signs as you walk this path. One says, “Read your Bible everyday.” Another reads, “Attend church every Sunday.” One in bright lights says, “Do not be worldly!” Another with a picture of an offering plate states, “Make sure you give to God’s work.”
But, then you notice something else. At each sign is a gate. To unlock each gate, you must obey the sign.
We might find that to be an interesting way to describe faith in Jesus. But, isn’t that how we present it in our churches? We accept Jesus as our savior, but then we are handed a Bible reading plan, a list of things to do and not do. We wake up the next day focused on accomplishing each thing as we make our way to our mansion in heaven.
Portrait #2 of Jesus
The second portrait of Jesus still contains the same structure as the first: the incarnation, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus.
Both have the basic message.
However, the details in this portrait differ. We do not see Jesus point to Heaven. We do not see signs.
Instead, we see Jesus reaching towards us. His eyes aren’t looking to Heaven, but directly at you. He reaches to grab your hand. He holds nothing but the scars of the crucifixion. You do see a path behind him leading to somewhere over the landscape which we cannot see. The path has no signs. Jesus isn’t even holding a certificate with a name or date on it. Instead, you realize he is at the start of the path and he is wanting you to take his hand and follow him. No instructions or guide, there is only Jesus.
This portrait is quickly glanced over, and most of us return to the first.
The Forgery Exposed
When we look at the two portraits, which one is the forgery? Thinking about each portrait, we can see that the first one is the false one. We would say, “Yeah, that is works based salvation.”
But, isn’t that what we are preaching in our churches today?
Our churches have fallen into the thinking the pharisees had and the thinking Jesus condemned.
Matthew 23:1-7 states that the pharisees tied burdens on people that weighed the people down. Then the pharisees wouldn’t even do everything they would say. Instead, they would parade around with their religious actions to shout how good they are, and to illustrate how close they are to God while on their spiritual journey.
Jesus gives a woe to the pharisees in Matthew 23:25-26. Here, Jesus condemns an attitude of being focused on external actions. They made sure everything looked right. Aren’t we doing the same when we get saved: clothing must be like this, music and movie choices must be this, make sure you read your Bible everyday, make sure you attend this kind of church, and the list goes on and on. While these things may be good, they are only externals. They do not clean the inside. Sure, we may be saved. But, did Jesus call us to focus on cleaning our externals?
Jesus answers that in Matthew 23:23-24. He condemns the pharisees for perseverating over their externals while they forgot the things that matter to God: justice, mercy, faithfulness. Aren’t we doing the same?
The first portrait of Jesus is how we explain Jesus to others. We have them say a prayer to get their certificate and keys to a mansion, but each step of the way is burdened with a new task, and a new standard to set. It becomes our job to do and do. If we truly want that mansion, then we must take hold of the certificate of praying the prayer and do what we are told.
This is a lie. This is not Jesus.
The Christian’s roadmap to hell is belief that a date in your Bible saves you.
We are promoting this. We are just like Jesus described the pharisees, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you don’t go in, and you don’t allow those entering to go in.”
Take Another Look
The first portrait is tempting to focus on. That portrait is all about us. We get to show off how good of a Christian we are.
However, take another look at the second. It is so simple. This is the true Jesus.
What was the phrase Jesus spoke to the disciples? “Follow me.” (Matthew 4:19) Did he require the disciples to do anything else besides follow him?
Jesus never said, “Come to me, and I will give you a list to get you to Heaven.” No. He said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
Jesus reaches out to each of us. He looks at us in love wanting us to draw us close, and to lead us home. He says, “My grace is enough to lead you home (II Corinthians 12:9). He whispers to us not to worry about striving to bear fruit, because as we follow him the fruit of the Spirit will blossom (Psalm 1:3; Galatians 5:22-25). All we have to do is follow.
Jesus doesn’t want us to do a thing except follow. He doesn’t need us to look perfect. He wants us to look at him as we follow. He loved us to free us from sin and from the law. Why are we loading ourselves up with rules and standards when Jesus says just follow me?
A Change in Mindset; A Change in Heart
I once stared at and studied the first portrait in detail. I knew I was on my way to Heaven, but passing of the gates was difficult. Each day I woke up striving to do my best to live for God – do not sin, read my Bible, attend the right church, listen to the correct music, have the right friends, look a certain way, make sure I have a good testimony. Are these things wrong? No. They became wrong when they became more important than Jesus. Each day was a frustration as I focused on trying to get rid of sins and temptations out of my life. I had to become the image I saw, but it was the wrong image. I wasn’t trying to be like Jesus. I was trying to be a good Christian.
Then, God stepped in and showed me his love and how he draws me close like a father cradling his child close to his chest. I didn’t have to do anything. He loves me no matter what I do. All I had to do was rest in his lap. All I had to do was trust, grabbing his hand, and follow him. No list. No more frustration. Once I learned that, I rejected my former mindset. I wasn’t in love with Jesus. I was in love with myself being seen as a good Christian, and I was in love with an image.
After experiencing the love of God, all I could do was surrender my life to the Jesus who only wanted me to follow him as his grace changes me. The next day I woke up not worrying about pleasing God with my actions. Instead, I woke up knowing I was loved and all I had to do was follow. It was a change in mindset and heart.
Who Are You Following?
When we look at the two portraits, which Jesus are you following?
In reality, when we are following the first portrait we are only following ourselves. We trust in a date in our Bible, a list of tasks, and an image that is not what God wanted. Jesus condemned this thinking, yet we still preach it like it is gospel truth. It is not the Gospel.
Would you rather rest on the ink on a page that can burn or rest in the arms of a loving savior?
The Gospel has nothing to do with us. It has all to do with Jesus.
The Jesus who took on a human body, the Jesus who died on the cross and rose from the grave for us, the Jesus who calls us to follow him, the Jesus who says his grace will transform us and be enough for each step of the way.
Our task? Take his outreached hand and follow him.
Romans 12:1-2 is the classic passage on how to live the Christian life. However, we tend to put verse 2 before verse 1. We cannot do the things in verse 2 unless we are being verse 1. A living sacrifice is following Jesus. A living sacrifice lays down his image for the person who is in control. Jesus is in control, and he is the one we give up our image for. When we do that, he will change us.
We are not loved because we are good or following standards. We are good, because God love us. His love constrains us and guides us. We only have to follow the outstretched hand.
Can you spot the difference? When you do, are you willing to give up your way and follow him?
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost
But now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see
‘Twas grace hath brought
Us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home
– John Newton “Amazing Grace”