What Does Christianity Look Like?
What is Christianity supposed to look like? Very often, people have pictures of Christianity in their minds, and those pictures aren’t accurate. Some picture Christianity as a nice person who doesn’t really go to church. Just niceness. But that’s not Christianity. Some picture Christianity as someone who goes to church every Sunday, but he’s very stern and mean and strict. That’s not Christianity either. And then there’s the picture of the sweaty guy in the suit on TV, almost out of breath as he preaches his sermon, asking you to send him money – but that’s not an accurate picture of Christianity either.
What is Christianity supposed to look like? What does a Christian look like? Jesus met a person who basically had the same question. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” the man asked Jesus. He was an expert in all the Jewish laws of the land. He was testing Jesus – he wanted to see what Jesus would say. We’ll call him the “lawyer” as we talk about him. Can you see how he pictured of someone going to heaven? He asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life” – his picture of Christianity was very similar to how people picture Christianity today – it’s a religion of doing things. You gotta do something, and if you do all the right things enough, then you’ll earn eternal life. That’s a false picture of Christianity.
Jesus could see that this man didn’t understand how to get to heaven. And so Jesus decided to let the man talk. “What is written in the law,” Jesus asked the lawyer. And the lawyer answered, “Love the Lord your God with all our heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” The expert in the law quoted the two main summaries of God’s law – love God, and love your neighbor. And look at the high standards in God’s law – Love God with ALL your heart and soul, and love God with ALL your strength and mind. Notice how God’s law didn’t say, “Love God most of the time, or just try hard and God will be happy, or do the best you can.” God’s law demanded total and complete, 100%, 24-7 devotion, to God, and to other people.
Jesus said to the man, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.” In other words, if this is your picture of Christianity, then go for it. Obviously, Jesus knew that this lawyer could never measure up to God’s standards. Nobody could. And deep down, the lawyer knew that too. That’s why it says here that he wanted to “justify himself.” And so Jesus asked the question, “And who is my neighbor?” In other words, “I don’t have to be nice to everybody, do I? I mean, that’s unrealistic, isn’t it? Who do I have to be nice to?” What the lawyer really wanted to know, is, what does Christianity look like?
And that’s when Jesus tells the famous parable of the Good Samaritan. There once was a man, probably Jewish, traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. It was a windy, mountainous path, well-known for thieves and robbers. Sure enough, this man was robbed. He was stripped of his clothes, he was beaten, and he was left half dead in the ditch. Then a Jewish priest came walking down the path. Now of all the people who were considered “good” by the Jews, a Jewish priest was considered to be one of the best. Certainly someday he would have a very high place in heaven, because of his life of good works in the temple. But look at what the priest does – Jesus describes how he crosses over to the other side of the road to avoid the man in the ditch, and keeps on walking.
Can you relate to that priest? Why would he do that? Maybe he was in a hurry, and he didn’t want to miss an appointment. Or maybe he didn’t want to get involved – it would be an unpleasant mess to help that man in the ditch. Maybe he figured, “I did enough good deeds for today at the temple. I’m all ‘good deeded out’.” Maybe he jumped to the conclusion that this man in the ditch was a drunk, and deserved whatever he got. Or maybe, he thought, “This man in the ditch isn’t my responsibility. Someone else will help him.”
Then a Levite comes by. Now the Levites weren’t priests, but they also worked full time at the temple, doing all kinds of religious things. But the Levite stayed on the opposite side of the path and kept going too. I’m sure the lawyer who was listening to this story was very surprised that Jesus would picture these “religious” people as being so unkind. He was probably even more shocked when Jesus said that a Samaritan came by, and the Samaritan was the one who stopped to help.
Now the Samaritans were a group of people who were hated by the Jews. And the feeling was mutual – the Samaritans didn’t like the Jews either. There was some racial tension there. The Samaritan here would have had a good excuse to keep on going – after all, this man in the ditch was a Jew – “why should I help him?”
But instead of making excuses, we are told that the Samaritan had pity on the man who had been robbed. He got off his donkey, took time and effort to bandage the man’s wounds. He poured oil and wine on the man to kill the infection – and that wasn’t cheap. He put the man on his own donkey, while he walked – that was an inconvenience. He set up the man in the inn where he was staying – once again, very inconvenient for the traveling Samaritan. He gave the innkeeper two silver coins – back in those days, that was enough money for someone to stay at the inn for 2 months. That was costly. And he even offered to reimburse the innkeeper for any extra expense.
After telling this story to the lawyer, Jesus asked him, “Which of these three was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” And, of, course, the lawyer pointed out the merciful one. Jesus told him, “Go, and do likewise.
Why did Jesus tell this story to that lawyer? Was Jesus telling him what he needed to do in order to earn eternal life? “If only you would act more like that good Samaritan, then God would let you into heaven” – is that the point? Is that a correct picture of Christianity?
The answer is no. Jesus wanted that lawyer to hear this story and think to himself, “I have sinned. I haven’t been like that good Samaritan. I’ve passed by people who have needed my help. I’ve made excuses. I can’t earn eternal life because of my sin.” We don’t know what happened to this expert in the law. But as we think about this parable, and this conversation that Jesus had with him, we start to get a picture of what Christianity is supposed to look like.
Christianity is when you read parables like this one, or other passages in the Bible, and you say to yourself, “I know I’m supposed to be this way, but I’m not. I’m more like that priest than I am like that Good Samaritan.” And we all have been guilty of committing that sin in our lives, haven’t we? When people are in need, we’re usually pretty good at figuring out why we don’t have to help them – someone else will take care of it, it’s not my problem, I don’t have time, that person deserves it. You and I are sometimes just like that priest, ignoring people who are in need, and making excuses in our heads in order to make ourselves feel better.
When you realize that, what do you do? You take that sin to God, and you confess it. That’s what Christianity looks like! “Heavenly Father, please forgive me, for I have failed to help others. Sometimes I do, but often times, I make excuses, and pass by on the other side of the road. Heavenly Father, please forgive me.” That’s part of Christianity – confessing your sins to God. But then there’s the other part, and what’s that? It’s trusting that your sin has been forgiven. After you pray that prayer, you can walk away, and say to God, “God, thank you for taking my sin away. You put that sin on Jesus. And now I’m forgiven. Thank you.” That’s Christianity too – trusting that your sin has been forgiven. Confessing and trusting – that’s what Christianity looks like.
If you think about it, you are that traveler in trouble. As he walked along that road, he was ambushed by thieves, and didn’t stand a chance. As you and I entered this world, we were ambushed by sin, and we didn’t stand a chance. Our sinful nature took over us. Our sinful world keeps tempting us. And the Devil is always working on us. And by the time they’re done with us, we’re like that traveler, lying in the ditch. Spiritually, we’re helpless as he was, covered with our sins, lying in a spiritual ditch with no one to help us.
But then, someone comes to help you. Who is the Good Samaritan, in the story of your life? It’s Jesus. And think about all the effort he put forth to help you out of your sin. It wasn’t easy. And it was expensive for Jesus to save you. It cost him what? It cost him his own life. The Good Samaritan sacrificed time and money and effort to help that man in the ditch. Jesus sacrificed everything for you. He took pity on you, when he saw you overcome by your sin. And so he saved you, by dying on the cross for you, and rising from the dead. He is the Good Samaritan in the story of your life.
That’s what Christianity looks like. It’s not about you trying to prove to everyone how good you are. Christianity is about Christ, saving you, the traveler in trouble, rescuing you by making a sacrifice for you. And now that you have been rescued, how will you want to live? How can you say, “Thank you,” to your Lord, for all the good things he has done for you? You can look for ways to help others. You can look for ways to be a Good Samaritan to others.
And so for me, I’ll start with the people I know – my family – how can I go out of my way to help them? I’m sure there are many ways. There’s my church family – how can I be a good Samaritan to these people I see every Sunday? But I won’t stop there. Sometimes God plops down total strangers right in front of you, and gives you the opportunity to help them.
Maybe I’m coming out of the grocery store, and it’s 95 degrees outside and the blacktop pavement makes it feel like it’s 105. I’m in a hurry – I have ice cream melting in the bag, and I’m late for the party. But I see an elderly woman, 2 cars away, and she’s visibly upset. Her tire is flat, and no one is around to help her. Now this time, I won’t make excuses. This time, I’ll help. I’ll let the ice cream melt. I’ll let the party go on without me. I’ll probably never see this woman again, but God has put her right here in front of me, to give me a chance to be a Good Samaritan to her.
And so, I change her tire as the heat from the pavement pounds me in the face. I take her flat tire to be patched, and wait for it to get done. I pay for it myself – and by the time it’s all over, the ice cream has melted, I missed the party, and the elderly woman is long gone.
But that’s Christianity. It’s nothing flashy. There’s not audience applauding your good works. It’s just you, in a dirty shirt, by yourself. Sometimes, that’s what Christianity looks like. It’s going way out of your way to help someone else, just as Jesus went way out to help you. Maybe you don’t say anything religious while you’re doing it, but you’re living your faith, and reflecting what Jesus did for you. When God plops down a traveler in trouble, right in front of you, a Christian is someone who does what the Good Samaritan would do. Not because he has to. Not because he’s trying to earn eternal life by piling up all kinds of good works. Not because he’s trying to look good in front of other people.
You do that because, well, that’s just what Christians do. You do that because of all the good things God has done for you. You do that because Christ was your Good Samaritan – he died for you – and when you help someone else, it’s your way of glorifying God.
And that is what Christianity looks like. Amen.