By Rev. Paul Mumme
It’s one of the latest Christian fads. You see it on social media, church websites, and bumper stickers. You occasionally pass someone wearing it on his t-shirt. There’s even a “program” behind it. So what is this latest fad and the slogan (creed!) that accompanies it?
I have no doubt that those who believe these words are well intentioned. Nor do I question that they have faith in someone or something. I do, however, question this slogan and the arrogance it conveys: “God, I thank You that I am not like other people—not like that spiritual infant who is still being fed with spiritual milk, not like that individual who struggles against but occasionally gives in to his sinful desires, or even not like that lowly ‘fan’ of Yours. I am a completely committed follower. A. COMPLETELY. COMMITTED. FOLLOWER. (One with swagger who punctuates important words.)”
The problem with this fad is simple. There’s no Jesus in those words. No forgiveness. No mercy. No grace. Only condescension. Arrogance. Haughtiness. Superiority. Conceit. Pride. (So that’s what it is like to Punctuate. Important. Words!)
Our Lord Jesus Christ faced the same type of “I’m-more-committed-thanothers” attitude in His day. He even addressed the danger and emptiness of such an attitude in a parable:
[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
The truth be told, my sinful pride loves to shine the spotlight on myself and tout that I am a completely committed follower. My narcissistic self loves to look down on those whom I deem to be only fans, those whom I deem to be less committed, those whom I deem to be too worldly. My fallen nature loves to stand before God and show Him my commitment, my dedication, my loyalty, my devotion, my piety, my steadfastness.
But that sinful pride, that narcissistic self, that fallen nature must die. And it must die daily in the contrition and repentance of baptism. For only in dying to self is one raised to new life in Jesus Christ. This is true of those who see themselves as completely committed followers and those who are seen as being only fans. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23; cf. Romans 7:14-25; 1 John 1:8).
The world around you—as well as your brothers and sisters in Christ—will be better served if you approach them, not as being more committed than them (whatever that means), but as fellow sinners who live daily by God’s grace in Jesus Christ; as fellow sinners who struggle daily against the temptations of the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh; as fellow sinners who live daily in the baptismal grace that is yours in Jesus, in the Absolution and Gospel He frequently speaks into your ears, in the Supper by which He regularly gives you His true body and blood for the forgiveness of your sin.
Point to His mercy for you, not your works for Him. His grace to you, not your promises to Him. His forgiveness for you, not your piety for Him. His commitment to you, not your commitment to Him.
That’s why the Christian daily confesses: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). We confess this daily because, by God’s grace, we believe the words and promises of Him who “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
We must decrease; He must increase. We must become nothing; He is everything. As those who have died and been raised with Jesus in Holy Baptism, we daily confess with Saint Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
The Christian faith is all about Jesus.
The Christian faith is all about His birth. His baptism. His life. His suffering.
His death. His resurrection. His ascension.
The Christian faith is all about His Church. His Word. His Sacraments.
The Chrstian faith is all about His grace. His mercy. His forgiveness.
The Christian faith is all about His salvation. His redemption. His atonement.
This Jesus is for you! JESUS. FOR. YOU.
Give me Jesus. Only Jesus!
Rev. Paul Mumme is pastor of Divine Shepherd Lutheran Church in Bolingbrook, Illinois, husband of one incredible wife, and father of four awesome boys. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.