It’s crossed my mind recently that anything of the Christian life that we may feel we’re “good” at, we tend to regard as THE heart of what it means to be a Christian.
Sometimes I’ll hear someone say they’re focusing on the simple work of the gospel, helping the poor and unfortunate. “That’s what Jesus did,” they’ll say, and proceed to declare that that’s the heart of Christianity. Sounds compelling, especially with Jesus on your side.
For others, Christianity is not about dogma and doctrine; it’s more about living in community with other believers. They don’t miss a chance to engage and connect with others, and since this is something at which they excel, this becomes the sine qua non of the Christian faith.
Still for others, they may feel that the work of the Holy Spirit is not regarded as highly as it ought to be, and since these folks pay great attention to the Spirit and express how vital their dependence on him is, well, living in the Spirit must be what Christian living is all about.
Then there are those (and I might find myself in this camp from time to time) who gaze out upon the Christian landscape and see a vast wasteland of biblical illiteracy. And since things like “zeal without knowledge” are to be avoided, and sound doctrine is to be nourished, and false doctrine is to be contended with, then the heart of the faith must be orthodoxy, and lots of it.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture.
We all have a tendency to take those things that we might do pretty well and think of them as ultimate. That everyone should have the same perspective and activity.
We think this way because then we don’t have to think about those other areas where we might be lacking. After all, they’re not as important; they aren’t the “heart” of Christianity.
Jesus was once asked which was the great commandment in the Law (Matt 22:34-40). I imagine it was hoped that he would identify that one commandment that would make his listeners feel proud of their own compliance. Instead, I find it amazing that he instructively gave them two, as if to say, “You know, it’s not one thing.” But he gave the two great commandments – love God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. Scripture expands on these by teaching us that they are not two things, but really the same thing. You can’t love God and not love others.
Woven within the two-in-one Great Command is everything else Jesus and the Scriptures command – “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
So, all these pet things that we call the heart of Christianity are really extensions of loving God and loving neighbor.
You want to feed the poor? That’s loving to your neighbor and by extension, to Jesus Christ (Matt. 25:31-40).
You wish to get close to other Christians, meet them face to face, and encourage the brothers and sisters in community to continue in the faith? That’s love displayed to Christ’s body, the Church, and thus love toward God.
You desire a greater dependence upon the Holy Spirit and wish to see others to the same? One of the greatest expressions of love to God is our reliance on his Spirit. It’s loving to others to instruct and teach them to do the same.
And doctrine? Correcting false ideas about God upholds his holiness and loves others with the truth.
Now, the point is not for me to think that one of these is my “thing” and the others are not. Yes, I may have a passion and gifting and skills that are God-given for one or another of these qualities. But that doesn’t stop me from my calling to do the others, to follow the whole instruction of God. And I surely don’t need to consider what I am zealous for as THE heart of Christian living.
I need to be a poor-feeding, community-engaging, Holy Spirit-relying, truth-telling, God-and-neighbor-loving follower of Christ!