I want to try to briefly discuss something that affects and infects our following of Jesus, especially in North America. It’s something I call “Contract Christianity”. This is where following Jesus is reduced really to a contract: we pray a prayer, and Jesus gets us into heaven.
And I think all of us know that praying a prayer to Jesus, just to go to heaven misses the heart of what following Jesus is about. It’s a truncated gospel. But what we sometimes miss is how this still infects our Christianity. We see following Jesus then in terms of a contract of what we do for him, and then what he does for us. We also then focus on what “breaks” the contract like the fine print in a legal contract. And this leads to all sorts of questions and comments that are in the wrong direction. Ones I get all the time in different ways about sin, church, and faith vs. works. Ones like this:
- At what point will someone lose their salvation? How much can I sin and God still forgive me? I’ll still get to heaven if I don’t tithe right, or do everything?
- It doesn’t matter if I go to church or not right? I can follow Jesus on my own, it’s a personal relationship right? Why can’t I just pray to Jesus and let that be that?
- I prayed the prayer, isn’t that enough? why do I need to love others? Isn’t it enough that I come to church, why do I need to change these actions?
But following Jesus is not a contract, it’s a covenant. So yes, it is not less than a contract, but a covenant is so much more than a contract. It’s a commitment for a lifetime based in relationship, not contractually binding arguments.
And if we ask the same type of questions above, in terms of a covenant relationship they quickly don’t make any sense. So let’s put those above questions in terms of the only covenant we have left really, marriage. And just see how much they miss the point.
Here are the same questions put in terms of a marriage.
- How far can I go with another person, before it’s called cheating? Where is the line exactly? What can I do before you divorce me?
- Why do I have to spend time with my spouse and family? We live together isn’t that enough?
- I promised to love you and marry you, isn’t that enough? What do my actions have to do with it?
When these questions are put in the context of covenant they don’t make any sense. No one truly commits to a marriage thinking about how much they can get away with, or not wanting to spend time together, or not showing their love. But for some reason we do this with Jesus. We ask questions about what we can get away with while still following Jesus (sin questions). We ask questions about why we need to commit to Jesus’ family and gathering together (church questions). We ask questions about whether our faith really needs to change our actions or whether we are still “saved”.
This is all contract Christianity, not covenant Christianity. Because as soon as you start thinking about following Jesus in terms of a covenant none of those questions make any sense. If you are committing to follow Jesus for the rest of your life, you’re not interested in what you can get away with (sin). If you are covenanting with Jesus, spending time with him and his family (church) makes absolute sense. If you are being a disciple of his, having faith in him naturally flows out with showing it. (action / works)
So all that to say is that I think we need to regain the sense of following Jesus as a covenant and not just as a contract. We follow Jesus with our whole lives, not just what happens after our lives have ended. The point is that following Jesus is to change how we live now, which will last into eternity. And I think if there is one thing in Christianity we need to regain, it’s a sense of covenant because it matters and it’s beautiful.