Christians are created to represent Jesus by being “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). But there are many parts involved in this process:
As “brightness”, “color”, and other settings on a computer screen need to be balanced for a clear picture, if any of these components is overemphasized or underemphasized, it deforms our message and damages our witness.
Here’s a recap of how imbalances in the first three categories does violence to how we live out the gospel.
If beliefs are underemphasized, then:
God can be anyone
Truth can be anything
Love can be defined in any way
The gospel is powerless
If beliefs are overemphasized:
Theology becomes god
Being correct outweighs being kind
All doctrine is essential
All doctrine matters more than unity
This is a popular one, which explains why Western Christianity is shattered by divisions, denominations, and abuse.
If desires are overemphasized:
Our appetites become god
Money, pleasure, and comfort are the goal
Loving Jesus and people is optional
If desires are underemphasized:
Bodily needs become useless
Sex is a necessary evil
Relationships are only a means to spread truth
Loving people with words is all that matters
God gives us good gifts to celebrate him together. That’s why Paul said forbidding good things is demonic: “for everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanks“ (1 Tim. 4:1-4).
If emotions are overemphasized:
Emotional highs become supreme
Uncomfortable truths are avoided
God is only served when it feels right
People are only loved when it feels good
If emotions are underemphasized:
Emotions aren't addressed
Emotions are suppressed
Emotions fester into physical and mental problems
Relational connections are short-circuited
Notice how every imbalance changes how we see Jesus and how we love our neighbor. That's because these deviants alter God’s design by redefining what it means to be human, turning people into humanoids, beasts, or doctrinal computation machines.
The result is a diseased religion called "Christian".
"God doesn’t do miracles anymore."
"Every true Christian will see the supernatural."
These are the extreme types of statements that come from having this setting unbalanced.
Experiences can be anything though, including what we encounter by:
The Bible is overflowing with transformed lives of people who experienced God through these channels.
Life itself is a series of experiences that mold us, just as our Christianity is the result of our experiences. Good and bad.
Once upon a time I was on the edge of despair, leaning into suicide when a spark lit up my heart and led me to surrender to Jesus as my supreme king. My family said, “You’re a different person!”
It was a miracle, and it started with a heart experience. This is common. Other experiences are less common.
Muslims are running to Jesus and begging for Bibles as they’re converted in droves to Christianity. One study showed that out of 600 Muslims who became disciples of Christ, 25% of them were converted by dreams about Jesus.
Some traditions of Christianity think this is impossible. Or demonic. Others think it’s obviously from God. I know people on both sides who are committed Christians, so I’m not trying to make anyone change their views, though I believe viewing these spectrums can help us appreciate both sides.
“Reveal to me your love for someone here,” my friend once prayed.
God showed him a particular girl. She was an atheist who hated religion and wanted nothing to do with God.
My friend also wanted to show another one of his not-yet-Christian friends that God would hear his prayers. So, he asked him to pray, and he did: “God, please help her to believe in you and love you.”
The next day they got a text from her: “I woke up this morning and knew without a doubt that God exists and that he loves me!”
At once they met with her and heard how she was convinced that God is real and that he loves her, and that, beyond all reason, she loves him. They told her how God led them to pray for her that very night, and they learned that her mom had asked God for this very thing for nearly ten years.
Both were baptized. Both committed their lives to Christ, and the girl went on to be a missionary.
These experiences happen, and they result in fruitful Christians.
When experiences are overemphasized, people make them the prime pursuit of Christianity. But when experiences are underemphasized, people try to cut them out of Christianity altogether. Both sides dent the truth and take away from loving others.
People don't change without experiences, natural or supernatural.
Trauma or Tenderness
All experiences create who we are, but not all are positive. Many people know first-hand how trauma, abuse, and neglect sting.
Do these experiences affect beliefs, desires, and emotions? Potently!
If a dad yells, beats, or demeans his child, it does more than bruise her flesh. It changes something deep within her.
Desires drive us like a gas pedal while beliefs direct us like a steering wheel. And Emotions are formed from our beliefs, which then partner with our desires to propel us forward.
For example, if you were driving down the road and saw a sign that said, "Warning: broken bridge ahead", you would feel a moment of panic that would energize you to turn around. The desire to live with the belief about the bridge would create panic to propel you in the right direction.
How do experiences fit into this process?
Experiences create the world of our beliefs—all of it—which then direct how we fulfill our desires. Whether the experience is seeing a road sign or hearing that Jesus rose from the dead, experiences build our beliefs.
We can see this in 2 Corinthians. Here, Paul spoke of life-changing experiences with Christ.
“We all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).
The Greek text illuminates two things that aren’t obvious in English:
“Beholding” is a causal participle, which means the beholding happens at the same time as the transforming.
It also means the beholding causes the transforming.
“From one degree of glory to another” is a poor translation based off a guess of what Paul means, but it’s literally, “from glory to glory”.
The flow of thought and usage of these prepositions indicate that “from” is the cause while “to” is the result.
Like this: “While we are beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed into the same image because of his glory to resemble his glory.”
The experience of seeing “the glory of Christ” changes us to embody that glory.
How does this happen?
When you see the brilliance of Jesus’ love for you personally (Gal. 2:20), it changes how you view God, yourself, and the world. It leads to a life of faith and faithfulness to Jesus.
Once he saw Jesus’ love for him, he considered “everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ…that I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:7-11). He believed that his desire for happiness would be found in Jesus’ promise of bodily resurrection.
He then saw:
Himself as a servant of Christ
People as needing Christ
Life as being about Christ
Death as gain
Like a meteor, the experience of Christ’s love smashed into Paul, centering his beliefs and emotions around Christ’s love, leading him to meet his desires in Christ. The result was the greatest missionary in history.
What about the traumatized person?
When a child is treated like a mistake, they don’t have the tools to say, “This is wrong. I’m worth love and dignity.” They tend to conclude that they are worth being beaten and used. They believe they are a mistake.
Not surprisingly, this leads to long-term depression and anxiety, which drives them to soothe these powerful emotions in things like denial, over-eating, alcohol, drugs, self-harm, and suicide.
This also pushes them into lifestyles that alleviate their sense of worthlessness, such as anorexia, over-achieving, workaholism, and promiscuity.
The experience of abuse smashes a person, caving their beliefs and emotions under the lie, "You're worthless", urging them to mute their pain in destructive ways.
Experiences can deliver us or destroy us. They make us who we are. They define our Christianity.
Next time we’ll look at how behaviors fit into the picture.
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