How America Gets Christianity Wrong
Claiming Christianity in America is a lot like claiming to watch Netflix or eat sweet potato fries. It’s pretty well received.
However, living out my faith in America often elicits a much different response.
It seems like the Americanized view of Christianity is to fight for your own happiness while also loving Jesus. Unfortunately, this is a notion that goes against the crux of the gospel.
The Bible isn’t some self-help guide to a perfect life + Jesus.
In fact, Jesus’ own life shows us that the pursuit of happiness is actually contrary to what God has designed. God didn’t even desire for Jesus, the Savior of the world, to make all of His decisions based on what would make Him the happiest.
So does God not care about our happiness?
Well, God calls us to a different kind of happiness. He calls us to abundant joy.
Joy moves beyond temporary pleasure with eternal perspective.
Joy moves beyond temporary circumstances with eternal contentment.
This doesn’t mean that we can’t be happy in our earthly lives. Of course we can! But, when things don’t go our way and circumstances change, we don’t have to despair.
If pursuit of Christ equaled the pursuit of happiness, it would never have survived the first witnesses. It would have never made it to America in the first place. First century Christians were far from happy by earthly standards. Many died as martyrs – beaten and beheaded.
It makes sense that God doesn’t call us to a religion that thinks only of our happiness. If He did, then the minute we felt sad, we would doubt Him or deny the faith.
Instead, God calls us to a relationship full of joy.
Jesus calls us to abide in Him and cultivate intimacy with Him by lovingly obeying His commandments. When we follow Christ and abide in Him, we experience a joy that moves beyond any pleasure or circumstance.
“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).
Union with Christ – walking in the security of His love – leads to abundant joy. This joy is not the same as earthly happiness. God doesn't call us to selfish individualism that claims immediate happiness as our first priority.
Individualism is at the core of American success. Our nation is all about the individual. So our country cheers when someone claims Christianity, but our country isn’t as quick to accept when someone wants to claim the type of Christianity that Jesus lived.
Jesus wants us to sacrifice our temporary happiness for the sake of His message.
“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it’” (Matt. 16:24).
Jesus calls us to take up our cross daily and follow Him, which might mean some sweat-stressing work. If we fight for ourselves, we lose our ability to fight for Jesus. We miss the opportunity to have the mindset of questioning what will bring the MOST glory to God, not the most self-success.
Jesus isn’t some add-on feature that we can mix into our life.
So how exactly does America get Christianity wrong?
Our country attempts to mix patriotic individualism with a religion that tells us to deny self.
We mix culture with the Bible and get confused. Well, at least I do.
So how can I pursue the type of abundant joy Jesus wants to provide in the middle of laying down my life?
I must remember the link connecting joy to sacrifice. Reading a few verses down from where we started in John, we learn the link:
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” (John 15:16).
God’s love is built on the ultimate sacrifice. It is love that takes initiative – Jesus coming and choosing us by dying on our behalf. He is the perfect example of sacrifice, and it is in Jesus’ sacrifice that we are even able to work in the first place. It is in His sacrifice that makes our daily sacrifices have meaning.
Notice that when we abide in Christ, we are able to bear fruit and live within the will of God.
I’m still working on it. I find myself thinking God is somehow distant if I’m not getting what I immediately desire. I frequently treat my faith as an add-on feature to my life and then wonder why I’m left lonely, distracted, and fearful.
I have to remember this faith isn’t about instant gratification. Americanized individualism and gospel living don’t really go hand and hand. Christianity is about living for something far greater than self. We become part of something much bigger.
While I’m so thankful to be part of our great nation, I also must remember how culture might tempt me to embrace the label of Christianity while also resisting the crux of its message.
Ever wonder why so many Christians in America are self-obsessed? (myself often included)
We get that way when we forget to fight for Jesus instead of ourselves.
Questions to Ask Yourself:
Do I think God guarantees my happiness?
Do I rate my relationship with God based on how I’m feeling?
Do I fight for Jesus or myself?