We hear and read a lot of things attributed to Jesus that just might not be. Do we make God in our own image? Whether it’s cultural values blending with biblical ideas or simply well-intentioned but poor theology, we put words in the mouth of Christ. Here are 20 things that might be attributed to Jesus or the Bible yet do not quite make the grade.
Jesus never said…
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1. Give more money and you will get more money.
The rich young ruler in his discussion with Jesus is asked to give money, but the treasure he would receive is “in heaven”—basically leaving his fortune to become broke to follow Jesus. Prosperity gospel preaches that material riches are promised for our material investment. We in fact are called to share in the sufferings of Christ. (Mark 10:17)
2. Eat only with those who are like you.
Jesus ate with “many sinners” – tax collectors and other bottom feeders in society. (Mark 2:13) Jesus drank with the woman at the well, a Samaritan—people of a race and religion abhorrent to Jews. Plus, she had a very bad reputation. (John 4:7) Who do we dine with? Who do we invite into our home to sit at our table?
3. Keep on sinning, really…it’s ok
Jesus never outright condemns a sinner—other than the religious people of his day. However, he never said that to keep on sinning is OK. (John 5:13, John 8:11) In the first case Jesus heals a man. In the second, Jesus stops the stoning of a woman by challenging the crowd of sinners to own up to their own sin. Do we have a choice to sin? I happen to believe we do as followers of Christ. Yes, we are not “condemned” by Christ and we most likely will choose poorly throughout our lives. But, are we encouraged to sin further? No.
4. You are sick because of your sin.
Some believe that your physical sickness is a result of your sin. Jesus is pretty clear on this one. (John 9:2) It was common in Bible times to think that people born into sickness or who became ill did so because of sin or sinning. We often condemn the sick, just like any other disempowered members of the human race. Jesus touched the leper and those “unclean”—shaking up the view of the outcast. (Matthew 8:3)
5. Being rich means that you’re better in God’s eyes.
Back to the poor fellow called “the rich young ruler” in the gospels. He had all the right answers. He was the most pious one on his street and he and everyone knew it. He thought that his status was secure until Jesus challenged him to give up the one thing he couldn’t bare to part with—his wealth and status. In fact, it seems that it is harder to follow God when you are rich. So, this thinking your are more spiritual because you are rich is a lie.
6. Being poor is a badge of honor.
On the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3), Jesus says “blessed are the poor in spirit” and acknowledges the “kingdom of heaven” being theirs. Indeed, the poor in their struggle have to rely on prayers for daily sustenance. But, this is not a spiritual badge of honor. Jesus did not prescribe poverty or denounce wealth.
7. You have enough disciples, already.
There is a sense in some theology that God has chosen already who will become disciples. Others claim faith is a private thing. We may be comfortable if all of our loved ones are part of Christianity. We respect the choices of others to have no religion or in their spiritual journey. But, Even in our discomfort and with possible persecution, Jesus makes it clear that we have a “mission” as his followers to call more Jesus followers. (Matthew 28:16–20)
8. Following rules is more important than relationships.
When we see the rules of religion as something that gives us social status we see them in the wrong light. What if the “10 Commandments” were a gift from God about how we relate not only to him but to each other? In fact, Jesus melded the Great Commandment and the Second Commandment into one thought: Loving God and loving people. We can’t do one without the other! (Matthew 22:36-40)
9. Your denomination has all the right theology.
We all come from the same roots of Christianity in Jerusalem with the original church fathers. Our branches are many. The Bible and creeds hold together much of our Christian faith. However, suppose that the Holy Spirit blows his wind through different movements of faith across time and geography. The early church, which many say is the purest, was not quite so pure. They didn’t let non-Jews in until a contentious church meeting! (Galatians 2:11-14) And, perhaps, Providence allowed persecution to spread the faith in the diaspora.
10. Church success is measured with attendance, buildings and cash.
Today, we seem to measure numbers. But, do we love people and love God? When Paul mentions his authority and accomplishments he measures something quite a bit more personal, and powerful. He measures the changed hearts and lives of the people under his ministry and teaching. No “letter on paper” but a letter “written on human hearts” is cited. What do we cite as success in ministry today? (2 Corinthians 3”1-3) Should we have more stories and pictures of people on our websites and less about property and size?
11. Technology is evil.
Jesus did not have an iPhone, or use Facebook. But, his words can be found on them! Paper and pen is a technology as well as the roads to send letters. Paul, the Apostle, pastored many churches through the technology or mailed letters, voyages on the latest ships of the day, and walked on the high-tech Roman roads that still exist today. The point is this, we would not have a church without technology. Whether it is the tech of roads or smartphones, tools can and should be used to further the Kingdom of God.
12. Science is faulty and should be banned.
Jesus was not around when the discipline of science was invented. While science is a system of observing patterns and repeating them, faith is full of mystery and humanity. We do not have to see these as competing systems. Truth is truth. But, are all things provable? No. I can put my trust in Christ while using my mind to learn from science. Can I believe things that science cannot prove or explain? I do this everyday as I am not living by reason and common sense to interact with the world. Gravity is not just a scientific law, we all experience it. But, not everything science teaches can be experienced. Can I still be a Christian when science seems to contradict what the Bible says? I think we can.
13. Religion is about catering to the influential and powerful.
There is a dichotomy with how some believe Christianity is losing its influence, while the wealth and power of evangelical churches has surely not slowed. With our church leadership culture, it seems a common strategy to target influential and powerful people for conversion or partnership. (James 2:1-6) At a rally or revival a singer or famous athlete is likely to be present. But, who are we called to cater to? The poor, the orphan and the widow. (James 1:27) I think we get this wrong, too often. This doesn’t mean we disavow the mighty. It means we lift the lowly.
14. Doubting means you are losing your faith.
The best story to debunk this myth is to meet Doubting Thomas where the myth was created. (John 20:25-30) Thomas gets a bad rap, I think. His questioning is not a problem. Jesus, when he says, “blessed are those who believe and do not see” is not slamming Thomas. He is foreshadowing the billions to come who would never have the chance to put their finger in the holes of his hands and hole in his side. Doubt is human, not sinful. Faith is not the opposite of doubt. It is the result of dealing with our doubts and choosing to believe.
15. Church is for those who have their act together.
If Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors, why do our churches make it hard for sinners to attend? Jesus said that the well have no need for a doctor. He came to call the sinner to repentance, not the righteous to huddle. (Luke 5:29:32) Does your church open its arms to the sinner—on purpose? Or, do you attract the already converted? Jesus chose the sinner, by the way. Might we run our church differently if this was our goal for the church?
16. Christians should all vote alike.
Since it is an election year, I thought that this would be good to explore here. We often ascribe our own cultural grid to Jesus and then that logically leads to how we think our government should be run. Also, should faith be subversive to the government? Should we pay taxes? Jesus, says you better! (Mark 12:17) Paul says we are subject to authority. (Romans 13:1-8) But, we don’t have anything that tells me how to vote! Can we allow room for conscience and respect each other’s perspectives a bit more these days?
17. I can’t relate to your issues.
In every respect, Jesus was tested just as we are today! (Hebrews 4:14) Our connection to God the Father, Jesus, then can sympathize and even empathize with us in our weaknesses. Really? Yes. This means that the humanity of Jesus, although never having sinned, gives us a special connection to our Father. Jesus did not travel on his private jet, shop at Gucci, or have body guards who kept the every day person out of his view. His hands got very dirty. And, he knows us very well as he lived and walked in our skin. The Incarnation is an amazing fact that has enormous and incredible ramifications for us as believers.
18. I always make what I preach easy to understand.
In fact, Jesus spoke in parables to actually disturb and hide rather than explain and reveal truth to people. (Matthew 13:10-11) How often do we in our pulpits make things in “5 easy steps” for people to understand easily the points we interpret? Perhaps, not all are ready for the full roll out. What if preaching is to be more like Jesus, dependent on the audience and there to challenge rather than inspire? The point is this: Jesus purposefully kept information from people in his teaching and even in some of his encounters. Is this ever appropriate in our preaching today?
19. No Jesus, no peace.
Too often we think that Jesus means peace when we present his message of good news. What we actually see is rejection, anger, and even persecution in some cases. Why? The message of Christ disrupts the status quo of power and reaches to the lowest. This is going to get you in trouble. (Matthew 10:34-36) Jesus bringing a “sword” does not mean that we bring a sword, but that the circumstance of bringing the Gospel will divide households and relationships. Peace is not a guarantee. In fact, it is likely to be less present the more we attempt to follow Christ. It should be mentioned that if we are offensive to people by how we act, that is another story. Let’s not do that.
20. Follow me and your life will be blessed.
We must lose to win. If we think the Christian life is about simply being more blessed this side of heaven, we miss the point. We actually must be willing to lose this life to gain life. (Mark 8:34-36) “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (NRSV) The point here is that Jesus is honest with us. There is a cost in following him. Just as the rich young ruler had to count the cost, we do as well. While it may not be losing our fortune, it may be losing our friends—or, even our life. Do we preach Christianity as conscription to a cause or membership to a club?