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The other day I saw a man wearing a T-shirt that read, “Atheists for Jesus.” I was intrigued and considered asking him to tell me more. Did it mean he was a former atheist who has come to realize salvation is not found in a religious code or institution, but through a personal relationship with a Jesus Who claimed to be God and proved it by rising from the dead? I thought I should look up the phrase before making assumptions. This is what the AFJ website reads:
“…(W)hen I say that I am ‘for Jesus’, I do not mean to imply in any way that I have converted to Christianity or that I now believe Jesus to be a god. What I do mean is that I have come to have a great deal of respect for the teachings of Jesus. My respect for Jesus is not based on the Cross, but rather on the Mount–not on His death and supposed resurrection, but on His teachings as exemplified by the Sermon on the Mount.”
With all due respect, Mr. AFJ, one cannot be partially “for Jesus” any more than one can be partially “for love.” Jesus is the essence of love, the embodiment of love, the revelation of love. Love is demonstrated in self-sacrifice, and to say that you are all for Jesus’ teachings but not for who He claimed to be by way of demonstration at both the cross and empty tomb is, well, a slap in His face, to be perfectly honest.
Anyone can say they accept what Jesus taught while rejecting what He did at the cross. “Atheists for Jesus” is no more meaningful and surprising than “Americans for Jesus.” The shirt would have been no less impressive had it read, “Person for Jesus.” Most decent, moral people are “for Jesus.”
But Jesus was not beaten, torn and crucified so we could be “for” His teachings, beautiful as they are. The sermon on the mount near the shore of Galilee pointed the way to the living Sermon on Mount Calvary. A sermon has no life without demonstration. On the mount, Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” On the cross, Jesus loved his enemies, including those who reject Him while loving his teachings.
Furthermore, those who claim to love Jesus’ teachings without professing to be His followers have apparently never actually read His teachings, let alone understood or appreciated them. In the famed Sermon on the Mount Jesus says hard things and commands what is humanly impossible.
He tells us to be meek (lay down our “right to be right” and resist fighting back), to be merciful to the undeserving, to go beyond keeping peace to making peace, and to rejoice when we are persecuted (so long as we are persecuted “for righteousness’ sake,” not for “‘right-wing’s sake.” Sorry, but God doesn’t pat us on the back for being persecuted for politics of any kind. American politics are important, but they are not the Gospel.)
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus equates anger with murder and lust with adultery, and only grants forgiveness to those who forgive. And when you think about it, how does it make sense to “love” the commands to “turn the other cheek”, “go the extra mile” or give away your only tunic and cloak? This sermon was given to Jews under severe Roman oppression; they were used and abused in these specific ways.
Mr. Atheist-for-Jesus, do you still have a “great deal of respect” for these teachings?
The teachings of Jesus are not meant to be admired and printed on a T-shirt, but to drive us to our knees in humble confession of the need for a supernatural transformation of heart that will enable us to live the Sermon on the Mount. “With God, all things are possible.”
Finally, the words of the AFJ remind me of a quote by the “very hip” CS Lewis:
“‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher … You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool … or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8