I am an American Ninja Warrior Fan. There’s something about watching people going through obstacle courses and performing feats of endurance, athleticism and strength that I could only dream of doing. I’ve seen 7 seasons so far and amidst all of the amazing feats there is something that has stuck out to me because of its familiarity. One of the big things that they do is try and get to know the contestants and there’s been a familiar story that comes through over and over again.
“I was a drunk/drug addict/suicidal/depressed/didn’t have a place in the world…
but then I discovered American Ninja Warrior and I started trying to do some of the stuff
and it helped me turn my life around and now I’m here, and life is amazing.”
It’s a story that I’ve heard a thousand times throughout the course of my life, only I didn’t hear it first on TV. No, I heard it in church when people give their testimonies.
Now, I don’t want to diminish what God has done in peoples’ lives. I am sure that becoming a Christian has led to some amazing life transformation but I do question whether this is the thing that we want to be using to encourage people to become a Christian, especially when somebody on a competitive TV show can have the exact same story; only swapping out God for an obstacle course and physical fitness. If we are convinced that becoming a Christian is something absolutely necessary – and I believe it is – then we need to be able to point to something that can’t be replicated by Ninja Warrior, Alcoholics Anonymous, and literally every other religion.
It just so happens that we actually do have something different. Where so many other people are presenting something that affects us in the here and now, the Christian message is firmly rooted in eternity. While some Christians are saved and see a radical life transformation many others don’t. For many the Christian life is a long walk looking to a future where all of the things that we struggle with will fall away in the presence of the Almighty God. Primarily the Christian message isn’t about life change. It’s not about making ourselves better. The Christian message is about God, and not just any God but it’s about the Creator God who came to Earth as Jesus Christ and died on a cross because he saw our sin and decided to save us from it. It’s not a self-improvement message because the message is that we can’t improve ourselves, no matter how hard we try. Any change in us happens through the Holy Spirit and there’s no promise that that will happen in this life.
It’s remarkable that the message of the apostles in Acts wasn’t directly about any change in the lives of the hearers but it was about God; about what God did for us, and then about what our response should be to that God. As the old song goes
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
look full in his wonderful face
and the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
in the light of his glory and grace.”
This is what the Christian message calls us to do. Not to be better but to look to Jesus in all of his glory and to see him for who he is. If we present life transformation as the goal then we will just blend into the multitude of options that people have to change their lives. It’s only when we present Christ that we can truly say that we have something unique to offer the world. Reading the book of Acts, it seems that their approach worked pretty well.
Maybe we should look into doing it again.
This post comes from Ben Smith, who shares a deep conviction of Scripture as the infallible counsel of God, and that aided by the Holy Spirit we can arrive at a coherent understanding of what it teaches as a whole.