"It looks like a real cigarette . . . it tastes like a real cigarette . . . it feels like a real cigarette . . . but it's not a real cigarette. E-cigaratte."
These electronic straws allow a battery-powered device to shove nicotine down your throat without having all that pesky smoke. While it's legal in most places, supposedly it's still illegal in Australia and Hong Kong.
I was both humored (as I am now, in fact) and amazed by it. I thought the sign should read, "E-cigarette. It's the cleaner way to kill yourself."
Then I was struck by the sales sign. As you might imagine, I had a theological reflection. My reflection made my smile go away, unfortunately, as I thought about how many Christians could fit that description. The haunting question was if I could fit that description.
"It looks like a Christian . . . it talks like a Christian . . . it smiles like a Christian . . . but it's not a real Christian. E-Christian."
Jesus' message was inextricably linked with who He was. That is, His message made no sense apart from who He was. The imminent Kingdom of God declared in His message was present in Him: the God-man who ate grilled fish, slept, got dehydrated sometimes, had dreams, stared at the sunset, prayed each day, made jokes with his disciples, and even cried. The same person was able to forgive sins apart from the Temple, walk on water, raise the dead, heal the sick, restore the blind and lame, and even see and hear heroes of old once Transfigured. How a person responded to His message was how they were responding to God's call to repentance. If Christianity is anything at all, it is about Christology. It is the thing that distinguishes Christianity from all other religions on the planet.
To be certain, Jesus' message of "good news" was that our repentance and forgiveness was salvation. One did not repent in order to be the benificiary of the good news. The actual act of repentance and being forgiven was the good news. After the resurrection, the Holy Spirit is promised to enable such a reception of the "good news." When we receive the good news, we are being transformed. We are not transformed because we make the transformation possible, but because Jesus has already made the human race capable of transformation.
C.S. Lewis reflects on what it means that Jesus, the Son of God, actually became human: "What, then, is the difference which He has made to the whole human mass? It is just this; that the business of becoming a son of God, of being turned from a created thing into a begotten thing, of passing over from the temporary biological life into timeless "spiritual" life, has been done for us. Humanity is already "saved" in principle. We individuals have to appropriate that salvation. But the really tough work—the bit we could not have done for ourselves—has been done for us. We have not got to try to climb up into spiritual Me by our own efforts; it has already come down into the human race. If we will only lay ourselves open to the one Man in whom it was fully present, and who, in spite of being God, is also a real man, He will do it in us and for us. . . . One of our own race has this new life: if we get close to Him we shall catch it from Him" (Mere Christianity [New York: Touchstone], 157-58).
The Incarnation has made the human race capable of being made new. We just need to receive it.
How do we receive it? By coming under the discipleship of Jesus of Nazareth. Without repenting and trusting in Him; without actually knowing what the Kingdom of God is about; without living a life of obedience and love, there is no way that we can be the real thing.
It sounds as if I'm talking about a give-and-take relationship, as if it's up to me to respond faithfully before He can transform me. Yes. Such is the nature of discipleship.
What would the Church, not to mention the world, look like if there were no "E-Christians," but the real thing? Could it really be that the risen Christ could be in us, working through us, saving us each day?