Kyle Idleman is the teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and the author of Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus. His words strike right at the heart of this issue:
We have all kinds of funny ways to measure our relationship with God and have things that we point to as evidence, like the fact that there is a fish on our bumper or people will talk about the fact that their grandparents went to church or that they have four Bibles in their house … Jesus doesn’t want fans; he wants completely committed followers.
I strongly resonate with Pastor Idleman’s perspective. He is addressing the very thing I was confronted with in college when I finally took a serious look at my spiritual convictions.
How authentic was my faith?
When I was twenty-two, just prior to graduation, I decided to spend a year studying abroad at Waseda University in Japan. It was another eye-opener for me, especially related to my growing love for Jesus, as I learned about some of Japan’s main religions—Shintoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. For example, Shintoism teaches that you have to pay money for a good name so that when you die, you get closer to the Creator. It saddened me that poor people pooled their money to buy a name for their deceased loved ones. And it struck me as suspicious that you actually had to pay the priest to get the name. Again, the exposure to these religions caused me to dig deeper into Christianity.
For me, the contrast between the faiths was startling and instructive.
It can be valuable to have a person or culture challenge core beliefs. During my college years I finally read my Bible from cover to cover to make sure I really did believe what I claimed to believe. My time in Japan gave me an entirely new perspective on the doctrine of grace. It helped me better understand how deep God’s love is for us and caused me to rejoice that unlike other major religions of the world, we don’t have to pay any institution in order to draw closer to Him.