Christians are called to be distinctive. To mark ourselves out, in the way we treat others and by the lives we ourselves lead, that we are different to other people. In a country that is increasingly all about conformity, being a true disciple of Jesus is becoming tantamount to unleashing anarchy in the UK.
I’ve heard it said, by people who really have no concept of what it truly means, that this (the United Kingdom) is a Christian country.
It may have its laws founded on the Ten Commandments, but if the UK really was a Christian country, then the landscape of this (in places), green and pleasant land, would be radically different.
First of all a country can’t be a Christian. Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis (the three highest peaks in the UK), are never going to stand up and declare their faith in Jesus. There’s the slight lack of a mouth. However, they do reflect the glory of God – and by God do they! But, every single one of the people who live on this cluster of islands could indeed stand up and profess their trust in Jesus as their Saviour. This profession couldn’t come as a result of any state-sanctioned order, it has to be a confession from the heart. You have to want to be a disciple of Jesus, because it’s going to cost you your life.
You’re going to have to exchange your controlled, materialistic, self-serving life for one where other people come first and where you allow God to be in control. You don’t have to read too much of the gospels to understand that living life the way Jesus asks us to would cause the biggest revolution that society has ever known.
Let’s just take one bit, one tiny bit of Jesus’ teaching and think about how that might impact life in this country right now if every single person who claimed Christianity as their faith, (35 million people in the 2001 census), lived it out as best they could.
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove that you are my disciples.” John 13: 34-35 (NLT)
That’s just two verses and once you start to unpack it, you realise that compared to the experience of modern life in the UK, it’s a big ask. Here’s just five simple ways that life might change if we wholly lived out this teaching. I’m sure you can think of a myriad of others.
There’d be no speeding. We’d all drive our vehicles at or under the speed limit, because we know that Christians respect the governing authorities (Romans 13: 1). Driving down the M6 would become a pleasure. We’d all let people in when they need to come into our lane and there’d be no driving right to the end and forcing your way in, because that’s not – as St James May of Top Gear would say – responsible Christian Motoring. James May would probably be in charge of driving in the UK, Jeremy Clarkson having upped sticks and moved anywhere else but here.
Nobody would ever be stuck for volunteers. We’d all be there. Whatever needed doing, we’d pitch up with a brush or whatever was needed, and get stuck in; just as the Riot Wombles did during the London riots of summer 2011. That was brilliant and thank you for whoever it was who decided to do that, we need more of that spirit in this country.
Nobody would ever be lonely… or hungry, or homeless or any one of umpteen things that even in the 21st Century we’ve failed to address. There’d be no Eleanor Rigby’s. There’d be no tales of women found dead and half-eaten by cats and no need for any person to sleep rough. We would all know that loving one another – loving our neighbour as ourselves – extends to all the people we share a planet with. Where there’s a need, we’d be there, whether it was Basildon or Bolivia.
We would no longer be at the whims of advertisers or retailers because we would live by the concept of only buying what we need. We would not be greedy because taking more than we need is hurting other people. We would not, as Yvonne Lyon says in the song I Believe in Christmas ‘unleash our borrowed wealth’ (our credit cards), because we know that living beyond our means isn’t something that God wants us to do. Imagine the stress if your credit card company asked for the entire bill paid, tomorrow… Yup, God doesn’t want that stress for you.
For many, the concept of wearing clothes until they fall apart is an alien concept. Clothes are now classed as disposable items. We buy them cheap, we wear them a bunch of times and then we either flog them on internet auction sites or toss them into a bag for the charity shop. We have entire wardrobe rails of ‘nothing to wear,’ racks of shoes that would never get worn out, even if we rotated each pair daily for the rest of our lives. Not everyone lives like this, but enough do to make it worth retailers while to promote the principle of more, more, more. Apple would be stuck for marketing to the UK if the response to their iPad version 24 was ‘no thanks, I’ll use the one I’ve got until it wears out.’
What?! But the new one has a 96 megapixel camera!
‘Yes, and…? This one works fine.’
But it’s old.
‘No, I bought it 18 months ago, it works fine, it does what I need it to do. I’ll buy a replacement when I need to.’
But the new one comes in fifteen colours!
‘Really? You have to bring it out in different colours to get us to buy it?’ *sniff* ‘Do I smell a marketing ploy…’
And so on. In the blink of an eye their hold on us would evaporate.
We would slow down. Not just on the roads with Captain Slow at the helm of our motoring; but in our everyday lives, as we seek to discern what God wants for us and do it. We’d know the true value of a proper day of rest. A day that isn’t a homogenised version of every other day, but a truly distinctive God-sanctioned rest day. And it might not be Sunday; it might be another day of the week that fits in with the work God asks you to do. Because, if we all rested on the same day, we’re not going to be able to love and serve one another if we leave patients lying in a hospital bed in agony, while we slavishly observe a Sunday sabbath. Perhaps your sabbath will be Thursday, or Monday, but either way you will observe a day of rest, because you know that in taking care of yourself you can better serve other people.
Of course, there are many, many other ways that these two verses of scripture can be practically lived out. But the biggest one by far is your own personal decision, to change your heart and decide to love instead of hate; to build up instead of destroy and to resolve to inflict not the worst, but the best of yourself on the world.
As someone once said, love is all you need.