Religious sociologists spend their time analyzing the trends in the religious practices of various groups. Several years ago, a team at the University of North Carolina studied the religious habits of young people, and after many interviews and observations they released their report on the state of the faith of young people in the United States. They saw the “dominant religion” of our youth not to be any particular brand of Christianity – although it was overwhelmingly Christian-based. What they saw was something that they termed “Moral Therapeutic Deism,” and this “religion” has a few core tenets:
1. God exists and He created everything.
2. God wants us to be good and nice to one another
3. The main purpose of life is to be “happy.”
4. God is generally uninvolved in life until called upon.
5. Good people go to heaven.
That’s it. That is the faith of our young people, and it is more and more the general faith of most Americans. I bet is sounds familiar to many of you.
While this study was aimed at describing the faith of young people, it is actually very close to the dominant faith experience of most people in our nation. These are those folks who would describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”
I think that the young man who approaches Jesus today is not that different from us. He is a person of faith; he loves the Lord; he is living his faith according to the “requirements.” However, even in the midst of that, he feels somehow limited. There has to be “something more” for him. When he comes to Jesus, he recognizes that there is that “something more” right in front of him.
“Good teacher,” He says, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
The man recognizes that Jesus is the source of this information – perhaps even moreso that others. So he asks his question, looking for some new “rule” or regulation to follow so he knows for sure that he is okay.
But that’s not what Jesus gives him. Rather than a new set of instructions, Jesus shares what he already knows – the Commandments. So the man presses Jesus for more.
And that’s where Jesus offers the remedy for Moral Therapeutic Deism – to shake him out of the drifting funk in which he has been living.
But before Jesus gives His instructions, we hear something absolutely beautiful: Jesus, looking at him, loved him.
He loved him.
The love of God breaks through any confining law or way of life that we impose upon Him or ourselves. Just because we live like He is uninvolved does not mean that this is the reality. God wants us to be more than just “nice” to each other and simply coexist; He wants us to love one another as He loves us. And that calls for something that Moral Therapeutic Deism does not offer.
It calls for sacrifice.
Sacrifice is what joins us to the love that Jesus shares because that is the love of God – it gives of itself and transforms those who receive it. If this man could truly give up all his possessions and respond to that real love of God in his midst, then he would certainly know what eternal life looks like.
We kick off the Year of Faith this week. It is an opportunity for us – just like that young man – to approach Jesus and reevaluate our relationship with Him. After all, we do not simply profess faith in a set of laws or some quaint philosophy that researchers can give a cool name to. Rather, we profess faith in a Person: Jesus Christ.
Our first steps are the same as that young man’s. We must first come to the Lord and speak with Him. We pray. Jesus does not always give us easy answers, but He will always look at us and love us. Would that everyone knew this love. Imagine how our community and our world would be transformed if everyone knew the love of God in their lives. We are being loved at this very moment – and always.
How will we respond? Do we walk away, or do we “come, and follow” Jesus?