This week we started our new series, UNTAMED (click here to catch up on the latest sermon). The series looks at our tendency to “tame” God down to a more manageable size. Of course, God cannot be tamed. Instead, God invites us out of our shallow views of Him into the unfathomable depths of His presence.
One of the dangers of trying to tame God is that we reducing Him to an idol. An imaginary god with no real power or presence in our lives. In Exodus 32 Israel created an idol, the golden calf. One of the interesting things about the story is that Israel wasn’t trying to replace God. Israel still wanted a connection with Yahweh, but on their own terms. Exodus 32:5-6 makes this clear. To celebrate the new idol they held a festival to the LORD, Yahweh, the God of Israel. They made burnt offerings and peace offerings like nothing had changed in their worship. They weren’t completely abandoning their faith. They still wanted a connection with Yahweh. They decided to move forward on their own terms, with a tame God who made them feel more comfortable.
Isn’t this what we are tempted to do? Jesus, Lion of Judah, King of kings, Mighty God, is intimidating. He doesn’t fit into our agendas. He threatens our personal kingdom building projects. He challenges us and humbles us in ways that makes us uncomfortable. So we tame Jesus. We do not completely abandon Jesus. We create an “imaginary Jesus” that better fits our agenda. Who makes us feel more comfortable. We still “believe” in Jesus. We still go to church, sing the songs, listen to the sermons, read our bible, etc. But deep down we don’t have a relationship with the real Jesus. As a consequence our hearts are no longer burning with love for Jesus, because an imaginary Jesus is not lovely. And our lives are not characterized by the power of Jesus, because an imaginary Jesus is not real.
Deep down I think we are all tempted to tame Jesus and create an imaginary Jesus that makes us more comfortable. Here are 6 imaginary Jesus we might be tempted follow. All of them keep an element of truth about who Jesus is, but conveniently tame other aspects of who Jesus is.
- Hipster Jesus
This is the cool Jesus. The culturally relevant Jesus. He’s wears nerd glasses and cuffed skinny jeans, the one’s so tight he’s jeopardizing his future children. He has a big fluffy mustache. He rides his bike everywhere, even if it’s raining. He buys organic, non-GMO, fair trade coffee. He’s active in politics and faith, but not too active to be weird. He’s likable and loves everyone, except he secretly distains people who drink instant coffee.
We all want to be liked and fit in. So it is tempted to make Jesus fit it in with our culture. If Jesus is more likable, then we will fit in better. The problem is popular culture is always changing and no human culture is perfect. Jesus came to transform all cultures through the gospel. He calls us not to conform to the world, but to transform the world through the gospel.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
- Bobble Head Jesus
Most of us are frantically working to stay on top of things. We would like to believe that we are in control. We might drift into a view of Jesus that is distant and uninvolved in the day to day things of our lives. We put Bobble Head Jesus on the dash of our car or on our desk at work. When we need him, we just rub his head for good luck. Our lives are often filled with sporadic short prayer requests for help and comfort. “Jesus, help me not to die in my sleep.” “Heal me.” “Thank you that I have more food and stuff than 90% of the world.” “Help me to get an A on my next test.”
There’s nothing wrong with asking Jesus to help us or being thankful for our abundant material blessings. However, if the bulk of our conversations with Jesus are short little personal prayer requests, something is wrong. Maybe we’ve reduced Jesus down to the size of a bobble head good luck charm. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. Jesus, the God who is with us, is the hope of the Scriptures. Jesus had made a way for all people to live in intimate relationship with God.
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. (John 6:26)
- Jesus is my Homeboy Jesus
The endless grace of God is probably the most powerful and unique aspect of the Christian faith. But haven’t we all been tempted to reduce the grace of God into a license to let sin and laziness go unchecked in our lives. We all go through seasons where we just want to throw off restrain and live by our own rules. It’s tempting to turn Jesus into a friend who is always there for us, always forgives us, and always encourages us. The problem is that this Jesus will let you destroy yourself. He doesn’t really love you. I love my two daughters. When I see them hurting themselves I respond in love to correct and guide them.
You are my friends if you do what I command you. (John 15:14)
- Perpetually Angry Jesus
We all come into our walk with Jesus with brokenness. Many of us slide into believing that God is constantly disappointed with our repeated sinfulness. I remember early on in my faith I believed that Jesus was mad at me every time I sinned. I thought he would stay disappointed with me until I proved my faithfulness again. People who live with Angry Jesus are driven by their fear and anxiety that they are not good enough. They have not learned to rest in the finished work of Jesus or received their status as a beloved child of God.
10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10-13)
- CEO Jesus
Many of us competitively compare ourselves to others and measure our worth by how successful we are. It is easy to turn our Christian lives into a competition. We can start to follow a CEO Jesus that dictates every facet of our lives. The problem is that placing our value in our performance, instead of the performance of Jesus, is ultimately crushing. We will titer totter between pride and despair. When we are successful it fills us with pride and arrogance. When we fail it fills us with despair. CEO Jesus has no grace or tenderness to help us grow through our brokenness.
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
- Self-Help Jesus
Jesus died for me, so let’s keep the focus on ME. Selfishness is at the root of almost all our problems. Jesus can become our self-help guru who encourages us to realize our personal dreams. Self-Help Jesus serves my plans to be rich, comfortable, and happy. The problem is that life is not about our glory, it is about God’s glory. Focusing on our personal happiness is the equivalent of trying to build a kingdom that rivals God’s. In the end we will build a life that has no substance and God’s kingdom alone will stand in eternity.
35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8:35)
So what Imaginary Jesus are you tempted to follow? There are far more than six tame versions of Jesus out there. What Imaginary Jesus’ have you seen walking amongst us? Leave a comment below.
For further reading on this subject check out: