Experience Jesus? Not a good idea!
One of the greatest annual events for tech geeks around the world is unquestionably the Apple reveal in California. Year after year, the company releases its newest inventions—hardware and software meant to revolutionize the industry. Every year something faster and brighter, newer and better is developed for the ease of the consumer. Life will be easier with our product—they say. Your pictures will be like none other—they promote. And so it goes. People wait in lines outside the Apple stores to be among the first ones to get a hold of the newest device.
Since these kinds of events are normative in our days—although we could argue that they shouldn’t be normal—we have grown accustomed to this cycle and perhaps even expectant of it. But when it comes to the Scriptures, God, Christianity, or Jesus, adopting such idiosyncrasy may be the most dangerous mistake we could ever make. Allow me to explain.
Jesus is not a marketing icon.
A very popular concept developed among evangelicals of our day is, “come and experience Jesus.” The idea behind that concept is for the audience to come and feel His forgiveness, acceptance, and grace. In many cases, pastors, leaders, and church goers who have been deeply hurt by church politics and legalism wish to run away from all those debacles and instead “experience” the freedom of “just” being a follower of Jesus. Nothing else matters—they say—as long as you follow Jesus, everything else is secondary.
The idea of “experiencing Jesus” has become a motto, a slogan that intends to share a religious philosophy that exudes independence and freedom from control and rules. Phrases such as, “we just follow Jesus,” “we just believe in Jesus,” “we just experience Jesus,” communicate a new approach to Christianity. In philosophy this is called “utilitarianism”—if it’s helpful and beneficial, then do it. Jesus, therefore, has become a marketing tool. A way to differentiate from other kinds of Christianities. In these circles, the forgiveness of Jesus is commonly the main aspect of teaching. There is a conscious and designed emphasis on the love, embrace, and acceptance of the Lord towards all sinners.
While none of the above information is wrong—we do believe that Jesus receives and forgives sinners—an unhealthy presentation of the Gospel is as dangerous as presenting another gospel (Gal. 1:8). Jesus is not a brand, an advertisement, or an experience. Jesus is not a tool to grow the church. He is not part of our marketing campaign. He is not a millennial, He is not part of the generation Z, and thus, He cannot be made part of something that He is not. So, if Jesus is not to be “experienced” because He is not an experiment, then, what is He? How should we understand the Lord Jesus Christ?
Jesus is King
The Messiah Jesus is King. He is the King of the creation, the universe, the seen, and the unseen. As such, we do not “experience” the King, we submit to Him. We don’t “try” Him, we obey Him. We don’t “test” Him, we follow Him. He is King and we are His subjects. Absolutely, we are His friends (Jn. 15:15). Sure, we are co-heirs with Him (Rom. 8:17). And yes! We are His family (Mat. 12:50). But none of those truths subtract from the fact that He is King, the name above all names, the “Kurios,” the Messiah. While He does forgive, accept, embrace, and receive sinners, He does so because that is His will—not ours. He does not bend to our wishes, we submit to His lordship. The Gospel is not an invitation to accept His love. The Gospel is an order to repent so that we can receive loving forgiveness of sins. At least that is precisely what Jesus preached while on earth. Mark 1:14-15 reminds us that, “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” Does He love us? Yes. Did He die because of love? Yes. But the Gospel is not a suggestion, it is an order: repent and believe.
Since Jesus is King, our approach to Christianity cannot be man-made. We don’t approach Christianity, Christ approaches us. Therefore, while I do want to experience a close relationship with the Lord, I do not want to do so as an attempt to have more freedom and fewer rules. On the contrary, believing in the Lord Jesus means that I have renounced all my rights to do life my way. From now on, I am a citizen of His kingdom and I want to live a “kingdom life.” In the words of Jesus, “not my will, but thine, be done,” Luke 22:42.
I follow Jesus not because I want to feel accepted and embraced. I follow Jesus because He wants me to follow Him. His voice is so compelling, so beautiful, so magnanimous, so marvelous, that when He says, “follow me,” I follow. As the Scriptures and church history clearly show, many times His calling did not mean a life full of comforts and earthly rewards. His calling came with risks, difficulties, dangers, and many times, loss of life. His calling to follow Him is not so that you feel good, but rather so that you have a good feeling of what it means to depend solely on Him. Since Jesus is King, we follow Him—regardless of our feelings and in spite of our desires. And please note, this is not a sacrifice in our end. Serving, following, obeying the King must be the delight of our heart (Psalm 119:16).
The best part of all this is that the King not only receives and forgives sinners, He also transforms them. In forgiving sinners, God shows His love, but in transforming them, He displays His holiness. This is what many evangelicals tend to forget or undermine in this “experience Jesus” movement. The emphasis of the Gospel is not placed on who you were, but on who you will be through the transforming power of the Gospel. The Gospel sets us free from ourselves and places us in the “image bearing” vocation that we once had at the Garden of Eden (Gen. 1:26). We were meant to reflect who He is. We were designed to be banners mirroring the glory of God. However, in our flesh this is impossible. We were broken indeed. But in Jesus, everything changes. In Him we are new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17). In Him we are restored. He makes us whole, complete, full. He makes us human beings—the way He intended—once again. Thus, a theology that only focuses on part of the Gospel, namely, “come as you are,” misses the main point of the Bible. God knows what you have become without Him, it’s time that you know what He wants you to become in Him.
Josué Ortiz (MDiv. DMin.) serves as missionary to Mexico City. He is the founder of the Abundant Grace Baptist Church in Mexico City. He is a graduate of Pensacola Theological Seminary and The Master’s Seminary. He is married to Rebekah and together have three children.