I’m reading a great book called Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. I bought it probably eight or nine months ago, and it just sat on my bookshelf with all my other not-yet-read books for a long time. Then about a month ago I decided to finally read it. It seemed appropriate for reading during the Advent season because it is all about the supremacy of Christ.
As I read this book, I thought of the apostle John’s warning to the church that the antichrist would deny that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. 1 John 4:1-3 (NIV). In the first century of the church, many people found it hard to believe in the incarnate God. They had no trouble believing in God, but they did have trouble believing in the humanity of Christ.
Today we have the opposite problem. People have no trouble believing that Jesus lived as a human being and walked this earth, but they do have trouble believing that He was God incarnate. The virgin birth is seen as a scientific impossibility, and the possibility of a miracle is discounted. Jesus has become for many just a good example to follow; and they seek to follow Him in their own power.
The problem with this view is that is strips the Christian faith of its real power, which lies solely in the incarnate Christ who died and rose again – literally. The Christian faith at its core is simply and wonderfully Jesus and the power of His Holy Spirit, which He imparts to those who believe.
In Jesus Manifesto, Sweet and Viola successfully argue that it is essential that the church return to a Christ-only mentality. Christ is the center of all things in heaven and earth. Jesus is the reason we believe, and not just for the season of Christmas but for every minute of every day. Jesus asked the question of Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” Matthew 16:15 (NIV). Sweet and Viola argue that this is the question that every generation must answer.
Every revival and restoration in the church has been a rediscovery of some aspect of Christ in the process of answering this critical question. In fact, three features are present in every awakening in the history of the Christian church: (1) rediscovery of the “living Word,” or the Scriptures and its authority; (2) a rediscovery of the living Christ and His supremacy; and (3) a rediscovery of the living Spirit and the Spirit’s gifts and power to manifest Christ in the context of that culture. God has a history of taking seriously people who take the eternal Word seriously. (Jesus Manifesto, pg. xvii).
Throughout the book, Sweet and Viola point out some ways in which the church today fails to take the eternal Word made flesh seriously. This book is not for the faint-hearted who are happy with the status quo. This is a book for those who are willing to be challenged in their concept of church and of Christ. It is for those who are willing to believe in the miraculous and to trust in Christ alone.
The apostles and the first century church taught Christ and Him crucified – nothing more and nothing less. The church today teaches:
- how to live a good, clean life
- church multiplication strategies
- the mark of the beast and end times prophecy
- the 613 laws of Moses, exhorting them to obey each one of them
- how to build a movement
- divine healing
- how to live by faith
- how to save the lost
- Creation versus evolution
- social justice
(Jesus Manifesto, pg. 12-13)
The focus of the church today is how we can be like Jesus, how we can help the poor, living good lives, recognize and survive the end times, and defeat the powers of darkness. But often we are taught how to do all of these things without any mention of reliance on His Holy Spirit to do so. The literal indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of believers is relegated to a back burner, or not considered at all.
There is a pervasive theology of “likeness” — “O God, make me more Christlike” — that cheapens the gospel and depresses the spirit. Christlikeness is too small a dream, to shallow and ambition, for a Christian. The call to Christlikeness is also not “good news.”
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Second, we want a “like-Christ” relationship with God on our terms. But a loving, living relationship with Christ begins on God’s terms. In other words, it begins with the cross, or more precisely, a “dying with Christ.” It begins with a “death” to all those parts of us that are damping and hampering the Spirit’s work and preventing us from being “liberated from the controlling powers of [the] world,”FN the destructive, dehumanizing, controlling forces, like addictions, selfism, consumerism, hedonism, and others.
Third, to be “like Christ” often implies that you don’t really need Christ, since you already have the ideas and teachings of Christ.
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Fourth, as Martin Luther said, if you read the Law, you will see that you can never hope to keep it. Similarly, try to be like Christ, and you will quickly realize you don’t have a prayer of becoming like Him. (Jesus Manifesto, pg. 69-71).
Jesus is not just the “reason for the season.” He is the reason for everything. All things exist by Him, through Him, and for Him. He is the center of all and the only way for you and me to overcome this world. We must not strive to become like Christ. Rather, we must seek Christ dwelling in us and through us, surrendering our lives wholly over to Him who alone is worthy.
Although I still have two chapters to go to finish this book, I would highly recommend it. I also recommend keeping your Bible handy to allow for easy reference to the many Scriptures that the authors rely on to support their argument. I hope and pray that there will be a revival in the church today with a renewed focus on Christ alone as the source of our power to love and live a life pleasing to God.