Growing up, I learned a lot about Jesus. As an adult, I’ve learned even more.
One of the common threads that has been part of my journey was the idea that “Jesus is sufficient” or what is sometimes called the “sufficiency of Christ.” In my fundamentalist world, the sufficiency of Christ was a theological descriptor relating to the issue of salvation, and simply meant that what Christ accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection, was sufficient– nothing more needs to be added to it. All these years later, I still believe that to be true.
Growing up, we seemed to believe it. Countless times I’ve looked across a room and seen hands raised toward the heavens as people sang lines such as, “you’re all I need” as an affirmation that Jesus is all we need.
Theologically Christ was sufficient.
Christ was a sufficient object of worship. Sufficient to save. Sufficient to follow.
He was all we need– or so I thought.
As an adult I was confronted with a paradigm shift where I left my old faith community and the worldview they had given me. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God or Jesus anymore– I hadn’t fallen in love with Dawkins, or found myself with so much doubt that I had to walk away. I simply became dissatisfied with life, and realized there had to be something more.
I had been a Christian for a solid 20 years before I found Jesus, but when I rediscovered him (a story I tell in my book, Undiluted) I was hooked. It was as if I had spent the majority of my life worshipping someone I didn’t even know, and when I met him, it was like meeting a stranger.
Yet, Jesus quickly became a really fascinating stranger who invited me on a journey to follow him– an invitation I accepted. Instead of trying to pattern my life in accordance with a theological label, instead of viewing the world through a filter of historical dispensations, or instead of trying to figure out what to make of so many difficult parts of the Bible, I just started over.
I hit the reset button on my faith. I began studying what Jesus said, the example of how he lived, and let his words and example become the “gospel truth.”
If Jesus is sufficient for all my needs, the very thing I was taught growing up, surely he should be sufficient for defining what it looks like to be a Christian– or so I thought.
As it turns out, the community from whence I came all of a sudden didn’t believe in the sufficiency of Christ. Teaching folks to “love your enemies” like Jesus taught and did, all of a sudden became an area of the Bible that couldn’t be accepted at face value. Instead of accepting it, believing it, and obeying it, Jesus needed to be filtered through the Old Testament to such a degree that loving enemies didn’t really mean anything. The same community that insisted the earth was only 6,000 years old, that God created everything in 6, 24 hour days, and that Jonah really lived in the belly of a whale– all based upon the premise of taking the Bible the most literal way possible– all of a sudden had a thousand reasons why “love your enemies” doesn’t actually mean “love your enemies.”
Certainly, it didn’t end there. Like blinders being lifted I kept seeing a strange pattern: whenever I’d talk about Jesus, quote Jesus, or suggest that we do what Jesus did, I was met with explanations as to why it’s a bad idea to actually do that. For suggesting that perhaps Jesus actually is enough, I’ve been told that I caught a case of bad hermeneutics– as if it were some strange disease I caught in seminary from smoking weed or something.
In my old life, I was patted on the back for taking a “bold stand for the Gospel” on a host of conservative issues. But once I started following Jesus? All of a sudden teaching enemy love, or that death row inmates should be shown mercy, made me “divisive” and “too political” for the same group of folks who actually married Jesus off to politics, long before I had an ounce of influence.
The folks who taught me that “Jesus is sufficient” became the people who insisted that I needed to look to Old Testament law or the examples set by OT figures, in order to understand how we should live. In the end, I found that one of the best ways to avoid doing what Jesus taught, and one of the easiest ways to find excuses for why we shouldn’t live the way he lived, was to use the Bible to do it.
Using the Bible to run from Jesus is surprisingly easy– and becomes a way of doing what many nonbelievers do, while feeling morally superior as you do it.
But today I have returned to the question of my youth– the same question that was presented to me as a fundamentalist.
Is Christ sufficient? Is Jesus really all we need?
And, all these years later, I still answer yes– but in a new way.
While the rest of the Bible is inspired in as much as it is designed to point us to Jesus, Jesus is all we need. His teachings, and modeling our lives after his example, is the essence of being a Christian. In fact, in 1 John 2:6 it actually says the ultimate evidence we belong to God is that we live our lives the way Jesus lived.
While it’s easy to run away from Jesus without ever leaving the pages of Scripture, let me suggest what we supposedly confessed all along: Jesus actually is all we need.