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What's the least I can do and still be a Christian?

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Welcome to a very originally titled “Good Question” series! For the month of February here on the Blog, we’re going to take a look at some of the best questions around the Christian faith, because we worship a God who loves a good question!

I live with a pair of twin toddlers at home, and what unfolds in our house each and every night is what I believe unfolds in countless houses across the countryside. There are, the boys are well aware, cookies hidden just behind the doors of our kitchen cabinets. And there are, as the boys are begrudgingly aware, certain conditions that must proceed the eating of said cookies. The toys must be cleaned up and put away. There are requirements around the kinds of foods that must be eaten before cookies can arrive on the scene. There is a tone of voice that must be employed when asking for the cookies in question, even when the previous conditions are met.

Behind it all in the minds of these three year olds lies the question: What is the absolute least I have to do before I can get a hold of that cookie?

In a lot of ways, I think that question permeates a whole lot of our culture. What is the least I have to do before I get a reward? Maybe we dress it up with fancy words, like efficiency or stream-lined thinking, but the essential tenets are the same. How can I put in a little and take out a lot?

And of course, our Christian faith is no different.

Perhaps you’ve seen this question dressed up like this: Suppose someone is lying on their hospital bed, dying. They have been an absolutely horrible person their entire life, stealing from people, belittling people, maybe even a murder or two along the way. But right there, in that moment, as their final breaths are filling their lungs, that person comes to know Jesus and accepts salvation. Does THAT person get to go to heaven?

Just beneath the surface of that question is this one: Could I do that? Could I spend my whole life looking out for number one, and then at the very last minute confess and receive forgiveness? What is the absolute least I can do and still be a Christian?

Well the truth is, yes, you could do that. I believe firmly that Jesus offers forgiveness to all, even those who get across the finish line at the last possible moment. But you miss a whole lot if that’s the way you live.

A friend of mine pointed it out to me this way using a familiar passage of Scripture. Jesus tells a story about a landowner who goes out early in the morning to find folks to work his field. They agree upon terms of payment, and the workers get to it. Then the landowner goes out again a little later in the day. Then a little later. Then a little later. Finally, just before quitting time, the landowner goes and gets a few more hired hands. About ten minutes after that, the landowner calls everyone together to settle up, and he gives the guys who had been there the shortest amount of time the amount he had promised to the guys from the beginning of the day. Those workers get really excited, because if the guys who only worked ten minutes get a full paycheck, just imagine what they’re going to get! But when they receive only what’s been agreed upon, they lose it. How can grace work like that?

So when we were reading this story, and taking the usual “grace isn’t fair” line, a friend of mine pointed out something that goes unseen in this story: the amount of time that these workers get to spend with a good landowner. These guys have been secure all day. They’ve known that they were going to get paid for an honest day’s work. They’ve known that they’re going to be able to provide for their family. They’ve probably had their fair share of time chatting it up with the landowner. Maybe it even led to steady employment, and not just standing around the marketplace with a wing and a prayer. And yet, these guys are put out because they had their eyes on the wrong prize! They were worried about the wrong things.

So is it true that essentially you can ask Jesus in to your heart on your death bed and be ok? Sure. But what a miserable life that is. Wouldn’t it be better to know that Jesus from here on out? Wouldn’t it be better to see that Jesus at work in the world around us each and every day? Wouldn’t it be better to have conversations with that Jesus about our fears and insecurities? Wouldn’t that be so, so much better?

You can ask the question “What’s the least I have to do to be a Christian?” But my friends, there are better questions ahead of us.

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