After a little over a year and a half of full-time ministry and an examination of my own heart, I have become convinced that there are two fundamental, rival conceptions of the Christian faith. Upside-down Christianity considers the world and its comforts to be supremely desirable. God exists to assist in the procurement of comforts and advantage. This conception of the faith frequently allures us and draws us away from Christ. On the other hand, right-side-up Christianity considers the world and its comforts to be subservient and secondary to God, by whom and for whom they exist. This conception of the faith is arduous but drives us toward Christ.
Let me give an example of upside-down Christianity that has manifested in my life. A few years ago, I went through a period of intense emotional distress. I was depressed and, not knowing how to heal myself, I sought relief in prayer to God for healing. Of course, prayer is good, and God often uses hardship to draw us to himself. But these outward actions were motivated by a perverse inward desire. Desperate to return to a happier state, I tried to use God, demanding that he give me relief. Having used him to attain my desired end, I would have either discarded him or put him on the proverbial shelf until I experienced another crisis that modern science, money, or indulgence could not solve. By his grace, I did not discard him. But every day I am tempted to pay him no mind – that is, of course, until he can do something for me.
Though it is attractive, and peculiarly so in our age of readily available comforts, we must strive with all our might to repudiate it and embrace right-side-up Christianity. With a right-side-up faith, my outward response to depression would have been identical: I would have prayed fervently and frequently. But the orientation of my heart would have been vastly different. Rather than viewing God merely as a means of healing, I would have welcomed my suffering as God’s means to accomplish His purposes and will. While the why of suffering may have remained opaque (and often does), I would have rejoiced that through my suffering I was drawn into the fellowship of Christ, whose whole earthly life was one of suffering. Right-side-up Christianity sanctifies suffering by turning it toward communion with Christ, who is himself our life and blessedness. In this way, God is always the end, even while he provides healing and comfort.
Jesus himself is the archetype of right-side-up Christianity. He is “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb 12:2). This joy undoubtedly had many causes. But its chief cause, as Jesus’ high priestly prayer suggests, was the immediate presence of God (John 17:5, 11, 23-24). The joy that was set before our Savior was God himself; it continued to be so in his suffering, even as he prayed, “let this cup pass from me” (Matt 26:39).
Jesus should be our ultimate right-side-up hero. But there are other heroes from whose lives we can learn much, not least of which are those members of the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11, who “acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (v. 13) and “[desired] a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (v. 16). There are also the members of the Hebrew congregations themselves, who “joyfully accepted the plundering of [their] property, since [they] knew that [they] had a better possession and an abiding one” (Heb 10:34). We would do well to meditate on these examples, to “consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb 13:7).
Upside-down Christianity cannot and will not persist. It lacks the resources to joyfully accept plundering and sojourn on the earth as an exile. So, let us strive together, as a church family, to turn right-side-up whatever upside-down Christianity remains in our hearts.