Why margins are such an integral part of following Jesus.
Melodies warming cold prison cells, hushed prayer in dimly lit basements, bold peace radiating in the faces of the tortured. The slavery of the Israelites, Stephen’s stoning, the execution of John the Baptist, the scattering of the Jewish Christians. The underground Chinese church and the faith of persecuted refugees.
These are but a few of the places in which the Gospel has thrived. It’s a paradox really.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ heralds a Kingdom not of ease and of wide roads, but one of difficult obedience and narrow gates. The Gospel of Jesus is one that thrives in the margins.
You might ask why this idea deserves an entire article.
I would counter saying that the marginal nature of the Kingdom of God is central to our understanding of what being the people of God actually means. I think that having a hold on this truth will drastically change the way we operate, specifically as American Christians.
It’s a bold claim, so let me explain.
In the Margins: From the Start
For many of us, we think of the Gospel as starting with Jesus. A fuller knowledge of the Bible shows that God’s covenant with us started with a man named Abraham. Abraham was an idol-worshipping man before the Lord called him into relationship with Him (Genesis 12:1–9).
The Lord called Abraham to leave his family, his inheritance, and his idols behind to become the father of the nation of Israel. This nation of Israel was set apart to be holy — a complete departure from the nations surrounding them. The Lord gave the Mosaic law to Israel as a way to illuminate their brokenness and point to their need for a Savior (Romans 7).
The people of God have been called to be a people distinct from those around them from the start, whether they were enslaved in Egypt or captives in Babylon.
The story of the chosen people of God is one of thriving in the margins from the very beginning.
In the Margins: Jesus Christ
The story of God’s covenant with His people points ultimately to the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jesus was born to a poor family.
His family had to flee their home as refugees to Egypt because of Herod’s quest to kill Jesus.
Jesus was not an esteemed teacher or rabbi with excellent education, nor did he run for political office to save Israel.
Jesus was single for his entire life, and he often had no place to lay his head at night (Luke 9:58).
He was in community with people of all occupations, from fishermen to tax collectors.
So much of how Jesus operated and lived was in the margins. And it was in those margins that transformation and healing happened.
In the Margins: the Church
After Jesus’ ascension to heaven, the church was born (recorded in the book of Acts). Almost immediately, the church was persecuted by the Jews and eventually by the Romans. Since then, the church has been persecuted around the world.
The radical living that the Gospel calls the church to has never been popular or well-liked. The Kingdom calls its people to live selflessly, in obedience to God’s holy standard, and to care for the vulnerable out of love.
This Gospel-living has consistently landed the global church in the margins.
In the Margins: American Christians?
As we look at this Kingdom that has been in the margins from Abraham til now, we have to ask ourselves this question (particularly as American, western Christians):
If the Gospel we proclaim is not afraid of the margins, why would we be?
In America, almost 3 out of every 4 individuals are self-proclaimed Christians (Pew Research). The U.S. has been heralded as “Christendom” because of the Christian values espoused by many of the Founding Fathers. America has been called a Christian nation in view of that. It would follow that being a Christian in America is easy, that the biggest challenge is if someone will call us bigoted or unfollow us on Facebook. And perhaps, for this cultural Christianity phenomenon, that is true.
But here’s the difference — being a cultural Christian in America is far different from truly being a follower of Jesus Christ.
Living a life in obedience to Him will place us in the margins because it is radically different from the lives of those around us.
Living a Gospel-centered life is different because means praying for those who persecute us, not launching verbal assaults on Twitter. It means consistently caring for the disadvantaged and vulnerable among us, not shaming them. It means pursuing a just society for all, especially those who our country has systematically discriminated against since its inception. It means coming to terms with our own blindspots. It means valuing the Word of God as infallible, proclaiming Jesus as the only way to God, and believing God is the only source of truth.
The Gospel doesn’t call us to be in the majority or to have a figurehead in the Oval Office. In fact, it seems to favor the opposite.
Christians are indeed going to be in the minority in the U.S soon. The way Jesus calls us to value all people in all places will not be popular anymore. And it’s not that America is losing its “moral compass” or that people are more “spiritually dead” than they were before.
It’s that the Kingdom is one of narrow gates.
The Gospel we hold to will again prove itself to be ever true and ever full of hope in the face of trials, even ones that pale in comparison to those faced by our brothers and sisters around the world.
We don’t need to be afraid of being in the minority, of not being fully represented in political office, of being ostracized or pushed to the edges. Our Savior and our Gospel isn’t.
Thank you for reading!
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