I remember attending a Sunday school class one morning long ago where the teacher asked us an intriguing question. He prefaced it by quoting media mogul Ted Turner’s statement that Christianity is a crutch for the weak, a religion for losers. I had heard variants of that sentiment many times before. Of course, Turner is far from the only person to make such accusations. Christianity is often scorned by non-believers as a security blanket to comfort those who have failed at life.
The teacher then posed the question, “Do you agree or disagree that Christianity is only for the weak?” Unanimously, every person in the class disagreed, offering responses such as, “Christianity is for people of strong resolve. The Christian life is not easy and only resilient people can live it. The weak could not persevere through the demands of a Christian lifestyle.”
I remained silent through the discussion. My gears were turning slowly. Almost instinctively I immediately disagreed with the class consensus, but quietly mulled over the reason why. I figured if I was going to be the lone dissenter I better spend some time articulating my argument. However, the class moved on quickly to other topics so I kept my mouth shut. Ever since then, The more I ponder that discussion the more perplexed I become. How can anyone who claims to understand even the most rudimentary principles of Christianity actually believe that it’s a religion only for the strong? If I were speaking of any other religious system in the world that bases piety on performance then I would wholeheartedly agree. But the Christian faith by nature is antithetical to the requirement of inner strength. Perhaps it was simply a knee-jerk reaction against the provocative statement that ‘religion is for losers’. I can understand that, but I can’t agree that only strong people can be Christians. In fact, the exact opposite is true.
In essence, I agree with Ted Turner, and those like him, though not in the derogatory sense that he meant it. Christianity is not a ‘crutch’, per se, yet the very definition of faith is trusting upon God to meet our every need. True Christians don’t lean upon a religious system for support but lean upon Christ for salvation and perseverance through life’s trials. Turner calls it a crutch; Christians call it faith. Faith in Christ is designed for the weak. It is for the poor, the mournful, the meek and the persecuted. It is a faith built on the premise that no man measures up to God’s standards. It shows man he is powerless, unrighteous, stiff-necked, boastful and proud. He cannot contribute one single merit to God’s towering standard of complete righteousness.
Christ himself said, “I did not come to call the righteous but the sinner to repentance.” (Luke 5:32)
Jesus isn’t looking for the strong or the mighty. He didn’t hang out with kings, governors or the religious elite, those who were highly esteemed in the ancient world. He ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners. He healed lepers, the blind and the lame, most of whom had been reduced to street beggars. These were the most despised classes of people in the ancient world, yet Christ ministered to and taught them all. In Matthew 11 he bid his listeners to “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (V.28-30). He calls people to come to him to unload their heavy burdens of sins. He urges them to rest from trying to fulfill all the righteous requirements of the law and the additional legalism imposed by the Pharisees and invites them to simply trust in him. No great personal strength here is required.
When Christ says he didn’t come to call the righteous, what he is implying is that he didn’t come for those who are relying on their own strength, their own righteousness. A person with such a mindset cannot be saved because he is convinced that he is good enough within himself without any help from God. He does not realize his desperate plight, that he is not righteous, that he does nothing good, that all his supposed righteousness is as filthy rags. As long as he leans on his own strength he will refuse to come to Christ. At the last judgment he will stand condemned.
Only a person who recognizes the depths of his own sinfulness, who realizes that he is without strength and is totally destitute of any merit whatsoever, can be saved. Such a person cannot make a single move toward his own salvation and must call upon God to have mercy upon him. An example of this is found in Luke 18, where the tax collector, standing in the temple, would not even lift his eyes to heaven, but could only beat his breast and cry out “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ (V. 13) The strong and mighty will be as the Pharisee from the same story who thanked God he was not like other men and listed off many pious achievements that he believed would impress God and earn his favor. Jesus said only the tax collector went to his house justified. His justification came not by his own righteousness but his dependence on an alien righteousness – the righteousness of Christ himself. This is the easy yoke and light burden Jesus spoke of.
The apostle Paul wrote in his first Epistle to the Corinthians, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God”. (V. 26-29)
It pleased God to choose those who have no intrinsic power or natural influence or superior intellect in which to display his glorious grace. In doing so, he has demolished the pride of man. It has no place in God’s kingdom. It can purchase nothing of value in God’s economy. No man can boast of his salvation as being anything but completely from the Lord. This is why Paul writes, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”(V. 31).
It must be noted that Paul writes “not many of you were wise… not many were powerful… not many were of noble birth“. This shows that ultimately God’s grace extends to all kinds of people, even the strong and the wise and those of noble lineage. Yet, none of these people are redeemed any differently than those who are weak and foolish. They too, must come to the realization that all of their might and strength means nothing to God and they must be stripped bare by the harsh requirements of the law and shown their shamefulness in front of a just and holy God. Their pride must be broken and their hearts humbled. In other words, they must be shown and convinced of their weakness, their condition of abject poverty in the eyes of God. They must come to see how precious a jewel Jesus Christ is in the midst of a world full of dung and refuse.
I must add, that in a sense, only the strong can indeed be Christians and live the Christian life, but first we must humble ourselves and admit that we are weak. God graciously strengthens us in our weakness that we may learn to wholly rely on him who is, according to Psalm 73, the strength of our heart and our portion forever.