Duty binds me to inform my readers of some astonishing news. If you’re not sitting down, you may want to do so. We received a fax at our church office recently announcing—and I quote—“A Genuine College Degree in 2 weeks! Have you ever thought that the only thing stopping you from a great job and better pay was a few letters behind your name? Well now you can get them! BA, BSc, MA, MSc, MBA, PhD. Within 2 weeks! No Study Required! 100% Verifiable! These are real, genuine degrees…Order yours today! Just call the number below.”
There you have it: a PhD without study! You’re but one phone call and two short weeks away from unlocking the door of unprecedented opportunity and taking a quantum leap in societal status. Cheers!
I’m not including the contact information here because this offer is obviously pure balderdash. It brokers in the sweet delusion that we can gain difficult ends by easy means—a temptation to which our society seems particularly susceptible. Though the ad is an extreme example, it appeals to a pervasive human weakness for possessing quickly and effortlessly what realistically requires longsuffering exertion to achieve. Whether it is a prestigious degree, marital bliss, freedom from chemical dependency, financial liberty, athletic prowess, or musical expertise, there is someone out there offering a shortcut—all the glory, none of the pain, just as we like it.
It is mind-boggling to me that one of the leading contributors to this shortcut culture in America is the Christian church. The emphasis does not generally fall on time-saving shortcuts (spiritual superhero status in two weeks, or the like), although there have been some notorious cases of that. Rather, the predominant emphasis is a cost-saving shortcut: you can be a Christian and achieve spiritual health with minimal effort and cost. The religious market in America today craves an easy path and churches are standing in line to make just such an offer.
No shortcuts from Jesus
I find this mind-boggling because such an approach is so radically at odds with that of the Church’s head (Col. 1:18). Jesus of Nazareth offered no spiritual shortcuts. He did not feather shortcut thinking into His marketing strategy. He did not soft-peddle His sales pitch. Much to the contrary, Jesus’ message was calibrated to chase away shortcut seekers.
“If anyone would come after me,” Jesus said, “let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (ESV, Luke 9:23-24). In discussing the mixed response to His radical message, Jesus warned potential followers: “Do you think I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three” (Luke 12:51-52). He also challenged His hearers to “strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24). As case in point, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God,” Jesus warned. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 24-25).
These sayings only penetrate the surface of Christ’s teaching. But this much is clear: Jesus offers no ease, no fame and no short-cuts. He calls His followers to die. Do not misunderstand; He does not call us to first clean up our moral act and only then to commit ourselves to Him as Lord. He invites us to come in simple faith, just as we are (John 3:16-17; 6:28-40). He freely, eagerly and lovingly bestows abundant spiritual life, not on those who work to earn it, but on those who thirst for it (John 7:37-38; 10:10; Eph. 2:7-10).
But in calling people to place saving faith in Him, Jesus never deceived anyone about His identity or about the implications of following Him. The Christ of the Bible is sovereign Lord. And those who follow Him are to let go of life, no matter the cost, and to spend it for the glory of Jesus (Luke 9:24; 2 Cor. 5:14-15).
If a PhD without study is suspect, much more is a Christianity without cost. And equally suspect, then, are the spiritual leaders who promote a Jesus who makes no real claim against personal autonomy and whose teaching is free of severity (Luke 12:4-5, 20:17-18). Those who craft a message conveying that the Christian life is an easy shortcut to spiritual prosperity are broadcasting an inauthentic, sub-Christian message. It would be wise for such purveyors of misinformation to remember to Whom the church belongs (Acts 20:28). It would be wise for everyone else to disregard their message.