The Vanilla Christian
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. James 4:17
Whenever we visit our kids in college, we go out for supper and then end up getting ice cream afterwards. We usually go to one of those shops where you can pick from twenty different ice cream flavors and from thirty different toppings. You know what no one ever gets? Plain vanilla. I’m sure someone somewhere has done just that, but I’d bet it doesn’t happen very often – and for a good reason. When there’s so much good to pick from, picking vanilla is like picking nothing.
My Christian life has been like that though. Growing up, I erroneously understood that the Christians in my church just didn’t have life struggles. I was never taught this. i just knew that no one in my church drank or smoked. Anyone who did drink or smoke probably wasn’t a Christian and didn’t belong in my church. So, being a Christian was defined by all the things I didn’t do. As long as I didn’t do the really bad stuff – drink, smoke, swear, rob banks, or sleep around – I was a good little Christian. Later then, when I did struggle with my own drug addiction, this caused quite a crisis of my faith. What am I? Christians don’t act like this!
I’d been a vanilla Christian. Up to that point, I hadn’t done anything really bad that would stand out to anyone. My faith was defined by a bunch of stuff I didn’t do because I never really struggled with those things in the first place. What was missing, was the good that I was supposed to be doing. Jesus didn’t say following him meant not doing a bunch of stuff. Jesus said that to follow him was to feed and clothe the poor, help the sick, and visit the needy and imprisoned. If we follow Christ, we will need to abandon some self-destructive behaviors, but we will also need to do – loving our neighbors as ourselves.
This is what the ever-pragmatic James pointed out in today’s passage. In it, he said that knowing right and not doing it is sin. Simply not doing all the bad stuff we don’t struggle with isn’t the Christian life. Rather, doing what we know to be right – loving our neighbors – is our daily job. We don’t have to wait for God to audibly speak to us to do this. We know what we can do. We just don’t want to do it. It’s easier to sit back, do nothing, and call that Christianity. That though, is being a vanilla Christian, which according to James, is dead wrong.