If you’re a child of the 80s like myself, the phrase “your own personal Jesus” is heard channeled through the distinctive voice of Martin Gore of Depeche Mode whose massive 1989 hit democratizes the first century Jewish Messiah. Gore tells us to “reach out and touch faith” through whatever experience we can create that makes us feel as though someone hears our prayers and cares.
Martin Gore’s vision of a personalized Jesus is truer today, thirty years after his song hit the charts, than it has ever been. JD Greear wants to lovingly but firmly let us know that You Don’t Get Your Own Personal Jesus in his thin volume by the same name. “Sometimes I hear people talk about ‘my God’ or ‘my Jesus’ as if he were their possession,” Greear reflects. But strangely absent of our personalized visions of Jesus are Jesus’ own claims of who he is. Unhappily for those who like to shape Jesus in their likeness, Jesus tells us that he is, in fact our Lord.
It makes sense that we think we can remake Jesus in our own image. Why shouldn’t we? Our social media feeds cater to our desires, my Amazon webpage is distinctive to me, your Netflix suggestions reflect your tastes. Why shouldn’t we be able to craft a Jesus who suits what we would like in a Savior? Greear reflects, “Those of us who have grown up in a consumeristic Western culture envision an Americanized Jesus who is one part genie, one part fan club, one part financial advisor, one part American patriot, and several parts therapist. Our ‘God’ makes us more narcissistic and materialistic, not less.” In Voltaire’s words, “God created man in His own image, and man has been trying to repay the favor ever since.”
The problem is, of course, that God makes claims about himself. “When God appeared to Moses, he declared, ‘I am who I am.’ ‘I am who I am’ is not ‘I am whoever you want me to be.’” When we do not allow God to be who he is, we are committing idolatry. “Do we approach God listening for his ‘I am,’ or do we quickly declare to him, ‘You should be…’”
One way to determine whether you are worshiping the true God is by how uncomfortable God makes you. Theologian Karl Barth once said, “If God doesn’t make us mad, we’re not worshiping him, but ourselves.”
Greear says that when confronted with the reality of our false worship and the offer of living water from the true Savior, we have four options: 1) blame the idol; 2) blame yourself; 3) blame the world; 4) realize that you were created for another world. In CS Lewis’s words, “if I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
The one true Savior, Jesus Christ is seeking us and calling us to himself. Greear closes with a promise about the active work of our living Savior: “It’s a lot more pleasant when God doesn’t have to ‘knock your grip loose,’ but he will if he has to. He’s trying to get you to see that no other foundation can support you. No other presence can clothe you. No other water can satisfy you.” That’s way better than any Jesus I could dream up.