Magic Jesus and His Magic Church

There is a common thread running through all forms of modern American Christianity… They simply do not believe that following Jesus as His disciple is as difficult and costly as Jesus made it out to be.
Interestingly, this not only occurs on the theologically liberal side (as my faith background would quickly accuse), but also on the conservative evangelical side as well (and in everything else in between). It just takes on a different form depending on which side you are coming from.
For example, among conservative evangelicals, they are perfectly fine with living good, Judeo-Christian ethic-based lives; as long as it doesn’t cost them more than their 10% tithe and they don’t have to actually have any concern for anyone who isn’t like them. Whereas on the theologically liberal side, they are fine with helping people who are different from them; as long as it doesn’t infringe on their personal freedom to “be themselves.”
What this has led to in modern American Christianity, is replacing the costly narrow road of following Jesus as His disciple with a belief in “Magic Jesus” and his “Magic Church.”
What is “Magic Jesus” and his “Magic Church?”
I’m glad you asked.
“Magic Jesus” and his “Magic Church” is believing in a Jesus who asks you to “believe,” “trust,” or “have faith” in him; which then has then been reduced to believing that he died on the cross for your sins, and that you are getting a free trip to heaven for having believed so.
Where the “magic” part comes in is that modern American Christianity then states that if you gather together with other people who also believe in this “Magic Jesus,” you will form a “Magic Church” wherein “Magic Jesus” will “magically” bless and change you.
“Magic Jesus” and his “Magic Church” actually have a lot in common with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny in that personal belief and faith are what makes the “magic” happen and come alive.
In my 45 years in the American church, I have now been a witness to thousands of church services and meetings where people gathered to wait for the “magic” to happen. They pray for the “magic” to happen, they sing trying to make the “magic” happen, and they preach and teach in an effort to get the “magic” to happen. And when the “magic” doesn’t happen, they manufacture or fake the “magic.”
Of course, they don’t call it “magic.” They call it things like “the spirit moving,” or “God showing up,” or a “revival,” or something other of that sort in and effort to spiritualize and legitimize it. But make no mistake, what they are looking for is more akin to “magic” than it is to the costly discipleship Jesus preached, taught, and demonstrated.
What those who believe in “Magic Jesus” and his “Magic Church” are missing is the historical understanding of the first century concept of discipleship in which Jesus operated and taught. Jesus came into the world at a specific time in history. Paul wrote in Galatians 4:4, “But when the set time had fully come…” and in Romans 5:6 that Jesus came “at just the right time.”
Jesus could have died for the sins of humanity at any point in history. The effectiveness of His death and resurrection is not bound by time. However, His earthly ministry was defined and shaped by the time period in which He lived. Jesus came not only when the exact right world powers were in place, and the exact right social context was in place, but also when the exact right form of discipleship was in place.
The form of discipleship that existed in first century Palestine was focused on masters/teachers/rabbis whose students not only learned from their master, but sought to completely imitate their master. The student of a rabbi would seek to stop being themselves and become exact copies of their master. This is the system that Jesus operated within.
Whenever Jesus invited someone to become His disciple by saying, “follow Me,” those he invited would have understood it as not just an invitation to learn from Him, but an invitation to die to themselves so that they might imitate Jesus and become an exact copy of Him. Whenever Jesus invited people to “believe in” Him, he was not asking them to solely believe in His death on the cross (they would have had little understanding of His death on the cross); but He was largely inviting them to believe in Him as a master and a rabbi; which again carried the implication of imitation.
Jesus stated this clearly: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. […] In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (Luke 14:26-27, 33).
If you go back and read the gospels, Jesus’ emphasis is largely on what it meant to follow and imitate Him as His disciple and what it would cost to do so. Therefore, to “believe in” Jesus, one would also have to accept these terms of discipleship. To “believe in” Jesus’ death and resurrection without believing in His teachings on discipleship is in reality, not believing in Him at all. In fact, to disregard Jesus’ teachings about following and imitating Him as His disciple is actually rejecting Him.
This is why humans invented “Magic Jesus.” “Magic Jesus” lets people claim to “believe in” Jesus without having to imitate Jesus as His disciple. The harsh reality is that imitating Jesus as His disciple would simply cost modern American Christians to much in the way of time, personal wealth, and personal freedom.
But what’s the big deal about imitating Jesus as His disciple? If Jesus’ death and resurrection gets us into heaven, why do we have to be willing to imitate Him as His disciple too?
The answer is found when you go back to the original purpose of man. In Genesis 1:26-28;
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”
The problem is not that mankind is bound for Hell, but that mankind is bound for Hell because they failed to carry out the purpose for which they were created. Mankind was created to bring glory to God by ruling the earth as His image-bearers and to increase His glory by filling the earth with His image-bearers. Paul wrote that man “is the image and glory of God” but that every man has also “[missed the mark] and fall short of the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 11:7, Romans 3:23).
But, by imitating Jesus (who is the perfect image of God) as His disciples, men would thereby also “be imitators of God” and “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 5:1, 4:24). And thus, by being disciples of Jesus, men would fulfill their original purpose of bringing glory to God.
Moreover, by keeping Jesus’ commission to “make disciples of all nations […] teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” His disciples would also fulfill their original purpose of magnifying God’s glory by filling the earth with His image-bearers. As Paul also wrote: “We all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Therefore, rather than believe in “Magic Jesus” and his “Magic Church,” His Words His Ways Fellowship has adopted 4 principles of discipleship which ensure that we are actually making disciples of the real Jesus who have every intention of imitating Him and being conformed to His image:
1. The Image of God as the Basis of Discipleship:
The ultimate goal of the Gospel is that men bring glory to God by being re-conformed to the image of God that they were originally created to be (Genesis 1:27, 1 Corinthians 11:7, Matthew 5:48, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Ephesians 4:22-24, 5:1, Colossians 3:9-10, 2 Peter 1:4).
2. The Purpose of Imitating Jesus as His Disciple:
The goal of men being re-conformed to the image of God is accomplished by men imitating Jesus, who is the perfect image of God, as His disciple; through the empowerment and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:29, 1 Corinthians 11:1, 15:49, 2 Corinthians 4:4, 5:18, Galatians 2:20, Philippians 2:1-5, 3:7-11, Colossians 1:15, 1:28-29, 2:2-3, 2:9-10, 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 2 Timothy 3:12,Titus 3:4-6, Hebrews 1:3, 6:1, 12:1-3, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:1-4, 2-21, 2 Peter 3:18, 1 John 2:6, 3:3, 4:17).   (Please take note that almost every book in the New Testament has a reference to being conformed to the image of either God or Jesus. This is not an obscure concept; it is one of the most commonly taught principles in the New Testament and therefore in the early church.)
3. The First Century, Biblical Understanding of Discipleship:
Imitating Jesus as His disciple begins (but does not end) with specifically learning and then keeping the words, teachings, commands, and example that He gave during His earthly ministry. It is simply impossible to imitate someone without knowing what they said and did (Matthew 7:24-29, 10:24-25, 11:25-30, 12:41-42, 13:16-17, 13:34-35, 17:5, 24:35; Mark 4:24-25, 4:33-34, 6:34, 8:38, 9:7, 13:31; Luke 6:46-49, 9:35, 10:24, 10:38-42, 11:31-32, 17:10, 19:47-48,  John 3:31-36, 4:25-26, 4:40-42, 5:24, 5:38-39, 5:46-47, 6:28-29, 6:63, 6:66-69, 8:31-32, 8:51, 9:26, 10:27, 12:48, 13:34-35, 14:12, 14:15, 14:23-26, 15:7-17, 15:20-24, 16:6-8).
4. Biblical Discipleship in a Relational Environment (Relational Discipleship):
Being conformed to the image of Jesus by imitating Him as His disciple is not a passive process, but an active/interactive process that occurs within a relational environment; which was established and demonstrated by Jesus during His earthly ministry (Mark 3:31-35, 4:34, Luke 10:38-42, Acts 2:42-47, 1 Corinthians 14:40, 2 Timothy 2:2).
Ask yourself a serious question:
Are you believing in and waiting on “Magic Jesus” to show up and change things?
Or, are you willing to abandon all in order to imitate Jesus as His disciple so that you might be conformed into His image?