I remember few lessons from youth group. It's not that my teachers didn't teach lessons. It's just that a lot of those lessons go into your subconscious rather than into your long-term memory banks. But one lesson in particular I have always remembered. It's a common lesson you may have heard before. The youth minister would draw a circle on the board and place a dot in the middle. He would then explain that the dot was Christ and the circle was Christianity and what was acceptable to Christ. He would then ask, "In your life, are you trying to see how far away or how close you can get to the dot in the middle?" There ended the lesson.
I think this is a profound illustration for many reasons, but the primary one is that it allows the person who claims to be a Christian to immediately assess whether his "Christianity" is genuine. You see, the person who is asking how far can I get from Christ and still remain a Christian has lost the battle already. The answer is in the question. The one who asks it is not on the Christian path. That's because his "Christianity" is one of law. It is one of obligation. He does not love Christ more than himself, more than the world. He loves the world, but he doesn't want to go to hell either (and he certainly doesn't want to view himself as a bad person), so he tries to live in both worlds.
The one who is seeking to get as close to the dot as possible has a disposition of love toward Christ. His is the walk of a faith relationship with the Lord, an allegiance which is characterized by loving Christ more than himself and the world. His question is therefore, How close can I get to Christ, not, How far away from Christ can I get and still be "in" with Him?
Imagine if you had a friend that asked the latter question about you. Would you really think he was your loving friend? Why not simply admit that the relationship is dissolved or is a farce at that point? Why continue the charade? Of course we have a lot more to lose in a rejection of Christ, so we maintain the farce. We remain on the edge of the circle with one foot in and one foot outside, or we believe we are inside the circle, even though we are moving toward the outer regions of it.
Imagine also if your marriage was like this. Some marriages are characterized by one or more spouses living under the question, What are my minimal requirements for maintaining the marriage covenant I have made? Love has truly died from that marriage, as it has turned merely into obligation to maintain a covenant rather than about loving the person you've married with the most that you can give him or her. And a marriage void of love, and filled with law and obligation, will inevitably lead to a broken covenant altogether (whether in adultery, divorce, etc.). But isn't it really a practical divorce already? Hasn't the person decided to break the covenant by not seeking to love their spouse in sickness and in health til death do us part? So isn't the trajectory of obligation a dismissal of the relationship altogether?
Does our trajectory when it comes to Christ not tell us the same thing? Haven't we already divorced Christ the moment we began to see our relationship with Him as one of law and obligation rather than one of faith and love? Haven't we already made our silent proclamation of abandonment with our disposition toward Him? As the friend who only wants to do what is minimally required to keep your friendship, or the spouse who wants to maintain the external requirements of the marriage covenant, are we not able to see that one "Christianity" is of death and the other of life? One seeks Christ with all of his heart, and one still seeks the self, attempting to preserve the love of self that is bound to the love of the world, while maintaining his insurance policy against eternal fire (another analogy I remember from youth group I'm happy to say).
We then begin to see that the question is illusory. There is no circle. There is only the dot and the world around it. One either is in a loving relationship with Christ or he is outside of that relationship. He is either moving toward Him or away from Him. There is no in between world. There is no such thing as one foot in and one foot out. We're either all in, moved by the supernatural love given to us for Him, or we're all out, moved by the love of self and the ever fading attractions of the world to which it is bound.
The command of Scripture isn't to kind of love God along with everything else. It's to love Him with everything you've got. Our love for others is an extension of that love for Him, and should always be in the context of doing what is pleasing to Him. But that's a "should." The Apostle John tells us that, in reality, a Christian doesn't need to be told this. The command is merely showing us what God desires from us, as He loves us. We can't try to love God. It's a gift given to the one who decides to make a covenant with Him, to leave the love of self behind. Our sanctification, no doubt, is still in the process of learning to love Him and let go of the world. But the point is that the one who loves Christ will seek Him and never ask the question, How far can I get from Him and still maintain my Christianity? That is a question that reveals that we have yet to make that decision to enter into a genuine faith/loving relationship with Christ. Until then, we are only catechumens, learning facts about Christ and Christianity, but not yet making the decision to become a follower of Christ ourselves, partaking in a superficial fellowship with other Christians, as our true fellowship and bind to one another is in our pursuit of Him in love.
So are you standing on the dot or moving closer to it daily, or do you just want to escape it? Do you just want to live your life as you would have lived it, with Christ allowed to enter it only to provide emotional support, without the love of God, or are you willing to have that life wrecked and reordered around Him because your love for Him now trumps all else? So there is no circle. There is only the trajectory of your life. And depending on whether it is moving toward or moving away from, a life of faith or law, love or obligation, is revealed in the thoughts that we make and the steps that we take.
'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. 'Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 'And you will seek Me and find [Me,] when you search for Me with all your heart. 'And I will be found by you,' declares the Lord (Jer 29:11-14a)