The Bumper Sticker
I am drawn to the customized license plates and bumper stickers people are willing to attach to their vehicles, though I do not attach such stickers to my own vehicle, because doing so makes me feel as though I am defacing my car. These automotive attachments tell me something about the man or woman driving the car, or some other attribute of the car that they want to call to my attention. Consider the stickers or caution signs that read, “Baby on Board.” I know the sign is supposed to make me do or think something, but I am never quite sure what that something is.
Furthermore, I am unwilling to pay extra money for a vanity license plate, just to have it say something I believe to be clever. But if someone is willing to drop an extra $100 on a license plate, it arouses my curiosity regarding what is important enough to them to make that additional investment, and what that is telling me about them.
For example, I recently read a customized plate that said, “NOMORLS.” That message is pretty straightforward. Were that true of me, it is likely not something I would want to advertise about myself.
Another sticker I read was even more direct with its message. It consisted of only two words, “Try Jesus.” I found myself objecting to the sticker almost immediately. My objection was not to the blatant defacing of the car, since it was not my car, and neither was it my general dislike for bumper-sticker evangelism, which I do not believe to be particularly effective. My objection was to the actual content of the message, “Try Jesus.”
In 1972, Alka-Seltzer popularized the phrase, “Try it. You’ll like it,” with a hilarious television commercial in which a man is goaded by a waiter into trying something on the menu that he really did not want to try. The popularization of this phrase was the 1970s equivalent of a catch-phrase, or video going viral on the internet today. It was picked up by radio stations, and it became part of school skits. It was on tee-shirts and bumper stickers. As a teenager, I received a gift candle that read, “Try it. You’ll like it.”
In the commercial, the poor customer is relentlessly pestered to sample the menu item, and when he finally relents and tries the item, it is horrible, and the customer thinks he is going to die. But this is okay for two reasons. Firstly, the man will be granted relief almost instantly through the near-magical wonders of Alka-Seltzer, and secondly, he tried it, did not like it, and does not ever have to try it again. He was merely test-driving the menu item.
The bumper-sticker evangelist with the Try Jesus bumper sticker seems to be conveying the same message as the relentless waiter. Try Jesus. You’ll like him. The unspoken implication is that if you try Jesus and do not like him, you can move on and try something or someone else. The implicit expectation of the bumper-sticker evangelist is that there is no danger of you not liking Jesus if you try him because Jesus is awesome.
Trying Jesus in this manner, however, is a bit like trying exercise by running around the block one time. It is invalid to say I tried exercise after one lap around the block. I fully engage my exercise program, or I do not claim to have tried it. Trying exercise in the manner just outlined will never be effective.
Coming to Christ with anything less than a full commitment will be equally ineffective. One does not get an accurate understanding of the life of a disciple without being fully committed. At the close of the test drive, the driver bails out on Jesus without knowing what the life of a committed follower looks or feels like.
I further object to the Try Jesus bumper sticker because it comes off as begging – “Come on … come on. Just try Jesus and you’ll see.” From the opening chapter of the Gospel of Matthew to the closing chapter of the Gospel of John, I find no instance of Jesus begging people to follow him. Quite the opposite. We read of instances in which people ask or volunteer to follow Jesus, and rather than welcome them aboard, Jesus seems to be actively discouraging them by telling them it will be difficult, or that they are unprepared to follow him.
In John 6, we find Jesus speaking blunt and difficult truths…truths that stimulate resentment and offense in many who hear. “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?'” (John 6:66-67, ESV) Rather than retract forthrightly-stated truths, Jesus responds by actively inviting the disciples to bail out and leave the team.
I can support neither the philosophy nor the tactic of taking Jesus for a test drive. The decision to follow Jesus is one that is made after carefully weighing the state of my existence against the grace and forgiveness poured out through the death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah. It is a decision that is made with the whole heart, a sober mind, and Holy Spirit conviction. It is made boldly and courageously, rather than with a bowed head, closed eyes, and the full assurance that, “It’s okay – no one is looking. Just raise your hand.”
No! Let them look. Stand boldly and confidently in a crowd and proclaim your allegiance to the Christ. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16, ESV) Stand proudly and proclaim it. Let the love you have for Jesus radiate from you like a halogen lamp. “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:26, NASB) Just the thought of Jesus being ashamed of me ties my stomach in knots. No, I do not Try Jesus, and neither do you. We follow him boldly and absolutely, or we walk an entirely different path.
We may try a pair of shoes, assuming they fit, go with our ensemble, and we like them. If so, we purchase them. If not, we try a different pair of shoes. We try a pair of blue jeans. If they are comfortable, and do not make our butt look too big, we may purchase them. Otherwise, we try another pair.
Some extend this practice into relationships, trying other people to see if they can stand living with them before committing to a marriage. Even after committing to that relationship, in many cases they are still trying the marriage, fully expecting that if it does not work out, they can try a different one. As a result, we see the birth of such things as the wedding ring rental business, and the proliferation of pre-nuptial agreements, so that after trying the marriage, when it fails, individuals are legally and financially protected. Applying this principle to the life of a disciple brings about what Steve Peglow calls “common-law Christians,” men and women who want the benefits of living with Jesus, but without making any real commitment to him.
Following Jesus is costly. For some, the costs are obvious and painful. For others, the costs are shrouded and less noticeable but costs nonetheless. Jesus is candid when laying the cost of discipleship before us, and he bids those who would follow him to enter into that walk with full awareness of the prerequisites involved.
Contemplating an Allegiance to Jesus
Jesus was called the Prince of Peace in the prophetic work of Isaiah. When it comes to describing his own mission and purpose, however, Jesus seems to be reading from a different script.
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:34-39, ESV
As a follower after Christ, I may have to battle with my own parents, my siblings, my children, my in-laws. More than once, I have witnessed university students come into open conflict with their parents after embracing the gospel of Jesus Christ. In some cases, the announcement met with a cold reception, while in others there was open antagonism, and in extreme cases, a complete breaking of ties between parent and child, because the parents were unwilling to accept their son’s or daughter’s newly-embraced faith. What Jesus is describing above is not mere theory or rhetoric. For many brothers and sisters in Christ, it is a daily reality.
The life of a Christ-follower is one that is magnetic for conflict, opposition, and confrontation. It is not something the Christ saturated man or woman seeks, but it is a reality we face. This is no trick. There is no bait-and-switch involved. Jesus is upfront regarding what we will encounter as his disciples. “All men will hate you because of me.” (Matthew 10:22, NIV-1978) This is not a command to be hated. Jesus is just telling us how it is going to be.
The would-be disciple who is merely trying Jesus, upon encountering opposition such as Jesus has described above, will find it a simple matter to let Jesus go. It was a test drive from the outset, and the experimental life did not meet their needs, desires, or circumstances. They tried Jesus, and it did not work out the way they wanted, so they moved on to a new pair of shoes or blue jeans. Perhaps a devotion to yoga or hang-gliding will be more readily received by friends and family.
Victoriously in Christ!