My dear fellow believers and siblings in Christ,
This is a little sermon for us when we need it. “Us” includes me. In fact, I may need you to rub my nose in it later. So don’t forget it. Here we go:
It’s not enough to be a good Christian. If you’ve read my blog for long, you already know I believe that works testify to faith in God’s grace, and together they’re a salvific sandwich (just as a PB&J is not a PB&J without peanut butter, bread and jelly). But I’m not really talking about salvation here.
What I mean is that it’s not enough for the believer to get God’s work done in this world or to become transformed into the image of Christ just by …
- donating to save the World Trade Center cross
- affixing a bumper sticker for a candidate who opposes abortion
- voting Republican (or Democrat; whatever your holy preference)
- clicking “Like” next to a Bible verse or a picture of Jesus on Facebook
- listening only to contemporary Christian radio
- eating or not eating at Chick-Fil-A
- going to church every Sunday and doing the things you’re supposed to do at church
- abstaining from things you’re not supposed to do
- sublimating with things that you can do that seem to take your mind off what you’re tempted to do
You know what I mean. All those things, as Paul says about other practices and rules and human commands and teachings …
“…indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”
In other words, they’re not transforming of us. They’re not effective in getting God’s work done in us and for others.
I’m not saying anything that really surprises you, am I?
We all know what Jesus taught and it’s hard to do and we like to downplay or ignore or conveniently forget it when it comes to the difficult job of living His life in this world. We know what He taught, though. He pulled the most important things out of God’s law and emphasized them. He taught things like:
- “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (That’s the goal. None of self, and all of Thee.)
- “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
- “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”
- “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
- “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”
- “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
- “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
- “When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
- “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.”
- “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
- “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
- “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
I’m not going to cite these. You can find them yourself. You know where most of them come from in scripture, but more importantly, you know that they come from the very heart of Jesus your Lord.
I, for one, do not believe He is kidding about these. I don’t think they’re intended to be His laws that we must perfectly do or be forever damned. But I also don’t think they’re just suggestions about nice things to do if we have the time and they don’t inconvenience us too much.
I don’t believe there are any of His instructions to the people He loves that are outdated under the old Law, or no longer beneficial to one’s character, or no longer effective in doing God’s work in this world, or are exaggeration and hyperbole and wink-wink-smirk-smirk because it is impossible for anyone to be perfect.
He’s putting His very heart out there and telling us to make it ours. He’s telling us who He is and whom He can help us become and how. He’s showing us a better life than the lives we’ve chosen, with all of those easy little non-sacrificial doo-diddly-do’s-and-don’ts that may do a tiny amount of good but don’t even come close to getting the job done.
No, they’re not easy. Jesus also said something about taking up a cross and following Him. The cross was not optional equipment for the journey. Doing these things is going to cost us, and cost us dearly — just as doing them cost Him his life.
Yes, they are goals. How can we learn to live the life of Christ in this world if perfection isn’t our goal? Not laws, not suggestions: His loving instructions about making our lives matter in this world, and thereby living out the eternal significance of His life in this world. That’s transformative.
I keep saying “His life.” It has to be His life. He gave His up for us. He’s asking us to do the same for Him … to the blessing of others. Not ourselves.
He’ll see to the blessing of our selves when His time is right.
Okay, that’s my little Sermon on the Blog. We’ve read it. We’ve thought about it. We’ve been made completely uncomfortable by it.
Now let’s live it anyway.