Jesus’ teachings we don’t really believe

Husité_-_Jenský_kodexIt’s interesting to me how much we love Jesus but don’t really want to do what He taught. Oh, we try to obey our favorite verses, but truth be told, some of Jesus’ teachings are so subversive that they’re embarrassing to us.

These teachings don’t fit our culture, our national pride, or our insecurities and need for self-preservation, so we pretty much ignore them.

What teachings of Jesus am I talking about?  Well, here’s a short list from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount…

Don’t be angry with anyone; don’t call anyone stupid or an idiot (Matt.5:21-22).

Personally seek to resolve any issues anyone might have with you (Matt.5:23-26).

Don’t retaliate against an evil person (Matt.5:38-39).

Give whatever anyone asks of you…actually, give them more than what they asked for (Matt. 5:38-41).

Don’t expect anything in return when you give (Matt.5:42)

Love all your enemies and even those who hate you. Bless those who curse you, pray for those who spitefully use you (Matt.5:43-45)

Forgive everyone who has hurt you, whether they’ve asked for forgiveness or not (Matt.6:12, 14-15).

Don’t worry about anything. Trust God for everything you need (Matt.6:26-34).

Judge others exactly the way you want to be judged by God (Matt.7:1-2).

Treat everyone exactly the way you would want to be treated (Matt.7:12).

Jesus said that if our love is conditional, based on other people’s behavior, we’re no better than the most despicable people in our culture. In Jesus’ day it was the tax collectors…

46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (Matt.5:46 NIV)

What do we do with these teachings? Reinterpret them? Ignore them? Add our own conditions to protect ourselves from being taken advantage of?

I’ve found this out about myself. I have no trouble agreeing that this is God’s Word, and that it’s good; but I will find slippery loopholes in my theology so I don’t have to pay much attention to them.

But the price of our theological cognitive dissonance is that we end up being no different than our culture while professing to follow Jesus. We treat people we don’t like (or who don’t like us) pretty much the same way everyone else does…we hate people pretty much the same way, too. Our ideas of judgment, punishment, and retribution are exactly like those of the worst reprobates.

So…just how far are we willing to follow Jesus?

This is the absolute brilliance of Jesus’ teachings. I think they penetrate far more deeply than any other teachings in the Bible. They locate us, showing us what’s inside of us.

That is, if we’re willing to see it.

But, rather than embrace this wonderful unraveling of our souls, we tend to ignore them.

Looking_Under_The_HoodHere’s the problem. God wants to look under our hood (or bonnet for you Brits), but we would rather that He looks under everybody else’s hood. And we’re more than willing to help Him do that!

But when He begins to put the searchlight on the motives and intents of our hearts, we put up our walls of reason and create our own personal theology to compartmentalize Him out of those areas.

You see, Jesus actually reveals these inconsistencies in us to help us grow as human beings. This is how He continues to “save” us and make us whole.

The internal conflict exists because we don’t live out our faith in a vacuum. Not only did we grow up in a culture that’s totally antagonistic and dismissive of these subversive teachings of Jesus, we’re so immersed in it everyday of our lives that it seems normal to us.

This matrix, this world pulled over our eyes, is not driven by God’s love; it’s driven by fear and competition and greed. And it uses coercion, manipulation, and violence to accomplish its purposes. This goes all the way back to Adam and his progeny. A legacy of fear-based blame-shifting, envy, hatred, and murder when we don’t get what we want. After all, we’re not our brother’s keeper.

And when we, as Jesus’ followers, follow this course instead of His kingdom, something must give, so we reshape our theology, reinterpreting Jesus through the Adamic lens.

711px-Witch-scene4In this dualist world of “us against them,” God is on our side and everything we do is for the glory of God. People who aren’t like us are simply wrong. And if they’re wrong, don’t they deserve to be punished or marginalized? Doesn’t the Bible give us eminent domain to subjugate others to our will, justifying violence, if necessary?

Of course, we have plenty of ignominious examples of this in church history: the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, pogroms, burning heretics at the stake…or the trail of tears and the subjugation of an entire race of people into slavery while declaring them as “less than human”…just to name a few.

These “justifiable” acts of violent inhumanities don’t come from the Kingdom of God; they come from Satan’s construct, empowered by Adam’s fear-driven mindset; the Babylonian world system we are told not to love. It’s the worst form of imprisonment and what actually is “less than human.”

Here’s what historian and theologian, René Girard, said about this deceptive mindset:

Violence is the enslavement of a pervasive lie; it imposes upon men a falsified vision not only of God but also of everything else. And that is indeed why it is a closed kingdom. Escaping from violence is escaping from this kingdom into another kingdom, whose existence the majority of people do not even suspect. This is the Kingdom of love, which is also the domain of the true God, the Father of Jesus, of whom the prisoners of violence cannot even conceive. (René Girard, “Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World,” p.197)

Can we conceive of this Kingdom of love?

You might not like me bringing these things up. You may even vehemently object. That’s quite alright. You see, your issue isn’t with me. And that’s the brilliance of Jesus’ teachings.

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 42 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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14 Responses to Jesus’ teachings we don’t really believe

  1. Megan Urlaub says:

    I have a question. I’m really thinking about your post. I’m not arguing with it. Just trying to understand. How do we defend ourselves against criminals , terrorists if violence is always bad ? I do understand Jesus healed the man’s ear that Peter cut off. And that was non violent. Are we always suppose to be like Jesus when they came to arrest him ? I’m Really giving it thought. Not trying to be Argumentative. 😊

    • Mel Wild says:

      Megan, that’s a great question! And you’re beautifully illustrating my point, so you get an “A” in this class! 🙂 Whenever I teach a “Bible study,” this is what I tell my students. We, as human beings, want everything explained to us and put in our safe little theological boxes, which makes Jesus’ teachings so upsetting to us. But He doesn’t let us do this. He confronts our “boxes” and turns our safe “world upside down,” if you will. We are left with more questions than answers! This is how the Word of God studies us (think Heb.4:12).

      What we find from these teachings is that we’re suddenly thrown into a very different Kingdom. One that operates very differently than the one we live in. Simply put, instead of fear-based, it’s love-based. So we’re faced with the uncomfortable dynamic tension that exists between these two kingdoms. The one we have to live in (one of conquest, punishment, restraint, violence, murder) and the one that has been revealed to us–the Kingdom of the Son of His Love, which, honestly, is totally foreign to us.

      So, reading Jesus’ teachings challenges us at the very core of who we are. What constitutes violence and what constitutes protection? Obviously, Paul said that our government is ordained by God and they “do not bear the sword in vain” (Rom.13:1-7). But that doesn’t mean that this is how the kingdom works. And when does protection turn into subjugating others to promote our own agenda (based in fear or greed). When is stopping a robber more about protecting our “stuff” than loving them with God’s love? When does being patient and graceful turn into being harmfully abused? Who is the terrorist and who is the patriot? Are we even listening? This is the tension I’m talking about.

      My point is, I don’t think I should give you a cut-and-dried answer. I think Jesus wants us to wrestle with these things in order to keep us depending on Him and letting these issues inform us and change our hearts, thus influencing how we do exercise justice. I hope that makes sense.

      Happy wrestling! Blessings.

  2. Mel, I had one reply in mind, then read Megan’s question and your response to her. I am always edified and uplifted by your posts, more so today. I have been writing a post about Jesus’ commission to us (Matt 28:18-20) and have been coming to the same conclusion. It is so easy to find the loopholes, yet when we are fully committed to following Jesus how far will we walk with him? And if we surrender ourselves fully to the Spirit as we live in the tension of those questions, won’t our hearts and minds be transformed and our understanding clarified about responses coming from fear vs. responses coming from love?

    And as we live from love, won’t that include loving ourselves as well as all others? As we protect and defend ourselves from violence and abuse, wouldn’t that include avoiding whenever possible inflicting violence and abuse on others? (“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to oppose an evil person. If someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn your other cheek to him as well.” Matthew 5:38-39)

    Ouch! We don’t like that one, do we?

    • Mel Wild says:

      You are stating it brilliantly, Susan. Learning to receive God’s love and living from that love should reinterpret how we see the world around us. How can I say I love God and hate someone? (1 John 4:20-21) If I love someone as I love myself (as God loves me), how can I not “turn the other cheek” and stop the escalation of violence? And did we forget that the real enemy is not human at all? (Eph.6:12).

      If anything, Jesus’ teachings make us pause and honestly look at what we call justifiable violence. Is violence the best solution? I think we’ve proven otherwise, historically speaking. So much done in the name of justice is really something else. Why do we want to retaliate, seek vengeance, and punish the perpetrator? Again, it’s not to say that criminals shouldn’t go to jail. I’m saying something very different. I’m saying, are we willing to look deeper into our own hearts, and are we willing to relate to others, even so-called enemies and evil people, based in love instead of fear? This is the Jesus challenge, whether we like it or not.

      Thanks again, Susan. Your thoughts always add so much to the conversation. Blessings.

      • Even more excellent points and questions, Mel. Who is the real enemy? and is justifiable violence an oxymoron? Always happy to engage in discussions like these. I learn and grow just from the back and forth, and from other readers. Thanks.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Amen. This is what I like about blogging, as opposed to just writing books and articles. We can grow and wrestle with these things together in community. 🙂

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  7. Citizen Tom says:

    Issues of this sort force me to connect politics with religion.

    One of the odd things about the Sermon on the Mount is how few people mention this verse.

    Matthew 7:6 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

    6 “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

    Who crucified Jesus? The dogs? The swine? I guess not, but even though Jesus deliberately allowed Himself to be crucified I doubt that is exactly the sort of thing we are supposed to do.

    Jesus gave His life for a purpose we don’t have the capacity to fulfill. Christians may not be able to avoid persecution and martyrdom — we cannot deny our Lord — but for each others sake we have the right to resist.

    Spreading the Gospel is not the same as seeking death. We can resist violence — even be violent — without seeking vengeance. Hence Christian politicians and soldiers seek a doctrine of just war, and they puzzle over the matter.

    • Mel Wild says:

      This is admittedly a difficult issue, Tom. As I said in response to you (“Subversive Jesus”), I am defining violence as seeking to harm another human being. And certainly evil people need to be restrained in order to protect others. My point is that 99.9% of violence done is not for this reason. It’s retaliation and revenge done out of anger and/or self-interest. We hate our enemies and want to see them dead. Even a lot of Christians feel this way and express it. That is NOT Christlikeness. That is evil!

      I saw this evil in myself. I remember during the Gulf War in 1991 saying that we should bomb Iraq back into the stone age. A lot of my Christian friends had the same sentiment. With 9/11, it was the same sentiment, only this time, seeking revenge. Looking back, I see how evil this was! I was not following Christ at all. I was following some patriotic perversion of Christianity. What this revealed was what was really in my heart. It’s one thing to restrain evil (which we should do); quite another to seek revenge and retaliation. I think that’s where we cross the line and depart from Christ.

      As true Christ followers, our victory is not in using force to protect ourselves, it’s in not loving our lives to the death (Rev.12:11), not being violent, even if we think it’s for a righteous cause. Whatever we do, it should be motivated by loving others as ourselves.

      • Citizen Tom says:

        @Mel Wild

        I remember the calls to bomb Iraq into the Stone Age. Bad joke. Nevertheless, after we conquered Iraq, we tried to rebuild the place. Such projects require an effort few nations have been able to sustain. In this case, we did not have it in us.

        Consider why God had the Hebrews marching in the wilderness for 40 years. The former slaves were not fit to send into the Holy Land. Their sons and daughters were not much better — our sons and daughters are not much better — but they were more willing to believe God. The Iraqis had only a vague idea of how to make a democracy work. Perhaps their sons and daughters could have made it work.

        After WWII, we kept troops in Japan and Germany for decades. Islam poses more difficult problems than what the Germans and the Japanese believed. Since we were gracious in victory, the Germans and the Japanese quietly accepted defeat. The Iraqis would not quiet down and get on with relatively peaceful lives, and they could see we were not sufficiently committed to finishing what we had started.

        • Mel Wild says:

          I agree. We’ve had good intentions most of the time and are generous with our help. It’s just been a bit misguided at times, sometimes succumbing to other pressures (political, economic), which is just the reality of a global economy. We have seven billion people, with wildly diverse cultures, living on top of each other. Yikes! We need to try to understand each other better and try to live a little more harmoniously, if possible.

          The problem is not in our intentions; it’s that we still live according to a world construct that is fallen, and so we follow fallen principles, even when we think we’re serving God.

          The best we can do as believers is follow Christ in this world and be a light shining in the darkness.

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