I’ve been discussing the difference between being a “Christian” and following Jesus with my local church family. Sad to say, there is a difference…in practice.
Here’s what we’ve realized from our discussions:
- Historically speaking, being a “Bible-believing” Christian and following Jesus haven’t necessarily been the same thing.
- “Taking up our cross daily” (Luke 9:23), in light of the finished work of Christ on the cross, is walking in other-centered love instead of self-interest and fear.
- The most likely reason the world has a favorable view of Jesus but not of Christians is because we haven’t been following Jesus.
Following Jesus has everyday, real-world implications. We are currently witnessing a lot of disturbing trends toward violence and polarization here in the U.S. It’s easy for us to get caught up in the whole “us” vs. “them” tidal wave of emotions, of fear and wanting retribution, especially if it directly affects the people we love.
But that’s the whole point, isn’t it…the people we love.
As Jesus followers, just who are the people we love? As we looked at in my post, “The problem with following Jesus,” who is our neighbor?
This raises many difficult questions. Can we be advocates for restorative justice and not demonize the perpetrator or the victim? Can there be real change brought about through understanding and compassion instead of revenge and violence? I think our national heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr. proved to us that the answer is a resounding “yes!” But it also takes courage and an inner resolve to follow Jesus instead of the angry mobs and popular cultural myths.
This is the real world we find ourselves living in today. It’s also the challenge to us if we seriously want to follow Jesus.
But this kind of tension has been going on in the Middle East for centuries. Like with the issues we face here, the issues between the Israelis and Palestinians go much deeper than the sound bites we see on TV. It’s easy to pick sides when we don’t bother to hear people’s stories.
For this reason, I wanted to show a clip by Christian Palestinian, Sami Awad (Holy Land Trust), because I believe he can really speak to these things as a Jesus follower living in Bethlehem. Please watch the whole clip. It isn’t long.
Sami Awad is spot-on. What is needed is love because…
“When you love somebody…you create a new oneness, a new unity with them, where there is no ‘other,’ actually….
…I believe the teachings of Jesus have the answers that the world is looking for. We are just called out to live them. We are not called to just make peace, we called to create a beloved community of all the peoples of this land.” (Sami Awad)
Jesus agrees. He didn’t just call us to live in peace with our adversaries; He told us to love them (emphasis mine):
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:43-48 NIV)
This is how we are children of our Father in heaven. This is not passivism, which amounts to nothing more than indifference. No, this is following the Law of Christ: other-centered love, which is extending the same grace and love for everyone else that we would want for ourselves (emphasis mine):
12 Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matt. 7:12 NKJV)
This is assertive, gracious, proactive, unrelenting, furious love! You matter just as much as I matter. “There is no ‘other,’ actually.” All lives matter.
You see, the only time we know if we really know love (and God – 1 John 4:7-8) is when we choose to love those who hate us, persecute us, and even want to cause us harm. Otherwise our love is fickle, conditional, self-centered, which is not the same kind of love God has for us…a love that allowed us to hang Him on a cross. And that same love lives in us.
One more thing. When Paul said to subject ourselves to governing authorities (Rom.13:1-8), and Peter told us to “honor the emperor” (1 Pet. 2:17), they were probably referring to Nero, one of the most wicked despots in the ancient world. And he was especially cruel and unjust to Christians. It was this same emperor who eventually beheaded Paul and had Peter crucified.
This is following Jesus. This is our overcoming life in Christ, which includes “not loving our lives to the death” (Rev.12:11).
This is what loving our enemies looks like.