We cannot afford to make Jesus’ life mostly about His death. I believe doing this is one of the major reasons why most people still like Jesus but don’t like most Christians. This sad commentary reveals the difference between the Christian religion and following Christ.
As I said in part one, when we make it all about His death, we justify ignoring His life and teachings, which we should not do! Jesus said some pretty troubling things about calling ourselves a Christian but not following Him, like this statement at the end of His Sermon on the Mount:
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matt.7:21-23 *)
And just how did Jesus define practicing “lawlessness” here? He goes on to say…
26 “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” (Matt.7:24-26 *)
And since Jesus is the “exact representation” of the Father (John 14:7; Heb.1:3), we can safely assume that “doing the will of My Father” and following Jesus’ sayings are one in the same.
Is following Jesus just about being “moral?”
So, what were “these sayings” of Jesus? That we should be “good Christians?” The context is what He just taught in His Sermon on the Mount (Matt.5-7), which includes: emptying ourselves, being merciful, peacemakers, rejoicing in persecution, not doing things for personal acclaim, always forgiving, never hating, loving our enemies, not retaliating or seeking revenge, giving more than we’re asked, not judging, always treating others exactly the same as we would want to be treated, not worrying about our livelihood, but storing up treasure in heaven and seeking the Kingdom first…which basically means, living everyday from heaven to earth.
Brita Miko brilliantly explains in Stricken by God? Non-violence Identification and the Victory of Christ (edited by Brad Jersak and Michael Hardin) why it’s relatively easy to be a “good Christian” but still not be really following Jesus:
“I can go through an entire day believing the standard evangelical statement of faith “bodily resurrection of the dead” and all. I can get up the next day and do it, again. Easy. And the whole program of evangelical morality -I passed it today. I didn’t get drunk on absinthe. I didn’t create, pass or smoke a hookah pipe. I did not become a meth cook. The things we measure ourselves by, are the things we succeed at daily.
However, I truly lack the ability to love, again and again. Today I failed at love. But there is redemption. Even my small daughter forgives me. Even my baby forgives me. So I do keep trying. I am just a failure at it.
By looking at the doctrines and rules, instead of love, I feel better about myself. If I MAKE it about the doctrines and the rules, instead of love, I feel fine. (Kindle edition, loc. 3140).
Sounds to me like if we don’t learn how to love, we’ve got nothing (1 Cor.13:1-3), even though we think we do.
I’ve said this before, but our cross we’re to carry daily is walking in other-centered love instead of self-interest and fear. This is unsettling, heart-wrenching, inconvenient, messy, …so much harder than just trying to behave myself. It requires the death of my right to be judge…to separate myself from them. It requires the crucifixion of my finger-pointing, grace-hating heart that wants to bludgeon those who dare violate my subjective standard of right and wrong…I must actually want to give them the same grace I would want for myself. I must love. This is true surrender!
Including Jesus’ life in my soteriology requires me to stay in constant communion with Him, allowing His shaping of my wounded soul, learning how to live and love like He did, abiding in His Father’s love. It’s not by trying to be acceptable, but by accepting His love, His joy filling me, empowering me, transforming my heart:
9 “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.
11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:9-11 *)
Following Jesus requires giving what I don’t have to give apart from His life in me. This kind of love only comes from the outworking of His abiding presence.
From a cheap transactional gospel to a relational life in Christ
What I’m trying to say is, I can’t afford a cheap gospel that only sees Jesus’ life as a legal transaction, one that leaves me as a pardoned criminal but not transformed. I can’t afford to make it about my particular religious imperatives, it must be about the new creation (Gal.6:13-15). I can’t afford not to have Jesus’ Incarnation incarnated in me.
But the really good news is, God is living His life in you and me through His Spirit right now. The River of Life is always flowing! All you and I have to do is respond to Him and get in the flow! Jesus is obeying in me, His life is overflowing through me.
This is the heart of the gospel. This is why Jesus was not born to die, but to give life. This is what Christmas means to me. His peace and goodwill to all humankind, demonstrated in the grace-filled lives of His beloved sons and daughters.
Then we can sing, “Joy to the world! The Lord is come…through us!”