He also offers 6 alternative habits which, when practiced intentionally and in the order he presents them, build love into a routine way of life instead of sporadic acts of kindness.
This gradual shift from the old self to the new is known by several biblical terms: repentance, redemption, salvation, completion, and perfection, to name a few.
Step 1 eliminates willful anger/contempt by practicing willful mercy until that feels more natural. Step 2 keeps your eyes on you and God, not everyone else. You add this new habit to the previous one. Then, Step 3 is to stop swearing/insisting on having your way, the “right” way. Instead of demanding or manipulating, you can let Yes be yes or No be no and leave it at that.
Step 4 gouges out indebtedness/score-keeping by adding debt-free thinking. When you don’t feel obligated to the whole world, and they don’t “owe” you respect, apologies, or whatever, you’re well on the way to gracious, unconditional love. Your will/spirit is keeping step with God’s (Gal. 5:25).
Step 5 reduces worry over image and appearance by practicing privacy with God. Instead of sharing every opinion or deed with the world, or jumping through hoops to get noticed, you keep some things “secret,” just between you and God. You’re less prone to spout off and trigger retaliatory anger from neighbors, which degenerates into animosity and all out war.
Like building a house, each new habit is added to the previous ones once they’re well established. Love is cultivated and grown, not conjured out of nowhere.
Step 6 is the culmination, or perfection, of a Christ-like spirit that doesn’t struggle with love as if it’s a two-ton set of weights. This kind of person is complete and whole. He/she wishes God’s good on obnoxious or even dangerous neighbors. They live with a rich sense of relief from sin’s control, abundant in power and blessed delight.
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, they judge you, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there’s a plank in yours? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Mat. 7:1-5)
Remember Step 1? Jesus began with a caution against subjecting yourself to the judgment of men. Besides murder (and, presumably, other acts not specifically mentioned), anyone who’s willfully angry “will be subject to judgment also.”
With all 6 sinful habits to support it, man’s judgment, unlike God’s, is usually both retaliatory and merciless. It’s driven by a spirit that wants damage when wronged, so it doesn’t seek good, but harm. Routine habits that treasure love and good will simply aren’t there. What is there is a lot of ego and justification.
Judgmentalism is different from discernment. To discern is to make observations and distinguish differences. There’s no sin in this. We’re actually called to develop wise discernment. “Good judgment” is Christ-like. By contrast, judgmentalism criticizes, passing judgment based on superficial appearances, and always with some degree of contempt and condemnation.
In any behavior good or bad, when you target someone else, you’re the actual target because everything bounces right back to the giver, multiplied. So judgmental condemnation usually brings the opposite of what you want. Instead of producing change in neighbors, you find high resistance and a salvo of condemnation fired in return. Now you’re back to square one, madder than ever. Hardly a brilliant strategy if you want to get free.
Look at Jesus. He certainly discerned between good and evil, and didn’t deny when wrongs were committed. But he didn’t bash people, either. He didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it. And he doesn’t teach people to take no action against wrongs, but to take different action—different from both the world and their own former selves.
It’s always in your own best interest to treat others well—not because they earned it, but because you’re targeting yourself. So make it good. Then you can be a blessing to neighbors naturally, without huffing and puffing and gritting your teeth. But you don’t start here. You start further back with the things that cause an unloving spirit.
The Big Show
The Greek word hypocrite literally means “stage actor.” Accordingly, hypocrisy is to act or put on a show. It’s to say one thing but do another, or claim to possess virtues one doesn’t actually possess. It’s the cumulative result of ignoring Jesus’ commands.
Hypocrisy is sneaky even when you’re watching for it. Just this week, a guy came into my office to sign some papers. Actually, he charged in as if he owned the place—not in a mean-spirited way, but like a loud, fake-friendly salesman. I can’t put my finger on it, but he struck me as sleazy and overbearing, and I instantly didn’t like him.
The voice in my head cautioned that I was dangerously close to judgmentalism. Given the subject of this week’s post, I don’t think his visit was coincidence. It was a reminder and an opportunity to practice. I’m positive that I don’t notice every instance of my own hypocrisy, but I think I got this one before it got me. I shot a quick thank-you to God.
Hypocrisy is the plank in our eye that blinds us with self-justification. You can’t be a walking one-finger salute and claim Jesus as Lord. It takes a while to get the plank out, but it takes even longer when all you really want to do is beat your brother with it. I know because I’m a recovering plank-aholic.
Smarter, Not Harder
Learning love means un-learning all the habits that demand conditions of “rightness” be present before you offer it. “If I have not love, I’m nothing.” So here’s Jesus’ final new habit:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you….Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? …If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you’d have done to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Mat. 7:7-12)
Requests are less likely to trigger resistance and retaliation in people. Instead of imposing yourself by barging through their “doors,” you knock. Jesus himself never gets in your face, but stands at the door and knocks. Obviously, not everyone will respond favorably, but most will. And if they don’t, God does. You can count on Him for help.
A loving person looks for ways to promote goodness for self and neighbor. At this stage, you don’t need rules or conditions, but can improvise instead. You simply seek and find.
Of course, when it’s all new, it’s awkward and jerky at first, like a toddler learning to walk. That’s why Jesus walks with you. But with practice and review, you’ll soon be able to teach others. “Therefore go and make disciples…teaching them to obey everything I’ve commanded you. And surely I’m with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mat. 28:19-20)
Therefore, Jesus’ statement from the cross, “It is finished,” shouldn’t be construed to mean “there’s nothing left to do.” Rather, it signaled a whole new era of God-with-man in which we all have much to learn and do.
So it’s pointless to call him Lord if we don’t do what he says (Luk. 6:46). He’s Lord not because he died, but because he lives and knows best how to live. As the abolisher of Death, his message is about living new life with God in increasing wholeness, well-being, safety, and love.