Creation of Adam, hands in detail

In today’s evangelism, work (or effort) is erroneously equated with earning. I suspect it’s rooted in a very old misapplication of Paul’s teaching that ends up overriding Jesus’ teaching. But I think we can straighten it out.

When a farmer tills the soil, plants the seed, or waters the earth, is he earning a crop? Has he overstepped his bounds or robbed God of His glory? No, he’s just doing his part to make it come about, working with God who makes it grow, which brings glory to God rather than steals it. And they share the rewards.

Should the farmer do nothing? The Bible calls that laziness. If the farmer were to apply the phrase “by myself I can do nothing” the way many churches misapply it today, he’d reap what he sows and have a whole crop of nothing. He’d be paralyzed. Dis-abled. I’ve heard church pros insist that, through the cross, God did everything for us and there’s literally nothing left for us to do but to accept, claim, and trust our saved “position in Christ.”

By making every work-related noun and verb synonymous with “earn,” we become terrified blobs who can’t even move, much less obey, for fear of “works salvation.”

For Theirs is the Kingdom of Blobs?

There are several popular analogies to describe this “position” in Christ. One is the slab of marble where God is the Master Craftsman who chisels and carves away at us to conform us to His image while we slabs sit passively in “surrender,” waiting to see the beautiful statue of Himself He comes up with. Thus, according to many, it’s never about what we do; it’s only about what God does. (more…)

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

When Jesus says to let the children come to him, he means let the beginners come to him, and “do not hinder them”. A disciple is simply a beginner, a new student in a new (to them) way of living. This “way”, of course, isn’t new to God. Jesus said all along that if we want to enter life, obey the commands.

What commands? Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul; and love your neighbor as yourself. In his own words, Jesus says that these two simple instructions sum up everything. It isn’t complicated, but we do need further guidance on how to obey and why it’s good for us to do so.

Jesus also explained to the beginners that he is the way, the truth, and the life. But where is this “way” laid out? Where do beginners start to follow this new way of living? How do they learn to love themselves as well as neighbors (assuming they already love God)?

In the Sermon on the Mount. These instructions span three full chapters in Matthew: five, six, and seven. It’s one continuous address; and it’s sequential. Step by step. It starts with eliminating anger and contempt. This step alone will revolutionize a life! Imagine not being ticked off or annoyed all the time. Imagine not being dragged all over the map by other people’s incompetence or stupidity? Imagine what that alone would do to lessen inner agitation?

That puts us in a brand new position of freedom. And from that new position, we can progress through Jesus’ next five areas of soul-killing attitudes:

  • Adultery and divorce (obsession with others)
  • Swearing oaths and over-committing
  • Score-keeping and revenge
  • Outer appearance and image
  • Judgment and hypocrisy

In that specific order. If we try to do it randomly, we fail–not because we’re just no good, but because we’re using the wrong “system”. See, Jesus knows what makes us tick. He also knows what fouls us up and what will set us right. Disciples of his new way of living become increasingly free of what poisons their nature and prevents loving self and neighbor.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. The way I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jhn. 13:34-35)

It’s a new, but very old, command. And it isn’t complicated once we know where to find his instructions on how to begin carrying out the command.

Alphabet Soup Love

Image by basheertome via Flickr

God has a vision for mankind. He’d like us to have maximum happiness, peace, love, patience, and competent skill—what scripture refers to as blessedness—to share life with Him. Our part is to catch the vision and follow His plan, which Jesus laid out in the Sermon on the Mount and gave his life to secure for us. There, he details how to get rid of anger, ill will, judgment and other habits that poison human nature.

To love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind isn’t a demand; it’s a basic instruction, the first building block for mankind. Like a rock foundation, it supports the weight of everything else so we don’t have to carry all of life on our own backs.

It’s not as if God were stomping His foot, “Me first! Me first!” That’s prima donna faith. And He’s not Dirty Harry. “Better love me first—punk.” The greatest commandment isn’t for God’s sake, it’s for ours. So are the other nine commandments, which Jesus lumped into one: “Love your neighbor as yourself”. God’s motives are good and generous rather than self-serving.

We tend to think of the word “command” in the sense of domination, pressure, or obligation. But it also means bidding, direction, or instruction. That’s how Jesus used it. Thus, it’s not the Ten Demands, it’s really Ten Directions for optimal well-being and life—according to Jesus, anyway.

“If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” (Mat. 19:17) Jesus and the New Testament apostles didn’t ban them, but rather, renewed and clarified them after Pharisees and experts had long perverted them. We have the same problem today, which turns following Jesus into a tedious chore to meet a divine demand.

Paradigm Shift

The discipleship life-style is easy to understand if we see Jesus’ two commands like flying lessons, musical scales, or the alphabet. A pilot can’t take off until he first learns to taxi. A musician can’t progress until he first learns the basics of scales. A child can’t read or write without learning and practicing his ABCs.

Jesus directs us to follow him the way a kindergarten teacher might say, “If anyone would come after me and learn to read, he must ‘deny’ himself and practice the alphabet every day. Anyone who doesn’t simply can’t learn from me, and isn’t ready yet for whole words.” This is what Jesus means by carrying our crosses and becoming child-like.

Like a child who didn’t learn the alphabet, and consequently crippled his reading/writing skill, so we remain crippled when we try to follow Jesus with misunderstood or contrived motives.