House under constructionWe’ve now reviewed all 6 sinful habits, universal to all people, as Jesus outlined in the Sermon on the Mount (Mat. 5, 6, and 7).

We’ve also reviewed 6 corresponding new habits he taught to make love less difficult and more consistent. The secret to success is his well-defined steps—very specific and narrow.

Because most of us want to be right and good, evil disguises itself as correctness. So, internal evil becomes invisible and we become blind. Personally, I was very reluctant to gouge out habits that I considered righteous. It turns out that I was actually destroying the very goodness I want.

In the remainder of Matthew 7, Jesus summarizes his message with a few final warnings and illustrations.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (vv. 13-14)

This is a re-wording of the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus started with, not limited to them, but common to all people of all cultures and time periods. He’s referring to a self-justifying life-style, the “adulterous generation” we still live in. He knows that people need help getting beyond it if they’re to enter God’s kingdom life-style of love, gracious power, and well-being.

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they’re ferocious wolves. You can recognize them by their fruit. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit…Thus, by their fruit you’ll recognize them.” (vv. 15-20)

The faith and action that Jesus invites is easier, smarter, and nothing like the burdens that crowds were used to in his day. It also isn’t like the Christianity I was used to, widely preached in our day. He makes this point early in the Sermon by saying several times, “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you…” (more…)

The best revenge is to live well. Remember, yo...Let’s recap the divine strategy behind the first 3 steps: People who overcome willful anger and contempt (Step 1) are less focused on the wrong-being of neighbors. It’s therefore easier to stop lusting after them as objects, make them targets, or wish them ill will (Step 2).

This in turn makes it easier—almost natural—to stop swearing this or that to manipulate neighbors’ opinions and judgments. Yes can be yes, and No can be no without insisting that they see things your way (Step 3).

If you follow the Sermon on the Mount’s sequence, Jesus’ path to love and good will gets easier, not harder, because he builds success right into it. Would he promote something designed to make you to fail? I think if people knew this, they’d be greatly relieved and abandon the false notion that Christ-like love is super-difficult or not very smart. It just takes practice and planning.

You don’t tackle everything all at once. Work on each step until you’re prepared for the next, like learning ABCs before writing words, then sentences, then paragraphs. The new you isn’t conjured out of nowhere, either by you or by God. The power comes from building up to a spirit capable of love. You get that by de-constructing 6 habits universal to all people.

These habits always seem right, so we embrace them like a “harlot.” However, once you divorce this divorce from God, and the Spirit’s strengthening action is added to the mix, you become a person substantially like Christ, mended and whole yet still uniquely you. In his preface to the Sermon, Jesus calls it getting beyond the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Mat. 5:20).

“Death to self” is really nothing more than that. You kill off what’s killing you so that you gain self-control, and your soul flourishes. It’s unfortunate that “self” is a dirty word in today’s Christian culture, yet it’s where the focus must be in a relationship with God that empowers you to move in His direction. Otherwise, you can’t obey Jesus’ command to love your neighbors as yourself, and you remain lost, pulled in a hundred different directions. (more…)

28.06.2008 -Aircraft flying inverted.When most Christians mention saving a soul, they likely mean some part of the person in the future part of his/her life, often termed “eternal destiny.” Once that’s secured, the soul gets no further consideration. It’s “saved.”

People can then turn attention to earthly living, preferably in a Godly life-style, but nevertheless as a kind of throw-away. In fact, it’s common to hear Christians say, “Life is temporary.”

Well, no, it isn’t. It’s permanent.

From the biblical perspective, a person’s life is one single, ongoing continuum. Some of that life is lived in the physical realm on this physical planet; some of it isn’t. The biblical paradigm says that physical death doesn’t end anyone’s life. (And if I read resurrection passages correctly, the majority of one’s eternity is spent in physical form. But I digress.)

Also from the biblical perspective, personhood consists of a mind/intellect, a heart/will/spirit, a body, and a social/relational context. I think of the soul as the overall “auto-pilot” that continually manages input and produces output in the form of behavior and relationships. It does the best it can to synchronize each aspect of personhood into a functional, cohesive whole. But it can’t do it on its own. It needs God’s help.

I realize it’s a rudimentary analogy. Human beings are more complex than even the most sophisticated auto-pilots. But the soul is simply the total person, greater than the sum of its parts. And a soul never stops living once it starts. It isn’t something you have; it’s who you are. It isn’t a piece of you; it’s all of you, the essence of your being.

In bible-speak, when that’s torn and jumbled, it’s ruined. When it’s mended and whole, it’s restored. Perfect. Complete.

So when Jesus says, “Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul,” he means “with your total being.” When he says that God has the power to “destroy” both body and soul in hell, he means that no part of the person will be overlooked when God fully confronts his/her sin and ruin.

Subversive Ideas

I used to think that overcoming evil with good was about overpowering it with brute force. But suppose it happens by subverting it from within, from the inside out with love. Suppose evil is destroyed in an individual when input and output synchronize as God designed, and the whole soul harmonizes with its Creator—mind/intellect, heart/will/spirit, body, and social relations.

What might happen if this idea spread through the ages, person by person, as more and more people became less abusive, less frightened, less insistent on their ruined ways, and more desiring of complete good for themselves and others? Wouldn’t it be a lot like yeast working its way through the whole batch of dough? (Mat. 13:33)

Now suppose that God plotted all along to overcome evil this way, like an unstoppable dawn swallowing the night. How valuable, then, might you be as God’s partner in paying attention to your own soul, the essence of your being?

God is always about completeness, thoroughness. Jesus therefore proclaims a comprehensive salvation for the whole world that addresses the total person for an entire life. His idea is that everything about that life moves increasingly toward love—that is, the desire to promote and contribute to good—now, later, and always.

Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love enemies. Be good to those who hurt you or make your life a pain. Why? What’s the point of listening to Jesus? Well, at first, for your own well-being. Whatever you wish upon someone else, you wish upon yourself. The measure you use will be measured to you (Luk. 6:38).

So, if for no other reason, you wish for their good, unless you’re a masochist who likes double the aggravation. Once that isn’t such a foreign concept to you, you can do it for other reasons. It’s right. It’s blessed. It overcomes evil. You get a beaming wink from God.

Beginning next week, I’ll re-post a six-part series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. There, he outlines step by step how to subvert evil and make room for love, goodness, and blessed well-being for the soul, individually and collectively. It’s actually pretty simple, but was such a radical concept that the religious experts of Jesus’ day declared him to be straight from the devil. He was crucified for blasphemy and subversion. They got it exactly backwards and upside-down.

Many Christians today unknowingly treat him similarly. They don’t actually believe that unconditional love is possible or a priority, much less right and good. It doesn’t seem right to give up their “righteous” anger, precious payback, or wounded spirits. I don’t say this critically; I speak from experience.

But that’s okay. Experience is knowledge, and knowledge is the beginning of repentance. Everyone starts from where they are, not where they will be.

Large Green Tree near Belmore Park Sydney CBD

Large Green Tree near Belmore Park Sydney CBD (Photo credit: Chris Ting – Sydney)

To move beyond today’s nominal Christian culture into the deeper body of Christ, a few things must be in place.

One, God’s vision of wholeness for the greater body of mankind should be viewed in the long sweep of history. Transformation of an individual doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s a safe bet that the human race isn’t transformed into a loving body in a few thousand years.

Two, you should see that becoming whole yourself is your personal contribution to God’s grand adventure within that long sweep. It means you’re drawn into, or caught up in, His goodness and plan of action. It’s what He wants more than anything else.

Three, understand that, biblically, to love someone is to simply wish for that person’s good. You will it, invoke God into it. You promote and contribute to it. The good news is that this doesn’t require affection. You don’t have to try to force yourself to like people or even agree with them, though you certainly like and agree with some. The key to loving even enemies is that willing their good doesn’t mean you support their actions. You support God’s.

So, biblical love is simpler than we think. If more churches promoted it, love wouldn’t be such a dreadful burden that only Jesus can correctly pull off. Nominal Christians could actually be drawn into the deeper body of Christ with the joy and understanding we read about in Scripture. (more…)