I may write more about this later, when I feel I can do it successfully without preaching at any particular group of people. For right now, let me just say this:
If you dislike the idea of religiosity, a rules-based life that pits holy haves against heathen have-nots, then you’d probably like Jesus. A lot. I’m not saying that he didn’t have a standard for living–he did, and it was the most ethically challenging you’ll ever come across–but he didn’t have a lot of patience for people who wanted to turn ethical living into a pissing contest.
Jesus basically said that kind of religion was immature. Here’s how he put it in Matthew 5 (The Message translation):
38-42 “Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
I love verse 48–“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up.”
Becoming a mature person, a complete person, is our goal. I believe the Scripture teaches that true completion is only found in Christ; this means we cannot realize our full potential just by living a moral and decent life. Without Jesus, there are aspects of our character left untapped and undeveloped.
Likewise it means we cannot be our full selves if we claim Jesus but don’t live according to his ethic. In other words, we can’t say we love Jesus but hate poor people. Or disregard the suffering of others. Or neglect to not only pray for our enemies, but respond to their slights with kindness and hope.
Why should we do this if we follow Jesus?
Because “God gives his best…to everyone, regardless: the good and the bad, the nice and nasty.”
“Grow up,” Jesus said. That’s what we’re all aiming for. That’s the goal of being human. To be the best person we can be. To do it, we all need a little help.
Sometimes, the most grown up thing we can do is ask for it.