“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”
My post the other day (“In the Land of Inconsequence“) brought many responses, both in comments and personal emails. My thanks to all who wrote. I appreciate what you add to the conversation.
Whenever I write a post that asks whether we Christians in America have succumbed to some sort of lowest common denominator discipleship, I receive responses from people saying that claiming to believe in Jesus while being a good parent, spouse, neighbor, employee, and so on is enough to ensure fulfillment of the requirements of being a true disciple of Christ.
But I struggle with that answer. And I struggle with it because in the Bible and throughout history true discipleship has never had a lowest common denominator baseline.
Instead, the way of true Christian discipleship is
On a narrow path
Found by few
That requires going a second mile when only one mile is called for
Asks sacrifice of the ordinary to gain the extraordinary
Puts its followers at constant odds with the world
And demands one’s very life
Even to the shedding of one’s own blood
This is why I wonder if being a nice, caring, saved suburbanite who lives, works, and acts exactly like my nice, caring, unsaved, suburbanite neighbors fulfills the greater calling of Jesus.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
The “you have heard that it was said…but I say to you….” statements of Jesus should shake us all. I find them disturbing to the status quo because Jesus ratchets the conventional wisdom up a notch and then turns it on its head. In short, He continually shows that the Kingdom of God takes everything you and I accept as normal and claims it has no place in the Kingdom. Why? For even sinners do the same.
And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
If I am content to be an acceptable parent, spouse, employee, and neighbor who does all the things our society claims I should be doing, am I truly a conqueror who loves not his life even unto death? Or have I fallen into the conformity of aspiring to little more than being a nice guy with a nice wife, a nice house with a white picket fence, and 2.5 nice kids with nice teeth, who will someday go to heaven, amen?
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Shouldn’t we be a bit more concerned that normal, acceptable, and conformable bear a striking resemblance to a certain wide gate?
The question I ask myself (and you) is this: Does the Christian life look different?
If it does, then how well should it conform to the lowest common denominator standard that we have erected for it?
The early Church looked at the status quo, then looked at Jesus. And they decided that living a conventional life paled in the light of Jesus. This is why they turned the world upside down. This is why they lived as a community of faith that resembled no community the world had ever seen before. This is why they annoyed the societal authorities. This is why people sought to kill them.
When you live so far above normal, when you serve a God who is so much bigger than the biggest thing you can imagine, it’s going to drive the normal people to want to kill you. Because their normal is a puny, shriveled thing that is shown its true nature when the genuinely enormous shows up.
If the devil wanted to truly disarm the Church, I can’t help but think that the easiest way would be to convince us that normal is just fine by God.
Explains a lot, doesn’t it?
21 thoughts on “For Even Sinners Do the Same”
Jesus often resorted to hyperbole. Many believers embrace that side of the message, always spoiling for a fight that never fully materializes. At the end of a lifetime of that, some find they never got very far carrying so much baggage.
But you neglect his assurances of the “easy yoke,” “light burden,” and “rest for the heavy-laden.” When he sent his disciples on a journey, he told them to pack light. For the thief on the cross, one moment of clarity was enough to gain paradise.
Middle age is tough the world around. At some age we will be forced to accept that all we can do is find the way home and encourage others on the way. The balance is neither to be too complacent nor chase after the wind. The final metaphor was a good and faithful servant wrapping up the job. Not the revolutionary on the barricades going down in a blaze of glory.
If you can point out the hyperbole and correct it in the passages I quoted, perhaps we’ll have some idea of how to proceed. Otherwise, I’m not sure what to make of your statements.
The whole point of Jesus’ hyperbolic statements is to show his listeners how vast the chasm is between normal in the earthy kingdom and normal in the heavenly Kingdom. If we try to tone that down, we miss the point.
Just checked back and hasten to reply. The “few and the many” theme oddly suits the world’s largest religion. Your final statement suggests that making peace with what you cannot change is to place yourself in the devil’s grip, which is pretty hyperbolic. But your earlier post deliberates exactly that, accepting what you cannot change.
I took your two posts together, and the earlier one fairly shouts mid-life crisis. God changed the plan and didn’t consult me about it. Mother Theresa’s journals are full of the same disappointment. Keith Green’s fans can’t reconcile his plane crash. And so on. The best biblical statement on mid-life crisis is Ecclesiastes, which is why I went there.
Of the making of many blogs there is no end…
The struggle is to know when “making peace” = “quitting” = “settling.” I think that too often the relentless rush of our society overwhelms the work needed to bridge the gap to that supposedly “out of reach” future. It’s reachable, but only if we can jettison those parts of our current day-to-day existence that prevent us from getting there. Wisdom is knowing how to do that.
The book The Black Swan is one of the most intriguing I have ever read. The author goes on to say that most bigwigs got to where they are through nothing more than chance/randomness. Any 100 people could’ve been them, but something as random as leaving five minutes early for work one day may have been the deciding factor between being stuck in the mailroom and ascending to the corner office.
Obviously, Christians need some retort to that idea. But then, do we follow the idea of our “every footstep ordered by God” or do we ascribe to a “race not always to the swift,” where “time and chance happen to them all,” philosophy?
As we both went to Wheaton, do you remember Dr. Yarbrough? In his NT class, I once asked him if he believed that God removed Christians from ministry, even going so far as to kill them, if they stood in the way of His work. He said yes. I have long wondered about that answer and its implication for people who flame out in ministry. Lots to chew on there.
I will add one thing:
Christ’s yoke IS easy and His burden light. I submit that living the consumerist, suburban, Christianized lifestyle that we call normal is what is hard. Perhaps we do not understand the easy yoke because we have never once shouldered it. We instead see the genuine yoke as too difficult, while we take on the faux version and then fool ourselves into thinking it is the light, real thing.
I agree. The rest of life is hard enough. The life of faith should be the easy part. So much of the Church is Martha, when Jesus praised Mary.
Dan, I always find myself in perfect agreement with you on this subject. In fact, I blogged about it quite a bit recently. The thing I struggle with is how to get from here to there. For all my ranting, I remain mostly normal. (I like the Keith Green album cover, by the way.)
One of Jesus’ first statements was to call the disciples by telling them they would be doing far more than than their ordinary jobs. They went from fishing for fish to fishing for men. Yet somehow we never see those big transitions in going from one kingdom to another.
Our lives should incite a response.
Jesus’ did. Either you see and enter the KoG or you rise up in rebellion. There is no neutral response to Jesus.
There should be no neutrality to us. And with that, if the majority of it is friendship and acceptance, we should check what we are standing for.
Dan, this seems the perfect opportunity to thank you. Based on reading a recommendation in one of your posts here about a year ago, I read Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship” and realized that I could no longer pretend that I had not been called to discipleship. His description of cheap vs costly grace burned me to the core. That was just a beginning. I’m not really sure where I am in the transition or how big it has been but I do know where I am headed. Thank you again.
Finding the balance between being so much like the culture that there is no discernible difference between believers and non believers, and moving to the other extreme where we try and isolate ourselves from the world so as not to be polluted by it is our struggle as the church. How to reach the world in a relevant way without compromising ourselves or the truth of the gospel.
I am enjoying visiting here .. thanks Dan.
from where I stand (here in Oz) discipleship has become a mechanism for uniformity rather than uniqueness, being a good Christian can often been seen as nothing more than being a good person – I wonder if we have become blind to the spiritual nature of life and the unseen reality in which we reside, the Kingdom of God.
You ask – does the Christian life look different? I’m wondering how should it look?
*You ask – does the Christian life look different? I’m wondering how should it look?*
I personally think the difference is — it is not about me, it is about others and their needs before mine.
I agree that there is so much world in the church, that you cannot tell the difference most days.
I’m excited you are thinking this way and feeling unsettled with life as is. There’s more and those who seek, find.
I am sorry about my comment on your last post, I should have read this one first. It seems to me that Jesus‘ exhortation to invite the poor and the powerless to dinner, rather than your friends and people who can advance you, is a strong call to reject expediency. Suburbanite, consumeristic “kindness” reaches only to the popular, the relative, those in your circle. Jesus went to the outcast, the unseemly, those thought irredeemable. It means taking constant flak for including the guy everyone else avoids. It’s the nurse in the warzone taking care of all the injured impartially. It is radical, but often quietly radical.
Oh. vey. Your literary-ness gets you carried away sometimes
Okay. Take my advice: move to Haiti. Dump the car, the house, the flush toilets, dental care, and access to a doctor. Pack up the wife and kids and enjoy your semi-ermetic, ascetic life in a cardboard box on a reeking trashheap, if that’s what it takes to make you feel better. And if the kids die of dysentery, oh, well, that’s just part of the suffering that comes with being a “disciple.”
There are some Haitian xtians who would just love trading places with you.
Yes, admittedly, I am being mordacious (a favorite word of mine lately), but I am trying to get a point across in a matrix that doesn’t allow for lengthy dissertations. But sometimes, to the point of tedium, you say things that fall into easily predictable grooves, to wit: the hideous second class status of being ipso facto a xtian in bourgeois America. (It makes me wonder if all you read any more is leftists like Jim Wallis.) Gosh, just being around people in general—no matter the venue or where—daily requires turning the other cheek. Just being married and making it work requires dying to oneself daily. And I’ve been through over a year of turmoil that came about by merely challenging, in the mildest of ways, some religious chicanery. Sticking to my guns has cost me plenty emotionally.
So what I am saying is really simple: the venue is irrelevant, and harping on the corrupting influence of “middle class” values is really missing the point. St. Paul commanded the Thessalonian to live quiet lives and work with their hands. That’s enough to put us through situtations where we’ll have plenty of opportunities to “live out the Gospel”.
If I claim to not have enough options to live out the Gospel, would that alter the pronouncement of my bourgeios-iness?
Does the Christian life look different?
Yes it should.
They will know you are my disciples by your love for one another.
A word that gets tossed around in Christian circles lately is community. Is true community experienced in attending a meeting once a week for a couple of hours? I don’t think it can be.
We have to get in with one another, we should be doing life together in a small community of believers, (home groups) with one hand reaching out to our brothers and sisters in the Lord, and one hand reaching out to those who don’t know Jesus.
Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is a great example of true Christ-like community. Baring each others burdens, praying for each other, standing in the gap, being there for each other.
That type of lifestyle looks a lot different than that of unbelievers, when we put the needs of our brothers and sisters above our own we look like our Lord.
I wonder how much Christian time and energy is spent trying to explain why Jesus didn’t really mean what He said and that the scriptures dont’ really mean what is said in the text.
All for the sake of clinging to our comforts and position in society or to protect a chosen theological viewpoint.
The problem is one of picking and choosing which Scriptures to believe and which to relegate to forgetfulness. We just can’t do that. The “whole counsel” is the whole counsel for a reason.