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Dec 23

In the imitation of Christ?

You will often hear Christians state their desire to be more like Christ. To live one’s life in imitation—to the extent possible—of Jesus is the ultimate goal for many.

So how do Christians fare in attaining this goal? Not very well, it seems. I’d like to focus on some of the more difficult teachings of Jesus. It is easy to speak about your love of The Golden Rule, but there are many other statements that could be called moral teachings that are often ignored. I’m only going to cover a few of these, as a complete treatment of the subject would be quite lengthy (I couldn’t even make it through Matthew before this got too long). If you want to do more digging yourself, it’s quite simple—just read the statements attributed to Jesus and test whether you adhere to them.

 

Context

Many teachings of Jesus are extreme. This is probably because of his worldview—that the Kingdom of God was fast approaching and we should prepare ourselves for its imminent arrival. With such a view, you cannot simply live an idle life. Christians cannot ignore this urgency if they truly want to become more like Christ.

 

The Teachings of Jesus

Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near. (Matt 4:17)

This is arguably the most basic precept underlying all moral teachings of Jesus and variations on this message are woven throughout the gospels. This also lends credence to the idea that faith without works is vacuous. The idea that we can simply believe and be saved is not consistent with the words of Jesus. Quite simply, if you are doing wrong in God’s eyes, then stop immediately and do righteous acts instead. Read Jesus’ words here along with Matthew 7:21-26 where Jesus goes on to say you cannot just call out ‘Lord, Lord’ and be saved, you must act on God’s will.

For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:18-20)

That was a lot, but I felt like the whole passage was necessary to make the point. Here, Jesus is really showing his Jewish side. He is clearly not viewing himself as ending the cycle of following the law (the Torah). Rather, you have to be even more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees (who carry out a very literal and painstaking adherence to the law) if you want to enter the kingdom of heaven. How do you become this righteous? It would seem by not breaking a single one of the 600+ commandments of the Torah. Some feel that Jesus’ death and resurrection means “all is accomplished.” That seems to me to be a view of convenience because it is very difficult to keep to Jewish law. The early church, as described in Acts, still kept the law until it grew among the surrounding Greek culture. Recognize that it is Paul who advocates breaking tradition, not Jesus. The disciples of Jesus who actually walked and talked with him, kept the commandments. Paul, who never met him, did not.

Summarizing: Do not store wealth. You cannot serve both God and wealth. Do not worry about your life or plan for the future. Let tomorrow worry about itself. (Matt 6:19-34)

Do we plan? Do we save money? It is incompatible, Jesus said, to both worry about your money and worry about your preparedness for the coming kingdom. View this alongside the teaching about how difficult it is for a wealthy person to enter heaven, selling everything you own to devote your life to Jesus, and many more and you have a compelling case against striving for personal wealth. The teachings of Jesus on money are some of the most difficult for Christians. I can see why; we cannot help our desire, but such desire is not God’s will. He would apparently prefer you to be like an unthinking flower with respect to setting goals for yourself.

Another of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’ (Matt 8:21-22)

Here is one of the weirder teachings of Jesus. You can view this as complimentary to what he said about planning. Basically, you should be so concerned with following Jesus that you pay no heed to earthly concerns. Do not even stop to go and bury your dead relatives.

 

Conclusion

I have presented four difficult teachings of Jesus that people do not generally follow and I only made it through a few chapters. How do we reconcile that people claim to want to be more like Jesus, yet do not do what he asked of his followers? Well, I think there could be a few reasons. First, people simply don’t know what Jesus said. Second, people prefer to let Paul trump Jesus (often without knowing they do so). Third, they just don’t want to commit to these difficult things. I think this last is the most telling. Modern Christian apologists try to harmonize these teachings in any way they can. This results in a practice akin to theological Twister.

Read the Gospels and ask yourself: Do you think Jesus wants us to have a lot of money and be concerned with our lives beyond just doing God’s will? Then ask yourself: Do you think modern apologists accurately portray the words of Jesus or are they building their own Jesus to be more palatable to their wishes? I think you’ll find more often than not people are twisting the words of Jesus to have a less difficult meaning.

 

Food for Thought

According to Jesus, there is one unforgivable sin. Would you care to guess? No, it’s not murder, rape, torture, or anything like that. It is blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28-29):

Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.

Does this sound like the most unforgivable thing one can do? I didn’t think so either.

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