by Keith Giles
My young friend sat across from me and confessed his inability to live up to the high standards of faith demonstrated by the early followersw of Jesus in the book of Acts. I could sense he was feeling a little unworthy and maybe even a bit of a failure as a Christian.
Earlier this week another friend had confessed to me that he didn't feel worthy to call himself a Christian any longer. "When I look at the radical compassion and the sacrifice made by those first followers of Jesus," he said, "I don't feel it's fair to compare myself to them. There were so far beyond anything I've ever done in my walk."
If you honestly try to let the word of Jesus impact your life, and if you really take Him seriously enough to live out the commands He gave us, you'll no doubt make a similar discovery. Love is impossible. At least, the sort of love that Jesus talks about is impossible for us as mere mortals.
Just listen to how Jesus expects you and I to love - "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righeous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." - (Matthew 5:43-48)
That's pretty serious stuff, and if you've ever actually tried to do it, you know how impossible it can be.
In December of last year I began to pray for God to give me a vision for our house church in the coming year. What I got was something called "Concentric Circles of Love". The idea was that Jesus commanded us to be marked by our love, and that love had to begin from the inside and work its way outward. So, my wife and I developed a road map of sorts to reflect what this journey should look like in a practical way. First, we would practice loving those in our own family as Jesus would want us to love them. Next we would practice loving our own brothers and sisters in Christ within the house church in sacrificial ways. Then our focus would be to practice loving our co-workers, and our actual neighbors, followed by those in our own community, including the poor and the broken.
At least, that was the idea, anyway.
What I quickly discovered was how very hard it became to love my wife sacrificially. It meant washing the dishes when I didn't feel like it, and without being asked. It meant putting her needs and desires in front of my own selfish desires for comfort. Living this vision out meant dying to myself.
I also discovered how hard it is to love other Christians, especially when they often behave like people who don't really know Christ or experience His forgiveness. I had to forgive people who didn't, in my opinion, deserve forgiveness. I had to love people who really didn't show love to me. That was close to impossible.
Here's what I've learned as I've tried to live out the command to Love; You can no more keep the command of Jesus to love than you can keep the Law of Moses.
Paul says, "I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do- this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it." - (Romans 7:18-20)
Essentially, Paul teaches us throughout the book of Romans that we are incapable of keeping the Law on our own. We are sinful, selfish, helplessly hopeless individuals who may have the desire to do good, but who lack the strength to live up to the high standards found in the Ten Commandments.
When Jesus was asked to name the greatest of the commandments He provided us with this, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself." - (Luke 10:27)
Jesus boiled down all the Ten Commandments into just two commands; Love God and Love others. It sounds simple enough. Just love people? Ok, I can do that. But, as we've already seen, we really can't. You can no more keep the command to love God and love others than you can keep the Law. It's not within your power.
What are we to do? If we want to follow Jesus and we hope to obey His commands, we must love others, and we must love God. In fact, the scriptures tell us that if we don't do one, we can't do the other (see 1 John 4:20-21 if you don't believe me). Yet, when we try to do this, we are quickly met with the hard reality of our own selfishness and weakness.
Here's what Jesus says, "If anyone would follow after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and followme." - (Luke 9:23)
The only hope we have to love the way Jesus expects us to love others is by dying to ourselves.
The only hope we have to keep the Law is to allow the Holy Spirit to transform us from within into the sort of people who are capable of keeping the Law. The only hope we have to ever become like Jesus is to die, like He did, upon a cross which declares that we surrender our lives in order to receive a new life that is "others-focused" and marked by sacrificial love.
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" - (2 Cor 5:17)
Love is impossible, and withotu it all of our actions are empty and pointless (See 1 Cor 13). The only way to love like Jesus did is to surrender daily, sometimes hourly, to allow His Holy Spirit to transform us into people who can fulfill His commands.
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross!" - (Phil 2:3-8)
Notice that Paul asks us to "consider others better than (ourselves)" here. That doesn't mean to treat people as equals, as if they are "as good as we are", but instead to treat them as if they were better than we are. He urges us to humble ourselves the same way Jesus did, becoming a servant and loving others even to the point of death.
This is about daily surrender. It involves a daily conversion experience. It means dying to yourself every single day and allowing God to love others through you.
As the early Church Fathers used to say, "Conversatio Morem!" which translates as, "Constant Conversion!"
This is subversive.
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PODCASTING? - Someone put a bug in my ear over the weekend about how easy it is to set up podcasts on your blog. My wheels are turning. Could there be a podcast version of the [SU] in the future?
NON-CON '08 - Just wanted to announce that there will NOT be a Non-Con in 2009. I'm very interested in making our first Non-Con a one-of-a-kind event. I will not franchise this. I will not do one every year with a new theme. If you miss the first Non-Con in March of next year you'll miss what may end up being the only Non-Con. I'll consider doing another one when the time is right, but this will not be an annual conference. Just so you know.
MY FIRST BOOK: We've hit a few snags on the editorial side, but have no fear, the book will be published before the end of the year. Keep your eyes peeled for "The Gospel: For Here Or To Go?"
This edition of [Subversive Underground] is dedicated to Sarah Bowman. Thanks for being such an encouragement to me. Keep the faith!