One of the dangers of growing up in the church is that I often lose perspective on how radical Jesus’ teaching is. Even a casual reading of the Sermon on the Mount reveals that following Jesus should move us into a different lifestyle category.
Jesus said things like “love your enemies (Matthew 5:44)” and “do not resist an evil person (Matthew 5:39).” Jesus encourages us to throw parties for those who cannot pay us back (Luke 14:13-14). He calls us to take up our cross every day (Luke 9:23), a call to abandon self-will and seek God’s leading.
Jesus spoke these words to a people who were being oppressed by their Roman overlords. Jesus spoke these words to a people who had a long history of ethnic hatred (which continues today in the Middle East). Jesus spoke these words to people with a rigid understanding of what it meant to follow the law of God. Jesus spoke these words to people who used religion as a means of achieving their own desires.
Jesus spoke these words to people who are a lot like me and probably a lot like you.
The problem is that I can maintain an intellectual understanding of Jesus’ teaching while I fail to live it out. I can easily rationalize the gap between what my head understands and what I choose to live out.
I can acknowledge that Christ requires me to go the second mile while I am complaining about having to go the first. I can acknowledge that I am required to love my enemy even while I am speaking ill of him. I can acknowledge that God cares about every sparrow that dies even while I am stressing out over my circumstances.
This is where a proper understanding of the Gospel helps. The gospel teaches me that I am deeply flawed but more deeply loved.
The deeply flawed part is the reason why I will never be able to live out Christ’s commands on my own. I have a seemingly infinite ability to rationalize my wrong behavior and without the intervention of God in my life, I would continue on the same path.
But God gives me resources to change the trajectory of my life. He gives me Scripture that shows me my sin and error. He gives me the Holy Spirit to bring conviction concerning what I read in Scripture. But more importantly, he gives me new life that is made possible by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
The gap between my head and my heart remains, but by God’s grace that gap gets infinitesimally smaller every day.