Sometimes it can benefit us to go back to the basics of the Christian life. I recently got myself into some spiritual trouble trying to go deeper and deeper in mysterious parts of theology, and I started to drown. I thank God for the mature, godly advice I received that proved grace to get me out of that mess. In getting past that crisis, I decided to go back to the basics. I started over reading the Gospels again. Having gotten most of the way through Matthew now, I realize how much of Jesus’ most fundamental teachings—the basics of the Christian life—we miss in the quest to increase in theological understanding. Jesus’ plain words, I’ve noticed, are more challenging that what we can learn from any great theological framework. Simply put: the hardest part of following Jesus is actually following Jesus.
Here are some difficult sayings of Christ that I’ve run across lately to give me some perspective:
In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
What? My light has to shine? People have to see my good works? I thought Christianity was “between me and God,” right? Well, I know that’s not true, but actually showing God’s glory and grace to people in a day-to-day setting is really easy to miss, and really hard to do.
But let your word ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’ Anything more than this is from the evil one.
Hmm… I’m not really the dishonest type, and I hate to lie, but I’m not sure my speech is always quite that plain. I conceal things sometimes, and don’t mind if my words are easily interpreted as something better than what they truly mean. Come to think of it, that’s not very Christ-like.
But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
This is hard stuff. First, I have to let insults slide. That’s pretty tough. Then, I have to let people take advantage of me. Plus, Jesus doesn’t provide any exceptions when He says to give and lend when people ask. Does that mean I always have to give my stuff to people when they want it, and I always have to lend to people who want to borrow from me? I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone preach that, but sounds like what Jesus is saying.
And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same?
I think the Holy Spirit forgot to inspire a footnote that says, “Don’t worry about greeting people if you’re an introvert. God understands.” Okay, maybe not, but this is hard! I barely feel comfortable greeting people I know sometimes, so how can I show the kind of active kindness and others-interest Jesus commands here? Of course, I guess the answer is that I can’t. This is the Spirit’s job in me. My part is to pray and follow the Spirit.
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.
Seeking God’s kingdom first seems hard. That’s not the first thing on my mind in the mornings. Nor is it my constant preoccupation. But other things can sometimes take these spots. Yet the core of Jesus and the apostles’ preaching was the kingdom of God. How can I chase after the kingdom in my daily life?
“Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged.
Yes, I know people abuse this verse. Yes, I know there is a time and place for judgment. But it seems to me that when we say that, instead of making room for the legitimate use of the command we tend to ignore it entirely, at least in practice. It’s really just not right for me to judge others when my own failures are so colossal.
“Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.
It’s easy to ask, search, and knock a few times. It’s hard to keep doing these things, and it is hard to be consistent enough in them that God would actually have a reason to take me seriously. But God commands prayer more than so many other things, so how can I neglect?
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.
My natural instinct isn’t to deny myself, charge into suffering, and follow Christ into the depths of justice and mercy. It’s to pacify my desires and keep life running smoothly without hurting my conscience. In fact, that’s where I think most of us are. That’s wrong. That’s not Christian life. We are called to life empowered by the Holy Spirit, to kill our dreams and pride and desires, and to embrace the pure undiluted satisfaction of a life suffering for Christ. That’s tough.
“If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”
In context, this is Jesus’ instructions to one man, to reveal the idolatry of wealth and self in his life. But there is a more general application. Jesus says, “Don’t cling to your stuff. Don’t hold on to your money or your possessions. Give freely. Bless the poor. They need it. This is what I do. Follow me. My way is the way of radical generosity, because in My radical generosity I gave you My life.”
So, as I’m sure is evident, the hardest part about the Christian life is just doing what Christ told us to do. If I concern myself primarily with living this life Jesus has called me to live, I won’t even have time to worry myself about the secret things of God. This isn’t to say that doctrine will take a backseat, but vain speculation and prideful attempts at full understand certainly will.
This isn’t just about me, though. It’s about you. I bet you’re not doing these things well either. Do I condemn you? By no means; you are no more guilty than I am! But take in these words and see it: Jesus has called us to a life of radical service, abandoning our comfort to bring justice, mercy, and the Good News of the still coming Savior King to those who need them most. Are you doing it? I hope so, because I’m moving up and out on that path, so maybe I can see you there.