A post in the Christianity series.
“The most important [commandment],” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
A Christian is one who, having received from God grace, forgiveness, and the promise of eternal life after death, strives to embody the same principles to all people regardless of creed, religion, background, race, or actions. When Jesus died and rose again, He made God’s infinite love, grace, and forgiveness available to everyone, such that no matter what we do in this life, what sins we commit and what evil acts we fall into, forgiveness is always there. Likewise, we believe that once saved, no action can cause you to lose your salvation. If it were possible to lose salvation, then that would imply a limit to God’s forgiveness, and I know of nothing in the Bible that supports such a stance.
If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."
When we believe that it is impossible to save ourselves through works, and that access to eternal life exists only through a graceful gift, what choice do we have but to offer up these same gifts to everyone with whom we come in contact? Throughout the New Testament, and particularly through Jesus' own ministry, Christians are called to a life of service to others, forgiving wrongs, and abounding in grace.
One of the aspects of Jesus' ministry that continued to confound even Jesus' own disciples is how Jesus regularly lowered himself to the status of a simple servant. The most prominent example is found in John 13 where Jesus washes His disciples' feet during Passover. Many of the disciples felt that Jesus was above simple servant work and that such an action was demeaning both to Jesus and themselves. However, they failed to grasp who Jesus really was and the significance of this action.
Similarly, many of the stories we have during Jesus' ministry focus around the lowest of society. Jesus regularly ministered to the sick, to outcasts such as lepers and prostitutes and to those often hated by Jewish society such as tax collectors and Gentiles. As a contrast, Jesus reserved his harshest words and rebukes for the religious leaders of the day: the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus put it in no uncertain terms, these people were hypocrites, imposing the law on the people yet failing to follow it themselves, as well as making public spectacle of their own righteousness and regularly debating among each other who was more righteous.
As Jesus lowered himself to the status of the lowest servant in society, so are we called to serve, not to be served. Social castes are human constructions meant to consolidate power in the few. In God’s eyes, however, every person is equal in stature and importance, bar none, and Christians are called to live as such. A Christian should never see or consider himself or herself as greater than another. Eternal life through Jesus is a gift and thus not something we can or should ever boast about or use to lift ourselves up over others.
Forgiving people who wrong you is probably the second hardest thing one person can ever do. Forgiveness often directly conflicts with our sense of wanting justice. “That person is in the wrong, and I know I’m right, and I can’t let this go this until they see their fault and admit that they are wrong”. This view will almost always conflict with the innate stubborness in all people because each side of a conflict is saying the exact same thing to the other side, leading to an eternal impass. This insistence on being right, on getting justice, has and will continue to destroy friendships, families, careers and lives. This vicious cycle can continue across many generations and there is only one way to break the cycle: forgiveness.
God forgives us all of our transgressions, no matter what we do. We owe it to Him to also forgive those who wrong us in this life.
The most prominent example I know of the power of forgiveness is South Africa and how Nelson Mandela united the black and white communities after Apartheid. As the black South Africans came into power, the whites were terrified that they would now be subject to the same injustices they had perpetrated on the blacks. Because Mandela learned how to forgive while in prison, and saw how forgiveness freed him of his pent up anger and rage, he knew that the only way South Africa would stay together would be to forgive and move forward.
What’s the hardest thing one person can do? Pulling this idea from Philip Yancy’s book What’s so Amazing About Grace, the answer is simple: refusing to forgive. As hard as it is to forgive someone who has wronged you, living the rest of your life seeped in anger, resentment, and/or rage is a much worse way to live.
Finally, Christians are called to be abounding in grace. As has been repeated a few times here, we don’t deserve God’s gifts, but he gives them to us freely. Likewise, Christians are called to be generous in sharing whatever gifts they have received. If you have a talent, perform it to the best of your ability for His glory. If you’ve been blessed with financial success, give that money away to those who need it. And in all things never expect anything in return or attach stipends to the gifts.
And especially do not give to bring glory to yourself. Jesus explicitly calls out this behavior, recorded in Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
I may be entering political waters here but from everything I just described above, I believe that the following flows perfectly logically and is our calling from God as Christians on this Earth.
So how should we expect Christians to act today? What specific things can we do that show and share the gifts of God to the world? I can think of no better answer than to follow Jesus' example of who he preferred to spend time with: outcasts, the sick and suffering, and the poor.
I believe it is our fundamental duty as Christians to reach out and help groups such as these (in no particular order):
- Minorities and Immigrants (Black Lives Matter, Muslims and Arabs, Latinos being targeted for deportation, etc)
- Anyone who identifies as LGBTQ
- The homeless
- The elderly
- The sick
- The hungry
I am reminded of the What Would Jesus Do (WWJD) movement of the 1990s. At the time I remember it coming across to me as a platitude that made people feel good (also, I was still quite young, having been born in 1984). But now I would love to see this come back and for more Christians to ask themselves: “What Would Jesus really Do in this situation?” because many decisions and actions I see these days coming from fellow Christians are not what Jesus would do.
The lingering question now is: If truly being a Christian means acting as Christ would, why are so many Christians neglecting to do so, whether they mean to or not? The short answer, that can seem like a cop-out, is that due to our fallen, sinful nature, it’s very easy to fall back on what we naturally want to do (aka, sin) rather than focus on how to live like Christ wants us to. I will go more into detail on this in my next article, which will cover Evil and Sin.