I’ve been amazed at the things God continues to show me. I talk with and read about peoples’ experiences from all walks of life and tend to learn something from all of them. It doesn’t matter if I agree with them 99% or 1%, I still seem to get something even if it’s just a question or different point of view. I don’t find myself agreeing with anyone 100% and I don’t tend to disagree with anyone 100% either. Likewise, I would start to worry if someone agreed with me in everything. Also, I get disappointed when others reject every single thing I say because I won’t conform to their visions of how I should be. We are all on this journey at different stages. I’ve seen pastors with the spiritual maturity of infants and “backsliders” or “sinners” (as they’ve been labeled by others) who have such a deep connection with Jesus it continually amazes me.
One of the most controversial things that has built my faith in God actually came from atheists! I know many atheists may be trying to dissuade belief in God, but their questions have caused me to seek real answers and not just believe because someone else says so. As I’ve questioned things in the Bible, God has revealed that it isn’t about rules so much as it is about Jesus. I know we hear this all the time, but how have we actually come to understand it?
There are a handful of verses that I’ve come to comprehend a little better recently through others’ experiences. Many I’ve come to know through reading the Bible with the Holy Spirit. Some verses get stuck in my head and I continue to try to figure them out until Jesus reveals them through others. The first one is:
“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth.–Revelation 3:15-16.
The lukewarm references have always been unsettling to me as, in all honesty, I was in this very state most of my religious life. I was taught how to maintain the status-quo and give the external appearance of being on fire by being in full external agreement with those around me (i.e. being a Conservative Republican who hated all the same things everyone else did). This made me a good Christian in the eyes of those around me, but left me empty inside and lukewarm. After I left this institution, I was able to develop a deeper relationship with Jesus that drove me away from such worldly, political power structures.
Once I got to a “hotter” state though, this verse still nagged me for some reason. I wasn’t so concerned if others in that congregation viewed me as “cold” and even considered it a compliment as Jesus states that being cold is better than lukewarm. I realized this is what was also confusing me. Wouldn’t lukewarm be closer to God and cold further away? Considering a truly cold person would be like an atheist, while a lukewarm person would be someone who at least went to “church” on Sunday. I began to see how Jesus approached the “cold” (with a great compassion) and the “lukewarm” (with the Pharisees, Jesus used sharp words in an attempt to penetrate the traditions, obligations, and religion they had made such as in Matthew 23).
Another set of verses that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around were these:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you,–Matthew 5:43-44
I realized some time ago that in the second half of Matthew 5, Jesus was showing people just how impossible it is for us humans to uphold the righteous standards of the old law. It would entail us chopping off our hands and plucking out our eyes to even come close! I was shown yesterday that verses 43-44 continue these very concepts! If we’re honest, we have a very hard time loving our enemies. Again, Jesus was showing us by our human means, this isn’t possible. Earning righteousness by rule following has never worked. Only Jesus was able to uphold these standards (as he was born without the sinful spirit) and he gave that righteousness to us.
The final set of verses that I want to present here tie directly to this concept:
One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, testing him. “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?”
Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.–Matthew 22:35-38
This is another set of verses that, if we’re honest, just isn’t possible to uphold by our human means. We are taught that this type of love for God is upholding all of the religious mandates, but that didn’t work for the religious people of Jesus’ time, and neither does it work for us today. There was something critical to realize here–Jesus was still speaking about the old law! Under the Old Covenant, we had to make immense effort from a bottom up approach to love God with our “everything.” However, Jesus shows us that this process is upside down (he turned many things upside down like this). Jesus gives the disciples a new command, to love each other as he has loved them! Notice, this command is new, it is not the same as the old commandment. Under this new command, love flows from God and then to others. Under the old system, love flows from us by our efforts which just doesn’t work.
It would seem that the commandments are a reflection of God’s perfection and personified in Jesus. Jesus loved Father with all his heart, soul, and mind and kept the other commandments by this one being first.