Just telling our societies that Jesus is what they need isn’t enough
In the current vitriolic and polarizing culture-war atmosphere, a Sermon on the Mount emphasis of giving mercy, going the second mile, turning the other cheek, and forgiving “70 times seven” would serve the cause of Christ far better than an angry stance that smacks of, “We’re Christians and we’re not going to take it anymore.”
Recently I was at a stoplight, and the car in front of me had a bumper sticker that read: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” The statement is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. Of course it’s overstated and far too much of a glaring generalization. But I find little comfort in that.
When I saw that bumper sticker, I wanted to get out of my car, walk up to the driver and apologize. I wanted to say something like: “I know. We have been far too unlike our Christ. Please forgive us.”
We live in a world where much is wrong. And what is most wrong with the world is not the politics or the economy or who happens to be living in the White House. What is most wrong with the world is the human heart.
The greed and pride and lust of the human heart are the epicenter of all that is wrong with the world. We should realize this by now.
As followers of Christ, we are not so much called to know the answer or preach the answer as much as we are called to be the answer. This is how we are salt and light (also found in the Sermon on the Mount). We are to model the answer by being Christ-like in a Caesar-like world. This is what the Sermon on the Mount is all about.
The narrow (and difficult) way of the Golden Rule demands that we consider and not use others. The Golden Rule of considering others by giving them love, respect and mercy is the narrow gate that leads to salvation. Not because this is how salvation is earned, but because this is how salvation islived.
Using other people as objects to satisfy our self-centered agenda is absolutely the highway to hell—it is the kind of life that leads to the utter and final ruin of the human soul. When creatures created in the image of God cooperate with sin and Satan to use other image-bearing creatures as objects to satisfy their own greed and lust, they conspire to erase the image of God from their own souls. This is what Jesus is trying to save us from in teaching us the narrow way of the Golden Rule.
This is the Sermon on the Mount—to choose the Christ-like way of giving over the Caesar-like way of taking. To give mercy to the undeserving. To forgive the offender. To turn the other cheek to the enemy. To go the extra mile with the oppressor. To give the cloak to the scoundrel. To give cheerfully to the beggar. To forgive again and again. Seventy times seven.
This is the narrow way that Christ invites us to follow Him on. It is a hard and difficult way. But because it is Christ who invites us to follow, it is also possible.
Above all, it is the way that leads to life. Do we dare believe this? To be Christians means that we do believe this. And not only do we believe it; we live it. We live it in community with others who share our faith in Jesus Christ. Even more significantly, we live it in fellowship with the One who promised to never leave us or forsake us and to be with us on the narrow road to the end of the age.
Brian Zahnd is pastor of Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Mo., and the author of What to Do on the Worst Day of Your Life and the new Unconditional? (Charisma House) from which this article is taken.