Beyond What the Law Requires
First let me set the record straight. Despite what some of you may think, despite what some of you have been led to believe, I have never claimed to be a model Christian. If you choose to imitate my example, you do so at your own risk. I work at becoming a good Christian everyday and I rely on God to help me, but it is as much, if not more, of a challenge and a struggle for me as I imagine it is for some of you. I am certain some of you do a better job than me at being a good Christian. … I have never had a heavenly vision or dream. I don’t do miracles. I have never walked on water, except in the form of ice and snow. I have never raised the dead, never spoken in tongues, never multiplied bread and fish to feed a crowd. I have never led a flock of sheep to pasture, never tended a vineyard, never sowed seed in a field, never cast a net into the sea. Sometimes I will put off for tomorrow what I can do today. I don’t always get to bed early, so some days I don’t get enough sleep, and will be cranky in the morning. I don’t read electronic equipment manuals, I don’t ask for directions when I am lost, and I have ridden my bike exactly 3 times since I bought it 4 1/2 years ago. So if you’re looking for an example of what it means to be a good Christian, a model Christian, a holy Christian, I wouldn’t recommend me. But if you’re looking for someone who can cook a decent chicken and sausage gumbo, I will be happy to be that guy.
When we imagine what it means to be an authentic Christian, what is the picture that emerges? What kind of Christian do we want to admire and imitate? Certainly one who embodies the values of the gospel – compassion, humility, dedication, loyalty, reverence, joy, courage … But how do we ourselves measure up to this picture of authentic Christian discipleship? … The kind of disciple Jesus describes is nowhere near as boring or complacent as we often are. Jesus dreams of disciples who are passionate and driven and eager to share with others the joyful news of God’s mercy and forgiveness. But is that the kind of Christian we want to uphold for our children to imitate? Is that the kind of Christian we want to be ourselves? … When we choose to live by God’s Law, we will always make that choice in freedom. And the Law was the basic minimum required of Israel in that covenant relationship with God … the basic minimum. What Jesus requires of his followers would be so much more than just the basic minimum. You have heard it said to your ancestors … but I say to you differently! I say to you, be even better still, be the best you are capable of, strive for excellence!
The Law requires that you avoid shedding your neighbor’s blood in anger. Jesus goes farther and says, rid yourself of all animosity, resentment and rage. If someone offends you, be the first to seek reconciliation. Only then should you offer your gift to God. If you scorn your brother or sister, if you call them names, you do not fulfill the Law.
The Law requires that you remain faithful to your spouse and not break your marriage bond or invite your neighbor to break theirs. Jesus goes farther and says, purge your heart of lust and that overpowering desire to possess another. Tear out your eye, cut off your hand, if they cause you to sin. If you are a slave to your sensual appetites, you do not fulfill the Law. Authentic Christian discipleship is going to be more intense than simply fulfilling the Law. Discipleship is not for the faint of heart, not for the casual believer, not for the weekend Christian.
The Law requires that you do not take a false oath. Jesus goes farther and says, don’t swear by anything or anyone, say what you mean and mean what you say, no less, no more. Clearly, the kind of follower Jesus is looking for is no basic minimum observer of the Law.
… ultimately, the only true standard of holiness and authentic Christian living is Jesus Christ himself. Pay attention to his teaching and his example. There is no better role model to admire and imitate. Yet the task can seem daunting, so far beyond our reach. But God does not expect us to be perfect tomorrow. What we need to do is face the daily challenge before us and make those choices most consistent with Jesus’ teaching and example. Jesus said he came to fulfill the law and not abolish it. If we fulfill what the law requires, we are well ahead of the game. But remember that Jesus calls us to excellence which lies beyond what the law requires. Start somewhere … anywhere.
You’ve already mastered not killing people. So work at forgiving your enemies and not despising your neighbor.
You’ve already succeeded at staying married to the same person all these years. So work at nourishing that friendship and restraining your lust for what is not yours.
You’ve already been good at not bearing false witness against your neighbor. So get better at saying what you mean and meaning what you say.
Start somewhere … anywhere. Then maybe the next time we want to imagine a good Christian, a model Christian, a holy Christian, we can think of you.