Early in the first letter of John, we read,
By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. (1 John 2: 3-6)
Isn’t that interesting? John, whoever he was, says that Christians can know they’re saved because they keep Jesus’ commands and ‘walk’ as he walked. Likewise, others should be able to see these traits too because, as Jesus is (later) made to say, cult members can be recognised by their ‘fruits’ (Matthew 7:16).
Just what are Jesus’ commands that converts can’t help but demonstrate? Here’s a few:
- Cutting themselves off from family – hating their parents, in fact – just to follow him (Luke 14.26);
- Deny everything about themselves (Matthew 16.24-27);
- Forsaking home, job, wealth, status, credibility and comfort to help bring about God’s Kingdom on Earth (Mark 10.29-31 etc);
- Slaving tirelessly in the service of others (Mark 10.43-44; Matthew 23.11 etc);
- Selling their possessions so that they can give the proceeds to the poor (Matthew 19.21; Luke 14.33);
- Turning the other cheek, repeatedly going the extra mile and giving away the shirt and coat from off their backs– if they’ve still got them after giving everything away – (Matthew 5.38-40);
- Welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and visiting those in prison (Matthew 25.35-40);
- Forgiving again and again and again (Matthew 18.21-22);
- Avoiding judging others so that they won’t be judged in turn (Matthew 7.1-3);
- Loving their enemies (Matthew 5.44);
- Regarding persecution and injustices as blessings (Matthew 5.11);
- Doing miracles even more impressive than Jesus’ own (Mark 16.17-18; John 14.12);
- Healing the sick, raising the dead and casting out demons (Matthew 10.7-8);
- Asking for anything in prayer, which will be given to them (Mark 11.24; Matthew 21.22);
- Telling others that the world is about to end (in the first century) and that only Jesus can save them from God’s wrath (Matthew 28.29-34; Matthew 28.16-20).
How many of these things do we see Christians doing? How many of these commandments are Christians compelled to ‘keep’, as letter writer John puts it? Some, it’s true, make attempts with the last (if only they wouldn’t) and a very limited few have a go at a couple of the others. But as far as most Christians are concerned, these commandments may as well not exist. They don’t see Jesus’ instructions as applying to them. I know from experience that they have ready made excuses for not obeying them, let alone feeling an inner compulsion to realise them in their own lives.
Their excuses necessitate them reinterpreting Jesus’ words. They’re metaphorical, they say. ‘He didn’t really mean give everything away because where would that leave us?’ – or they insist his commands have been taken out of context, or have only a spiritual meaning…
Which is to say, nothing Jesus said is to be taken literally, even though the most straight forward reading of his pronouncements is that this is how he meant them. It’s how his early followers, the people who preserved or created his words in the gospels, understood them. Why record them otherwise?
But Jesus’ moralising is inconvenient, impractical, exacting, extreme; ridiculous, in fact, and Christians know this. Still his commands must be dealt with somehow. So the Righteous™ work round them or ignore them completely, replacing his priorities with ones of their own: worshipping him; defending his reputation; striving for power; complaining about secular society; whining about the media; promoting aggression; acquiring wealth (there should be no such thing as a millionaire Christian); claiming persecution; equating faith with guns; trying to control others’ behaviour; interfering in their sex lives; suppressing LGBT people; arguing that religious rights trump those of minorities; opposing abortion.
None of these figured in Jesus’ agenda. Some are even in direct opposition to what he’s made to say in the gospels.
When we see Christians doing the things Jesus tells them they should be doing – what God’s love perfected in them compels them to do – maybe then we’ll listen to what they have to say. When they demonstrate credibility rather than hypocrisy, maybe they’ll have earned the right to be heard. But as there’s not much chance of that happening any time soon, it’s way past time we ignored them, and their superstition, in much the same way they ignore their Lord and Savior™.