The atoning sacrifice aside, the most important impact of Jesus’ appearance on the landscape was his announcement that the kingdom of God is now here, open to all. Availing oneself of this kingdom, however, requires a rethinking of one’s life, because the predominant model, then and now, is that God has a law and we are obligated to abide by the law if we are to live in His good graces. While Jesus did not throw out the law, he came to herald a new way of relating to God, which his sacrifice made possible. That new way he termed the “kingdom of God.”
If the law is no longer the central principle to guide one’s life, what then? Jesus put it quite simply: “I am the way…learn from me.”1
A significant problem immediately presents itself. My teacher is invisible and, let us be honest, he is very quiet. It seems quite a reasonable question to ask, “How can I be discipled by (learn from) Jesus if I cannot see Him?”
The customary evangelical response to this question is, “Study his word.” At first glance, this is superb advice. However, if we look at how this works out in the life of the typical evangelical, we see that it is severely wanting, bankrupt even. The typical church strategy toward discipleship involves teaching, or more precisely, informing Christians of the doctrinal contents of the Bible. The fact that, for decades, I have been “discipled” by listening to sermons, attending Sunday School, and reading “Christian” books explains the fact that my head is jam-packed with doctrine. But, upon careful and brutally honest introspection, I have concluded that my life is not consistent with what I claim to believe. Worse still, I was destined to conclude my life having become intimate with a book, not a person.
A major feature of Jesus’ public ministry was to point out that the Pharisees were a poor model, hypocrites, and false teachers. In fact, Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees could even be characterized as a central component of his ministry, because the way of the Pharisees presented such a stark contrast to Jesus’ way. Furthermore, Jesus characterized them as dangerous. This is concerning to me because we evangelicals live our lives pretty much the same way the Pharisees did. Tom Hovestol wrote about this in his book titled, “Extreme Righteousness, Seeing Ourselves in the Pharisees.”2 “Zealous for the Scriptures. Scrupulous in their giving. Dedicated to living untainted by the world’s evil. Fervent in anticipating God’s deliverance. Conscientious in obedience to God’s commands.” Sound familiar? That’s Hovestol’s whole point.
It has been a good while since I read Hovestol’s book, but even without reviewing its contents, I can guarantee that, if he thought through the issues carefully and read the Gospels honestly, he would have concluded that the New Testament calls us, not to obedience to the law and the life of the Pharisee, but to a new and vibrant love for and devotion to Jesus and an immersion in Kingdom living. Indeed, upon inspection, that is exactly where the book concludes.
The question is, “How does one transition from living under the law to living in the Kingdom?” Jesus’ answer is clear and simple: “Rethink your life in light of the fact that the kingdom of the heavens is now open to all.” That is what this blog is all about.
I am rethinking my life, extracting myself out of evangelical Phariseeism and inserting myself into Kingdom living. Prayer, it turns out, is essential. Indeed, prayer is the difference between life and death. It is the difference between life in the Kingdom and merely surviving in the outskirts. Prayer has given me access to the invisible Teacher. My need right now is to formally ask him, “Would you please disciple me? Teach me how you would be a husband and a father. Teach me how you would do my job. How would you get up in the morning, put one foot in front of the other and make your way through my life?” This represents a categorically different approach to life, and I have much to learn.
I suspect however, that my heart is divided. I do not detect the level of devotion that Paul portrays in Philippians 3:
More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.
Why was Paul’s heart so undivided, and mine is not? I suspect that Paul understood, with crystal clarity, the value of knowing Christ and, at the same time, the bankruptcy of the world around him. I have to admit that I have difficulty seeing things this way. Oh sure, I understand the value of being saved from hell and having an assurance of heaven. I share this sense with all other “Sunday-only” Christians.
But, I want more. And I can assure you that I am not looking for more doctrine. That, it appears, is what evangelicalism has to offer, in the main. I want Christ, himself.
1 As Eugene Peterson points out in The Jesus Way, the word “way” is a metaphor. Jesus is not a road or a path to heaven. Now, I will insanely venture to summarize Peterson’s book. “In saying, ‘I am the way,’ Jesus was saying, ‘Follow me. I will show you the way one lives in this Kingdom of God.’”
2 Tom Hovestol, Extreme Righteousness, Seeing Ourselves in the Pharisees, Moody Press, 1997.