On Wednesday morning, I had coffee with my friend Brandon. We have both been thinking about the practice of spiritual disciplines, the good and bad of monastic life, and how people can engage in spiritual formation. At one point of our conversation, the question was raised, “What are we called to do as Christians? What are the commands of Jesus we are suppose to be obeying?”
Now, please keep in mind I have a rather acute allergy to spiritual moralism; the notion that we simply have a list of to do’s and not to do’s gets me rather angry. Christianity isn’t about rules, it’s about a restored relationship with Jesus. Relationships that rely on rules are generally manipulative, abusive, and pretty much everything that Jesus isn’t.
But, the truth is we need to have some sort of tracks to run on. There has to be some sort of guide lines as to how our lives are to be lived. I mean, we want what we believe to matter, to be active, to achieve a changes in us. We don’t want just an intellectual belief, just an understanding of some thing we agree with. We want what we believe, what we have faith in, to bring about some sort of difference in our lives, to transforms us into something better than what we are now. If there really isn’t anything required of us, no commands to follow, don’t we just spend our time spinning our wheels? We want to be whole humans, fully alive, people that do what is good and bring good in people’s lives. We want to be like Jesus. So how do we do that?
So how do we balance these two truths? On the one hand, we need commands to follow so that we actually get somewhere in our attempts to live a better life and be better people. On the other hand, the Christian life is about grace and free salvation… a renewed, right relationship with Jesus, not a list of commands for us to learn, obey, and follow.
Truth is, Jesus did leave us with some commands… well, one command anyways.
As the Father has loved me, so I love you. Live and remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will stay in my love, just like I have kept my Father’s commandments and I live and remain in his love…
This is my commandment: love one another the same way that I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for those they love.
Jesus talks about obeying his commands (plural). Then he goes on to tell his followers what his command (singular) is. “As I have loved you…” That phrase is the crux of this command. 1 John 4.7-21 expands on this a bit further. God is love, and he has called us to have the same type of nature: he has called us to be loving. He has even displayed what it looks like to love: the definition is Jesus’ death in our place, his atoning sacrifice. In this we see and can know what love is.
This is the crazy big command of Jesus: I am to love with sacrificial love that lays down it’s self for the good of others. These are our tracks, this is our road, here is our guide for what we are suppose to do to be obedient.
So how do we do this? How do we learn to love in this fashion with out either giving up (because it’s too damn big and I am too broken to love like that) or resorting to a hellish list of rules to keep track of how loving we are (cause that’s just what Jesus meant, right)?
I think the answer lies in a hand in hand approach of action and immersion. This is a topic worthy of it’s own post. For now let me just offer a general overview of this approach.
Action leads us to ask where right now in my own life can I act (or stop acting) for the sake of love for other people? What do I feel responsible for? Where do I see that I am acting unloving? Action is really about an immediate reaction to what we understand and see right now as we begin to look at our life and action through the filtering question, “is this love?”
At the same time, we need immersion in the person and presence of Jesus. Reacting to the current situations we find in our lives will never really bring about growth. It’s kind of like the difference between triage and long term healing. Immersing our selves in Jesus through prayer, worship, scripture reading and meditation leads to a slow, long term transformation of our lives. We will begin to see more and more ways that we can do love, as well as find the ability to love harder, better, faster, stronger.
These need to occur simultaneously. We can’t wait to be changed before we act; we can’t act without being empowered and transformed by Jesus.
Basically, the idea I am getting at is this: walk forward in doing love where you see that you can now and at the same time use what ever tools and means you can to love Jesus better, knowing that as we love God we are being formed into people who can love others and ourselves better.
I know this seems kinda nebulous and fuzzy. In some follow-up posts, I want to talk about some concrete expressions of this dual approach to faith and obedience through a filter of love.