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The Gospel teachings of Jesus include the most radical directives ever given. His ideas seem so revolutionary to most of us that, as the lay theologian G.K. Chesterton so memorably said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting—it has been found difficult and left untried.” The teachings of Jesus are divine commands, cosmic in scale and epic in effect when they are strictly applied, so it is little wonder that Christians shirk them! It is easier to conform to more human-scale rules, all those comforting nostrums that demand so little while they promise to deliver so much.

Rather than attempt to follow the Lord’s commands, Christians cling to the human-made ideas upon which they have built their human-made religion. And the worst of these human-made dogmas is the notion that Jesus died to redeem us from God’s judgment for our human failings. Jesus tells us clearly right in the Gospels that neither He nor God ever judges us, so this is one small human idea that should have been smothered at its birth! Jesus says, “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (JN 5:22-23). And then He says, If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world (JN 12:47). And lest that word “save” might seem hopeful to Christians who still cling to fear-based human notions, it is clear from what the Lord says in the Gospels that what He came to “save” us from was… all those fear-based human ideas!

Human-made rules are all that matters in modern Christianity. And generally these are easy to follow: just claim Jesus as your Savior, show up on Sunday, put money in the plate, and follow petty rules that other people can police and can judge. I recall as a child how Catholic children could never take a bite from a hot dog without double-confirming that today wasn’t Friday. Fundamentalist Protestant kids were sure that hell yawned before us if we said a bad word. Yet no Christian denomination, even now, insists that the teachings of Jesus must be taken as seriously as He means them to be taken. And because this is true, Christianity as a whole defies the Lord’s most important core teaching. Indeed, it considers the defiance of that most essential Gospel command to be an actual virtue!

Most of us think of God’s Law of Love as the central Gospel command. It is certainly the most popular! When a religious lawyer asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment in the Law, He said the words that Christians relish quoting: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (MT 34:36-39). How we all love those easy and happy words! But it turns out that the easy and happy kind of love is not the sort of love that the Lord demands. No, He says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them! … But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (LK 6:32-36).

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Roberta Grimes

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