26 June 2018

Surrendering our authority to Jesus.

When I was a kid I came across one of Bill Bright’s gospel tracts, in which he diagrammed the difference between a self-centered life and a Jesus-centered life. Looked like yea.

Or “self-directed” and “Christ-directed.” Either way. Discover God

If our lives are self-centered, supposedly they’ll be chaos. Whereas if they’re Jesus-centered, they appear to be neat and orderly and crisis-free. With none of the challenges, persecutions, temptations, suffering, or any of the things Jesus totally warned us were part of life. Yeah, certain gospel tracts tend to promise a little too much. Bright’s was one of them.

But lemme get back to my point: The idea of a Jesus-centered life, as opposed to a self-centered one. That is in fact the whole point of Christianity: Jesus is Lord. We’re meant to follow his steps in everything we do, 1Pe 2.21, 1Jn 2.6 always take him into consideration, obey his teachings, seek his will. He’s the king of God’s kingdom, and if you want in, he has to be in charge.

In practice he’s not Lord at all.

Well he’s not. Absolutely should be. But you know how humans are: We decide who we’re gonna follow and obey. Sometimes actively, ’cause we seek out authority figures and mentors and books to follow; sometimes passively, ’cause we do as our bosses or spouses or parents tell us, and don’t fight it, even when we really oughta. Sometimes willingly, sometimes grudgingly. Sometimes connivingly: We decide exactly how we’re gonna fulfill our orders, and some of us accomplish them in ways our bosses never dreamed of, or even wanted. Even if we like these bosses.

Connivingly was the Pharisees’ problem. Contrary to popular belief, the problem with the Pharisees in the New Testament wasn’t legalism. Jesus’s complaints to the Pharisees were about how they bent God’s commands, or outright nullfied ’em for the sake of their traditions. That’s why he called them hypocrites: They pretended to follow the Law, but broke it all the time. True legalists are no hypocrites; they’re trying to follow the rules as carefully as possible, but in their zeal they’re overdoing things. Pharisees overdid a few things, but only as a smokescreen for the many, many things they left undone.

We Christians tend to condemn Pharisees whenever we read about ’em in the bible. But because most of us have no idea what their real failing was, we condemn them soundly… then turn round and do the very same things they did. We pick and choose which of Jesus’s instructions we’re gonna follow, and let the others slide. We interpret Jesus’s teachings all loosey-goosey, reinterpret Jesus himself so he suits us best, project our motives upon him, and claim we loyally follow him… when we’re really following ourselves. Never stopped following ourselves. We simply dressed the id in a Christian T-shirt, redefined our fleshly behaviors as spiritual fruit, and presume our irreligion is “maturity” because now it comes so easily.

Basically we’re still in that left circle, with ourselves in charge and Jesus outside. But we imagine Jesus is in charge. We imagine it really hard. Doesn’t make it true, but people can psyche ourselves into all sorts of things when we want ’em bad enough.

What we call our authorities.

There’s a Christian I know; we’ll call him Ortwin. He’s mighty adamant about how the bible’s our authority. So much so he’s often practicing bibliolatry, and making claims about bible which are only appropriate for God. Oh, he’ll publicly state Jesus is Lord, not the bible; but in practice Ortwin is all about bible.

Parts of bible.

’Cause Ortwin is dispensationalist. So if a part of bible has to do with what he considers a previous dispensation, it has no bearing on the present day. Doesn’t count. And under this interpretive method, most bible doesn’t count. Most of the Law, with the exception of the Ten Commandments and a few of his favorite commands. Most of the Prophets, unless he figures the prophecies are about the End Times. Even some of Jesus’s commands, if he imagines Jesus made them in the spirit of the Old Testament.

I grew up in churches which believed this way. They followed a system, put together by John Nelson Darby and C.I. Scofield, which indicated which scriptures were “old dispensation” and which scriptures still apply. Ortwin’s not following their system. He’s following his own. He’s the authority as to which bits of bible to follow, and which to ignore.

But Ortwin can’t wrap his brain around the idea he’s his own authority when it comes to how and where to apply bible to his beliefs and practices. It’s a mental block. Maybe he’s frightened of the reality. More likely he’s dissociated himself from his method: It’s not he who makes these decisions. It’s something else. It’s the methodology; it’s the Holy Spirit; it’s “just how you’re commonsense supposed to interpret the bible.” Point out he’s only following his favorite commands, and he’ll insist you’ve completely mischaracterized what he’s doing: He’s following the bible!

And a lot of Christians have likewise dissociated themselves from their decision-making processes. They pick something or someone as their spiritual authority, whether it be Jesus, the pope, their pastor, the radio preacher, the guy who writes all their favorite books, their life coach, their spouse, their favorite bible commentary, you name it. They claim to follow this authority wholeheartedly. And they’re blind to the fact they regularly decide when not to follow this authority.

’Cause they’re the real authority. We all are. Unless you’ve been wholly brainwashed by a cult (and if they brainwashed you effectively, how would you ever know?) you too are your own authority. You decide who you’re gonna follow. You have free will.

I realize determinists are gonna debate about how free our will really is. But most of their arguments are part of a desperate attempt to not only dissociate themselves from their decision-making process, but justify the dissociation as healthy reality. And of course weasel out of the responsibility they bear for making the occasional bad decision. Or the frequent bad decision, as the case may be. Much easier to live with yourself if your choices were never actually up to you. Or so they’re hoping.

But God built free will into you. As is made evident by his, and his prophets’, many appeals to it: Choose whether you’re gonna follow the LORD or pagan gods; Js 24.15, 1Ki 18.21 choose life, not curses; Dt 30.19 choose to follow God’s ways. Ps 25.12, Jn 7.17 Every command is therefore a choice we have to make. We choose whether to repent and believe the gospel. Mk 1.15 We choose whether to follow Jesus.

It needs to be a regular, daily, hourly choice. Because the temptation is always there to follow our own will. And the temptation is also there to pretend our will is actually something else, something outside our control. Or pretend it’s Jesus’s will, and that we’re following him when we’re really doing as we wish.

A life of constant surrender.

The Christian lifestyle is meant to be one of constant surrender to Jesus. We know which way we want to go, or are prone to go. We might know which way Jesus prefers we go instead. Then again we might not—and when we don’t, it’s our duty to find out what he does want, and follow him thataway.

It starts by no longer presuming we already know what Jesus wants, or already know how Jesus thinks. That kind of presumption is gonna lead us astray. Make sure what Jesus wants. Ask the Holy Spirit for insight. Read the gospels. Study his words. Double-check with historians and fruitful Christians, and see whether he meant what we think he meant. Don’t just go with the most familiar interpretation, or the one which sounds the easiest or most comfortable. Make sure.

Don’t presume you’re right. Just because our faith makes us righteous doesn’t mean it also makes us right. Sloppy definitions are an obvious sign of immaturity. We’re wrong. Only Jesus is right. You wanna get closer to Jesus, you gotta look for areas in your life which require correction, and get to correcting ’em.

Yeah, it’s a constant, lifelong process. It’s not easy. It’s never gonna look like Bill Bright’s diagram. Especially since there are a lot of people, human and not, who have a vested interest in you not truly following Jesus, for it gets in their way. They much prefer you follow their agenda, and confuse it with Jesus. Or follow yourself and confuse it with Jesus, but either way it gets you out of their way. Following the actual Jesus grows his kingdom, not theirs.

But if Jesus is legitimately gonna be our Lord, that’s what we signed up for.