What I do know is what he wouldn’t do. Jesus would never sin. He would never go against his Father’s Word or law. He came to fulfill it, not to destroy it. I know that he comes to save and not to condemn and yet he still calls sin, sin. I know that Jesus was gentle and mild, but he was not ‘nice’. He spoke the truth bluntly – especially to religious and political leaders. He didn’t play politics, or do back room deals. And he was incredibly radical, pointing out that following him was a cross and that anyone who wanted to had better forget popular acclaim and instead be ready for persecution.
I have been issued a most interesting challenge. One of the Secular Scotland regulars (let’s just call him Mark), and a frequent stalker and reader of this blog posted the following several times: ‘what would Jesus do?” The question is not really a question, but more of an accusation along the lines of, ‘you claim to be a follower of Christ, and yet you do not do what Jesus would do.” Christians often pose the same question/accusation. For example in the same-sex marriage (SSM) debate, it is presupposed that because Jesus is all about love then he would be perfectly happy with SSM and even if he wasn’t, he would be very nice about it. Or in the other instance this week I was asked what would Jesus do about abuse? Although it is meant as an accusation I take the question very seriously and so let me answer it terms of both of these instances.
Lets examine the question first. My answer sometimes is – ‘I don’t know’. I don’t know if Jesus would be on social media discussing SSM. I don’t know how he would respond in every instance. I don’t know everything about Jesus and am not able to predict the way he would behave. So in that sense the question does not make a whole lot of sense to me. It is usually an accusation made by those who are absolutely certain that Jesus would behave in the way they want him to. I don’t share that confidence.
What I do know is what he wouldn’t do. Jesus would never sin. He would never go against his Father’s Word or law. He came to fulfill it, not to destroy it. I know that he comes to save and not to condemn and yet he still calls sin, sin. I know that Jesus was gentle and mild, but he was not ‘nice’. He spoke the truth bluntly – especially to religious and political leaders. He didn’t play politics, or do back room deals. And he was incredibly radical, pointing out that following him was a cross and that anyone who wanted to had better forget popular acclaim and instead be ready for persecution. The way they treated him, is the way they will treat his followers.
My question for guidance is not ‘what would Jesus do?’, but ‘what does Jesus want me to do? How does he want me to behave?” And how do I know what he means me to do? I fear that far too many Christians just make up their own personal image of Jesus and then base their behavior and actions on that Jesus made in their own image. So ‘what would Jesus want me to do?” in reality means ‘what do I think my ideal person would do in this situation?”. I can’t live like that. Not with that degree of both certainty and uncertainty. Certainty because people seem very sure of themselves, and uncertainty because it is de facto a false surety that can easily be shaken.
This is how I know what Jesus wants me to do. I listen to what he says. I don’t go by dreams, feelings, church traditions, latest research, friends, family, fashion, majority opinion, or what society says. Ultimately my authority for knowing what Jesus wants me to do is simply his Word. What the Bible says, Jesus says. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God man be thoroughly equipped in every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16).
I have the surer and certain word of God to tell me what Jesus wants me to do. So lets apply that in the two situations mentioned above:
Firstly Same Sex Marriage. Those who make up their own version of Jesus (based upon their own personal feelings, experiences and what the society, both church and wider, say) will come up with something like – ‘my Jesus is a God of love, who would let people do whatever they want, as long as they didn’t harm others. He never said anything about homosexuality and he would want us all to be nice to each other, even when we disagree. Peace, love and unity, that’s what it’s all about.”
Although that sounds great, I find it to be both incredibly arrogant and incredibly judgmental. It basically amounts to saying “this is what I think is good and therefore God must agree with me.” I’m afraid that I don’t trust myself, or my society, or my feelings that much. So I go to the Word of God and what do I find?
I find that Jesus always speaks about marriage as being between a man and a woman. That he never speaks at, or hints of, it being anything other. I find that Jesus was concerned to protect and proclaim marriage and to denounce sexual sin. I find that he offered himself so that people could be forgiven those sins – whether it was the polygamous Samaritan woman, or the woman at the well, or the prostitutes who heard him gladly. I find that Jesus was so concerned about children that he said those who caused them to stumble would have been better off not being born. Jesus was furious with the ‘bible teachers’ who twisted and abused his Father’s Word, whilst claiming to love it. I also note that Jesus did not think that in order to be a fulfilled human being we have to be sexually active. What would Jesus do? He would stand up for God’s Word, he would defend marriage, he would cry out against the corrupt human authorities (whether political or religious) who think they can just make up rules to suit themselves, he would stand up to the mob mentality and he would graciously, lovingly and strongly expose the darkness and bring the light. How do I know that? Because he already did it!
What does he want me to do? He wants me to teach and live his Word; to proclaim the year of liberation and freedom for those trapped in sexual sin and guilt; to confess my own sin; to challenge the powers and authorities; to lovingly and gently challenge Christians who want to back away from, or indeed distort, His own teaching, to speak up for the poor…and never ever to compromise for the sake of my own safety or popularity. I am called to teach His Word, not mine.
But let’s turn to the other subject – what would Jesus ask me to do about the abuse and vitriol I often receive. Maybe I deserve it? Maybe I should reciprocate in kind? Maybe I should despair and give in? Maybe I should give myself a big pity party? Sometimes I do find it overwhelming. There was one day when five of the top eight threads on Secular Scotland were devoted to attacking me (although quite what this has to do with secularism still escapes me!)…and then in the context of this question came the following gems last weekend – these are actual quotes from the Secular Scotland website and my own blog.
I’m aware of a group of evangelical Christians in Glasgow who despise the damage DAR is doing to their church and image. Mention his name and watch the eyes roll.
add to that an awful lot of folk in the Church of Scotland, 121 George Street included, who mourn the damage he is doing to Christianity.
“All bigots should be spat on and abused. Racists, misogynists and others miscreants were likewise forced to keep their views to themselves and from polite society. “
“I’m looking forward to shutting up their ‘free’ speech”
“Hate filled, anti-love, Christian bigot”
do they also think he’s a passive aggressive sociopath by any chance?
Let me put it this way, we’ve had some pros in this field making comments.
I was called a retard and when I complained about the abuse to one of the SS intelligentsia responded by saying ‘now you disagree with someone and you call it abuse” before going on to link Christianity and me with abuse! The ‘logic’ being ‘some RC priests have been guilty of child sexual abuse, they are Christian. You are Christian. Therefore you are guilty of child sexual abuse”. It’s all pretty ugly.
And there is a Christian version of this. The above is what we would call aggressive/aggressive. The Christian version is usually passive/aggressive. Christians will talk about love, post a few verses and implicitly tell you (and the world) that they are loving in contrast to you. They usually don’t have to guts to say it out loud, but it’s all there. It’s neither speaking the truth, nor is it done in love. The worst of course are the people who tell you they love you to your face but gossip about you behind your back.
So back to the question. What should I, or indeed you or anyone else caught in this kind of situation, do? What would Jesus want us to do?
He wants us to love our enemies. To pray for their forgiveness and salvation. To weep, love, pray, challenge, preach and call for repentance. He wants us to take the beam out of our own eyes and to realize that there but for the grace of God go I. He wants us to recognize that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of darkness. He wants us to gently instruct those who oppose us. He wants us not to take it personally but to realize that their hatred is primarily a hatred of him, not us. Sometimes he wants us to be silent. To turn the other cheek and to walk away. Sometimes he wants us to speak out for His glory, or for the defence of others. Sometimes he want us to speak in the still small whisper, sometimes he wants us to shout from the rooftops. He wants us to seek our identity, security and comfort in him, not in ourselves, our reputations or in our detractors or supporters. He wants us to warn with all the power, compassion and grace we can muster, that one day all these abusers will stand before the throne of judgment and give account for every ill word spoken. He wants us to be like Noah, preaching righteousness and judgment in a world that laughs at the very concepts. He wants us to look to him and to realize that he will never leave us nor forsake us. Why should we fear what man (or woman) can do?
Do I do what Jesus would do? No. Not always. Many times I don’t know what he would do and even when I do I of course do not have his pure and perfect holy love. I am nowhere near him. Do I do what Jesus wants me to do? Sometimes. But many times I don’t. I am sinful. Far worse than I or anyone else can really perceive. I often get things wrong, say the wrong things, make the wrong judgment or speak with the wrong tone. Sometimes I walk away when I should stand and fight. Sometimes I rush into battle when I should walk away. But that is where the wonderful good news comes in. Because it is not about me. It is about Christ. And isn’t it wonderful that he just keeps on forgiving? That is what the cross is all about. “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners cleansed beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains”.
My Christianity is not based upon ‘you had better do what Jesus would do” – my faith is based upon what he has done. He didn’t come to give me an example. He came to give me a new life. The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me. So that now my question is not the fearful, ‘Lord what would you do ’, but rather the loving, “Lord you did all that for me, now I am free to serve you….what do you want me to do?’
And our Jesus is so encouraging and gracious – not only do we get forgiveness, new life, eternal life – we also get His Spirit, he feeds us His Word and he encourages us through his people. Notes, letters, fellowship, phone calls, hugs, prayers…the people of God can be such great fellow soldiers. We are all in it together. We experience many tokens of grace and ‘refreshings’ as we go on the way. Last Sunday in the midst of the battle I was ‘in the Spirit on the Lords Day’. In other words I was worshipping and sharing communion and Gods word with the Lords people at St Peters. It was sweet encouraging fellowship. Last Monday as I was overwhelmed by all that was happening, this is what He gave me:
Firstly from the Book of Common Prayer: “O God, who knowest us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright; Grant to us such strength and protection, as may support us in all dangers, and carry us through all temptations; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
And then from the Psalms: Psalm 27.
The LORD’s my saviour and my light— who will make me dismayed.
The LORD’s the stronghold of my life— why should I be afraid?
When evildoers threaten me to take my life away,
My adversaries and my foes will stumble in that day.
Although an army hems me in, my heart will feel no dread;
Though war against me should arise,I will lift up my head.
One thing I’ll plead before the LORD, and this I’ll seek always:
That I may come within God’s house and dwell there all my days—
That on the beauty of the LORD I constantly may gaze,
And in his house may seek to know direction in his ways.
For in his dwelling he will keep me safe in troubled days;
Within his tent he’ll shelter me, and on a rock me raise.
So Mark…the answer to your accusation ‘ what would Jesus do?’ is I don’t know…but I know what he has done and on that I base and stack my life. Now it’s my turn. On what or whom do you base your life? (and that is not an accusation but a genuine question in the hope that you will see without Christ you have nothing, but with him you have everything….why would you refuse such a Saviour?).
David Robertson is director at Solas Centre for Public Christianity and minister of St Peter’s Free Church in Dundee, Scotland. This article is used with permission.