Q&R: Living Peacefully in “Real Life” – Brad Jersak
I read your article on Deadly Force and agree with your explanation. However, in a real-life situation, what we want to do and what actually happens may be different. Romans 7 says, “My mind wants to do what is right and good, but my flesh seems to force its way into my intentions.” What we imagine we would do in any situation may not be what we would do if the situation were to actually occur. A theologian once said that the Sermon on the Mount was not imperative but indicative. Food for thought?
Yes, real life! Real life is precisely the situation Jesus is speaking to. Real life for so many is violent and oppressive. They despair of living in peace and pray for some way to rise above the malice in our hearts and in our world. Everyone I’ve ever met would love to see their children grow up without the threat of terror, war, bullies, or chaos. In that sense, the real world desperately needs a Savior. That Savior is the Way and showed us the Way… and he beckoned us, “Follow me!” on what we call the Jesus Way.
And yes, Romans 7 describes the great challenge of living in the real world. It shows us the agony of the human condition. And it climaxes with both (1) a prayer of desperation and (2) Paul’s gospel answer:
The cry (vs. 24): What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?
The answer (vs. 25). Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Paul then proceeds into Romans 8, offering us a map for living real life in this freedom. As long as we continue following the way of “the flesh,” a.k.a. ego or self–will, the agony continues. Indeed, a self-centered life is not the path of human flourishing. In fact, it is more of a delusion than a real life. The Jesus Way is Real Life.
Paul draws a contrast between the ego-driven life and the real life, lived and led by the Spirit, through whom the life of Christ empowers us to love, forgive, and know peace.
The Sermon on the Mount
Back to the Sermon on the Mount: it is certainly not a new external law imposed from the outside. It does describe (is indicative of) a real life through whom Jesus’ light radiates. His is the real life that rescues us from bondage to self-will and into the liberty of life in our indwelling Lord. And although it is unpopular, the Lordship of Christ does include obedience to the Jesus way. Such obedience is our willing participation in divine grace, never in our own power. And it is all in real life now. At the end of the sermon, Jesus says that “the wise person who builds their house on the rock” is the one who “hears these words of mine, and puts them into practice.“ Something about hearing these words involves both the call and the grace to put them into practice.
Imperative or Indicative? Yes.
Grammatically, there are many imperatives throughout the sermon. Love. Pray. Bless. Especially enemies. Invite. Welcome. Especially strangers. And, of course, the Golden Rule (where “rule” is like a plumb line): “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
None of this can be accomplished in the strength of self-will. We answer Jesus’ call to follow as his character forms us from grace to grace, from the inside out. But as you probably know, this is not achieved overnight, as if our real life in Christ shows up at a drive-through window. It grows like leaven permeating a loaf. And it involves my voluntary participation as I fix my eyes on Jesus, moment by moment, throughout my real life.
For Jesus, the great test case is forgiveness. Freely, we have been forgiven—freely forgive. Seventy times seven. I can’t forgive in my strength. I can forgive in his strength. So I suppose we could say, the imperative leads us to see the necessity of surrender to the great Forgiver, who lives in me. And the imperative to forgive is indicative of forgiveness activated in a Jesus-follower. That changes the framework of Christ’s commandments (his word) from simply obeying a law to inviting the Grace of God (the Holy Spirit) to transform my ego-centric reactions into Christ-empowered responses. In. Real. Life.
I hope there is something helpful to glean from these thoughts. I am grateful that you brought them up!
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