Introduction to the teachings of Christ

Before you are ready to enter into God's new covenant through Christ, God wants you to understand and confess the true identity of Jesus and to place your hope of salvation in His dying and rising on your behalf. But that is not all. He also wants you to make Him a commitment -- without any qualifications -- that you will let His Son's teaching govern your life, even if it should cost you your life. Christ never invited anyone into His covenant who did not also intend to be ruled by His teaching: in apostolic Christianity to become a Christian means to surrender to Him AND His teaching:

If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.  The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.  For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. (John 12:47-49).

Those who are truly His disciples must be committed to becoming perfectly obedient to all that He taught:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in [or into] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).

While we are not saved (in the immediate sense) apart from recognizing, trusting and confessing the identity and work of Jesus, neither shall we be saved (in the ultimate sense) apart from learning to recognize and obey His teachings. The way of discipleship is a necessary part of the way of salvation:

Not everyone who says to Me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father, who is in heaven (Matthew 7:21).

If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13:17)

You are my friends, if you do what I command you (John 15:14).

The Spirit’s teachings are far too clear to evade: we cannot avoid God's judgment of us on the basis of our good fruit, the deeds that must necessarily spring from faith.1 It is useless for us to protest that no man can obey God perfectly, and that we will always be plagued by sin. Foolish man, does not God look into the heart; can He not see whether we have determined to obey Him fully, and can He not also see whether we are growing in the direction of that perfect obedience to which we are commanded (Matthew 5:48)? "For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:8). The man who is not growing in the qualities of obedience is playing games with God. In order for God to judge us on the basis of our deeds, it is not necessary that we be perfect in good fruit, but only that we be growing in them in His eyes. If we are serious about obeying Jesus we will be growing in the direction of perfect obedience, even though we will fall short of that perfect responsiveness to His Spirit. You see, pilgrim, God is very generous to forgive a disciple's stumbling back into his flesh for the hundredth time, but only if that disciple is growing into the character and radically different life-style of Christ. But the man who does not even accept all the teachings of Jesus (without watering them down) can hardly be growing in the perfection of them, can he? For example, if you do not even accept that Jesus meant what He said in saying, "Do not resist him who is evil" (Matthew 5:39), then you will never learn to bring that teaching to maturity in your life, no matter how long you walk on the earth as a so-called "Christian." You will never learn Jesus' way of gentleness and non-retaliation, nor will you ever experience how the disciple who finally learns to quit defending himself comes to be defended by God in marvelous ways: and all because you neither accepted the true meaning of His teaching, nor committed yourself to become perfectly obedient to that teaching.

The purpose of this chapter is to outline briefly the "way" for disciples: the way that they are to accept when first wedded to Christ in baptism, the way that forms the standard against which they judge themselves when they confess their sins, and the way that God's Spirit is bringing to perfection in their hearts and in their behavior. But before we look at the details of His way, we must keep two very important things in mind: the "fanatical" nature of God and of true Christianity, and the great importance of the role of the Holy Spirit in our growth in knowledge and obedience.

The "fanaticism" of God, or

What's wrong with being a fanatical Christian?

If there is one name that people of every school of theology seem to regard as the equivalent of "leper," it is the name "fanatic." After all, how many times has it been drummed into your mind that "too much of anything can kill," and that one of the essential rules of life is "all things in moderation." We may own up to being "committed," but never "fanatical." "Fanatic" conjures up images of a personality that plants bombs in airplanes, cares more for the victory of an ideology than for the relief of human suffering, is blindly closed to arguments against that ideology, and so on. In short, a fanatic is an "extremist," a social misfit and potential psychopath. But we ought to be aware that that whole scenario -- the straw man picture of a "fanatic" and the aversion to the fanatic's label --is a cunning trap set by the god of this world, to keep Christians from entering into the mind-set that will enable them to experience the fire of God, the fire that consumes flesh and purifies the spirit, the fire of a God who is a "consuming Fire" (Hebrews 12:29). From the perspective of those who are at home in this world, true Christianity is "fanatical;" and in order to be faithful to Christ, you will have to be willing to be thought of as a fanatic.

It is certainly true there are such fanatics as depicted in the straw man image above; as this paragraph is being written, the news of yet another set of airport terrorist attacks is in our headlines. Of course there are such fanatical temperaments; Satan typically builds lies out of half-truths, not out of pure fabrications. What serves his purpose, however, is to create a fear in a Christian's mind that there is a very great and ever-present danger of becoming too zealous about the teaching of Jesus and His apostles, and that we can very easily wind up becoming unbalanced if we don't mix His teachings (especially the Sermon on the Mount) with the "common sense that we are all blessed with by the time we get to adulthood."

I suggest to you, however, that that so-called "common sense" is, in truth, what God calls "hardness of heart," a stubborn refusal to believe that the reason Jesus' teaching appears to be so revolutionary is because He was intentionally starting a revolution. I further suggest to you that Jesus, by the standards of this world, was in fact a fanatic -- an extremist -- and that His analysis of the human condition and the needed cure for that condition was a "fanatical" one, requiring a “fanatical” cure – a tortuous death on a cross.  And I suggest to you again that if you are not willing to let your Creator turn you into a "fanatic," you will never see Him face to face. Why do you think it was revealed to John that there would be no "cowards" in heaven (Revelation 21:8)? Cowards are those who are too "fearful" to go all the way in following Christ and His teachings, and what makes that cowardice damnable is the fact that underlying the fear is what God considers hardness of heart and stubborn unbelief: an attitude that causes you to not WANT God to enable you to escape from this world and from your own flesh, because you don't really find them all that intolerable. In other words, you may be horrified to find that God is much, much more of an extremist than you ever chose to contemplate.

Why do you think Jesus spoke the way He did to Peter, when Peter tried to talk Him out of going to His death in Jerusalem (Matthew 16:21-26)? Peter acted with the instincts of that "common sense" that we are blessed with by the time we reach adulthood, and found out that he was speaking the words of Satan. Jesus' ensuing exhortation to them said, in effect, "instead of trying to keep Me from the cross you must join Me on it." Why do you think that Jesus told these disciples to their face that they were "evil" -- these simple fishermen whom He loved intensely, who had left all things to follow him and had certainly already begun to feel the bonds of human affection for him (Luke 11:13)? Was it because they were representatives of the "evil" wing of the human race, or because through the "extremist" eyes of God, we are all so corrupted by the presence of evil that we do not even feel "evil," and it has to be revealed to us? So much for the value of that common sense that we are all blessed with by the time we reach adulthood: it leads to hell.

No, my friends, God's analysis of our condition is an extremist position: according to Him, we are "evil" and "dead;" we are hopelessly corrupted by the presence of evil, and are dead in our spirits because of trespasses. And His solution for that condition is equally extremist: in order for us to inherit His life, His sinless Son must stand in our place and inherit our death. Crucifixion is a drastic, bloody and extremist action.

Furthermore, the way of life that Jesus taught and that He Himself lived was, by the standards of the world (and of worldly Christianity), "fanatical." He taught people to abandon their previous plans for life in this world when they came to follow Him. Indeed, He taught them to even abandon their plans for physical survival: one cannot draw any other conclusion from the Scriptures than that (by way of refresher, you might read Luke 14:25-35). His language was that of an extremist because entrance and growth in the Kingdom of God require what is, from the perspective of this world and from the perspective of our own carnal instincts, an extremist and fanatical attitude: the kingdom of God and our life in this world are renunciations of each other. His cross lays bare the irreconcilable enmity between the world and His kingdom, between flesh and spirit, between the current god of the human race and the God who created that human race. "May it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14). All those who are reconciled to God and to each other are reconciled at the cost of their identity, destiny and status in this world -- a very insignificant trade-off they have come to see, but a real one nevertheless.

So, my fellow disciples, as you study the New Testament, fight the tendency to apply that "common sense we are all blessed with by the time we come to adulthood," that common sense that fears the label of "fanatic." The follower of Jesus receives the forgiveness of sin and then the healing joy of the indwelling Spirit, apart from any works or any strife, simply by receiving in faith the marvelous promises of God. Then, however, begins a movement within oneself, caused by the Spirit Himself, to enter into consistent preference of the Spirit's impulses over those of our own flesh. The language of the New Testament concerning this movement is the language of death, another fanatical or extremist image:

For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God... for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Romans 8:6-13).

Within a true disciple's mind, therefore, there will be both by spiritual instinct and by conscious conviction a knowledge that "there is within me something that must die, something I must put to death." To effect such death may very well require some of the "extremist" solutions that Christ and His apostles prescribed: to go sell your goods and give them to the poor, to become a "eunuch" for the sake of the Kingdom of God (i.e., celibacy), to be reconciled to a mate that you would rather not go back to, to quit a lucrative job, to submit yourself to your parents'/elders'/husband's authority, to humble yourself by starting to confess your sins in a disciplined way.

We are to surrender to the teachings and commands of Jesus and His apostles, not merely understand and mentally “assent” to them.  Equally, their delightful promises are to be trusted and pursued.  God will work within us to make sure that we understand His revelation IF we are willing to actually obey what we read.

The true New Testament definition of faith is not simply “trusting Jesus”; it is “trusting Jesus [and His chosen apostles] enough to DO WHAT YOU ARE TOLD”.  Perhaps more than any one theme that Christendom has [again, to its shame] minimized or ignored is the theme of obedience and surrender. Living under the love and grace of God is no longer in its New Testament balance with the theme of wholehearted surrender to the commands of Jesus.  Because of the horrible neglect of that theme, a very large percentage of those who bear the name of “Christian” do not really understand how MUCH Jesus expected to have His commands obeyed.

Our surrender to Jesus is required to be without conditions, like the allies expected of Germany and Japan during World War Two.  When the Japanese officials were on the deck of the battleship Missouri in 1945 they were presented with a long list of demands by their conqueror, General McArthur.  Because their surrender was required to be unconditional they were not permitted to negotiate any of the demands in that document.  And they were not at liberty to interpret the demands in that document in any way other than the way their conqueror interpreted them (no “liberty of interpretation” clause).  It is true that our God’s demands are not the demands of the Old Testament law, and our surrender is not the result of being brutally crushed by overwhelming physical force, as were the Germans and Japanese.  But it is also true that salvation requires discipleship under Jesus; and that means being unconditionally surrendered to His authority over us and being unconditionally surrendered to each and every one of His commands.  If you ignore or water down His teachings and commands, you are refusing to trust Him enough to really become His disciple.  It is as if you were that Japanese official who thought General McArthur would allow you to surrender to all of the demands except, for example, articles 2, 7, 13 and 45.  Surrender means SURRENDER, not “junior partnership.”

The true Son of the true God calls for the kind of total dedication that the world and our own flesh must perceive to be "fanatical," but which are, from God's perspective only good sense. The willingness to undergo a heart transplant may be fanaticism or simply good sense, depending upon one's true physical condition. It's fanaticism if the person having it done is only suffering from the flu; on the other hand, it's simply good sense if the person having it done knows that his old heart is "sick unto death" and has to be replaced. The exhortations of the New Testament are addressed to those who have come to see their need for heart transplantation, not for those who (in their own eyes) suffer from lesser maladies. The exhortations of the New Testament are not poetic exaggerations that must be mingled with that common sense we are all blessed with by the time we come to adulthood; they are prescriptions to be taken quite literally by those who see the need to put to death the deeds of their bodies by the power of the Holy Spirit. God is a fanatic; His Son is a fanatic; His Son's apostles were fanatics. What are you?

Discipleship is a work of the Spirit

It is the responsibility of the Spirit of Christ to take the things of Christ and reveal them to us (John 16:14); it is His responsibility to be our personal guide into Christ's truth (John 16:13). When He works, holiness becomes a natural thing in us: otherwise, it is artificial -- a dead work. That is why it is so vital that you experience His presence in you, and not be so careless as to presume a presence that is not yet there. Make sure that you know experientially His movements within you. Many people confuse a guilty or a satisfied conscience with the grief and joy of the Holy Spirit, but they are not the same. Even an unbeliever can have a rather sensitive conscience (Romans 2:15); but what the Spirit-filled disciple knows is much more intense and much more personal. Growing in discipleship does mean growth in the knowledge and disciplines of Christ's teaching; but even more fundamentally, it means growing in the recognition of when you are grieving the Spirit and when you are pleasing Him. When His presence is strongly experienced it becomes more and more easy to know when you are yielding to the flesh and when to the Spirit. Indeed, at its most fundamental level, the way of the disciple consists of receiving the Inner Witness and then letting Him inspire more and more of your responses to life. Without that inner experience of the Holy Spirit, the disciple's way can never rise above legalistic bondage.

And so we have the two: the obedience to the Spirit and the obedience to Christ's teachings. If we are in Christ, the movement of the Spirit will exist in harmony with the exertion of our own wills. Here is an example of what I mean. Christ taught us to receive the wrath of an evil one -- to "turn the other cheek" -- rather than physically resist him (Matthew 5:39). Now the Spirit of Christ is a person -- a person who has the same character as Christ. If He is truly empowering you in a way that you can experience, then you must realize that when you are confronted by evil aggression you already have within you One who is turning the other cheek. You do not have to manufacture that response -- you "only" have to surrender to Him Who is responding that way within you.2 How much more natural and successful that is than the artificial response of "gritting your teeth and taking it on the chin." The former is a fruit of the Spirit, the latter is a dead work. But you have a work to do in this as well. You must have already known His teaching concerning turning the other cheek, without having diluted it; and you must have determined to obey that teaching the next time an opportunity presents itself; and then, when it finally does present itself (under God's perfect timetable for you), you must choose either to sow to your flesh (strike back or run away in fear), or to sow to the Spirit who is responding within you with Christ's own response.

Do you understand that most important of principles?: the divine personality within you is a perfectly-matched personal counterpart to every teaching that Christ ever gave His disciples. "He shall take of mine and shall disclose it to you" (John 16:14): He shall take My teaching and bring it to life within you. Can you understand why Jesus said that His words were spirit and life (John 6:63)? "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life." Do you see, pilgrim, what a wonderful salvation has been granted to us by God? God empowers everything that He commands!

Following Jesus and following rules

We have already discussed some of the ways of Christian obedience (e.g., marriage, yoking with unbelievers, submission in the church). While the teachings we are to follow are many and varied, they may all be gathered together under the one teaching: "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus..." (Philippians 2:5f.). We disciples are not obeyers of impersonal principles and commands, but lovers and imitators of a Person. Jesus Christ is always before our minds, inspiring our devotion and zeal by His own personal example on our behalf.

For I gave you an example that you should do as I did to you (John 13:15).

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21).

I am the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25) ... I am the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6).

The goal of our discipleship is to be caught up into the person and personality of Jesus, not into hundreds of divine rules. "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). The instructions that Jesus and His apostles have issued to us are seen in the light of that end. His teachings are descriptions of His own character, and descriptions of the way that He Himself acted, not just a series of ideals and abstractions. There are indeed some commands to follow and some details to observe, but the goal of it all is to become perfectly conformed to, and filled by, the person and Spirit of the Son of God.

A. Teachings that lead to the good-willed gentleness of Christ

Many of our Master's teachings can be gathered under the principle, "Never pay back evil for evil to anyone... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17,21).

But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any one wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two (Matthew 5:39-41).

You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you (James 5:6).

But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6:27-28; also, Romans 12:14).

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly (1 Peter 2:18-19).

These commands are indeed the source of great frustration to our flesh's desire for continued existence and for revenge -- so much so, that most of those who are called Christians refuse to accept them in their literal and true sense. But we must accept them without compromise lest we prove ourselves false disciples. After all, Jesus warned us from the very beginning, "He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal" (John 12:25). Anyone who has not let go of this world in a true way, and anyone who yearns to stay on in this world will of course have to resist the force of His teaching. But if we have no strong desire to escape from this world, how can we dare consider ourselves Christians?

Yet we must not forget that these risk-filled teachings of Christ are to be seen in the light of other teachings given by the Lord:

"He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7).

"I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5).

"The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them" (Psalm 34:7).

"And no one seized Him, because His hour had not yet come" (John 8:20,7:30).

Being non-defensive in imitation of Jesus does not leave you defenseless -- hardly! It only makes you refuse to resort to human defenses, and forces you to trust instead in God's defenses. You can entrust the defense of you and of those you love to the Lord, and experience these threatening moments as occasions of ministry. You may fail the testing involved many times before growing into Christ's non-violence (think of Peter cutting off Malchus's ear in the garden), but God will bring us to maturity over the years because no one is greater than our God.

Refusing to defend oneself, in the radical way that Jesus teaches us is not at all a passive thing, and does not create passive people -- just the opposite. Overcoming evil with good is an active, creative deed -- far more so than yielding to fear or anger. One can also be quite aggressive on God's behalf while governed by this principle -- just as aggressive as Jesus Himself was at certain times in dealing with the ungodly (e.g., Matthew 23).

This teaching makes warfare and most police work, as necessary as they may be in the world, impossible for disciples of Jesus. In confirmation of that, the early Church consistently refused to practice or tolerate these forms of violence.3 It is quite impossible to act lovingly toward your enemies and kill them at the same time. Christian involvement in secular violence is one of the effects of the wedding of Church and state that has carried over into most of modern Christendom.

B. The Godly attitude toward wealth and money

Many of Christ's teachings can be gathered under the principle, "Make friends for yourselves by means of the Mammon of unrighteousness; that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings" (Luke 16:9).4

Give to everyone who asks of you,5 and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back... Lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great... (Luke 6:30, 35).

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth... for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:19, 21).

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another (Romans 13:8).

Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions (Luke 12:15).

Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven... (Luke 12:33).

So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions (Luke 14:33).

And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need (Acts 2:44-45).

And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own; but all things were common property to them (Acts 4:32).

Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

Woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full (Luke 6:24).

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten... (James 5:1-2).

For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality; at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality (2 Corinthians 8:13-14).

While there is ample exhortation to work hard and honestly in the New Testament, there is virtually no encouragement to save for the future and to plan far ahead -- the very qualities that are so readily associated with maturity and responsibility in our culture. Instead, we find the greatest possible accumulation imaginable of warnings and criticisms about money and its dangerous effects. It is commonly argued at this point that money itself is neutral, and that the Lord is not against money, but only against the craving for it; but that is simply not true. To Jesus, money is not at all neutral: that is why He simply calls it "unrighteous Mammon" (Luke 16:11). Money is power, and that power is power in an intrinsically corrupt, unrighteous, rebellious and godless system. In other words, money -- far from being neutral -- comes with a "negative charge." It exerts an automatic downward pull, and in order not to become ensnared by it we must actively compensate for that negative effect by "making friends" with it. There is a curse upon those who are rich in this world's goods, as we see above; and in order to avoid sharing in that curse you will have to go out of your way to use your wealth to make friends with God and with righteousness.

We must remember that in this instance, as in all others, the Lord's teaching was intended to be received and incarnated by the kind of tight-knit brotherhood we have described in previous chapters -- a condition that early Christianity knew for several centuries, but that has only existed sporadically since that time. It is a brotherhood in which another command was also in effect: "if anyone will not work, neither let him eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

This teaching does not mean that every new disciple was required to first sell and distribute all his possessions, as the Hutterites have interpreted it. If that had been so, Paul's advice given to Timothy above would make no sense; there would not have been any wealthy brethren to receive the exhortation. But it does mean that we must all be far more active and creative in using our money and property for the Lord Jesus than is at all common among contemporary Christians. God is going to insist that we truly fulfill the Scripture which requires disciples to "give up" their possessions. Listen to the warning given by someone who had truly "given up" his possessions (though not to Christ):

The gospel is a much more powerful weapon for the renovation of society than our Marxist view of the world. Yet it is we who shall conquer you in the end... Of our salaries and wages we keep only what is absolutely necessary and the rest we give up for propaganda purposes... You, however, give only a little time and scarcely any money for the spreading of Christ's gospel. How can anyone believe in the all-surpassing value of the gospel if you do not practice it, if you do not spread it, if you sacrifice neither your time nor your money for that purpose?"6

When a believer is beginning to get blessed materially he ought to hear warning signals from his spirit saying: "take care, lest you fall!" And then he should redouble his efforts to help the poor and needy.

Furthermore, while the Lord did not call upon all who heard Him to go sell all their possessions and come minister with Him, He did call upon some to do that very thing. And He still does, from heaven. The modern Christian congregation that does not have any of its people living out that kind of consecrated life within the congregation is demonstrating how deaf it is to the voice of Christ. And if there does not even exist any tradition and institution for this kind of life, it demonstrates how much at home in this world that congregation is. In every congregation there should be some who have left all things to minister the gospel, and there should be some who are wage earners for others. The existence of these consecrated brethren will act as an inspiration and as a warning to the rest of us. Protestants cannot really expect Roman Catholics and Orthodox to really take them seriously when they say they "believe in the Bible" and yet do not raise up a life style that is as consecrated as the latters' celibate and monastic orders.

Making friends with Mammon does not, of course, have to be done only in a religious context. A Christian employer who is generous to his employees with the profits or who looks after some need of an employee's family is making friends with Mammon, as long as he is doing it unto Christ. An investment counselor who steers people away from companies that engage in dishonest practices and toward companies that do not, despite any reduction in returns that such a policy may entail, is making friends with Mammon, as long as he does it unto Christ.

C. Learning to talk like a disciple

Some of Christ's teachings can be gathered together under the principle, "By your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned" (Matthew 12:37).

Let every one be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:19).

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29).

...speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him (Ephesians 4:15, 25).

If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well (James 3:2).

If your brother sins, rebuke him (Luke 17:3; Matthew 18:15).

I say to you, make no oath at all; either by heaven...or by earth... But let your statement be, "Yes, yes" or "No, no;" and anything beyond these is of evil (Matthew 5:33-37).

Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven (Matthew 10:32).

I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment (Matthew 12:36).

Our speech is very important, because the mouth speaks from that which fills the heart (Matthew 12:34). In our regeneration we received a new nature, without the elimination of the old one; these two natures act against one another, and each is the center from which much activity can proceed. The mouth puts us in contact with the heart, and the heart exercises itself through the mouth. So, even though it ought not to be, the mouth can become a fountain for water that is fresh or for water that is bitter (James 3:11), depending upon what center we allow to communicate through it. Our mouths can be filled by flesh or by spirit. Because of this connection between heart and mouth, speech can become necessary to our salvation (Romans 10:9-10; Matthew 10:32).

Our speech habits and impulses are somewhat analogous to money, as we discussed it earlier -- not neutral, but negative by nature. That is why James calls the tongue,

... a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell... No one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison (3:6, 8).

That description describes what the tongue is when we allow it to speak what comes naturally (i.e., in the flesh). In order for it to become something else we must -- as with money -- take special care and make special efforts to subject it to the service of Christ. With the tongue, as with all fleshly impulses, we may not do what we please (Galatians 5:17), or else we are sure to be captivated by Satan. As we mentioned in relation to the husband-wife relationship -- that we must learn to act like saints even before it feels natural to us -- so also must we learn to speak like saints even though it must at first feel unnatural to us, whose tongues have been enslaved to our flesh for so long. But by talking like Christians we sow to the spirit (Galatians 6:8) and give voice to that new nature that has been implanted within us by God.

We must exercise ruling authority over our tongue, first to slow it down (so that we can think before speaking), and secondly to censor our speech so that we eliminate that which will not build up others and minister God's grace to them.

Christians are to be known for this thoughtful, truthful speech to such a degree that for them to make special oaths to tell the truth becomes superfluous and even forbidden. This does not mean that they cannot swear to tell the truth (cf., 2 Corinthians 1:23, Galatians 1:20), but only that they may not resort to special oaths and gestures that are supposed to create greater obligations to truthfulness.7

D. Teachings about humility and submissiveness

Some of Christ's teachings can be gathered under the principle, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God" (1 Peter 5:6).

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself (Philippians 2:3).

When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor... Go and recline at the last place... For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted (Luke 14:8-11).

Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 6:1; also, 6:2-18).

Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution (1 Peter 2:13; also, through verse 25).

Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves (Romans 13:1-2).

Obey your leaders, and submit to them (Hebrews 13:17).

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect (1 Peter 2:18).

You wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior (1 Peter 3:1-2).

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right (Ephesians 6:1).

Confess your sins to one another (James 5:16).

The wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God are diametrically opposed when it comes to diagnosing the problem with man and the way to happiness for man. In our culture, the world, by and large, considers man's problem to stem from fear and insecurity; God, however, reveals that man's problem stems from pride and rebellion. The worldly methods of pursuing happiness emphasize building man's self-esteem and alleviating causes of insecurity; the divine emphasis is upon learning to humble oneself and learning to obey.

The Scriptural emphasis does not mean that fear is not real in man; rather, it means that fear is a byproduct of rebellion, and that insecurity is a byproduct of pride. The Lord teaches us to deal with the root causes, not the byproducts. And as we deal with those root causes, we will find our fears and insecurity diminishing. Beware, dear pilgrim, of worldly wisdom that is dressed in Christian terminology, for it is very popular among Christians today. When you find people emphasizing "healing of memories" instead of the forgiveness of sins, you are encountering worldly wisdom. When you find people saying you must learn to love yourself before you can love others, and using the Scripture "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 19:19) to justify the concept of loving yourself first, you are encountering worldly wisdom.

The clear message of God in both covenants is that human nature is rebellious and conceited, whenever it can be. This last phrase is crucial: people who have grown up crippled by fear and insecurity are not at all humble and submissive people: they are merely proud and rebellious hearts -- just like the rest of us -- that have never had the freedom to act according to their true nature. That is why the Scriptures do nothing to build up the egos of the fear-ridden -- indeed, just the opposite is true:

The wicked flee when no one is pursuing; but the righteous are bold as a lion (Proverbs 28:1)

But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death (Revelation 21:8).

As harsh as it may seem, the Lord teaches quite clearly that fearfulness is the curse upon rebellious unbelief, "But he who listens to me shall live securely, and shall be at ease from the dread of evil" (Proverbs 1:33). Over the years I spent many, many hours feeling victimized because of the fear and insecurity which had taken up home within me from infancy. But as God has dealt with my pride and rebellion, those fears have diminished dramatically. Our pride and our rebellion form the "tar" that causes the fear and insecurity to stick to us during the course of our bad experiences in life; God deals with the tar itself, not the feathers (i.e., the fear and insecurity). And because pride and rebellion are the chief enemies of our soul, God has provided a most wonderful antidote for these poisons: the antidote of humiliation. When we have really come to see just how deceived we have been in concentrating upon our fear and insecurity -- when our worst enemies have been our pride and rebellion -- we will willingly embrace those humiliations given to us by God, and will even undertake some of them on our own initiative (e.g., Luke 14:8, Matthew 6:1 above). And we will embrace with equal enthusiasm those humbling institutions which God has provided for us: elders, parents, husbands, authorities, confession of sins, etc. The more readily we humble ourselves and accept God's humiliations, the more we will experience the exaltation and liberation that God has promised to those who do so (Luke 14:11, quoted above). Deeds that humble ourselves will feel unnatural at first, as we have pointed out in other contexts; but those deeds do correspond to the new nature that God has given to us, and in time they will feel quite natural.

All of the submission and humbling of self that we do is to be done to the Lord Himself. For a believer, the law of the land is the law of God Himself (unless, of course, it commands him to violate God's law.). When our governing authorities, elders, husbands, parents ask anything of us that is lawful we are to imagine it as coming from Christ Himself, and respond accordingly. And on that day when we face Him we will be shown that it was indeed Christ whom we were obeying or ignoring. The principle is the same as the one which judges our deeds of compassion: ." the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine [or, "to one of the representatives of mine"]... you did it to Me" (Matthew 25:40).

Subjecting oneself to governing authorities does not mean agreeing or cooperating with any evil they may do, but it does mean that you must never act rebelliously against them and that you must genuinely humble yourself before their authority. In Nazi Germany, for example, the much celebrated and lauded participation of Dietrich Bonhoffer in the assassination plot against Hitler was not obedience to God -- but then, so was the cowardly silence of most Christians (though I say that with much empathy for their fear, and much respect for the bravery of the conspirators against Hitler). What then would a Christian response be? Working like the amazing family of Corrie Ten Boom to smuggle Jews out of Germany would be one way. Another way would have been for believers to non-violently but publicly speak out the word of God against the Nazi murder of the innocent, and then take the consequences. Similarly, the participation by Christians in the American Revolution against the authority of the king of England was disobedience to Christ. To make appeal to "taxation without representation" and other oppression as justification for doing so is gross rationalization for any who claim to be disciples of Christ. The inhumanity of the Roman governing authorities against Christians was so much greater than that of the British as to make the latter seem highly polite; and yet there was never the slightest encouragement to resist authority either in the Scriptures or in the first centuries of the church. One must remain humble and respectful even under evil authority, in order to have God's approval. In all of this we are only following the example of Christ, who,

...although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:6-8).

All believers are kings in formation, and we shall quite literally rule as kings with Christ (Revelation 20:4,6). But before we enter into authority we must demonstrate that we are faithful under authority, and that we are quick to serve.

E. Sensitivity to need

Other teachings of Jesus can be grouped under the principle, "Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others" (Philippians 2:4).

This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:27).

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep... Do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly (Romans 12:15-16).

When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you. But when you give a reception [or, "banquet"], invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you" (Luke 14:12-14).

Come you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me... To the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me (Matthew 25:34-36, 40).

Bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).

From the beginning of God's instructions to His covenant people, He showed great concern for the poor and the outcast. And in Jesus, He certainly continued that emphasis; in fact, such deeds of compassion determine whether we are true disciples of Christ or not (see Matthew 25:41-46). Those who trust Christ as Savior and yet do not bear good fruit in this regard are deceived indeed.

The person who has come under the influence of the Spirit of Jesus is a person who is becoming increasingly quick to take another person's burdens unto himself. You know how easy it is for us to pass by people asking for handouts, for example; yet the deeper we enter into the heart of Jesus the more sensitive we will become to the needs of such people and the more involved we will be willing to become. We will go beyond giving a handout, and instead take them to dinner and talk with them; we will bring them to the deacons and let them minister to them. We will use these chance occurrences to get involved with the needs of people and to reclaim human lives, if that proves possible.

The person who gets involved with the interests of others is a person who is learning to sit loose on timetables and schedules. The family may be on the way to an outing, come upon a stranded motorist, who -- you discover from conversation -- turns out to be alone in a strange city and looking for work. You could just take her and her gas can to the station and drop her off, and then drive away thinking you had fulfilled the part of a good Samaritan. But you might also wait and take her back to her car, delaying your trip; or, you might see the hand of God in all of this (Hebrews 13:2), and open up your lives to her need in whatever way proves possible: taking her on the picnic, finding her a place to stay (perhaps in your home?), becoming a resource person (for ideas, job leads, etc.). As you grow in experience with people and in the discernment of the Holy Spirit you will be able to sort out with increasing swiftness genuine need from deliberate laziness (for which, see 2 Thessalonians 3:10). But you will be willing to take chances with people, willing to get "taken" occasionally without getting bitter, willing to alter your patterns to let others come into your life.

"Winning souls" is not simply a ministry of verbal evangelism, to be undertaken by the evangelistically inclined. The ministering situations given above are the more commonly encountered fruitful ways of ministering Christ to the World. People will be more open to believe in the identity and exaltation of Jesus if they see His people loving in ways that are very rare among the people of this world. If Jesus were willing to set aside so much glory and honor in order to become available in the sacrificial way that was needed for man's redemption, and if He commanded all disciples to take up their crosses and foot bowls (John 13:14) and follow His example, how can we allow the next opportunity for ministering to people that presents itself to pass by? Perhaps our ministry will end with relieving immediate need, or perhaps it will result in a new disciple of Christ -- that is in the hands of the Lord -- but our solemn obligation is to become available to human need and let Christ use us as He will.

F. Forgiveness

Other teachings of Jesus may be grouped under the theme of mercy: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy" (Matthew 5:7).

If you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions (Matthew 6:14-15).

If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, "I repent," forgive him (Luke 17:4).

But love your enemies, and do good...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. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. And do not pass judgment and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you shall not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned... For whatever measure you deal out to others, it will be dealt to you in return (Luke 6:35-38).

The way of Christ is a unique balance of justice and mercy. The disciple of Jesus believes strongly in justice -- the reward of good and the punishment of evil. And yet He is willing to suffer injustice against himself with the same patient spirit that God manifests every day. We must learn to take very seriously the principle outlined by Jesus in the last quotation: "whatever measure you deal out to others, it will be dealt to you in return." The principle we use in releasing people from their guilt against us is the same principle God is going to use on us. If we insist on having people grovel before we release them, guess what? If we require perfect repentance before we are willing to release them, guess what? If we allow a person to sin against us only once, and will not receive more than one "I'm sorry" for the same offence, guess what? If we show ourselves eager to shut the door of relationship to the one who does not repent of his sin against us, guess what? Considering the great number of hidden sins that we all have stumbled into without even realizing it, and considering the fact that we are going to have all of them brought to light on that great and terrible day, do you not think it wise to make sure you learn to release people from their sins of presumption against you, and that you do not insist they be free from blindness before you love them generously?

"Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults" (Psalm 19:12).

"Thou hast placed our iniquities before Thee, our secret sins in the light of Thy presence" (Psalm 91:8).

"But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known" (Luke 12:2). "

"... [there is a] day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus" (Romans 2:16).

The next time someone sins against you (especially your parents, your mate or your children) consider your response well before you do respond, and act according to the principle that you want God to use on you when you stand before Him in judgment, because that is the very principle He is going to use.

This attitude about forgiveness is not to be understood and practiced in a way that does violence to other commands that pertain to discipline in the brotherhood. Remember, in the Luke 17:4 passage above -- a passage dealing with a brother disciple -- Jesus does require that he express repentance for His sin against you before you forgive him. And Jesus Himself outlines the steps of excommunication in Matthew 18:15f. Furthermore, Paul speaks quite clearly on the subject in 1 Corinthians 5, when he requires the congregation to cast out the fornicator from their fellowship:

I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler -- not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).

But even in these areas, where we must judge and discipline brethren who act falsely, God searches the attitude of our hearts. He knows when we judge them with sorrow and compassion, and when we assume the attitude of "good riddance to bad rubbish." If you can discern this kind of unforgiving attitude within yourself, make sure that you fight it and that you humble yourself by confessing it. Such an unforgiving attitude is likely to be more deadly than any other sin a zealous disciple is likely to commit; sins against the fleshly body, and outright dishonesty are more likely to be recognized as sin and confessed as sin than is the reluctant-to-forgive attitude, which so easily disguises itself as a form of virtue (namely, justice).



1 Please examine: Matthew 7:16, 16:27; Romans 2:7; Revelation 2:23, 2:26, 20:13. <back>

2 " is God who is at work within you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). <back>

3 See the essay "Limitations upon a Christian's Involvement in the World," in the Supplemental Essays. <back>

4 See the essay, "The Jerusalem 'Experiment'(?)," in the Supplemental Essays. <back>

5 Note that Jesus did not say here that you are to give whatever they ask you to give (e.g., "Please give me all of your money"), but that you are to give something. <back>

6 From an excerpt in the French Communist publication "Paix et Liberte," appearing in a newspaper column, "Three Minutes a Day," written by the Revelation James Keller. I have not been able to discover the name or publishing date of the newspaper. <back>

7 It follows, then, that when the clerk of the court brings the Bible over to you, just explain to the judge that you follow Jesus, are under perpetual obligation to speak the truth, that you promise to tell the truth now, but have an obligation to refrain from special oaths and symbolic gestures. <back>