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Love, Desire, and Taking Up My Cross

Love is a command and no Christian should hate any human being as a human being.

If people were perfect, that would be the end of Christian ethics: love is absolute and we should do to other people what we wish they would do to us.

While love remains absolute, broken people, including broken me, require that the liberty to love as I would must be limited.

Why?

First, my love can disguise selfishness or tyrannical control. “I will love you no matter what,” smothers and does not allow freedom for the beloved to reject the relationship.

God Himself allows every human being to say “No” to God. God knows our “no” means “no” and does not force us to love Him. He will not even make us choose life, beauty, or goodness. If we will damn ourselves, we can.

Second, nobody will approve and rejoice in every action the beloved takes. Love does not prevent police using force, judges from passing judgment, and parents from disciplining their children. Christians must take the long view: bourgeois manners or hipster tolerance don’t keep a man from hell.

Even in this life, few doubt we should confront a man who runs a sweatshop to make money: he endangers the lives of his workers. Few think that confronting that man socially or using the power of the state to stop his evil actions must be unloving. Christians have gone to war for bad reasons, but they have also used the sword to end injustice and free victims.

Just as police power has been misused, so has the virtue of moderation. Pagan Greeks and Christian sages agreed: living by your passions was a recipe for disaster. The Lord Jesus, the most loving man who ever lived, urged men who loved wealth to sell it, sinners to repent, called out men who wanted divorces, and warned of woe and damnation to His betrayer. Jesus spoke of Hell and eternal punishment and it was Jesus who got a whip and drove the money changers from the Temple.

Jesus wanted the Temple cleansed and He cleansed it, but His call was harder than any a state, church, or any external power could muster.

The toughest thing Jesus said was this, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?”

Followers of Jesus must deny self, take up a cross, and follow Jesus to death.

Only when we lose our life in Jesus will we save our true lives in God.

Jesus looked past out conformity to the Law and demanded true justice, true holiness, true chastity, true love. The state must, sadly, restrain us from murder, but Jesus wanted us to stop hating! The courts justly deal with sexual harassment, but Jesus said do not lust!

Jesus made the standards higher, so high that not even the Pharisees could pretend they met them. The judgement of God is of the actions and the heart behind the actions: a power no sane man would ever give anything other broken human.

The bad news before the good news is that nobody can hide from God’s judgment: He knows our thoughts. We cannot hate: period. Nobody can be sure if the police offer arrests the criminal for the sake of justice or with hate in his or her heart. God knows. Humans must judge the outside action, God judges my very thoughts.

Of course, the good news is that Jesus provides a way of holiness: it is the way of the Cross. No Christian, no real Christian, believes his life will be pleasant or fulfill his every desire. Like King Midas we do not know our own desires. True Christianity begins by saying: “No.”

Jesus says “No” to my will to power: I am subject to His rule.
It says “No” to my desires: I must be holy as He is holy.
It says “No” to the world, the flesh, and Devil. No human system is good enough, no human is worthy of absolute devotion, and no alternative god is anything but wicked.

It is true, thank God, it is true that the news about me is so bad, I might despair, but that God Himself provides a way.

Now there are plenty of self-righteous folk eager to crucify somebody else for their sin, but this is not what Jesus said. Every follower of Jesus must carry his or her own cross and nobody should want to play the role of the Roman motivated by Hell to kill Jesus. We carry a cross, because we must die to self, but we do not have to like it.

Jesus was perfect and He wished the cup of human suffering could pass from his lips. It is not death we love, but the life that is on the other side of death!

There are religious masochists who delight in pain for the sake of pain, but this is another form of evil. It is not the cross of Jesus, but an attempt to control the terms of our surrender to God. We decide the pain we must inflict, but God is not mocked. For some dying to self may be in ministering to Baptists in Newport Beach.

God knows what will slay our selfishness and pride.

And yet though we must die to our self-will and desires, we must not hate self. Just as we are commanded to love our enemies, so we must not hate ourselves . . . only our sin. The sin is so deep, so pervasive that the transformation is slow, but we cannot hate regardless.

We may fast as the Church commands, but we may not starve.
We may abstain, but we must not condemn licit pleasures.
We may work hard, but we must also care for our bodies.

This age is not keen on moderation, self-denial, and suffering, but so my age is not to love an age, but the people in it. Prophetic calls to holiness must always contain eagerness for the least sign of repentance and compassion: this is often hardest in self. Unlike self-help shysters, there is no short cut to happiness: we must die to live, but all the pain is for an eternal purpose.

The Christian life begins in suffering, but it ends in joy. We live for eternity.

  • Rebecca Trotter

    You last post was one of the ones which inspired me to write this about love myself:

    http://theupsidedownworld.com/2013/07/09/unconditional-love-brings-death/

  • Tom F.

    “It says “No” to my desires: I must be holy as He is holy.”

    Surely here you mean “evil desires”, no?

    • http://www.JohnMarkReynolds.com John Mark Reynolds

      Actually, no. I meant all my desires as my desires. I put everything under scrutiny, if I can.


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