Can you separate Jesus from morality? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
As I said yesterday, I have been reading Machen lately and something he said in a work of his was about how we have pulled away from what he calls the “supernatural Jesus.” Now I have said before about my beef with the term “supernatural“. However, I do know what he’s saying. This is a Jesus who is seen as more or less just a great moral teacher, perhaps highly enlightened, but He certainly wasn’t divine in any way and definitely didn’t rise from the dead.
However, as we have moved away from this kind of Jesus, so with that has gone much of our moral standards in society. Many people even today do not want to speak ill of Jesus. Of course, some people do, but Jesus is still by and large a respected figure in our history. (Setting aside the crackpot position that says Jesus never even existed.) Few would want to ascribe malicious intent to Jesus.
A lot of people do like the morality of Jesus to some extent, which is quite odd when one thinks about it since really, His morality is often quite difficult. I would find it easy to go through life and not commit adultery with a woman. I find it extremely difficult to go through life without looking at another woman with lust. It would be easy to go through life without murdering a brother of mine. It is far harder to go through life without anger toward him.
Jesus did change this and so you had a society soon that was changing rapidly with a people who were practicing sexual chastity, love for their fellow man, and tremendous self-sacrifice. When a plague came through the Roman Empire, the physicians fled, but the Christians stayed and tended to the sick. The Christians didn’t have the science to know how a plague worked, but they were unintentionally giving themselves some immunity to the sickness by staying and facing it to help the sick.
We have been trying an experiment to take the teachings of Jesus and somehow exclude the man of Jesus from them. Yes. This teaching is quite quaint and we like it, but we don’t need that extra baggage with it. We don’t need all this nonsense of miracles and resurrections obviously. Let’s just go with the teachings and live by them.
This experiment has been a failure.
Inevitably, Jesus’s teachings are bound up with His person, authority, and character. It’s not just that Jesus taught great truths, but He also lived them and lived them perfectly. Jesus didn’t teach these as great suggestions either. He taught them as commands and He insisted that it was only by His power that one could live them out.
Naturally, we all have strengths and weaknesses. Some of us could be very generous by nature and yet struggle with a temper. A man could be extremely peaceful and wouldn’t hurt a fly, but he struggles with the sight of the beautiful women who he passes by regularly. In our society, we have often said that we like the idea of tolerance and non-judgmentalism, which are really not the message of Jesus, but we don’t really care for messages on sexual chastity. (Isn’t it funny how those two go together also?)
However, virtue is not a buffett where you take what you want and reject the rest. You have to take all of it. Try to separate one part of Jesus’s teachings from the whole and you have the overemphasis of one trait with the neglect of another. Part of this is because of the separation of Jesus from His lifestyle as if Jesus is just incidental to His teachings.
Perhaps we can’t dispense with the miraculous Jesus after all.
Now if you have a resurrected Jesus who speaks with authority and can forgive one’s own sins so one can live out love and forgiveness in others, the system works a lot better. Jesus did not come just to teach us all how to get along. Yes. He wants us to live well and have life, but He wants us to be forgiven and free as well.
Ultimately, you have to accept the bad news of Jesus, you are a sinner in need of salvation, before you can truly live out the teachings. If you do not realize how much you are forgiven, you will be incapable of loving the way He wants you to. This can be a struggle for many of us. I see myself as the guy who grew up avoiding pornography, drugs, alcohol, staying chaste until I was married, etc. It is easy to look and say “I’ve lived a good life and don’t really have major sins to deal with”, but I need to realize that in many cases, I struggle with pride and other inner sins that could be far worse in a sense and yet, I am forgiven.
Every sin after all is ultimately divine treason. It is denying one or more attributes of God and saying that you should be on the throne. I am one who has excessive worrying and anxiety and it’s tempting to want to be in control of my own life and panic about even seemingly minor decisions. If I am guilty of divine treason, which I am and which you are as well, isn’t it a wonder we are forgiven? What person says to someone else “I forgive you for wanting me dead and acting on it.”?
If we don’t go by the strength of Christ and the Holy Spirit, then we have to do that from within. Now this does not mean that non-Christians cannot be loving people. They can be. It means that this is a struggle for all of us because our natural tendency is to love ourselves more than others. Even the suicide loves themselves more despite their thinking of how awful they are. They seek their good above that of others though trying to tell themselves everyone else will be better off without them.
The early Christians were able to love greatly because they knew that they had been loved greatly. Take that away and it all falls apart. They knew they were loved greatly not because Jesus was some nice man who was really enlightened and said they were special. It was because Jesus was the divine man who had risen from the dead and had the authority to forgive them for all they had done.
Christianity cannot be reduced to just a set of ethics. It is an entire worldview. Removing the miraculous Jesus removes the batteries and the system doesn’t work.
If our culture is to recover, the only way to do that is to return to the original system which worked fine. That is the real miracle-working Jesus who rose from the dead and forgives sins. Any other Jesus won’t do.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)