Just about everything in the Christian life is a call to do what our natural man hates. We are called to not love the world or the things in it, to not worry or be anxious, to love and serve others above our own selves… Every command of God is a command to abandon our fallen natures. In this era of “born this way,” God says, in effect, “So what? I say do this, not that.”
Obedience to God is only possible through the power of Christ in us, through the Holy Spirit. We may have been “born this way” but through the double-miracle of repentance and faith, God changes us. We go from darkness to light. Death to Life. “Born this way” to born again. He replaces our heart of stone, the Bible says, and gives us a heart of flesh.
And while all of that is glorious and true, there remains an inner struggle. The Old Man, wretched and decaying and continuing to want to feast on sin, still exists within us. Practically speaking, we don’t always want to obey God rather than man. We’d rather dance at the edge of darkness. We’d rather serve Mammon. Sometimes we’d rather hold onto our anger/fear/doubts/what have you, then let it go.
The New Man, thank God, has the upper hand in the fight though, and is helped every moment by the invisible Person of the Holy Spirit and the power of Christ in us. Humanly speaking, it is our duty to be pliable. Obedient. Even when we don’t feel like it or don’t fully understand how.
As I was reading through the Sermon on the Mount recently I was reminded again of all of this. How exactly does one turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) when someone slaps us not with their hand but with their words or actions? How exactly do we love our enemies (5:44)? Surely it’s not a sappy, Hallmark card artificial gushiness. Jesus says to greet them (5:47). How do we do that? Do we smile? Shake hands? Act as though we really don’t wish them out of our lives? What does forgiving those who wronged us, even if it’s a brother or sister we love, look like (6:14), especially if they don’t even know they wronged us?
Reading the Sermon on the Mount again, I wrestled with these questions and my own weak-willed obedience. I want to obey. I know I should I obey. I know I must obey. But like a child being told he must he his vegetables, even at 48 years old I am prone to pitching quite the inner temper tantrum. I’m reminded again of the comfort of Scripture; I am not alone in my heart’s cry, “Oh wretched man that I am!”
The answer and consolation is found in Matthew 5:45, “[do these things] that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” What does that look like in us, exactly? How are we to “be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48), especially since we are woefully imperfect?
First, let’s acknowledge it is contrary to our fallen human nature to do these things. Second, admit that sometimes we just don’t want to. He knows our hearts anyway! Just admit it! But then, thirdly, speak candidly in love to God admitting our weakness and seeking his grace. We really do love God and, thus, really do, deeper down, want to obey. We know He is good and right and these commands–like vegetables–are good for us. Fourthly and finally, with the Lord as our model (as always), step out in faith and obedience. He sends his rain on the just and the unjust–who hate him daily; the least we can do is pray, forgive, smile, and wave.
G.K. Chesterton famously said, “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” At least try earnestly to obey the Lord and his commands. You and I won’t get it exactly right, but that’s still way better than getting it completely wrong.