It is absolutely vital, particularly in this day and age, that we read the Scriptures as the connected whole they comprise. If we seek to be “red-letter” Christians we make a critical error, for Jesus’ words were not the new manifesto for how now to live, but an example of perfectly and faithfully living out what we—rather unfortunately—call the Old Testament.
If we presume the Gospels portray a comprehensive example of how we are to live, we make the same mistake as the people of the Gospel’s era: mistaking Jesus’ mission and purpose for that time. He was not there as conquering King, but as suffering servant. This did not mean that he is not the Sovereign of the world; did not mean that he doesn’t have a plan for civil justice. Rather, in the Torah God had already demonstrated how His word/character was comprehensively worked out in every arena of life, and Jesus exemplified living perfectly as an individual who faithfully kept every single jot and tittle of God’s law. But in his time on earth, he did not demonstrate how to be a faithful civil servant, he did not demonstrate how to be a faithful voting citizen (he lived in an occupied land), he did not demonstrate how to be a faithful father, etc. But, he did demonstrate how to be a faithful servant, and how to love your neighbor.
We need to pay greater attention to how he loved his neighbor(s). For some reason, we note that he defended the woman caught in adultery from injustice (note: she was caught in the act, but then, where was the man?), yet he also told her, “Go and sin no more.” Note that Jesus did not break God’s law (the law required the testimony of two or three witnesses to convict, and furthermore required a valid court to hear the case), rather he upheld the law’s requirements and prevented a perversion of justice (which is defined and described by God’s law).
Note that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners—who were seeking salvation and the truth. What was his response to those who self-righteously thought they were fine as they were? “You brood of vipers,” etc. Or to one who was unwilling to change? In what context did Jesus confront the rich young ruler? Mark 10:21 reveals how love really works: “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him…” and proceeded to deliver a command to change; a command Jesus knew would highlight the young man’s unwillingness to repent.
The fact that we do not have in the earthly life of Christ an example of a faithful citizen, nor of a faithful father, nor of a godly judge, nor of a righteous politician, does not mean that we are left without instruction. The character of God is described in detail by His law as expressed in application from Genesis to Revelation, and exemplified in limited but personal humanity by the life of Christ in the four Gospels. It is our task to wrestle with how to pull these instructions for life into our time and place. This is no easy task, but it will never mean failing to exercise our God-given responsibility to work for justice—as biblically defined—in the nation where we live.
Certainly, we should be known by our love—but love is defined, not by the society around us, but by the character of God as described in the law and exemplified (partially) by the life of Christ. Love is compassionate, but it always works for the good of the loved one, even if that is not what the loved one wants. There is such a thing as unsanctified mercy, and lying to someone about the consequences of their lifestyle choices certainly qualifies.
Why is it that we highlight (and misunderstand) many of Christ’s actions, but fail to weigh his other statements? Perhaps it is because we are not committing ourselves to wrestle with the totality of Jesus’ message.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household (and denomination). Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
What are we to take from this? The truth, though delivered in love, will often drive the unrepentant away. This does not mean we should modify the truth to accommodate their sin, for to do so is not loving. To unjustly infringe on actual rights in order to gratify the unjustly claimed false rights of unrepentant sinners is not to imitate Jesus. Rather, if Jesus were a citizen of the United States of America he would both work for justice in legal structure, and minister to the brokenness of individual neighbors.
It is not contradictory to lobby for a just law which prohibits or restricts the practice of sin (or protects the rights of all not to participate in, encourage, or bless sin) and at the same time invite a sinner over for dinner, or out for coffee, or to live in your home. Both should be happening. I know this is possible because both have been occurring in my life for the last 20 years.