“A certain message for an uncertain world.” Pretty catchy don’t you think? I said that in December’s article. But don’t be impressed. I’ve been around for a while now and I’m pretty sure someone has said the same thing before. That catchy slogan was probably hidden somewhere in the recesses of my memory. Catchy slogans make great bumper stickers and T-shirts, but too often we adopt the slogan and fail to live the truth. Bumper sticker theology is no way to live in the kingdom that Jesus purchased for us.
With all the confusion, chaos and uncertainty that surrounds us today we need some clarity and certainty. We need more than catchy phrases and worn out clichés. We need something solid and unshakable. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that the person who, ”…hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like the wise man who built his house on the rock.” Yet, too often we choose to build on the shifting sands of some social, economic or political system. We listen to a college professor or a talking head or a guy with a talk radio program and put more stock in what they say than in what our King has declared to be true. Then we pick out the words of Jesus that fit with our preferred system of thought or view of reality and declare it to be the model that Jesus prefers.
It’s very clear that Jesus expects His word to be the foundational premise upon which we build our lives. But we have a preference for building on sand. Let’s take the debate between capitalism and socialism. There are Christians on both sides and they can quote a raft of verses in support of their favored position. But both of these socio-economic strategies have the same basic flaw and therefore they will always fall short of being foundational to life in the Kingdom of Jesus. The problem with both systems is they start with the premise that people are basically good. They both assume that people will naturally choose to do what is good and right for themselves and their neighbors. Jesus says exactly the opposite. He says there is no one good but God. (Mt. 19:17) Earlier in His Sermon He said, “If you then who are evil, know how to give good gifts….” (Mt. 7:11) In saying that we are evil, He is simply saying that we are inherently selfish and if that selfishness continues unchecked it will produce things that are truly evil. We want to believe that our preferred system is morally superior to the other when in fact, either system would work perfectly well if we and our fellow adherents were as good as we want to believe we are. So the fruit of selfish human nature under capitalism is greed and the fruit of selfish human nature under socialism is lust for power. The capitalists say they want people to be free to choose, but the tech company algorithms are just one example of how easily those choices can be manipulated. The socialists say we just want to create an equitable society and then give preference to one group over another in order to increase their own power.
As believers we are called to build all of life on the word of our Lord. That means our preferred system must be submitted to Him and not the other way around. That was part of the reason that the early church had such an incredible impact in the Roman world. They weren’t tied to the systems of the day but instead put Jesus’ words into practice. They were generous, selfless, compassionate, diligent and responsible. They lifted people up, drew people in with grace and love and then held each other accountable to a higher standard than any of them had ever known. They freely proclaimed the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection knowing all the while that it could land them in prison or worse. All of life was surrendered to the lordship of Jesus, their time, their money, the safety and security of them and their family, their nationalistic pride and the place of their group within that nation. Everything belonged to Jesus so that they were then set free from the fear of men. They knew true freedom. The freedom of being founded on the word of our Lord. May we yearn for the same.