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DISCIPLESHIP SERIES: What Does the Christian Do?

February 27, 2011
S. Michael Craven
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The goal of knowing oneself is—practically speaking—to get yourself out of the way so you can grow in your relationship with God (cf. John 3:30). This relationship is not established in the apprehension of some facts about God but is rather a relational intimacy characterized by love: God initiates and demonstrates his love for you and in response you love God. As to the nature of this love, which transcends emotional feelings or admiration, Jesus connects true love of God with obedience. He says quite plainly, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Jesus reiterates this point three more times during the same discourse saying, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (14:21), and “If anyone loves me he will keep my word…” (14:23), and then in the negative saying, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words” (14:24).

At this point one has to ask, “What words?” All of them, of course! However, Jesus summarizes his commandments and our corresponding obedience in two directions: loving God and loving others. In Matthew chapter 22, Jesus is confronted by a Pharisee, an expert in Mosaic law who asks, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law” (v. 36)? To which Jesus responds, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (vs. 37–40). In his response, Jesus is teaching that the whole duty of man, the whole moral-spiritual law, can be summed up in one word: love (cf. Rom. 13:9–10; 1 Cor. 13) and that this love should be directed toward both God (Deut. 6:5) and man (Lev. 19:18).

It is here that we gain clarity in our responsibilities and better understand our duties as Christians. If “all the Law” hangs on loving God and loving others, then to love God is to obey him and to obey him is to love others. But what does it really mean to love others? Should you walk down the street hugging everyone you meet saying, “I love you”? Should loving others be accompanied by feelings of affection? Are these feelings essential to loving others and if absent does this mean you’re not being loving? Here again, knowing yourself becomes vital because if you truly know yourself then you know that you are not by nature able to love as described in 1 Corinthians 13. If you’re anything like me, you know that you fail daily in your thoughts and attitude to be patient and kind. In my mind, ugly pride arises to boast of its superiority, insisting on its own way, at times resentful of others, and quietly delighting when the mighty are brought low. In my flesh, I am anything but loving.

In truly knowing myself, I cannot be surprised by these thoughts. They merely remind me of my own condition and my need for mercy and grace so that I turn away from myself toward God and repent. I can seek forgiveness and ask God for a heart that compels me to act with love. When confronted with the opportunity to demonstrate Christ’s commandment to love others, we don’t wait for the appropriate feelings to emerge. Instead, we recognize the providential moment and press forward in faith, seeking God’s grace to love so that it is his love that is manifested to his glory.

If we fail to act, then we are not trusting in Jesus. Our actions reveal our trust in Jesus and according to Jesus, how we treat others ultimately demonstrates how we treat God (cf. Matthew 25:34-40).

So again, how do we love others? In Luke 11, Jesus links love with justice. In condemning the conduct of the Pharisees, Jesus says, “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God” (v. 42). Jesus is obviously referring to something beyond the concept of punishing disobedience or retributive justice. Clearly Jesus wasn’t rebuking the Pharisees for failing to punish wrongdoers—they excelled on this point! The punishment of sin is no doubt an essential aspect of God’s justice but it isn’t the only aspect. The Scriptures reveal that the justice of God through Christ Jesus is also creative, liberating, and restorative.

In affirmation of the Messianic fulfillment in Jesus, Matthew cites the prophet Isaiah, who wrote, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth” (Isaiah 42:1–4 NIV 1984; see also Matthew 12:18–21). At the commencement of his earthly ministry Jesus asserts his messianic role saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15).  Recall, Jesus did not come in to the world to condemn it (see John 3:17). Mankind was already living under condemnation for his sin (see Gen. 3:14-19). Therefore the mission of Christ to “establish justice on earth,” which satisfied the retributive justice of God also begins the restorative or redemptive justice of God through the appearance of God’s reign: the kingdom.

The prophet Micah, who spoke of God’s coming kingdom and the king who would be born in Bethlehem, similarly affirmed the correlation of love and justice. In rebuking the Israelites, Micah condemns religiosity, which neglects justice, saying, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). To “do justice” is to seek the proper ordering of things, setting right what sin has set wrong. If the restoration of people and the world ruined by sin is the purpose of Christ and his kingdom, then it is also our purpose.

Returning to our headline (what does a Christian do?), the answer is this: We enter the world each day as ambassadors of Christ and his kingdom—sensitized to the effects of sin—loving others by seeking their welfare through the proper ordering of things and relationships. We look for and respond to opportunities to bring relief to those who are suffering. We seek the good of others and when possible, we create systems and institutions that serve the common good and promote human flourishing. We work for remedy in the daily situations and when necessary, the reformation or abolition of whole systems that oppress. We disciple people in the Truth, showing them the way that leads to a life that thrives through having a right relationship to God, to self, to others, and the rest of creation.

© 2011 by S. Michael Craven

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Response from : Matt Edwards  

March 5, 2011 7:21 PM

Michael - Great stuff once again. I would like to summarize your last paragraph into a much more abbreviated credo: it is the Christian's responsibility to bring goodness into the world.

That goodness can take many forms. It can be feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, providing shelter for the homeless, or loving the lonely. It can also be giving up your "rights" so that someone else might obtain a benefit. It can be overlooking an offense, like not responding when someone cuts you off on the road or when someone cuts in front of you in line at the supermarket. It can be sending money to organizations who either print Bibles or who send missionaries to preach the Gospel to the lost or who provide for the needs of the poor. It can be spending time teaching Bible lessons to one's children or to a Sunday school class. It can be adopting an orphan from an impoverished country. But the bottom line is that we Christians are supposed to bring in as much goodness into the world as possible, and we are to use all of our resources (time, money, education, vocational training, possessions, spiritual gifts) to do so. Of course, the only way to be an effective bringer of goodness is to have been washed clean by the blood of Christ and to have Him be the provider of that goodness through us. But that is what I believe it means to be a Christian in a nutshell - bring as much of God's goodness into the world as possible. Keep fighting the good fight!

Response from : Susan Craddock  

March 7, 2011 6:22 AM

I just read this post and it reminded me of a parable that I have been thinking a lot about lately...the prodigal son. The older brother was a right-wing conservative who believed in the law and order kind of justice and thought his father had defected when his worthless baby brother finally returned.

I really appreciate your explanation of restorative justice. In our churches the zeal to root out all dangerous evil and protect the homefront has sometimes masked our true motives - wanting to keep the blessings away from so-called worthless sinners (a group btw we all belong to).

The father didn't deny the younger brother his right to wasteful living, but when his boy came to his senses and repented, restorative justice was the Father's greatest joy. And it must be ours too! This is being our brother's keeper.

One more point: the younger brother didn't come home to create havoc. He knew what his father's home was like and he would have to honor him if he came back. Let's focus on making the church home a place that honors our LORD.

Response from : Dave Hamner  

March 9, 2011 5:38 PM

Love toward God and neighbor is servanthod, motivated by esteem (value), led by the Holy Spirit. As we give ourselves to God, He immediately puts us to work giving ourselves to the people around us.

Response from : Mark Chozeh  

March 18, 2011 8:43 AM

I found the sentence: Therefore the mission of Christ to establish justice on earth, which satisfied the retributive justice of God .... interesting. I never realised that God was into retribution. (perhaps I misunderstood what was meant by the statement.)I always thought God was Love. I had considered that justice, discipline, chastisement, punishment, correction etc were designed to lead to the recognition of sin and the need of repentance. To cause positive change. As far as I know, God does not instruct me to take retribution upon my children when they do something "wrong". Why would God do it to His? Regards Mark

Response from : S. Michael Craven  

March 18, 2011 9:24 AM

I think you need the read that entire sentence again in the context of the article. First, the death of Jesus was necessary to and did satisfy the retributive or punitive justice of God--this is essential Christian orthodoxy. God punishes sin. However, if you read on, that is not the only form of justice that Jesus brings. The emphasis of the article is on the restorative justice of God.


Response from : arinze enedoh  

March 18, 2011 10:43 AM

thanks for the new insight on loving God and people; especially loving people. that one can reform and, or abolish institutions of oppression, injustice that hamper human flourishing, discipling people in truth e.t.c but first of all knowing one self.can one abolish institution/system of oppression outside politics? how can it be done in a country like Nigeria?

Response from : Paul owino mulure  

March 18, 2011 12:04 PM

I was fully blessed and learn more with the message.


Response from : Chuck Denton  

March 18, 2011 1:20 PM

This article was very informative and contained several scripture verses as well as chapters. Michael Craven shows high intelligence in the word.


Response from : Jim Worcester  

March 18, 2011 6:47 PM

Yes - I agree with this on every point.
1. Knowing oneself is similar to "know thyself" (even though this phrase has spurious roots).
2. If one is blind to their faults, they're in no position to strive for perfection (maturity) Matt 5:48.
3. Justice has always been my issue - making right what sin has made wrong - that's it!
My contention on justice is that people are blind to it's absence and excuse it's abscence when it's revealed.

Response from : Tevita Langi  

March 22, 2011 8:39 PM

Thanks for one of the best article in the subject of xnity ever. But my question is - to we xtn apply the same love to homosexuality and lespians????

Response from : JW Worcester  

December 7, 2011 6:06 AM

No one loves us more than God as demonstrated by His Son Jesus Christ. God allowed injustice to overtake Jesus so that His blood could cover our sins, and satisfy God's perfect and awesome righteousness and holiness. As Christ's ambassadors we must lovingly lead people to an understanding as to what is "just". Homosexuality is anatomically outside of how God created us to be. We must welcome everyone into our fellowship while encouraging and supporting them as they come to a clearer understanding of what it means to lead a just and righteous personal life.


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