“Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors.” – The Beatles’ Help
A father wrote me a letter with an open heart and a cry for help. It is a sincere request to understand the ongoing FreedHearts message. He is drawn to the love he finds here, but afraid to ‘take it too far.’
Perhaps you too are wondering how to embrace this love but fear going too far ‘off-road.’ No need to be afraid! We can go off-road, because we are in good company – we just follow Jesus, who went way off-road!
As I continue to answer the common and frightening questions this week that came from his letter — questions many FreedHearts readers or their families struggle with — I hope to help illuminate the extraordinary, powerful, freeing life Jesus came to give us.
Here is the Dad’s letter, Part 2…
“I am really confused by your statements and your message. Yes, it is true that Jesus included all those that the ‘church’ and religious leaders of His time excluded because of condition, behavior, bloodline, etc. Furthermore, it is also true that the Gospel of Christ and salvation for mankind is given freely to ALL who believe. However, it is also true that while Jesus personally gifted adulterers, prostitutes, the demon-possessed, thieves, liars, and other ‘degenerates,’ immediately following the initial ‘sins are forgiven’ statements, He also commanded each and every one of them (in various ways) to ‘go and sin no more.'”
Here is my answer to him – and to those struggling with the same issue…
Beautifully said. Jesus does give life to adulterers, prostitutes, the demon-possessed, thieves, liars and other “degenerates,” just as you said. And that deserves more than a passing glance before moving on to the “however.” To move on too quickly is to cast a glance at the Grand Canyon as you search for a vending machine to buy a Coke. It’s to miss the power of life Jesus offers! And he offers it to the worst of the worst — not so we’ll shape up, but so we’ll be alive!
Life is the reason he came. This offer is far outside religion — religious people of Jesus’ day crucified him for it, and religious people today want to move on to behavior.
This offer of LIFE is not a quick rinse you take in a cold, outdoor shower before you grab a towel. It is a long soak in an therapeutic whirlpool, opening every pore, soothing every muscle. It is closing your eyes while the aroma of eucalyptus bubbles up to cleanse mind and body.
Then what? Go and sin no more? Is that the next step after Jesus resuscitates us and brings us back from the dead? Are we to step from this healing bath, wrap up in a fluffy robe, and now turn our attention to the exposed wire of behavior waiting to send us right back writhing to the floor? No. That is not the picture.
Human beings think like that. “Okay, okay, you love me, but where’s the catch? What must I do to maintain it, because sure, you gave me life, but I have to do my part. Because your life in me is not really enough!” (The letter-writer did not say all this, but I’m taking it out to its logical extension.) Does Jesus really tell us to “Go and sin no more”? People toss that out, as if to prove that Jesus really is all about behavior and not the heart after all. I’m going to deal with those actual words, and then the broader question behind it.
Jesus says “Go and sin no more” twice only. In the first instance, his words to the woman are better rendered, “You don’t have to live this way.” He is not corralling her behavior; he is offering her a whole new life. Read “The Woman Forgiven for Adultery” for a fresh look at her amazing story. In the other instance, Jesus addresses a specific infirmity brought on by a particular sin, when he says to the young man, “Go and stop sinning so nothing worse may happen to you.” As the commentary says, the young man seems to know what Jesus is talking about – it’s not a blanket statement intended to stop sin.
But Jesus always addresses people more broadly than that. He is not about sin-management. He is not there to shape everybody up, he’s there to give them life. The “sinful woman” who washed his feet; the woman who bled for 12 years; the man with demons. All delivered, forgiven, with nary a word about them sinning no more. He wanted their hearts, not their behavior. He makes that clear when he says not only murder or adultery are sins, but calling your brother a jerk or lusting after someone you’re not married to is a sin. Several times Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well.”
Behavior only flows from the heart, and Jesus is always only after a change of heart.
What comes next? Following him. Resting in him. Abiding in him.
Love God. Love others.
Focus on behavior does not bring out love toward God or anyone, but focus on love naturally brings out our best behavior – as God directs individually in each of our lives.
[More from this letter tomorrow.]