What Jesus Expects of Us
Far too often we find ourselves failing even to live up to the standard that we expect of ourselves. But what is the standard that God expects of a Christian? This is where Jesus makes things really hard for us…
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Is repentance just about regret for major mistakes we have made, or is it more about lifestyle choices?
Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist, taught that anyone who wished to become a true follower of God must repent, confess their sins and be baptised. But repentance had to be far more than just an acknowledgement of wrongdoing. It had to change our value system and lifestyle from selfish and wrongful actions to compassion and justice.
Jesus began his ministry echoing John’s call and similarly requiring people to be baptised (Jn 3:22-4:2; Mat 28:19; Mk 16:16; Acts 2:38). But Jesus did not merely endorse John’s message: he dramatically raised the standard! And then he summed it up by saying, “be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Mat 5:48). But surely that’s impossible – or is it?
On two occasions we find Jesus telling people to ‘sin no more.’ Was he seriously suggesting that it is possible to live without sin? Both the apostles Paul and John tell us that Christians have everything they need to conquer the temptation to sin. If so, then we have no valid excuse for sinning in the future.
Some cite the apostle John (1Jn 3:9) to argue that if someone does sin again then it proves they are not a real Christian. This teaching is known as ‘sinless perfectionism.’
But is it what Jesus – or even John – really taught? No. Ancient Greek verbs contain shades of meaning that cannot be expressed in English without using a lot of extra words. When these are taken into account, as confirmed by the rest of John’s letter, a more complete rendering of this verse might read something like this:
Anyone born to become a full-grown child of God does not produce a sin in a given circumstance, because God’s seed remains in him; so that he is not empowered or motivated to sin, because he is born to be a child of God.
A child may be very unlike its parents to begin with: but as it matures it should increasingly display the family likeness. Love, righteousness and purity are essential aspects of God’s nature and, despite lapses, will become increasingly dominant in our lives. Otherwise we cannot be a true child of God.
Taking a closer look at Jesus’ practical dealings with issues relating to sin and repentance.
Jesus singled out for particular criticism two patterns of behaviour that, whilst appearing good and godly, are really dangerous deceptions.
In his first letter John stresses that anyone who claims to be ‘without sin’ is deceiving themself (1Jn 1:8). One particular parable of Jesus vividly demonstrates that he had a similar view of such people. Yet he himself openly challenged his enemies to prove him guilty of any sin.
Some professing Christians have been led to think that if they just welcome Jesus as their Saviour, they are forever free from any risk of God’s judgement. In the sense that there is nothing left for us to do in order to earn our salvation, that is absolutely true. But to suggest that Jesus is not expecting any further change in our lives is a deadly deception. This section demonstrates why.
How does the teaching of Jesus and his apostles tally with Jesus’ own example?
One of the features of Jesus’ ministry that most antagonised the religious establishment was his readiness to forgive people’s sins. They recognised this as a claim to Divinity (‘Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ – Mk 2:7). But despite the risk to himself, Jesus was quick to declare his forgiveness.
When Jesus told people to ‘Sin no more,’ does this mean that he was not prepared to give them another chance? What about when he told Peter to forgive his brother 770 times?! (Mt 18:21-22.) Or what about his warning that we should not judge others? (Mat 7:1-3.)
Jesus’ disciples were far from perfect; and he did not hesitate to confront their bad behaviour. But, having rebuked them, he never held it against them or gave up on them.
Historically speaking, the church has often failed to live up to Jesus’ standards. Is this an acceptable situation?
Although Jesus was not physically present very often after his Resurrection, he sent the Holy Spirit in his place to guide the fledgeling church. So we should look to see how the Holy Spirit dealt with sin in the church.
In Rev 2:1-3:22, Jesus issues a number of severe warnings about the penalty to be expected if the churches continue in their current sins. When we consider the gross nature of some of these, it is surprising to see how patient Jesus has been with them: but also how severely he rebukes complacency and half-heartedness.
In Rev 5:1-14 we learn that the only person God considers fit to act as judge against the human race is the one who would rather die himself than condemn anyone who can possibly be saved. But the final chapter warns that there will come a point where change is no longer possible and judgement must fall.