There has to be more to Christianity than just going to Church, reading the Bible and being nice to people. I meet a lot of nice people through the Internet every day. I meet nice people in my city all the time. Some of these people claim to be followers of Jesus and others do not, yet they all seem very nice. So if it is just about being nice why do I need all the other stuff? These are the thoughts that come from surface Christians, those who dwell with God on the surface of things instead of going deeper to the place where God wants to inhabit with us. It can be a difficult journey to get to that depth when people have always lived on the surface and have never really even attempted to deal with the deeper matters of life. They shrug it off, make light of the situation, pretend everything is fine, lie to themselves, shove it away; anything to avoid dealing with the depths because in the depths you discover things about yourself you just do not want to know about.
To live with Jesus is to throw away the fake because life with Jesus is a constant abiding in the depths. Going to Church, reading our Bibles, being nice are outward responses to the things that are changing in us. It is not always easy to walk with Jesus as the Holy Spirit transforms our character by transforming our heart and mind. To live as he has called us to live requires us to put effort into it every single day of our life. There is a reason Paul told us to continue to work out our salvation daily. In fact, let's put this into context:
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:12-18)
Note the obedience, to submit to God's good purpose. The obedience Paul refers to is deeper than following a set of rules, it is obedience in our understanding and perspective. It is an obedience to the change God wills for us so that we are transformed into his children. It is not a matter of "acting" like his children but "being" his children. As we try to get our minds around this let us consider the next portion of Jesus' teaching on the depth of the law. He says:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:43-45)
This is how far removed we are from the ways and and thinking of our God. You think this is easy? How far can your enemy come against you before you start hating him? God never reaches that point, even with all the atrocities that have been done in his name, he still cannot hate. What should strike you in this passage is that Jesus tells us that by having this character we show ourselves to be children of the Father. Then he does a beautiful thing. He reveals the heart of the Father, his perfect character with its perfect love:
He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45)
The beauty of our God is that his love is all inclusive. It doesn't matter if you don't believe in him or deny him, making yourself his enemy, he still loves you with the same love he has for those who worship him. It doesn't matter what sins you have committed against other people, God loves you with the same love he has for those who have sought his forgiveness. Now, those who walk with Jesus are expected to have this same character that provokes this perfect love. Jesus wasn't "beating around the bush" about this either:
If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Matthew 5:46-47)
Jesus taught it and he lived it because it is who he is. He could not stop himself from loving his enemies because his character demanded it of him. The one group he constantly scolded because of their hypocrisy was the Pharisees yet he never denied them his time. When they came to him in the middle of the night or invited him for a meal, he gave himself to them because even the Pharisees were objects of the Father's affection. Then Jesus says something astounding:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
Love perfects us. Not just the love we receive from the Father but this same selfless love we are to share with everyone, neighbour and enemy. To receive God's love is life changing but to live this love is perfecting. John wrote about this in such an awakening manner that every time I read it I forget to breathe:
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. (1 John 4:16-17)
Isn't that amazing? "Love is made complete among us" when we love as the Father loves. We can begin to understand better our purpose as we read "because in this world we are like him". Not because we accomplished great things and building great ministries but because we learn to love as our Father loves. This is our aim. This is our goal. This is our purpose. This is our daily working out, as we learn to love as Jesus loved us. He died for everyone, that whoever believes in him will possess eternal life. We are to live and serve in this same condition of love, so that we will be like him, and we too will be children of the Father.