The late (but gratefully remembered) Dallas Willard evoked Oswald Chambers’s axiom that “The Sermon on the Mount is a statement of the life we will live when the Holy Spirit is getting his way with us.” Today, Christ-followers, for sake of King and Kingdom, cannot spurn the Spirit’s promptings. The “times” intensify the difficulty and sense of threat in a society set against a righteous culture. Yet the historian in me hastens to remind us that we live in times, and in a society, that reflect the historical norm. Why, being as we are, we vex the Holy Spirit even in our churches unless the Christ-life is our unchanging daily aim! And that is what we need, what I need.
For today, Willard’s statement about Christ-like engagement (Matthew 6:33–love your enemies) with the world reminds me of the impossible necessity–that only Christ through Holy Spirit makes possible:
. . . Jesus did invite people to follow him into that sort of life from which behavior such as loving one’s enemies will seem like the only sensible and happy thing to do. For a person living that life, the hard thing to do would be to hate the enemy, to turn the supplicant away, or to curse the curser, just as it was for Christ. True Christlikeness, true companionship with Christ, comes at the point where it is hard not to respond as he would.” (The Spirit of the Disciplines, page eight)
Impossible? Yes, for me and you, unless, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it (and Jesus – John 15:5), we recognize that by ourselves we can do nothing; only as Christ bears the cross (the same one he calls us to bear, also our yoke) can we bear it at all. Only as we find our constant dwelling in and with Him can we live as He lives. Only as we bear the sins, sorrows, sufferings even of our enemies, just as we should our own fellowship of believers in Christ, do we love as Christ loves. Truly to follow Christ is to be bound to him in sorrow and suffering, even forsakenness. And following his Gethsemane and Golgotha example, one overcomes only by going through. Christ’s cup could not be taken from him–and only by following through is it possible to overcome. Thankfully, we have the fellowship of suffering in and with Jesus Christ, himself and his gathered community of witnesses and disciples. In that fellowship we are sustained, in that same fellowship we are commanded to love each other, and we are commanded to love others outside it. (Bonhoeffer, Nachfolge, 44-5; Matthew 26:39, 42; John 15:5, 26-27; 16:13. Bear in mind that when I say “love”, I refer to determined action for the sake of the other’s good. It is that “dynamic other-interestedness” of I John 4:7-8.)