Study: Hope Church Triad Program
Today’s Chocolate: Green & Black’s Organic Milk Chocolate with Almonds
Today’s Passage: Matthew 12:46-50
Welcome to our last day on this passage and portion of the Triad study. The study workbook recommends that on this day I go ahead and read Matthew 12:46-50 from my own perspective, as a disciple of Jesus. It occurs to me that I’ve done that every day this week, necessarily, even as I imagine what someone else’s perspective on the verses might be. By design, I am always in my own head. But some days I write with a point in mind, and other days I just read the passage, start writing, and find out what there is to say. Today? I suppose it’s a little of both.
All week, a peculiarity of the passage has struck me. Jesus teaches here that his family consists of “whoever does the will of My Father” (50). Taken in isolation, his statement might suggest to a listener that they can get into the family by obeying God’s commands. I can’t help thinking that at least some of his audience might think back to the Torah and say to themselves, as the rich young man said to Jesus, “All these things have I kept from my youth” (Matt. 19:20). If we treat Jesus’ statement as a single definitive criterion, we run the risk of turning inclusion in God’s family into a matter of mechanically following commands, checking off the checklist–or perhaps more accurately, living our whole lives trying not to check off the items on the checklist of what’s not God’s will.
I’m not saying anything profound here. You’ve likely heard the sermons decrying Checklist Christianity, and you may well know the fear that comes from trying to measure up to the Law. I’ve got vivid memories of the summer of 2004, standing at the bus stop or walking to my job at the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, believing (on my better days) that I could expect eternal life, but still terrified out of my mind of the pain and separation that sin brought and the pain of overcoming that lingering sin. I tried to be perfect: less out of a desire to be closer to God or please him and more out of a selfish desire to minimize my own suffering. Living in that space can be a nightmare, and truth be told, my eyes are tearing up just typing about it. I don’t want to go back there, and fortunately, I don’t have to.
Let’s shift gears abruptly and talk about logic, because it’s my blog and I like logic. Are you familiar with the terms “necessary condition” and “sufficient condition?” A necessary condition is one that must be met in order for some other condition to be true, but the necessary condition in itself may not be enough to guarantee the “conclusion” condition. If a sufficient condition is met, on the other hand, it ensures the “conclusion” condition. For example: if I’ve got an umbrella, I can stay dry in the rain. Having an umbrella is a sufficient condition for staying dry in the rain. But if I don’t have an umbrella and if it’s raining, I’m gonna get wet. Not having an umbrella is a necessary condition for getting wet, but not a sufficient one; it’s also gotta be raining. And I’ve gotta be outside. And not under a bus stop shelter or awning or–er, anyway.
So what’s this have to do with Jesus’ teaching? When you take it in the broader context of the gospel, you see that doing God’s will is a necessary condition for inclusion in his family, but not a sufficient one. In the Multiply book, Stephen Kirk points us toward Jesus’ teaching on salvation in the gospel of John, noting, “[I]t is God’s will first and foremost that you and I receive the gift of His Son” (Multiply 59). He points us to Jesus’ familiar statement, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). Jesus Christ knows we will not perfectly measure up to the standard of God’s will. He’s died to forgive us of our sins, and he wants to guide us and grow us into greater fellowship with the Father, which will result in greater knowledge of and fidelity to his will. Knowing God and receiving his grace through Jesus Christ is a necessary condition for salvation–and it’s a sufficient condition for doing God’s will.
In Jesus Christ, you don’t need to feel terrified of botching the checklist. You don’t need to live in fear of exclusion from God’s eternal family. If you trust him to save you from the evil that’s separating you from his perfect love, you can enter into a lifelong journey into eternity with your brothers and sisters who are also following Jesus. And if it sounds cheesy, it’s because sometimes I’m a lousy writer whose words don’t get across what he means to communicate. This stuff is the real deal; it’s the relief from fear we’re looking for. I’ve known freedom and peace and fellowship in Jesus Christ, and I hope you know it too.