What To Do When You Don't Like Jesus3
6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
If you take Jesus seriously, eventually you’ll come across something that gives you pause. Sometimes after your pause you’ll come to peace with it. Sometimes after your pause you’ll definitely conclude that you wish he didn’t say it!
This cuts both ways. Some of us like clear and blunt edges, black and white thinking, in or out, let’s make sure everyone knows exactly what’s expected and what’s coming if they don’t deliver on it. If they’re paying attention, those folks have a hard time with the ways that Jesus actually treated sinners—he was much kinder to them than the Pharisees were. It was the Pharisees who wanted to drop the hammer on people who sinned. And they’re usually not the good guys in the Jesus stories.
But the warm-fuzzy Jesus crowd doesn’t have it any easier. Jesus talks about hell more than any other person in the entire Bible and never once does he use the word “grace.” Jesus gives the most demanding commands in the entire Bible. How about “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect”—really??
Here, Jesus says to his closest friends “if you don’t remain rooted and grounded in me, you’ll be like a dead branch that is only good for the fire.” Some of you love the clarity and even the severity of this. But many of us struggle with the harshness of it. What do we do with this passage…and others like it?
Three things to do with hard passages whether you struggle with the warm-fuzzy passages or the passages that feel more harsh (see yesterday’s post for the irony here):
- Let Scripture interpret Scripture and Jesus interpret himself. In other words, read it in context with Jesus’s larger teachings on God’s character, on God’s judgment, on forgiveness and mercy and hell and love. All of that fits together perfectly in the economy of the kingdom, even if we experience them as being in tension with each other.
- If you’re concerned about Jesus’s warnings about judgment, you’re probably not the ones in danger. Earnest Jesus-following people throughout history have gotten hung up on Jesus’s warnings about judgment, concerned that they’re not checking enough of the boxes to get God’s approval. Alex’s take here but I believe in the vast majority of the cases they’re not the intended target of Jesus’s warnings.
Warnings are given in love to people we care about to help them to avoid negative consequences. Many of Jesus’s warnings are given to call people to change direction, do a u-turn, to repent of sin and re-direct them before their current path leads them into a place of final and utter destruction. If that’s true, then those warnings are absolutely a faithful expression of genuine love. And if you’re already on the path of trusting in Christ, loving God, and loving neighbor, as fitfully and faithfully as you currently are able, it’s important for you to realize that God delights in your small steps of faithfulness while always graciously inviting you into next steps of maturity.
Here, Jesus is speaking an honest and genuine warning to people he loves to let them know that there is a path that they could choose that could end in disaster for them. It’s an important warning. None of them are on that path (at this point in John’s account Judas has already left them to betray Jesus) but they need to know that they could end up there. There’s nothing that Jesus wants them to do differently. In fact, quite the opposite—they just need to remain where they are.
- Finally, any genuine follower of Jesus must surrender and accept Jesus as Jesus actually is, not as we wish he was (which almost always looks just like us). Depending on your temperament, Jesus will be much too nice or much too harsh from time to time. That’s just as true of Jesus as the parts that you do like and resonate with. Let Jesus correct and round you out. Let Jesus teach you what it means to be the perfect human who has been sent in part to show us what God is like.
As we embrace all of who Jesus is, including this process of wrestling with the parts that aren’t always naturally resonant with who we are, we become more whole and more holy people.
What are the parts of Jesus’s teachings and personality that you struggle with? What do you think you might learn by embracing those parts of Jesus?