reconciliation litmus test

The Gospel message is that through his Incarnation, ministry, death on the cross, and resurrection, Jesus Christ has secured and begun the process of reconciliation. He reconciles us to God, us to each other, and us to our own selves. These vertical, horizontal, and internal healings progress together; they must, this is a theological commitment.

What this reconciliation looks like is justice, ethical treatment of all people and situations. What this reconciliation feels like is love, an ever deepening affection toward God, toward everyone around us, toward ourselves. (Only by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit can we truly come to love ourselves.)

Leadership is one aspect of our life together as people being reconciled in each of these three directions. True leaders in the church are nothing more or less than those who have gone some way forward in this experience of triple reconciliation and are thus able to assist the Holy Spirit in the Spirit’s single quest of helping people begin and carry on this life-long process. True church leaders also attend to various logistical matters but always carry out those tasks in service to this overarching work of triple reconciliation.

When we lose sight of reconciliation as our one true work and calling, we cease serving the Spirit’s mission and wind up undoing the work of reconciliation and fighting against the Spirit. Sadly, this is the most apt description for much that passes off as ministry. But the Gospel still beckons us into life and wholeness. The story of our Christ still invites to come and die to sin and self be resurrected to new life for Christ, for each other, for our truest selves.

A useful litmus test for church leaders: how does ___________ contribute to reconciling the people we serve to God, to each other, to themselves? If we can’t provide an adequate, specific answer, then ___________ may be either a waste of time/energy/resources, or worse, it might even be harmful to the Spirit’s mission. When we can provide a good answer, we can be more confident that what we’re doing is actually kingdom work.

Holiness is impossible and required

In Matthew 5.48, Jesus said, “You are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
Perfection. That’s a tall order. Thanks, Jesus, for setting the bar so impossibly high.

Typical responses to this command are either to:

1. re-explain what Jesus “really meant,” where we make Jesus say whatever we choose, instead of what he said. (This may involve elaborate use of Greek.)

2. come up with some crazy theology where “perfect” means another stage after salvation, some blessing we receive, where we no longer sin, and even the things we do that look like sin are not really.

3. strive really hard to actually be perfect. While 1 and 2 are only playing mental gymnastics, this approach requires real work. And perhaps a good dash of legalism and often a pinch (or more) of condescension.

The first step in moving beyond these tired approaches is to realize the paradox contained in Jesus’ command. He really is demanding perfection, sinlessness, holiness, however you want to call it. Jesus was both smart enough and articulate enough to have said what he meant and meant what he said. At the same time, we cannot possibly keep this command. All our striving cannot attain perfection. This is not something Jesus was unaware of; being himself fully human (as well as fully God) he knew very well how imperfect we are.

And yet he issues this command. He orders us to do what he knows we cannot do. Is he just being mean or taunting us?

I don’t think so. I think Jesus is emphasizing that we must rely on the Spirit, the only One with the power to perfect us. 

All of our personal striving for perfection (and the mental games we play) are us fighting against the Spirit. Instead, we can submit, obey, and cooperate. If we can hear that command for what it is – an impossible order – and trust that when he calls us to do the impossible, Jesus must be planning to provide the means. The good news is, he already has, ever since the Day of Pentecost.

Holiness is both impossible and required and those together are a large part of the point.