Becoming More Human, Not Less
The irony, of course, as we’ve seen in this book so far, is that Jesus did affirm and value our material world. Crack open the first four books of the New Testament and see for yourself. He cares about it and the people in it so much so that he fed and healed people; spent time with the downcast, rejected, and spiritually broken; and in the end, died for this world (meaning, he actually died…physically; his material body died).
Thank God the story didn’t end there.
There was a third day.
According to those first witnesses, Jesus was raised to life again (meaning his material-physical body was brought to life again). He experienced material-physical life after experiencing a period of material-physical death. That’s what resurrection meant. Resurrection was an incredibly powerful and dramatic way in which God has affirmed the material world he created.3 The Jesus’ story is not after all about God abandoning his world but instead about God reclaiming, indeed remaking it.
Being a Christian, then, is not about becoming less concerned with our humanity or the created world.
Oppositely, it’s about becoming more concerned with our world and then taking that concern for life and doing something about it. Following Jesus has everything to do with living in a fuller, God-intended humanity.
Under the self-made project, we were living less than our human potential, less than what God intended for us.
But now, having had our eyes opened by Jesus and now embracing his servant project, we are living more in the humanity we were intended to be, rather than less.
Another way to think about this is that we are most alive when we are centered on Jesus and his very earth-centered mission in this world. However, living in this new humanity is a process that he will take us through until we see him face-to-face (yes, the early Christian claim is that we will see his actual physical face someday).4
The seeming irony is that to live in this new humanity, Jesus calls us to become and act and live in ways that seem, at least initially, less than human according to the world’s standards.
Like living to serve others.
The Lives We Live
It’s a humbling thought to know that how we live and treat others not only affects and influences Christians but those who are not.
It’s a powerful and humbling reality.
Your life matters that much.
How you treat people matters that much.
So the way we are, the way we relate to people who do not yet know the love, grace, power, forgiveness, servanthood, and humility of Jesus…matters.
Let that sink in for a moment or two. It may even inspire you (as it is doing with me as I’m writing this) to take a moment to pray.
For some of you, it may be a bit daunting to think that the way you live may influence others to come to Jesus, to faith in him, and to a life of serving others. Perhaps you were told that God does all the work, so you never gave serious consideration to that the way God works (in fact, more often than not, it seems) is through regular ordinary human beings.
When Jesus told his first followers that they were “the light of the world,” it was more than a nice way of saying they should smile a lot and be good people. Smiling is important when you mean it, and being a good person is a great aspiration, but he was meaning a bit more—he was calling them into a whole way of life where they made an impact on this precious world.
We too are included in that declaration. See yourself in Jesus’s words:
You are the light of the world! A city can’t be hidden on top of a hill. People don’t light a lamp and put it under a bucket; they put it on a lampstand. Then it gives light to everybody in the house. That’s how you must shine your light in front of people! Then they will see what wonderful things you do, and they’ll give glory to your father in heaven.5
Notice that Jesus said the way we live actually catches the attention of people who then in return give God glory (in the sense of praising and thanking God). Why are they giving glory to God? What are they praising and thanking him for? There are limitless reasons we can probably think of, but one (in the context of Jesus’s whole life and teaching) is simply that when people notice a group of people who actually live the way Jesus lived—caring more about others than themselves, taking time to love and invest themselves into others—it’s a sobering, eye-opening experience.
People are selfish by nature (living for number one), so to notice and experience a group of human beings (followers of Jesus) who live differently is something that catches attention, and when this happens some people will thank God for us.
It’s an astounding and humbling thought.
In another New Testament passage, Christians are challenged to consider how our particular treatment of one another (to fellow Christians) is wholly wrapped up in and deeply connected to the much larger picture of how we treat all people (including those who are not Christians). Consider the following:
Love must be real. Hate what is evil; stick fast to what is good. Be truly affectionate in showing love for one another; compete with each other in giving mutual respect. Don’t get tired of working hard. Be on fire with the spirit. Work as slaves for the Lord. Celebrate your hope; be patient in suffering; give constant energy to prayer; contribute to the needs of God’s people; make sure you are hospitable to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless them, don’t curse them. Celebrate with those who are celebrating; mourn with the mourners. Come to the same mind with one another. Don’t give yourselves to airs, but associate with the humble. Don’t get too clever for yourselves. Never repay anyone evil for evil; think through what will seem good to everyone who is watching. If it’s possible, as far as you can, live at peace with all people. Don’t take revenge…No: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him: if he is thirsty, give him a drink”…Don’t let evil conquer you. Rather, conquer evil with good.6
The first statement I want to highlight is “Love must be real.” This could also be translated as “Let your love be without hypocrisy.”7 Now, notice the progression of thought from that first statement. It goes on from there to say, “Hate what is evil; stick fast to what is good,” to “Be truly affectionate in showing love for one another,” to “contribute to the needs of God’s people,” and on and on the list of instructions goes telling us how we could better treat one another and how we can better approach life together. These are not necessary written in the order of importance, but as we read each thought, we get the sense that there is something good going on here. The kind of community, the kind of church he is writing about—the kind of church we can become—is filled with joy and support, humility and servanthood, and love for one another. It’s a community where people even “compete with each other in giving mutual respect” (author’s emphasis). This almost sounds contradictory doesn’t it?
How does competition go with showing mutual respect?
When you give respect to someone (or to anyone) you are also attributing dignity and worth to that person. Oppositely, competing with someone is (in some regard) to seek to be better or greater than them. Remember, worldly competition cares about greatness, about being number one, about dominating others, all the while seeking praise and approval through that lens.
How then can competition and respecting others go together? More likely than not, this is a figure of speech, a way of saying “go out of your way to ensure that you treat fellow Christians with respect (as if by competition).”
But also notice that this long progression of instruction in how we should treat fellow Christians leads to the following statements: “make sure you are hospitable to strangers” and “think through what will seem good to everyone who is watching” and “as far as you can, live at peace with all people.” If we are paying attention, we might (and probably should) draw the conclusion from those three statements that our love for one another should naturally lead us to be considerate and welcoming toward those outside our faith communities. Rather than being exclusive and inwardly focused, Jesus’s kind of love has a way of transforming us into the kind of people who are inclusive and outwardly focused.
Not only this, but people we know who are not Christians will ask us how they can be part of this community we call “church” and this way of life we call following Jesus. Consider the following New Testament passage:
Behave wisely toward outsiders; buy up every opportunity. When you speak, make sure it’s always full of grace, and well flavored with salt! That way you’ll know how to give each person an appropriate answer.8
In this passage, we are challenged to act “wisely toward outsiders” (which is another way of referring to those who are not yet followers of Jesus). He goes on to say “buy up every opportunity,” meaning make the most of each opportunity we have with them.9 How do we do this? He tells us: when we speak, make sure “it’s always full of grace, and well flavored with salt!”
In other words, the things we say and the way we say them to people who are not Christians matter.
Salt adds to the taste of food, so in a similar way, our conversations with everyday people in our world should have something good in them. This is not to be confused with pretending things are good when they are not (as we discussed earlier in Chapter 3). Rather, this is a challenge to have substance in our conversation so much so that what we say to people who are not Christians is like how salt enhances the flavor of a meal, making it even better than it was prior to adding the salt.
Consider the last statement in that passage, “That way you’ll know how to give each person an appropriate answer.” This would suggest that when we treat people as we’ve already mentioned, they will ask us questions—questions about our lives, our faith, our hope, our Jesus.
Simply put, how you interact with, speak to, befriend, and live around people who do not yet know Jesus or his incredible way of life…matters.
The Risk of Following Jesus
In the previous chapter, we talked a lot about risk and the value of risk in this world God created. We talked about God’s intention to create a world that involved the dynamics of risk and conflict and the positive aspects they have to play in God’s overall purposes.
There’s one last risk I want to propose—if you do not yet know Jesus or life in him, I encourage you to consider them both. I’m not going to make this long and drawn out like some people like to do. I simply invite you to join in on the fun. It’s an imperfect family of people who you’d be joining, to be sure. But it’s a family nonetheless. The head of our family is a good person, a good leader, a good servant, a good God. And when we Christians act in ways that are less human, lacking authenticity, reverting to our old selfish tendencies instead of acting like Jesus, just know that Jesus has called us to be better than we are presently being and living.
He has called us to be better.
To be like him.
To do so with authenticity.
To do so in truth.
So look to Jesus.
When we fail to reflect him, when we fail to express his love and kindness, he will not fail in his love and kindness toward you.
And to my fellow Christians, let your light so shine in this world that people thank God for you and that because of the love and grace of God expressed in your lives, they might come to know and follow Jesus and his way too.
The above content is taken from the last section of chapter seven, “When Christians become human,” in Peter’s book Authentic Christianity: Why it matters for followers of Jesus (2018)