RELIGION COLUMN: Jesus never commanded us to breathe

Published 11:52 am Monday, June 16, 2014

By Jake McCall

A professor once told me, “Jesus never had to say, ‘When you are starving, eat some food.’” You are not going to find a teaching from Jesus on the proper way to breathe so that oxygen gets to your lungs or a parable that ultimately tells us to sleep when we’re tired.

Now you may think that he didn’t have to do that because we are born with those abilities and you’re exactly right. But the truth behind that fact is that Jesus doesn’t command us to do anything that we are born with the ability to do, and this is where we all (myself always included) misunderstand and misapply the Gospel and our need for Christ. When the Bible tells us to love, it doesn’t mean to love the way everybody else loves.

In Matthew 5:46, Jesus said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” His point is that he is not calling us to love in our own strength. Most can love their family and friends. Most can even be sacrificial for those who have been sacrificial for them; in fact, even the tax collectors (the most corrupt people) do that. Jesus is commanding us to love people who do not love us and to be sacrificial for those who are our enemies. This is not a call to just tolerate those who are hateful, nor does it mean that we should hold our tongue and just extend kindness. Jesus is saying, when you are mistreated and hurt and taken advantage of, love the people who are doing those things to you. This is off the map of human ability or desire, and you know it and Jesus knows it. He also says things like, “I’m not just telling you to refrain from killing other people, but don’t even be angry with others. I’m not just telling you not to commit adultery, but don’t even let the thoughts enter your mind or the emotions enter your heart.”

People try to break this stuff down to ask, “How far is too far” or “how mad is too mad?” That’s the wrong direction to take those commands because that is looking for a solution within yourself to accomplish what Jesus commands. Or what about when Paul and Peter tell us to do things like rejoice while suffering? Don’t just get through your sufferings or give thanks for your suffering, but in the midst of it rejoice.

Now if this is true, shouldn’t we just give up? Yes, in a real sense, absolutely yes. In a necessary sense, we need to give up and get to the end of ourselves and realize that there are a lot of things that I can do on my own and in my own strength but I can never, ever live up to the true commands of Christ. This leads us to two ways that we must give up: (1) Finally believe in the Gospel. This, of course is for Christians and non-Christians. Can you come to a place where you can believe that the works of Christ are the only way that you can be accepted by the Father? If you brewed a pot of coffee, but then decided you wanted a cup of water, you can’t just take the coffee out of the water. When we try to give our Christian life to God, it is like giving God a pot of coffee when he asks for water, as if the coffee hasn’t overwhelmed the purity of the water. Jesus alone is able to offer pure water, which God requires. (2) When we are commanded to do things such as pray, serve, teach, baptize, make disciples, flee sin, love, be strong and courageous, or worship we must look to an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Otherwise we will fall back into the damaging and prideful cycle of not believing the Gospel.

I think someone else said it better and a lot shorter when he said, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” —Apostle Paul (Romans 8:1-4)

—Jake McCall is a religion columnist for The Clanton Advertiser. He is the pastor at Grace Fellowship Presbyterian Church. His column appears each Thursday.