The Gospel teachings of Jesus include the most radical directives ever given. His ideas seem so revolutionary to most of us that, as the lay theologian G.K. Chesterton so memorably said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting—it has been found difficult and left untried.” The teachings of Jesus are divine commands, cosmic in scale and epic in effect when they are strictly applied, so it is little wonder that Christians shirk them! It is easier to conform to more human-scale rules, all those comforting nostrums that demand so little while they promise to deliver so much.
Rather than attempt to follow the Lord’s commands, Christians cling to the human-made ideas upon which they have built their human-made religion. And the worst of these human-made dogmas is the notion that Jesus died to redeem us from God’s judgment for our human failings. Jesus tells us clearly right in the Gospels that neither He nor God ever judges us, so this is one small human idea that should have been smothered at its birth! Jesus says, “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (JN 5:22-23). And then He says, “If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world” (JN 12:47). And lest that word “save” might seem hopeful to Christians who still cling to fear-based human notions, it is clear from what the Lord says in the Gospels that what He came to “save” us from was… all those fear-based human ideas!
Human-made rules are all that matters in modern Christianity. And generally these are easy to follow: just claim Jesus as your Savior, show up on Sunday, put money in the plate, and follow petty rules that other people can police and can judge. I recall as a child how Catholic children could never take a bite from a hot dog without double-confirming that today wasn’t Friday. Fundamentalist Protestant kids were sure that hell yawned before us if we said a bad word. Yet no Christian denomination, even now, insists that the teachings of Jesus must be taken as seriously as He means them to be taken. And because this is true, Christianity as a whole defies the Lord’s most important core teaching. Indeed, it considers the defiance of that most essential Gospel command to be an actual virtue!
Most of us think of God’s Law of Love as the central Gospel command. It is certainly the most popular! When a religious lawyer asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment in the Law, He said the words that Christians relish quoting: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (MT 34:36-39). How we all love those easy and happy words! But it turns out that the easy and happy kind of love is not the sort of love that the Lord demands. No, He says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them! … But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (LK 6:32-36).
So, contrary to the comfy teachings about love that Christians come to church to hear, Jesus says that in order for us to love in the way He calls upon us to love, we first must learn perfect forgiveness. And forgiving is a much harder slog than loving, so of course religious Christians don’t emphasize it. Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” And Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (MT 18:21-23). In other words, no matter how many times that same nasty miscreant does the very same awful things to you, it is essential that you forgive him. Every time.
The easiest way for us to achieve the Lord’s standard of perfect forgiveness is to learn prevenient forgiveness, which actually is not hard to do! Indeed, it turns out that mastering the Lord’s version of forgiveness is a piece of cake if we do it right. And once we have it, we begin to rise in spirit naturally toward the perfect love which beneath all this petty human drivel turns out to be what we already are. So forgiveness is not difficult, and love is our birthright. Why then do so few Christians even remotely approach spiritual perfection?
It turns out that beyond forgiveness and love there is one central Gospel teaching that pretty much everyone ignores, yet very closely following that teaching is an indispensable precursor to our ever learning to forgive and love in the transformational way that Jesus tells us we must forgive and love. Here are what turn out to be the Lord’s most essential Gospel words, the teaching that underlies all else: “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (MT 7:1-2).
Even if Jesus had not added to His command that we love God and love our neighbor the conclusion that “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (MT 34:40), so He thereby replaced the entire Old Testament with God’s perfect Law of Love, we can see that the Lord’s prohibition of our ever judging anyone would have just as completely done the job of consigning all those Old Testament rules to God’s well-deserved eternal dustbin!
But as we have sadly noted, most of the forty-thousand-odd versions of modern Christianity treat the Old Testament’s brutal rules as still God’s Inspired, Inerrant Word; although instead of murdering the miscreants, they only judge and ostracize them. The Old Testament is full of judgment and punishment! Good grief, even not being sufficiently attentive to a clergyman is an unpardonable offense that what Christians call God’s Inspired, Inerrant Word declares is punishable by death. This is the great sin of “acting presumptuously.” Oh, heaven help us! “The man who acts presumptuously by not listening to the priest who stands there to serve the Lord your God, nor to the judge, that man shall die; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel. Then all the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act presumptuously again” (Deut 17:12-13).
It is because every Christian denomination altogether ignores the Lord’s prohibition on our ever judging anyone that Christians, individually and in congregations, are together the most self-righteously judgmental people on the face of the earth. Here are the words of a fundamentalist preacher who insists to this day that his personal version of the Old Testament is God’s Inspired, Inerrant Word: “Islam teaches its adherents to kill those in bondage to homosexuality, but Christianity teaches to pray for them to find freedom from their bondage to sin through Christ!” And, “Pope Francis has said, ‘who am I to judge?’ And the Baptists have been discussing homosexuality and gay marriage as if there were something to be discussed. Let us be clear: having sex in defiance of God’s law is a choice!” Of course, the plain fact is that this good man and so many well-meaning others who still call the entire Bible God’s Inspired, Inerrant Word do not themselves strictly follow it. For example, they feel free now to very harshly judge and condemn but not to outright kill homosexuals, which puts them in plain defiance of what they continue to insist is God’s Inspired, Inerrant Word.
This way lies madness. Jesus tells us plainly that we must not judge, that we must always completely forgive, yet today’s Christians celebrate the courage of bakers and florists who refuse to help loving couples celebrate their unions, simply because those bakers and florists judge and condemn their customers’ life-choices. And an Australian Rugby player has been fired for posting a meme on Instagram that reads, “Warning drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters, Hell awaits you. Repent! Only Jesus saves.” By what conceivable teaching of Jesus does this man gain the right to judge and condemn all these people to his notion of hellfire?
Let us be clear. I am not saying that secular society is right in attempting to force people to violate their own consciences. Rather, I am pointing out the fact that when people who call themselves Christians do not put the Gospel teachings of Jesus on love, forgiveness, and a refusal to judge first of all, above every Old Testament rule and far above every Christian dogma, these people are not following Jesus at all.
And it is past time to call them out!
So, what would Jesus have us do? The beloved Teacher who made a point of harvesting heads of grain on the Sabbath, who dined with tax collectors and prostitutes and even insisted to the clergy of His day that these sinners would make it into the kingdom of God while the clergy were still wailing in the outer darkness: what do His words and His actions suggest about how we ought to be living our lives?
It isn’t only Christians who are quick to judge, in defiance of the Lord’s command. You and I judge others every day! Looking down on and feeling superior to people who seem to be less virtuous than we are makes us all feel smugly righteous. But just as is true of a reluctance to forgive, our propensity to judge both harms ourselves and damages and delays the world’s willingness to accept at last the Lord’s Gospel truths. Jesus tells us in the Gospels that He judges no one, and God judges no one. Surely it is therefore our sacred duty never to judge anyone either! So in pure love for Jesus, bake a beautiful cake, arrange your best flowers, and attend the ceremony with hugs and lots of love all around. When you and I only love and forgive, when none of us ever presumes to judge, then we will be able to ever more perfectly share God’s love and light with all the world. Jesus calls us to “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (MT 5:16). As Jesus leads us now in uplifting the world, how can any of us still choose the petty pleasures of judging others over ever more perfectly reflecting only the Lord’s pure love and light?