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One of the arguments against trying to obey Jesus is that he created an impossible ethic, with the understanding that no one would be able to follow all of his instructions, and that he did this so that we would STOP trying, and just trust in God's grace to save us. 

"What a cop-out!" I have always thought with regard to this sentiment.  It seemed to be an obvious attempt to ignore everything that Jesus said.  And I still feel that way about the second half of the proposition.  However, I am coming to appreciate just how true the first half is.  Jesus really did deliberately make rules that would at least appear to be impossible to follow.  But in this article, I am going to look at WHY we think that the teachings of Jesus are "impossible" to follow.  I will be tying it in with our ideas about what constitutes "success", and the role that death (or separation from all of the temporary props of this life) plays in drawing us closer to God, whether it be death to our possession, our reputations, or even to life itself. 

Each of us has been steeped in system thinking, including assumptions about what constitutes success.  When we encounter the teachings of Jesus, our natural inclination is to assess them in terms of whether or not they will help us to achieve at least some aspects of this "success".  The prosperity gospel tells us that we can use the teachings of Jesus to get rich, while religious organisations commonly assume that Jesus and/or the Bible will give us something that will grow into an organisation or religion.  Others will see it, and they will be drawn to it, and we will have successfully promoted the Christian message, the glory of God, the kingdom of heaven. 

However, all of this assumes that the kingdom of heaven is a visible organisation, which I think is a fundamental error in determining what Jesus was all about. 

Even in developing our own individual lives, most of us want to find something in the Bible that will make us pillars of society, people whom others will respect and honour.  If we discover that trying to obey Jesus not only tears this down, but brings risk to our very existence on the Planet, then we assume that what he said was "impossible".  What we find most difficult to accept, despite it being clearly included in the instructions, is that he may actually WANT us to be wiped out personally and corporately, so that something better, something invisible, something more spiritual might come out of the ashes. 

I will now incorporate a thought that could have been an article in itself.  It has to do with the saying "No good deed ever goes unpunished."  That cynical saying is far more true than most of us laughingly believe when we say it.  The problem is that we are surrounded by examples of "good deeds" that are rewarded and not punished.  This seems to be a contradiction.  And yet the contradiction only comes because we have falsely believed that much of what happens around us is "good deeds". 

Jesus said that if we let anyone see our good deeds, and praise us for them, then there is no reward for us in heaven, because we have already received our reward here on earth.  I have found that it is almost impossible for me to do something good without secretly wishing that someone would discover it (and usually what we wish for, we get, sooner or later), simply because my natural mind assumes that, if they see what I have done, they will think more highly of me.  (And they will, of course, if they can be convinced that I am just as selfish as them, even when I appear to be doing good.) 

Only to the extent that we genuinely want to keep our deeds secret between ourselves and God, do we actually build God's secret little invisible kingdom, and if others sense that we are trying to do that, THEN the "punishment" starts.  Most obvious good deeds are not punished, because they are all a part of the hypocritical facade that is held together by everyone's selfish attempts to buy a good image.  This would be true of the bulk of charitable work and donations. 

I don't think it's black and white.  I think there are pockets of genuine good intent in some of the most blatant shows of "goodness", like the widow who sneaked her last mite into the offering box while the Pharisees made a show of their generosity.  But I do believe that the more pure our motives are, the more persecution they will bring on us. 

To go further with this "impossible" ethic, consider other aspects of the teachings of Jesus.  He told us to give to everyone who asks.  What would happen if we did that?  We would more or less be asked for everything that we own, by the first person who picked up that we really were willing to give them anything they asked for.  I have not met anyone who was willing to do that... including myself.  But is the rule impossible?  No, of course not.  It's just that we are not prepared to let go of everything to that extent.  Certainly if I WERE prepared to do that, and could plan for the day when I would do it, I would quickly sneak past those whom I felt were undeserving, and I would give it all to those whom I see as genuinely needy before the others could take it from me by invoking the "give to those who ask" clause.  Even Jesus seemed to recognise this when he said to SELL what we have, and then give to the poor.  But either way, he was talking about us losing everything, and that is what blocks most of us from being able to acknowledge that what he taught was not impossible. 

Even with regard to the good works mentioned earlier, there seems to be a dual truth that Jesus taught, which appears at first glance to be a contradiction.  In his Sermon on the Mount, he said to let our light shine so that others would see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven.  How does that fit with instructions about us hiding our good works? 

I believe the consistency comes from people not seeing us, but rather seeing the good work.  When that happens, they cannot glorify us, because they don't know that we were the ones who did it.  They can only glorify our Father in heaven.  In fact, the verse about letting our light shine came right after Jesus had spoken for four verses about the persecution that awaits true "prophets".  While we are persecuted and misunderstood, God's invisible kingdom grows behind the scenes. 

It's something like death.  We are never closer to God than when we are staring death in the face.  Most of our lives are so far away from that, that "God" just becomes a word, even to those of us who would like it to be so much more.  Though we know that death is out there, facing us all, we spend virtually our whole lives either ignoring it, or believing that we can do things which will delay it indefinitely.  Yet Jesus seemed to be teaching things that would bring us closer to such death, even if it is just the death of our good reputations.  Cast adrift from all the props of society, we find ourselves drawn closer to God. 

So we have seen that the so-called "impossible" ethic is quite possible, but only when one accepts that it is not going to "succeed" in any of the ways that we have been conditioned to think of success.  We have seen that there are counterfeits of Christian ethics (e.g. charity given for show) which can be linked with worldly success, but that genuine goodness leads to persecution and failure in the eyes of the world.  And we have seen that the genuine and the false are often mixed together, whether it be within an organisation or within each of us as individuals.  Only God knows how much is genuine.  Finally, I have compared this impossible ethic to death, where God is glorified best as we cease to exist.  He is ultimately glorified only to the extent that we let go of all our hopes of success. 

Consequently, what started out sounding impossible is really only improbable, and that is because there is so much of the "world" still stuck in our own thinking, which stops us from stepping out in faith.

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