Last week I discussed the difference between certain aspects of Protestant and Roman Catholic theology. Namely, why we do good works; Protestants broadly believe that we do good works because we have been given the Kingdom and Catholics do good works (at least in part) in order to obtain the Kingdom. This begs the question of what it is we are supposed to do. I wish to set aside, for this post at least, what we should do. I will also set aside the obvious role that much of current theology has is trying to justify avoiding what it is that we know in our hearts we should be doing.
Instead, I wish to focus on where we look to see what it is, we should be doing; that is the source of the information that should inform our daily choices. It is easy enough to say simply “The Bible”, especially given the Protestant emphasis on “sola scriptura”. Harder to go through and read, study and understand the Good Book. I mean, it is a book put together over the last 4000 or so years, in an alien language (the original language of its writing is lost to us), referencing a culture that for us might as well be Martian. Wouldn’t it be helpful if we had someone to act as a guide to show us what to do?
My former Pastor taught once on this idea. He analogized it to getting an item that you needed to assemble. If you are of an engineering mentality you will unpack all the parts, lay them out in an orderly fashion then read through the instruction manual and then assemble the item step by step. Or he suggested you could ask someone who knew about things how to assemble the item. This someone, of course was Jesus.
There is a third option, that not even my former Pastor realized; that you can dive right in without either reading the manual OR asking someone who knew what they were doing. We all know the outcome of this process; a smashed together item with several pieces and parts left over that never quite works correctly. I know I have been here before, both in assembling store-bought items and seeking to assemble a spiritual plan.
Few of us have the time, much less the training or inclination to study the operating manual (The Bible) the way it should be studied. However, the conundrum immediately arises that asking the expert (Jesus) can only be done by referencing the Bible itself. We have no other source about Jesus to consult.
The thing that should not be doubted, though, is that Jesus is the one to whom we should turn to as our exemplar for how to live as God calls us to live. Forgive the coming digression but it is important to provide context. It is certainly true that Jesus came to fulfill God’s plan for bringing His people unto Himself. Jesus came to save humanity. It is settled Christian doctrine that He did this through his life, death and resurrection. It is the specifics that get tricky. I don’t think it is simply about Jesus taking the punishment for our sins. This is the doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement. This has never been an attractive position to me. If Jesus offers us forgiveness, then Him taking the hit for our sins makes no sense. If Jesus pays the debt, then the debt was not forgiven (it was promised to us that the debt would be forgiven in JER 31:31-34).
Therefore, it makes more sense to understand Jesus as living, dying and rising to place within us the faith that saves. It is the belief in Jesus as our risen Lord and Savior that makes everything make sense to Christians. The Bible does not explain the Resurrection; the Resurrection (or more properly, our belief in it) explains why Scripture makes sense. We come to the book and to contemplation of the life of Jesus in faith that He in fact did rise from the dead, and in so doing removes all obstacles to our eternal life with God. Therefore, this digression was important; regardless of the theological nuances of substitutionary atonement or holding another perspective, it is our belief in Jesus as Risen Lord that turns us to Him as the fount of knowledge about how to live our life.
All of this is the reason that we think about how Jesus lived His life. If Jesus’ life is not normative why did He come to earth in the first place? That is, if Jesus is not here, at least in part to show us how to live a fully human life, then what was the point of the incarnation? Yes, there is the larger eschatological purpose that Jesus was fulfilling but the fact is that God choose to accomplish this by Jesus coming to earth and taking upon Himself our humanity. He was fully divine and fully human. God could have achieved His purposes in any way He chose but He chose to provide the example of a human life perfectly lived. Jesus completely fulfilled the law; that is, He obeyed ALL its precepts. God does nothing without a purpose, and it seems clear that His purpose, at least in part, in sending His son to earth as fully human was to show us what such a fully human life looks like.
Fortunately, the New Testament is concise and not too difficult to read. There is also a myriad of resources available that can in layman’s terms summarize the teachings of Jesus. There is even a “red letter” edition of the Bible that has Jesus’ quotes printed in red. One can also ask people who know a lot more than us about Jesus and His teachings: like your Pastor for instance. In short, unlike studying the Bible in general, focusing in on how Jesus would have us live our lives is relatively easy.
It is certainly worthwhile to study the Scriptures in depth. It is also possible for laypeople to do this productively. However, if all you do is study the parts of the Bible that are directly concerned with Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, or simply contemplate that life and ministry, you will have grasped the best possible exemplar to pattern your life after. In order to determine what shall we do now that we have been given the Kingdom, it is best to start with the best source of knowledge there is, our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. It seems as in this, as in most things it’s best to ask the true expert.
Praise Be to God