Monday, July 15, 2013

On Becoming a Violent Christian

Are you a violent Christian?

Perhaps you should be!!

No, not in the way that you may be thinking...
...not in the corrupt way of the Crusades,
...or the sinister snipe hunts of the Salem witch trials,
...not like the Westboro Baptist bigot bashers and sinner trashers,
...or even like the radical pro-lifers who justify murder of abortion docs as "a-ok" for the cause.
I'm not even talking about being a violent Christian in the evangelistic sense, like some of the rude (though probably well meaning) tract transferers who are determined to force their tri-fold treatises upon you whether you want them or not.  Those who seem happy to holler at you about hell whenever you cross their path.

That's not what I'm talking about.  Not at all!!

Jesus, in Matthew 11 says that the violent take the kingdom of heaven by force.

It's a passage that has always troubled me. 
What does it mean? 
What is Jesus getting at?

Surely, our Savior has never been one to encourage acts of physical violence and rebellion.  He's not a war-monger.  He's not one to go picking a fight or seeking to stir up strife.  Instead, He's the Prince of Peace - but, a peaceful Prince who is also a holy One. ("Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty!") 

Thus, our peace seeking Prince is One Who, by His holy nature, is also openly and rightly at war with our sin - for it is our sin that so severely stands in the way of our peace with God and serves as the caustic catalyst that hinders our peace with one another.  Sin is our greatest enemy - not one another!

Our sin is the source of all of our enmities, and quarrels, and wars. It is our sinful lusts and passions that break up homes, blow up buildings, murder men (with our hands or with our hearts), steal from the boss (in money and in moments), go for the lusto with gusto,  and proudly justify all of these actions as "good" because of what we think we personally gain from them.

EVERY problem in this world is ultimately a result of sin - our own sin, others' sins towards us, or the universal effects of sin upon mankind.  Sin is sinister. 

Jesus knows how horrible sin is.  He knows how much it costs.  Remember, our sin cost Him the cross.

Now, while our peaceful Prince never encourages us to do violence towards others, He does encourage us to do violence towards the sin that seeks to slay and subdue us in its damning dungeon. (As you read this, don't forget that He Himself has already done the most vehement of violence against sin through His death and resurrection  - freeing those who believe on Him from the guilt of sin and enabling us to wage war against the power of sin.)

Christ encourages us, by His grace, to do "holy" violence continually against one enemy, our greatest enemy - our own fallen flesh, because if that enemy is not slain then heaven we won't gain.

The writer of Hebrews sums up both the peaceable attitudes we are to seek with one another and the warring actions we are to wage against sin in this way: 

"Pursue peace with all men, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord." 

Peace and holy violence are two sides of the same coin, they are both to be realities in the life of a true Christian, and they are not to contradict one another.

When Jesus, the Prince of Peace, says in Matthew 11  that violent men take the kingdom of heaven by force, I believe He's telling us that we need to get serious about trampling our transgressions.  We need to get fierce with our great foe - our own flesh, for without holiness we will not see the kingdom of heaven. If we want to see the Kingdom of Heaven then we need to be violent in our vanquishing of the sin that lies within us.

Are we, by the power of the risen Christ, seeking to see our dark deeds die - or are we ignoring and excusing them?

Are we, by His grace, fervently fighting the flesh - OUR flesh, not everyone else's flesh? 

By nature, we are so prone to pick, and pluck, and probe all over the speck in our brother's eyes while we never even pause to catch a glimpse of the great Sequoya that is growing from our own orb!

  • What would happen if we became as bothered by our own evils as by those of others?

  • What would happen if we were as serious about ripping up our own wrongs as the wrongs of our neighbor?

  • What would happen if we were to be volitionally violent against OUR sin, wielding the weapons of warfare that Christ Himself has given us through His Spirit upon ourselves? 

This morning, I turned to Matthew Henry to see his pastoral thoughts on this passage. His words were piercing and poignant and they have become my prayer this day as I seek to become a violent Christian in the holy sense.  He writes:

"This violence denotes a strength, and vigor, and earnestness of desire and endeavor.  It shows us what fervency and zeal are required of all those who design to make heaven their home. 

They who would enter the kingdom of heaven must strive to enter. 
That Kingdom suffers a holy violence. 
     Self must be denied;
     the bent and bias,
          the frame and temper of the mind must be altered;
     there are hard services to be done;
     there are hard sufferings to be undergone;
     there is a force to be put upon the corrupt nature.

We must run, and wrestle, and fight, and be in agony - all little things in comparison to so great a prize and to so great a victory as will be had over such opposition from without and within.

The violent take the Kingdom of Heaven by force.  They who will have an interest in the great salvation are carried out towards it with such a strong desire,
     they will have it upon any of the King's terms,
     they will not think those terms hard,
     nor will they quit their hold without gaining the blessing.

They who make their calling and election sure must give great diligence.  The Kingdom of Heaven was never intended to indulge the ease of triflers, but to be the rest of those that labor.

It is a blessed sight to see such holy violence.

Oh, that we would see a greater number, not with an angry contention thrusting others out of the Kingdom of Heaven, but with a holy contention thrusting themselves in!"

Oh, that we would indeed, Mr. Henry.  Oh that we would indeed.

By grace,

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