Why Does Every Intelligent Christian Disobey Jesus?



This video opens by stating, correctly, that to be a Christian you must obey Jesus. There are numerous biblical precedents for this, so we need not dive into that here. To demonstrate love for Jesus, we must obey him. This isn't in question.

So the video goes on to give five commands that Jesus gives us, and then ask why we, as Christians, don't obey them. I'd have to argue that many of these alleged "commands" aren't commands at all. But let's look at what the video considers to be commands of Jesus.

First, Jesus wants us to love our enemies. The narrator makes the point that America is a Christian nation (the vast majority of citizens and government officials claim Christianity as their religion), then goes on to ask why the U.S. has a military at all if Jesus commands us to love one another and pray for our enemies.

Paul talks of the government in Romans 13:1-7. In this passage, Paul tells us that the governing authorities are established by God (verse 1) and that whoever resists them is operating contrary to God's will (verse 2). The key verses are 3 and 4:
For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
What rights and authority humans have are derived first from God. The role of the government is to protect those rights, sometimes by "the sword." Here, in Paul, we find no contradiction between the United States as a Christian nation that employs a military. The military is necessary to protect the rights and freedoms we so often take for granted in the United States.

The second command is found in Matthew 19:21-24 and Luke 12:33 (supplemented by numerous other verses): Sell all possessions and give them to the poor. The direct commands to do this in Matthew and Luke were given only to one person, who was a very rich man. The command was given as a test, one which the rich man miserably failed. Jesus was trying to graphically drive home a lesson: not relying on material goods. No one takes this a general command to give up all possessions. In fact, having a Commandment to not steal (see Ex 20:15) would make no sense if Christians were forbidden to individually own property.

At least to the narrator of the video, this saying of Jesus is difficult to properly understand. In situations like this, consulting a Bible commentary can help make sense of the issue. The IVP New Testament Commentary beautifully explains this verse. First, back up to Luke 12:13-21 to get the full context:
Now Jesus turns from issues of trust and conviction to discuss a major distraction to the spiritual life. The parable of the rich fool is unique to Luke. Rather than taking sides in a family dispute, Jesus warns about greed. Often disputes over inheritance are really about greed, symptoms of the disease of "possessionitis." Jesus attacks this disease directly in this parable, making a point Luke repeats often in his Gospel (4:4; 8:4-15; 9:24-25; 12:22-34; 16:19-31; 18:18-30). It appears that greed and the pursuit of possessions constitute one of the greatest obstacles to spiritual growth. This is especially true in modern culture, where possessions are readily available and their technological glitz is always being enhanced, as splashy advertisements for the latest gadget make clear. . . .

If Jesus were alive today he would see the attitude behind the expression "The one with the most toys wins" as a prescription for failure in life. The ancients knew, as moderns also know, that life consists of more than the accumulation of wealth. Scripture repeatedly warns against greed and includes it in lists of moral vices (Mk 7:22; Rom 1:29; Eph 4:19; 5:3; Col 3:5; 1 Tim 6:10; 2 Pet 2:3, 14; in the Old Testament, Job 31:24-25; Ps 49). The ancient historian Plutarch said, "Greed never rests from the acquiring of more" (On Love of Wealth 1 [Mor. 523 E]; L. T. Johnson 1991:198).

When possessions are the goal, people become pawns. In fact, a reversal of the created order occurs, as those made in the living image of God come to serve dead nonimages. It is this inversion of the created order that makes greed such a notorious sin; it is even called idolatry in some texts (Eph 5:3; Col 3:5). . . . For some, the material world is god. Many of us end up serving our dollars or pounds and bowing before their demands rather than relating sensitively to people. In the process relationships can be damaged and marriages destroyed. False worship involves bowing before something that is not worthy of honor and that cannot deliver life's true meaning. The pursuit of wealth is the pursuit of false religion.
Therefore, the larger context of the verse from Luke is all about relying on God rather than material possessions, which is exactly the lesson I originally proposed was in view here. The commentary brings it home as it looks specifically at verse 33:
If we are not going to pursue material things, then how should we deal with our physical needs? Jesus' answer to this question is really fairly simple: "Trust God." Using creation as the example, Jesus points to the tender care of the heavenly Father and asks people to consider how gentle God is. If God can care for his other creatures, he can care for you.

This passage's basic exhortation is Do not worry. Given God's care, we can be generous with the things God provides. The contrast between Jesus' attitude here and that of the rich fool could not be greater. Jesus' concern is with food and clothing (v. 22), the basics of life, a perspective Paul also shares (1 Tim 6:7-10). Jesus' exhortation begins with a call not to worry (me merimnate). He uses a present imperative in Greek to indicate that a constant attitude is in view. Paul has a similar exhortation in Philippians 4:6-7.

Jesus explains his call away from worry by noting that life is more than food or clothing. The deepest dimension of life is relationship with God and with others. In 10:25-28 Jesus made it clear that real life has to do with relationship. Living is more than having; it is being in relationship with God and relating well to others. Placing concern for our daily needs in God's hands is part of what it means to have relationship with God (11:3-4).

Jesus now turns to support his exhortation with three illustrations from natural life: the birds (v. 24), the lilies (v. 27) and the grass (v. 28). Ravens refers to a wide variety of crows that inhabited Palestine. Interestingly, they were unclean creatures in Old Testament thinking (Lev 11:15; Deut 14:14; Job 39:13-14; Ps 147:9). They were among the least appreciated of birds, so the example is important because of the cultural perception of these creatures. Jesus has gone to the "bottom of the creature barrel" for this example. God cares for them by giving them food, and just think how much more valuable you are than birds! In other words, if he cares for them, he certainly will care for you.

Beyond the illustration from creation, there is a practical reason not to worry: it does no good. Does worrying "add a cubit" (Greek) to one's span of life? Now a cubit is about eighteen inches. There is debate whether Jesus is using the term to speak of ability to increase one's stature or the length of one's life. Neither option alters Jesus' point, though the more natural possibility is the idea of adding to the length of one's life (so NIV). Either way, worrying does not help! In fact, anxiety should have a surgeon general's or health minister's warning attached to it: "Warning: anxiety may be harmful to your health." Jesus does not issue such a medical warning, however, only a practical one.

These are far from the only passages that exhort us to rely on God alone for fulfillment of our physical needs. Consider also James 4:13-17. James writes that our life is but a mist. He's urging us not to boast in tomorrow, for we have no idea what will happen then, or indeed if tomorrow will arrive. Only God controls tomorrow. Continuing in Luke 12:22-34, Jesus tells us not to worry, for God knows what we need and it pleases him to provide it for us. If we are seeking the kingdom first, what we need will be added to us.

The whole point of this series of passages is to learn to rely on God for our needs, and not worry about material possessions. Material possessions can be lost, stolen, or destroyed. God will always be there for us, and we should look to him first.

The third command, referencing Luke 14:26-33, is to abandon your family to follow Christ. This alleged "command" is hyperbole. Jesus said to "hate" your family. What he meant was to love him above even your family. If it came down to a choice between following Jesus or staying with your family, Jesus wanted to make it clear that he expects you to follow him. The whole passage, summed up in verses 28-33, is about counting the costs of discipleship. Jesus is warning his disciples up front that the cost of discipleship could be one's family, so that they know ahead of time and can continue in Christ until the end. By knowing the costs up front, it eases the pain should the unthinkable happen.

The fourth command, apparently, is to mutilate yourself, as found in Matthew 5:27-30. As with the third command, this one is hyperbole and is meant metaphorically. As an atheist, the narrator of these videos has a difficult time conceiving of sin, and how abhorrent it is to a holy God. Sin, for the atheist, is a religious construction to be discarded with the rest of religion. The reality of sin often fails to hit the atheist, since he denies its existence as fervently as he denies God's.

The reality of sin often eludes the Christian, too. Francis Schaeffer wisely observed, "I have come to the conclusion that none of us in our generation feels as guilty about sin as we should or as our forefathers did." In each generation, we regard sin just a little bit more lightly. This is why we balk at the passages of the Bible that describe divinely mandated genocide, concluding somehow that these peoples were innocent and God should have simply spared them.

In his explanation of discipleship, Jesus also warned about Christians losing their intolerance for sin. In Luke 14:34-25, Jesus says that salt, once it loses its saltiness, must be thrown away. It is of no use. Referencing earlier sermons where he said that the Christian is to be salt and light to the world (Mt 5:13-16), Jesus has just effectively warned us what the ultimate effect of sin could be. Losing our saltiness will cause us to be cast out of the kingdom.

It is impossible to overestimate how awful sin is, and how enslaved we humans are to it. As such, it is no wonder the simple beauty of Jesus' hyperbolic advice eludes the narrator. The central message is to do whatever it takes, however extreme the measures may be, to excise sin from your life. Actual self-mutilation is not in view here.

The final command is to drink poison, which is found in Mark 16:17-18. There are two issues with this. First, reading the exact wording of the phrase, there is no imperative statement to be found. Jesus says "if" a Christian drinks poison, he won't die. He's not suggesting that anyone do this, he is telling you what will happen "if" you drink the poison.

The second issue arises when you take note of who received this statement. The signs and wonders that are described in this context accompany apostles. Paul told the Corinthian church that not everyone shares the same spiritual gifts (see 1 Cor 12, esp. verses 27-31). This means that not all Christians are apostles. Only apostles will have those signs and wonders accompanying them. The average Christian won't be able to calm deadly snakes and drink poison. Why would anyone in their right mind even attempt that?

There is no precedent for average Joe Christian to be able to pick up a snake and expect to live if the snake bites him. There is no possible motive to take a giant swig of arsenic. We are many, though one body. Apostles were given the signs and wonders, and not all are apostles.

The video starts to wrap up by asking why intelligent Christians disobey Jesus. The narrator asserts, correctly, that Christians simply don't do any of the above commands. After reading this reply, I hope that the reader understands why Christians don't do any of these things. The narrator is seriously pulling verses from context in order to make his point.

The narrator answers his rhetorical question by saying that the commands themselves are absurd, and since we are intelligent people, we know that and act on it.

For example, we can't love our enemies because our enemies will kill us. I disagree. It is possible to love enemies and pray for persecutors even in dire circumstances. The books detailing the lives and deaths of Christian martyrs are filled with inspiration stories of Christians forgiving enemies in the face of great peril. Jesus himself asked for forgiveness for his executioners (Lk 23:34).

We shouldn't be aggressors. As Paul put it, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all" (Rom 12:18). The key phrase: so far as it depends on you. Don't instigate, but do help as much as possible. And, as I've pointed out above, it is reasonable for a government, even one founded on Christian principles, to maintain a standing army. The authority of the government proceeds directly from God, and the duty of the government is to protect the interest of the people. This isn't at odds with anything that Jesus has commanded about loving enemies.

We can't sell everything because it's insane: a shelter, job, and car are all necessary to survive in this world. Yes, I agree. However, Jesus is teaching us to rely on God alone for our needs. Money can disappear. Homes can be destroyed. People lose their jobs as companies try to do the same (or larger) quantity of work with fewer people. All goods can fade, rust, or otherwise be destroyed, but God is forever and will provide for us. In fact, it pleases him to do so.

No one is going to hate their family; besides, this command contradicts Jesus' instructions to love your enemies--why would anyone hate their family and love their enemies? Of course, Jesus isn't suggesting that a Christian "hate" anyone, just put God first and family obligations second. That squares with what has already been discussed about needless accumulation of material wealth. With that in mind, there is certainly no contradiction presented in the command to love enemies and "hate" family--since there was never a command to hate family in the first place.

Cutting off your hand is stupid and drinking poison is suicidal. I agree on both counts, but neither is commanded by Jesus if a consistent hermeneutic is applied to the passages cited by the video.

The video's ultimate conclusion: we disobey Jesus because Jesus is a lunatic. The problem with that conclusion is what to do with the teachings that are not the product of a disturbed mind. If Jesus is truly a lunatic, then you can't listen to anything that he says. But, his teachings are not the product of a broken mind; rather, they are product of a person who has a firm grasp on reality and a deep understanding of human nature (see chapter 8 of Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ [Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 1998] for more detail on this point).

The narrator restates the premise that Christians are to obey Jesus, so it's stupid to claim to be a Christian when disobeying Jesus every chance we get. So, now, he muses, why still claim to be a Christian?

He gives two faulty theories. First, perhaps we're afraid of other Christians. Christians are scary, the narrator reasons, because they are filled with hatred, homophobia, racism, and violence. The narrator gives no specific example of Christians involved in hatred, so I can't address that point.

Christians are constantly facing charges of homophobia due to their opposition to gay marriage. The critic reasons that homosexuals have as much right as heterosexuals to marry. That is faulty for two reasons. Marriage is, and always has been, a divine institution and not a secular one. The definition of marriage is a divine one, and divinely ordered marriage is between a man and a woman (see Gen 2:24). For this reason, homosexuals have no right to marry. They are fighting for a right they never had.

Second, a "phobia" implies a fear. Christians are not afraid of gay people. Christians want to cleanse them of their sin. We, as a church, haven't gone about that in the most constructive way. Instead of winning the homosexual first to Christ, and then explaining why from that perspective that homosexuality is wrong, the Christians have sought to ban all references to homosexuality in culture first, then explain why it's wrong when people enter the church. That's backwards; society as a whole does not accept Scripture as authoritative anymore. This leads to charges of bigotry where none exists.

The "homophobe" label is applied consistently to the Christian to shut down all rational discourse on the topic. Label your opposition as evil to win emotional points with the audience, and suddenly, the debate is over. No one is going to side with the homophobe!

Racism can be refuted in one verse: Galatians 3:28. The more astute, however, will pay attention to history. Despite forceful claims to the contrary, the abolitionist movement within the United States was begun by, and carried through to its finish, by Christians.
One reason abolitionists are forgotten is that they were inescapably Christian in their motives, means, and vocabulary. Not that all abolitionists were orthodox Christians, though a large proportion were. But even those who had left the church drew on unmistakably Christian premises, especially on one crucial point: slavery was sin. Sin could not be solved by political compromise or sociological reform, abolitionists maintained. It required repentance; otherwise America would be punished by God. This unpopular message rankled an America that was pushing west, full of self-important virtue as God’s darling. (source)

To drive the point home that Christians are hateful, violent, homophobic racists, the narrator tells us that prisons are overflowing with Christians. Apologist J.P. Holding counter-argues that point forcefully:
I'll correct that as one who formerly worked in my state's prison system as a librarian: Most inmates who sign on to "Christian" are not. Prison inmates profess faiths for many reasons other than true belief: It permits special visits. It often allows certain privileges, including breaks from normal work schedules, or the ability to "stand out" in a crowd of people who dress and live the same every day. When filling out forms, most don't know they can leave the question of religion blank. And perhaps the most important: The religious buildings have AIR CONDITIONING. Actually, most "theist" inmates are for all intents and purposes deists in orientation. (source)
Second, maybe we're afraid of what Christians might do to us: you could lose your job, get arrested, get beaten, kicked out of Boy Scouts, or shunned by friends and family. The narrator points out that we fear these reprisals from a group of people who are supposed to love everyone.

A person who loses his job, or gets arrested or beaten purely on religious grounds is a victim of a hate crime in the United States and is afforded special legal protection. There would be serious consequences for anyone involved in the above actions. So it's ridiculous to make the claim that a person who comes out as an atheist would fear these things. The perpetrators would be punished much more harshly purely due to their motives.

The Boy Scouts of America is a Christian organization, so renouncing Christianity could get you kicked out of that with no reprisal forthcoming. That is because parachurch organizations or religious nonprofits are allowed to "discriminate" based on religious preference. Why an atheist would fear getting kicked out of such organizations is beyond me, so this complaint rings a bit hollow. I would think that a non-Christian would want nothing to do with a Christian parachurch organization.

As for being shunned by friends and family, well, the Christians in the first century were warned by Jesus that they would face exactly that, and they still renounced the paganism of ancient Rome and followed Christ. If they were brave enough to do it, surely those who criticize Christians forcefully now shouldn't fear the same things if what they are embracing is actually the truth.

Overall, this video is a really weak argument against Christianity. Most of the supposed "commands" that Christians are "disobeying" aren't commands at all. The one point that is a command requires certain Scriptural qualifiers that the narrator leaves out. People convinced by this video that Christians disobey Jesus just don't think deeply enough about what it means to be a follower of Christ.
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