I’ve had people tell me that I suck at relationship (they were leaving the church and were upset so mercy applies). A corollary to the “relationship sucking” comment is the statement: “that isn’t real, how can you believe in that?” In the quagmire of “life” I refuse to agree with the declaration “well brother, that’s just life.” I’ve always felt that the “just life” thing was horribly wrong, somehow. Now I am beginning to see how wrong it really is to settle for or embrace or, worst case, crown our “just life” existence. We were not made for “just life” or the conventions of this life. We were made for and are currently sustained by and are in union with Life Himself. Our “just life” insistence is nothing more than our refusal to accept our death in His death and our new creation in His resurrection and our true life in His true life in us.
Want to know where “just life” shows up the most? Church. Want to see a bunch of clown faces with cesspools of depression and regret and bitterness churning inside? Try the First Assembly of the We Are Right. Spend five minutes on the receiving end of “Grace butt” and see what it feels like to have cesspool substance bathe your soul. Am I being harsh? I don’t think so. As a matter fact Jesus would agree with me. Want to see?
Whether we chose now, today, in this moment to participate in His death or we wake up in the afterlife face to face with the reality of His glorified state, we will see the truth that is true. We were all crucified with Him. This is more than a mere fact to be pondered or compiled or analyzed like data. It is a truth of the cosmos. The incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus with us included is the truth of the gospel. We aren’t positioning ourselves to ask Him into our lives. That is a “just life” paradigm of self-effort and human arrogance. No, God has taken us into His life in Jesus. That is really good news. The struggle we have as humans is letting go of our imaginary control and jumping off the proverbial cliff to trust (have faith) in a God who has already done everything needed without our permission. Even when you read that last sentence, The Holy Spirit inside you is jumping up and down with joy but your head is cocked at a funny angle and your mind is trying to see a picture that is more like Picasso instead of Michelangelo. Our “death” in this “life” is when we live by faith in His faithfulness not in our self-effort. We “die” to the pointless religious activities and “just life” experience. We live His life instead.
Here is a parable you likely remember. For the sake of space and your time I have added some parenthetical comments for the discussion:
Luke 13:22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved (sozo, make whole, restored, healed) be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door (the straight gate). For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able (not have the capacity or willingness). 25 When once the master (oikodespotes) of the house has risen (same word as “raised from the dead”) and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock (same word as Jesus is knocking in Rev 3) at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets (we did “just life” with you).’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil! (unrest, self-effort)’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets (people of faith) in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (ESV)
Robert Capon suggests a very different interpretation of this parable than you have likely heard in your past. I’ll try to be brief.
In the western church “salvation” has come to mean final destination. The final destination is with God because we are already with God and Jesus is in us and we are in Him and He is in the Father and the Father is in Him and … For some it will be a hellish existence since they just can’t let it go. For others it will be a heavenly experience since they have let it go. For the disciples they would not have been thinking destination but now and future salvation of the person, the wholeness of the human.
Now the doors. Let me suggest, as Capon does, that there are really “two doors” in this parable. The first door is the narrow gate which is the door to salvation which is none other than Jesus’ death. His death on the cross is our salvation from Adam. We died with Him (2 Cor 5:14-15). Adam is in the grave (Rom 6:6). We pass through the gate of His death when we “die.” We give up our right to “just life” and embrace, through faith, His death. Those who “aren’t able to enter” are those who can’t give up “just life” for His death. When we insist that what Jesus did is not enough and we need to do something OR when we can’t get over the fact that Jesus forgives everyone because we need to see some people punished OR we just can’t give in to letting Him love us in the “too good to be true” way…we are “unable to enter” the gate. Can you see it?
The second door is the door that we are knocking at in our self effort. When we insist on religious activities and judgment and exclusion and division and all that junk we are outside the Kingdom. When we see the party going on and want to come inside to participate, we have to leave our religious junk outside. This is the door the master has closed. Jesus has died and rose again. The door of religion has been closed. There is no more need for it and it is no longer welcome. The only entrance to the party is through His death not through our religious efforts, or our “just life.”
The master of the house is the Jesus character. Capon does a great treatment of how this word appears in multiple parables and is always the Christ figure. Here is what He says:
Accordingly, because I really do think the oikodespotes is a Christ-figure – and because I really don’t think Jesus will ever close the door of grace – I think the closing of the oikodespotes’ door should be interpreted not as the locking out of the damned but as the closing of the door of ordinary living as a way to eternal life. Jesus our oikodespotes rises out of his three-day nap in the grave and he closes all other doors to salvation except faithful waiting in the endless sabbath of his death. He leaves us, that is, no entrance into life but the narrow door of our own nothingness and death – the Door, in fact (John 10:9), that is Jesus himself. (Robert Farrar Capon. Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus (Kindle Locations 3431-3440). Kindle Edition.)
When we sit outside and insist on our imaginary control instead of surrendering to His death, we see the party and are furious that someone could have a party without doing it our way. Think of the little “spoiled” stereotype child who has a birthday party. She invites all her friends and has all this fun planned. While she is off in the kitchen helping mom, the kids at the party start having fun without her. They are playing games of pretend and chase and tag. She has bouncy houses and ponies. They are oblivious to her way of fun and are having fun in the freedom of just having fun. She is really experiencing the “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” just ask her mom.
The best news of the story is all the people who show up to the party and come right in. This parable is not an exclusion parable but a grace parable. Look at all those people who were not considered part of the accepted group and they are there partying it up. The “unknowns” make a showing and we don’t even know their qualifications. Jesus even uses “men of faith” and not of law to make a death to religion point. He uses the prophets who He previously said the religious had rejected and killed as a death to religion exclamation point.
This is the freedom we have in Christ. We begin with our inclusion in His family. We begin with our death in His death. We persist in His life as our life. We embrace our death to live His life. We live in the reality of our new creation and dump the old paradigms of religious effort. Jesus already closed the imaginary gap in our minds. He has already joined Himself to mankind. He has already incorporated us into His Kingdom life. We are seated in the heavenly realm in Him. Are we willing to die to our “just life” and step into His life? Can we give it up and enjoy His Love? Can we put down our religious paradigms and embrace His finished work? How many are banging on a door of religious effort when Jesus is quietly knocking on the door of His death. Do we try and force ourselves in to find rejection waiting or do we step with Him in through the narrow gate? We were made for so much more than “just life.” Don’t let religion or experience or circumstance keep you from living His life.