In his book, Ten Things I Wish Jesus Never Said, Victor Kuligin’s concern is that many in the church have come to associate following Jesus with material happiness and blessings – things the world loves – rather than holiness and suffering. Even as I write that, the latter sounds like a wholly unappealing description of Christianity; yet I know much joy and reward comes from living a life committed to Christ.
Reading through the chapter headings and associated Bible verses, I could have called out an ‘amen’ to the title of the book. Kuligin has picked out all of those sayings of Jesus that are easier not to take too seriously lest life become uncomfortable. He has much to say against health-and-wealth preaching, but even those of us who do not subscribe to such views need urgently to examine our lives in light of Jesus’ call. Following are some reflections on the first few chapters of the book.
Chapter 1: The Art of Spiritual Poverty
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3
Rather than being obsessed with feeling good about ourselves (our view of healthy self-esteem) we should be mourning over our sinfulness. Rather than believing God wants to make us happy with material blessings, we should develop an eternal perspective whereby our joy and blessing are in our assurance of salvation. I like the way Kuligin (and Jesus) turns the world’s ideas of success and happiness upside down here. Truly recognising our sinfulness is not really an acceptable thing to do these days but we should take heed that it is the poor in spirit who are approved by God.
Chapter 2: The Art of Spiritual Self-Mutilation
If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. Matthew 5:29a
Kuligin suggests that while we shouldn’t take this verse literally (or we may have no body parts left!) it points to the need to take radical action against sin in our lives. Sin is crouching at the door; instead of seeing how close we can get to it before being consumed, we should keep well away. It seems to me that if we are flirting with the world, it is no wonder we get sucked in by its promises. If we don’t cut potentially dangerous things out of our lives, we are inviting sin.
Chapter 3: The Art of Spiritual Commitment
No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God. Luke 9:62
Kuligin likens the commitment we must have for Christ to that of an elite athlete who lives to win at the highest level in his sport. Jesus demands whole-hearted commitment in which every aspect of our life is given over to him, including money, time, employment, talents and mind. Just beginning to think about what complete commitment would really entail has me realising how many aspects of life I am hanging onto for myself.
Perhaps it is time for some serious repentance…