Explore
Follow Us

Jesus’ counterintuitive gospel

For most of my life, I’ve been trying to separate the Americanized Jesus I grew up with from the Jesus I keep reading about in Scripture. The American Jesus doesn’t ask much of me. But the Jesus I see in the gospels makes me uncomfortable. His first shot across the bow of humanity was the Sermon …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

For most of my life, I’ve been trying to separate the Americanized Jesus I grew up with from the Jesus I keep reading about in Scripture. The American Jesus doesn’t ask much of me. But the Jesus I see in the gospels makes me uncomfortable. His first shot across the bow of humanity was the Sermon on the Mount, a three chapter red letter speech that left his listeners scratching their heads.  In it he directly challenged his listeners’ conventional religious thinking. And it doesn’t seem to be any easier for us.

We who want to follow Jesus would do well to sit with those listeners and allow him to challenge our religious thinking as well.  He begins by listing nine separate groups of people who, though they seem powerless to us, actually because of their humble position, are in a position to flex/their spiritual muscles.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit” is a counterintuitive statement. If I’m feeling depleted and low, it doesn’t make sense that I’m in some way blessed.

Next, Jesus lists six pieces of conventional wisdom that need debunking.  Check out when he says, “You have heard it said.”  It’s not that the conventional wisdom is wrong, it is just incomplete – it needs to be understood in the light of grace.

Yes, murder is bad, but just thinking hateful thoughts will lead you down the path to murder, so begin there.  Adultery is bad, but it’s preceded by wandering eyes.

We want to be told what to do, we want a simple gospel of right and wrong.  But Jesus is interested in our freedom.  He wants us to choose to love with our whole hearts.  It’s a maddening thing to have such freedom.  It requires a whole other level of accountability – accountability not just for actions, but for thoughts and motives.  Jesus introduces a lot of gray into a black and white world.  Jesus says, you thought religion was about following a list of rules, but it’s about a heart of giving that reaches out to the weak – to the widows and orphans.  “Move into the ambiguity of a weak position,” he says.

Are you there with Jesus on that mountaintop?  Do you hear him telling you to stop judging and to show mercy instead?

We Evangelicals often want to begin with right and wrong thinking.  For example, we want to begin by saying, “Homosexuality is wrong,” when Jesus is saying, “Begin by loving the gay person in your life.”  We want to point our fingers at the lawbreakers around us when we ourselves are in need of grace.

It’s an upside-down kingdom led by a man whom few could follow.  He constantly challenges me all these many years since I first started following him. How about you?

Comments (11)

  • Thanks for your prodding Seth in our own inimitable way.

    From my vantage points of having seen a great deal in the Christian world I would rather hang out with a gay agnostic than an Evangelical pretender.

    And I will.

    Shalom.

  • oh yeah, bro.
    preach it, preach it to the nations, and we’ll work it from our little corner as well.

    Something I’ve noticed over the years:
    While fundamentalists like to identify with the Jesus of Revelation who rides in on a white horse with the armies of God to straighten out the fallen world,

    “liberals” or democrats or libertines or whatever you want to call them (sinners like me) really relate to the upside down message that our Saviour preaches in the sermon on the mount.

    Thanks, Seth, for carrying that message of revolutionary mercy to the ends of the earth, and thanks for taking our Katie with you.

  • Seth,
    Jason Gray wrote a ditty that resonates with your post called, “More Like Falling in Love”. The lyrics are added below. I completely “get” his lyrics. Having tried and crashingly failed at perfection to please Him, I’ll stick with friends who may or may not ever grace the inside of a church and the faithful followers who know that their lives are goobered up and in need of grace. (I apologize if posting the lyrics “highjacks” the post-not my intent at all. The song is just too good to pass up-like Lost Dogs’ “Breathe Deep”. Cheers.

    Give me rule
    I will break them
    Show me lines
    I will cross them

    I need more than
    A truth to believe
    I need a truth that lives
    Moves and breathes

    To sweep me off my feet, it’s gotta be
    More like falling in love
    Than something to believe in
    More like losing my heart
    Than giving my allegiance

    Caught up, called out
    Come take a look at me now
    It’s like I’m falling, oh
    It’s like I’m falling in love

    Give me words
    I’ll misuse them
    Obligations
    I’ll misplace them

    ‘Cause all religion
    Ever made of me
    Was just a sinner
    With a stone tied to my feet

    It never set me free, it’s gotta be
    More like falling in love
    Than something to believe in
    More like losing my heart
    Than giving my allegiance

    Caught up, called out
    Come take a look at me now
    It’s like I’m falling, oh
    It’s like I’m falling in

    Love, love, love
    Deeper and deeper, it was
    Love that made me a believer

    In more than a name
    A faith, a creed
    Falling in love with Jesus brought
    The change in me

    More like falling in love
    Than something to believe in
    More like losing my heart
    Than giving my allegiance

    Caught up, called out
    Come take a look at me now
    It’s like I’m falling, oh
    It’s like I’m falling

    More like falling in love
    Than something to believe in
    More like losing my heart
    Than giving my allegiance

    Caught up, called out
    Come take a look at me now
    It’s like I’m falling, oh
    It’s like I’m falling in love

    It’s like I’m falling

  • First of all homosexuality is wrong. You start off talking great however if you think that Jesus’ goal was to promote ambiguity you and the devil in you are wrong. Jesus said that we are a light that cannot be hidden. Quit sending out subliminal messages and tell the truth.

    A friend.

  • All very true and well said. Until you implied truth is opposed to grace. I hope that’s not what you intended. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and. I can love my sinning neighbor while telling him the truth.

  • Not what I intended. The key word is “begin” in my comment “We Evangelicals often want to begin with right and wrong thinking.”

    The issue is timing and when you share the truth. I’d like to suggest that love generally requires that we earn the right.

  • Thank you Seth for the clarification.

    “I’d like to suggest that love generally requires that we earn the right.”

    I’m glad you said “generally,” because of course another truth is that we be led by the Spirit, and that is true always, everywhere. God has gone before to prepare our way in evangelism. If God is calling me to be blunt, I must follow.

    We are missionaries ourselves (or will be soon) in Indonesia, serving with Pioneers.

  • Yep! Jesus is responsible for single-handedly debunking and destructing every comfortable, cozy and warm/fuzzy lesson I ever was taught about Him…basically wrecking my life…and I am forever grateful…

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to Radical Living:

Receive updates on the latest posts as Seth Barnes covers many topics like spiritual formation, what if means to be a christian, how to pray, and more. Radical Living blog is all about a call to excellence in ministry, church, and leadership -as the hands and feet of Jesus.

Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



© Adventures In Missions. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy