“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)
There is no simpler answer to the question of the Christian life than to say, “Follow Jesus.” What does a heart after Jesus look like? Jesus is the supreme example of one who lived to please God the Father. He never stopped running the race until he was done. The author of Hebrews says that we should consider Jesus “so that you may not grow weary and fainthearted.” The same can be applied to your life. “Follow Jesus.” It could also be stated differently. For instance, consider the singular aim of Jesus to set his sight on the joy set before him “so that you may not get distracted” while you live in the world. Following Jesus is what it means to live the Christian life.
Yet that simple answer does not let you off the hook when it comes to your life in culture. You need to work hard to understand exactly what following after Jesus looks like in your cultural context. Jesus would not let wrong assumptions by the religious leaders of his day take a pass. And I don’t think he would let you do that when it comes to culture either.
Here an illustration helps. This will require us to return to our definitions of extreme moral legalism and extreme license. Picture your Christian life as an adventurous journey in the world down a narrow way. On either side you find dangers. To one side you notice a hot-wire fence labeled “extreme moral legalism.” When you look beyond the fence you see what appears to be a safe house. (You know, something to attract/distract you from the way.) The fence is dangerous, of course. It is a hot-wire fence.
To the other side you notice a grave danger. Just off the narrow road is a steep ravine with jagged rocks at the bottom, and you notice it is labeled “extreme license.” Yet along the way you notice a colorful hang glider. You think to yourself, “What freedom! What thrills I would feel flying that hang glider.” But, you don’t know how to use the hang glider. You don’t have a first clue! Getting off the narrow way for a thrilling ride on that hang glider would be a terrifying and stupid mistake!
I realize this is not a perfect illustration. You may object, “What if I know how to use a hang glider?” You would be missing the point. What I want you to picture is that the way of the Christian life is narrow in the world. It is following Jesus. As Jesus set his sight on the joy that was set before him, which led him to the cross, to endure hostility from sinners, we must fix our eyes on Jesus, and follow him. The Christian journey indeed is not to be a worldly one. But, it is a journey in the world. Therefore, knowing precisely how we are to live as Jesus followers in the world in reference to culture will require still more work on our part.
However, there are some key lessons that we can draw out thus far. First, though there is freedom in Christ for Christians, and there is freedom of conscience when it comes to questionable issues, extreme license can be incredibly destructive for the Christian life. We must ask, what does a heart after Jesus look like? Second, Scripture calls on us to guard our hearts, and this is a serious task! “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life!” (Proverbs 4:23)
In the next post we will consider examples of what extreme moral legalism is not.