Recently I’ve been re-reading Crazy Love by Francis Chan. It’s a great book, I highly recommend it. Chan talks passionately about the all-encompassing love which God has for each of us. As I was reading, it prompted me to reflect very honestly on my life and ask myself, “Am I just saying that I want to be like Jesus, or am I actually living like that?”
A phrase came to me as I was considering that question – “normalise the radical”. In the Western Church we’ve somehow arrived at a perspective on Christianity where we look at people who are actually emulating Jesus in their everyday lives and we call them ‘radicals’. The problem with this is that when we read the Gospels we clearly see that ‘radical’ is supposed to be the norm for followers of Jesus. Somehow we’ve allowed ourselves to become ‘normal’. I’ve been thinking and praying about this a lot over the last few days, asking God to help me sort out my priorities and make ‘radical’ normal in my life. Here is the first of three ‘radical’ things from the Gospels which should be normal for Christians.
When we read the Gospels we clearly see that ‘radical’ is supposed to be the norm for followers of Jesus.
Anyone who’s ever heard anything about Jesus will be familiar with at least some of his teaching on loving others. It’s a concept which is central to the Christian faith, but have we fully understood it?
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbour’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48, NLT)
If we take these words from Jesus seriously – and we should – then loving other people the way Jesus did will not be easy. We’ve all heard the phrase “Love your neighbours as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Loving your neighbour isn’t always easy, but loving your enemies is even harder.
Unless you’re a superhero or the head of a criminal empire, you probably don’t think you have enemies. I certainly can’t think of any specific people who I would class as my enemies, so our understanding of loving our enemies has to be different. Has somebody wronged you in some way recently? How did you respond? How do you feel about that person? Can you bring yourself to love them?
Perhaps you’re prepared to love your enemies, but you’re not sure how to do that practically. Think about how you treat people you love. Pray for them, not simply that God would change their behaviour or make them apologise to you, but that God would bless them. When everything within you is screaming that it wouldn’t be fair for God to bless them; when you’d much rather pray for justice for yourself; Jesus requires that you love your enemy. That kind of prayer hurts.
When everything within you is screaming that it wouldn’t be fair for God to bless them; when you’d much rather pray for justice for yourself; Jesus requires that you love your enemy. That kind of prayer hurts.
No good leader can ask their followers to do something they themselves wouldn’t be prepared to do. Jesus is no exception to this. He was falsely accused and flogged – an experience which was so destructive to the body that many people died simply from that – then nailed to a wooden cross and left there to suffocate. Jesus’ response to all this is our inspiration and the perfect example of what it means to love your enemies.
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34, NLT)
If we are serious about wanting to be followers of Jesus, we cannot let ourselves be ‘normal’. We can’t be the kind of Christians who look at those that are actually living out the teachings of Jesus and describe them as ‘radical’. Those ‘radicals’ are doing what is supposed to be normal for all Christians.
If you’re a Christian reading this, are you prepared to make changes in your life to normalise the radical? A good place to start would be to think of someone who has wronged you recently and pray for them as Jesus prayed for his enemies. Perhaps take a moment to read through 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul sets out what Christlike love looks like.
What do you think? Are there other things Jesus said which have become ‘radical’ in our thinking? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.