What is Flourishing Anyway? 3

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What is Flourishing Anyway? 3

What is Flourishing? 3 – WWBLJLL?

I am 55. It’s quite cute that this is still called middle age, as if I should expect to live until I’m 110. So let’s just say that I am a mature gentleman. In fact, I’m mature enough to have entirely missed the fad for wearing WWJD bracelets that took off while I was a Youth Pastor in the 1990s. Based on the 19th century book ‘In His Steps’ by Charles Monroe Sheldon, the phrase suggests that ethics and morality can be boiled down to a simple question: ‘What Would Jesus Do?’

This is not a terrible question. Although none of us has been called by God to die on behalf of the human race in order to make peace with God and demonstrate God’s love and mercy, we are all trying to follow in his way. But – to use a slightly fatuous example – would Jesus marry my wife? Not only is she my wife, Jesus never married at all as far as we can tell. There’s another problem, one that the apostle Paul understands all too well: knowing the right thing to do and doing it are two very different things. Here he is in Romans 7:15-24, in Eugene Peterson’s dynamic Message translation:

What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realise that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

What an awful situation the human race finds itself in! We can’t even live up to our own standards, never mind the kind of love and goodness revealed to us in Jesus. Paul doesn’t tell us that the good things we want to do are unattainable, he says that by focussing on what we do, we miss the point. Paul says that what we need is a relationship with Jesus. Sometimes he says that Jesus is in us; more often he says that we are in Jesus. And as I mentioned in the last post, the purpose (telos) of this relationship is for us to become mature (teleios). So I propose a better question than WWJD? WWBLJLL? What Would Becoming Like Jesus Look Like?

Now, you are perfectly entitled to ask me how this is any better than WWJD. After all, it’s too long to fit on a bracelet, for starters. One reason I think this is better is because the things we do come from who we are. We now know from neuroscience that some of our most basic drives and reactions happen in the brain a long time (in brain terms) before the ‘rational’ part of the brain is up to speed with what’s happening. We still have some power to slow down or even stop the instinctive response that our brain is having to what’s happening around us*; however, changing that more fundamental part of how the mind operates would be so much easier than trying to catch up with an angry response or a lustful impulse once it’s already raced out of the traps.

This seems to be Paul’s experience and what he wants to share with the Roman church:

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ … acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death. (Romans 7:25-8:2, MSG)

Here’s that metaphor again, that we are invited into Christ, into a spiritual experience of transformation. When we start looking for what this transformed person – this Christ-like person – looks like, we see it all over the New Testament. The teaching of Jesus describes not just new rules for living, rules that we will keep breaking, but rather a kind of person we are being invited to become. Read the so-called Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and ask yourself what kind of person Jesus is describing. Paul’s letters are full of little descriptions of Christlikeness, including the rightly famous description of love in 1Corinthians 13. Perhaps the most perfect in its succinctness is found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians: ‘…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.’ (Galatians 5:22-23, NRSV)

It’s fruit, which means it takes care and attention and time to grow. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it may not happen at all if we don’t give way to the Spirit to do God’s work in us. In the final blog I want to outline a contemporary way of describing this fruit of the Spirit and suggest how we might help each other grow it. See you then!

 

*It might be more scientifically accurate to say that we have ‘Free Won’t’ rather than Free Will. See https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/dont-delay/201106/free-wont-it-may-be-all-we-have-or-need

About the Author

About the Author

Simon Hall

Simon loves helping individuals, churches and organisations through times of change and re-envisioning, and bringing together the people and resources needed to turn dreams into reality. He is also a gifted teacher and preacher and a member of the British and Irish Association for Practical Theology.

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