The Living Religion of Jesus
by Dr. Meredith J. Sprunger
"One of the most important things in human living, is to find out what Jesus believed, to discover his ideals, and to strive for the achievement of his exalted life purpose. Of all human knowledge, that which is of the greatest value is to know the religious life of Jesus and how he lived it." (2092)
"Jesus founded the religion of personal experience in doing the will of God and serving the human brotherhood." (2092)
The living religion of Jesus is the most powerful force for shaping human destiny on our world. In less than two-thousand years, which is only a moment in anthropological time, it has influenced life on our planet more than all of the kings who have ever reigned; the armies who have ever marched; the navies who have ever sailed; and, yes, more than the advent of the atom bomb and atomic power! What was the key to this marvelous life which he lived among us?
Jesus’ entire life centered around a consciousness of God, and all of the beliefs by which he lived, stem out of this relationship with the heavenly Father. His dynamic, living faith was the source of all of his teachings. Let us look at this transforming faith of Jesus. First of all, Jesus believed and taught that God is in sure and ultimate control of the universe and that God loves man as a father loves his children. Jesus assures us that God is our heavenly Father; and, therefore, we have nothing to fear. He told the fearful young man who fled to the hills with a crippling sense of inferiority, that he could free himself from this false self-image by realizing that he was a son of God. Living in this reborn image of the spirit, Jesus told him, "Trouble will invigorate you; disappointment will spur you on; difficulties will challenge you; and obstacles will stimulate you. Arise, young man! Say farewell to the life of cringing fear and fleeing cowardice. Hasten back to duty and live your life in the flesh as a son of God; a mortal dedicated to the ennobling service of man on earth; and destined to the superb and eternal service of God in eternity." (1438)
We have the resources of the universe on our side. Jesus was always aware of the power of spiritual leverage in solving the material problems of life. He said to the young man working with him in the Caesarean shipyard, who was grumbling about his cruel and unjust foreman, "Since you know the ways of kindness and value justice, perhaps the Gods have brought this erring man near, that you may lead him into this better way. Maybe you are the salt which is to make this brother more agreeable to all other men…Why not assert your mastery of evil by virtue of the power of goodness; and thus become the master of all relations between the two of you? I predict that the good in you could overcome the evil in him, if you gave it a fair and living chance." (1430)
Jesus never tired of reminding his fellow men that they were sons and daughters of God, and that the spiritual resources at their disposal were more than adequate to cope with their human and material problems. Indeed, he had a very high regard for human nature, and understood its great potentials. He saw in Mary Magdalene, not the harlot of the streets, but the strong spiritual leader which she became. He perceived in Peter, not the impetuous man who spoke before he thought, or the coward who denied his Lord, but the spiritual rock and great evangelist, which he became. The confidence which Jesus has inspired in countless men and women over the centuries, has inspired them to actualize their potentialities, as has no person in the history of man.
Unfortunately, vast numbers of struggling people do not hear this life-giving message of Jesus. Dr. James Dobson, in a survey of young married women, found that their most difficult problem was low self-respect. The religion of Jesus is tailored to the needs of such people. Jesus declared that even the most lowly human being, is a son or daughter of God; and that when they recognize and accept this fact, they will develop a superb self-respect. Most of the debilitating problems in our lives are the result of a negative self-image, and its consequent negative view on life.
The unconquerable faith which Jesus had in the loving rule of God in the heart of man, along with his confidence in the high potentialities of men and women, caused him to proclaim the existence of the most basic relationship of the universe: The Kingdom of God. The fatherhood of God, and the brotherhood of man are the basic foundations of this spiritual kingdom. This loving relationship is established within the heart and mind of each person, and brings the greatest freedom and joy which finite man can experience. The two indispensable requisites for entering this spiritual kingdom, are the sincerity of faith, and the hunger for truth. Jesus taught that truth perception is the heart of spiritual experience. "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." (1796) Over six-hundred rules dominated the religious life of the Jewish people of Jesus’ day, and controlled every aspect of their lives. The kingdom of God establishes true spiritual freedom. Followers of the religion of Jesus, live by the timeless spiritual principles of the universe, rather than custom-conditioned religious rules. Or, as St. Augustine phrased it, "Love God and do as you like."
As we place the spiritual priorities of the kingdom first in our lives, other things follow creatively. The inner leading of the spirit enables us to discover and actualize abilities and activities which make us effective sons and daughters of God.
The well known English writer, A. J. Cronin, began his professional career as a physician, but always, in the background of his mind, was the urge to write a novel. At the age of thirty-three, he developed a gastric ulcer, and was told he must take six months complete rest in the country on a milk diet. One day, weeks later, bored by enforced idleness, he stood on the desolate shore of a Highland loch, and raised his voice in a decision of frustration, "By heavens! This is my opportunity. Gastric ulcer, or no gastric ulcer, I will write a novel." For months, he struggled and agonized over words, phrases, and sentences. When he was half way through the novel, he paused to read what he had written. He was appalled. Never, had he read such nonsense. No one would read it. Furious with the futility of all of it, he bundled up the manuscript, went out, and threw it in the ash can.
With sullen satisfaction, he went for a walk in the drizzling rain. Half way down the loch shore, he came upon the old Scottish farmer who was his host, laboriously digging a patch of heath. When he told the old farmer what he had just done, his weathered face slowly changed; his keen eyes scanned Cronin with disappointment and a queer contempt. The silent man eventually spoke: "My father ditched this bog all his days, and never made a pasture. I’ve dug it all my days, and I’ve never made a pasture. But pasture, or no pasture, I canna help but dig. For, my father knew, and I know, that if you only dig enough, a pasture can be made here."
Cronin understood. He returned to the ash can, retrieved his manuscript, and before the six months were over, he finished it. The novel, Hatter’s Castle was selected by the English Book Society, dramatized, serialized, translated into nineteen languages, and has sold millions of copies.
Our lives are made meaningful, and the most useful, when we follow the inner leading of the will of God. When we are following these spiritual priorities, we do not change them simply because we become discouraged, meet opposition, or do not find the results we would like. Sometimes, generations of digging are necessary to turn some evil bogs into pleasant pastures.
Next to placing complete trust in the loving sovereignty of God over all of life, the second major emphasis in the religion of Jesus, is that faith and confidence in the spiritual realities of the kingdom, is the foundation of sonship with God. Faith is the only requirement for sonship and salvation. If your life is to be strong and productive, you need to distinguish between belief and faith. Belief is an intellectual assent, which may, or may not be lived. A psychological state of mind attains faith levels only when it dominates our life style, with our wholehearted consent.
Belief is limiting and circumscribed; faith is expanding, releasing, and growing. Belief tends toward dogmatism; faith tends toward openness and freedom. Belief can be second-hand, and a group possession; faith must be personal. Spiritual faith is unconquerable. It causes us to grow and progress in spite of our desire for ease, and the urge of the lower level animal tendencies. It generates courage and confidence despite adversities, reverses, and defeat. Faith, working through individuals, undergirds the continued survival of justice and altruism, in spite of human selfishness, social antagonisms, industrial greeds, and political maladjustments.
We are living in a culture experiencing a crisis in faith. There is a "credibility gap", a decline of public trust in all our social institutions. Theologian Richard Rubenstein in After Auschwitz, says: "We stand in a cold, silent, unfeeling cosmos, unaided by any purposive power beyond our own resources." Our secular society is nearing the brink of what Baptist theologian Carl Henry calls: "…the absolute autonomy of man, who does not need God, either to know the truth, or to do good…whether he wishes to walk on the moon, cure cancer, or bring peace on earth." Mass education has failed to produce an enlightened society, or curb greed and violence.
A major emphasis of the religion of Jesus is that love and service are the highest motives for living. These are the "Being" values which fulfill the deepest needs of human nature, and bring happiness into our lives. When the lawyer of the Pharisees asked Jesus to state the first and greatest commandment of life, Jesus replied: "There is but one commandment…’you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength’…and the second commandment is like the first…’You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these; on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (1901)
The empirical and scientific wisdom of man has arrived at the same conclusions. The psychiatrist, Dr. Fisher, in his book Some Buttons Missing, says that if all of the wisdom which psychiatrists and psychologists have garnered over the years were boiled down to the meat, leaving out the parsley, and if this meat were written by the world’s best poets – you would have a lesser facsimile of the world’s greatest message of love, "The Sermon on the Mount." The anthropologist, Ashley Montagu, in On Being Human says: "The [human] organism is born with an innate need for love. Whatever is opposed to love, to goodness, and to co-operation, is disharmonic, unviable, unstable, and malfunctional – evil."
When Mozart was a small boy, he was visited by an eminent man of wisdom, Gottfried von Jacquin. Mozart was already well known as a child prodigy. Gottfried von Jacquin wrote these memorable words in Mozart’s album: "True genius without heart, cannot exist – for neither high intelligence, nor imagination, nor both together, make genius. Love! Love! Love! …is the soul of genius."
Jesus’ religion of love even appeals to most of those who reject institutional Christianity. Bertrand Russell, Nobel Prize winner, distinguished philosopher, and author of "Why I Am Not a Christian," lectured at Columbia University in November of 1950. His brilliant mind traced the impact of science on contemporary society. In the first lecture, Philosopher Russell, rather thoroughly, dismissed the formulations of Christian theology. Yet, his last lecture ends with a rather strange conclusion. He is enumerating the things and conditions which are necessary if our scientific age is to be relatively happy and stable. He says: "The root of the matter is a very simple and old-fashioned thing; a thing so simple that I am almost ashamed to mention it, for fear of the derisive smile with which wise cynics will greet my words. The thing I mean – please forgive me for mentioning it – is love; Christian love; compassion. If you feel this, you have a motive for existence; a guide in action; and a reason for courage."
Love is the most powerful attitude of man. Harry Emerson Fosdick relates a story which occurred during the Armenian atrocities. A young woman and her brother were pursued down a street by a Turkish soldier. Finally, they were cornered and the brother was brutally slaughtered. The young woman, while her brother was being slain, dodged down an alley, leaped a fence, and escaped. Later, being a nurse, she was forced by the Turks to labor in a hospital. One day, to the ward she attended, came the Turkish soldier who had slain her brother. He was desperately ill, and the slightest inattention would have ensured his death. No one would have ever known. But, she did all within her power to restore him to health. He recognized her, and one day asked her why she had not let him die. She replied: "I am a follower of him who said: ‘Love your enemies and do good for them.’" For a long time, the soldier was silent. Then he said: "I never knew that there was such a religion. If that is your religion, tell me about it, for I want it."
Service is the hallmark of all who live the religion of Jesus. We are told by a Mighty Messenger that: "Service – more service, increased service, difficult service, adventurous service, and at last, divine and perfect service – is the goal of time, and the destination of space." (316) "Every man feels, instinctively,…", James Russell Lowell points out, "…that all of the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single, lovely action." Any one who has experienced a dynamic personal relationship with God, and had dedicated himself to the demands of this relationship, must do something about it. "True religion must act." (1121)
Such service is possible even for those who are destitute and seemingly have nothing to give. George Washington Carver was such a person. He was born in Missouri of slave parents whom he never knew, because they were carried off by slave raiders when he was a baby. The white planter, Moses Carver, who raised him, was so poor, the Carvers were unable to send him to school. So, George went on his own; slept in barns and haylofts, worked for his food, at whatever jobs turned-up; took in all of the learning which the one-room school house had to offer.
He was admitted by mail, to the University of Iowa, but later rejected when they learned that he was a negro. George washed, scrubbed, and house-cleaned his way through three years at Simpson College and four years of agricultural studies at Iowa State College. There, his genius with soils and plants, won him, on graduation, a place on the faculty. But down in central Alabama, Booker T. Washington, the president and founder of Tuskegee Institute, was dreaming of economic emancipation for the negro farmer. He saw young Carver as the key to realizing this dream. When Carver arrived in Tuskegee in 1896, he had nothing to work with. He built a laboratory from material salvaged from trash piles; and transformed his sixteen-acre experimental sand farm into one of the most productive pieces of land in the South.
George Washington Carver became the first and greatest chemurgist in America. His research was the foundation of multi-million dollar agriculture enterprises. Thomas Edison invited him to join his staff at $50,000 a year. But, Carver had a formula for life which kept him at Tuskegee: "Start where you are, with what you have; make something of it; never be satisfied." Spiritual resources were at the heart of George Washington Carver’s service. He had two favorite scripture verses. His "light" passage was Proverbs 3:6: "In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." His "power" passage was Phil. 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me."
Service is not only related to the big and important things in life. It includes the small and semingly insignificant things. "Most of the really important things which Jesus said and did seemed to happen casually, ‘…as He passed by…’" (1875) This can be true of our lives, also. In the midst of the depression, when Ted and Dorothy Hustead were barely able to suvive in their Wall, South Dakota drug store, they noticed that travelers in the hot and dusty climate, were always thirsty when they entered the store. They posted signs along approaching highways, "Free Ice Water, Wall Drug Store, Wall, South Dakota." Soon, thirsty people were showing up, and signs were placed farther and farther East, all the way to the coast. Eventually, the Wall Drug Store was hiring twenty-eight employees to serve an average of 5,000 glasses of water a day.
Sometimes, the kind and thoughtful little things we do are long remembered, and have far-reaching consequences. Fred C. Kelly tells how…late one night, many years ago, the manager of a small hotel in Philadelphia, happened to be behind the desk when a middle-aged man and his wife from New York came in. The wife was ill, and they had been unable to find lodgings, because a large convention of some kind was in the city, and all of the hotels were crowded. They were polite, and didn’t make any demands, but asked the advice of the manager about how they might obtain a place to sleep. "Every guest room is filled…", the manager said, "…but," he added, "I’ll give you my own room."
The manager hadn’t even learned their names, and didn’t expect any special reward for his courtesy. He just did it as an act of decency. But, it made a great impression on the man and his wife. They noticed that the hotel was well managed, and that much attention seemed to be paid to small details, for the comfort of the guests. The next morning, the husband called upon the manager and said: "You’re the kind of hotel manager that should be at the head of a really great hotel. I’d like to build one for you. If that interests you, please get in touch with me some time." The guest was William Waldorf Astor. And the hotel man was the late George C. Boldt. As manager of the old Waldorf-Astoria, that Astor provided for him, Boldt became known as the greatest hotel man of his time.
The great challenge of every life is to find and dedicate oneself to a meaninful life-plan. God has a purpose for your life, and one of your greatest opportunities is to find and follow that plan. Millard Fuller, director of Habitat for Humanity, an ecumenical service project with headquarters at Koinonia Farm, near Plains, Georgia, thought he had found the key to American success in his twenties. As a law student, his part time entrepreneurial projects made him more money than the president of the university was making. After graduation, he put his money making abilities into high gear. Soon, he and his business partner owned a publishing business, and 2,000 acres of farm land. Millard was a millionaire before he was thirty. He and his wife, Linda, had plans on the drawing board for a $150,000 home on a twenty-acre lot, in a plush new sub-division just outside of Montgomery, Alabama. Then his world, rich in things, fell in.
One day, he came home and found a note from Linda saying she had gone to a hotel in New York to think about whether their marriage was worth saving. Millard decided he needed to do some thinking of his own. After a week of soul searching, he realized that his entire life was headed in the wrong direction; his priorities were wrong. Millard went to New York, and together with Linda, they turned their lives, along with their possessions, over to Christ. Later in this year of 1968, they retreated to Koinonia Farm, founded by Clarence Jordan, and there, with a small band of dedicated Christians, they created the concept of Koinonia Partners, and the Fund for Humanity, to go into partnership with God, to do his work in the world.
They saw the tremendous need for decent housing among the poor people of the world, and so the Habitat for Humanity project was born. Durable and efficient houses were designed, co-operatively built, and sold to families with no profit or interest added. They were given twenty years to pay for the houses, so that payments would be low enough for them to afford. As a result of this dedicated housing, and learning first-hand about the religion of Jesus.
Finally, the religion of Jesus calls for fidelity and courage. Courage was the very heart of His teachings. "Fear not", was his watchword; and patient endurance his ideal of strength of character. The teachings of Jesus constitute a religion of valor, courage, and heroism." (1582) "No armies of the world…", he declared, "…have ever displayed more courage and bravery than will be portrayed by you and your loyal successors, who shall go forth to all the world proclaiming the good news – the fatherhood of God, and the brotherhood of man." (1608)
Anyone who follows and grows in the religion of Jesus is almost certain to meet with opposition. Selfishness and greed always resist the leaven of love; egocentric pride and self-righteousness ever strive to limit the creative expression of others; and stereotyped religious dogma is eternally prepared to do battle with the enlarged insights of the Spirit of Truth. Jesus taught that nothing can ultimately defeat those sons and daughters of God whose lives are spirit directed. We should live fearlessly and rejoice in being pioneers of truth, beauty, and goodness. The march of truth cannot be stopped by those who only kill the body.
Jesus could have escaped the cross if he had conformed to the religious dogmas and institutional authorities of his day. Socrates would not have been forced to drink the cup of hemlock, if he had agreed to stop teaching young people in Athens. Giordano Bruno would not have been executed if he had disavowed belief in the new astronomical universe described by Copernicus. Savonarola would not have been hanged if he had stopped preaching about reforms needed in the church and civil life. John Huss could have escaped being burned at the stake if he had refrained from teaching liberal ideas. William Tyndale would not have died a martyr had he not published an English translation of the Bible.
So it is, that scores of valiant followers of the religion of Jesus have had the courage to live and witness to their faith, so that truth, beauty, and goodness – the rule of God in the hearts of men and women – might grow and prosper on our planet. This is the price of progress. "Happy are they", said Jesus, "…who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Happy are you when men shall revile you and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven." (1570) The Master assures us that this is only the beginning of triumphant living. They who endure the test and trials of spirit-centered living in the here and now, will find on the mansion worlds on high, a continuation of thrilling adventure and fulfilling accomplishment!
Here, then, is the unsurpassed and living religion of Jesus – his profound trust in the Fatherhood of God; his absolute faith in the kingdom of God as the relationship in which the best in human life is actualized; his grateful response in living a life of love and service toward God and his fellowmen; and, his stalwart courage in following the divine way in any and all of the circumstances of life. When these four basic principles of the religion of Jesus become the ruling tenets of your life, you have the resources for mastering all of the personal and material problems of life. These are the foundations of confident and creative living.
Jesus is the greatest person who has ever lived on our world. The faith by which he lived is yours for the taking. The abundant life which he experienced may also be yours. He is longing to guide you in this life of spiritual growth, fulfillment, and power. Jesus stands, in spirit, at the door of our hearts, and knocks. He wants to lead you into meaningful living; he wants to make your life significant through divine partnership. But only you can let him in; only you can give him all that you have, and all that you are. May I assure you that when you give him all that you have, then will be make you more than you are! (1285)
The Living Religion of Jesus
(A bare-bones outline of the above around which you can arrange your own illustrations.)
Intro: Jesus’ entire life centered around a consciousness of God. All of the beliefs by which he lived grew out of this relationship with the Father.
- 1. First of all, Jesus taught that God controls the universe, and loves man as a Father loves his children.
- A. He assures us that God is our loving heavenly Father.
- i. We have nothing to fear.
- ii. The resources of the universe are on our side.
- B. He had a high regard for human nature, and saw man as a son of God with great potential.
- C. He inaugurated the Kingdom of God, the rule of the spirit of God in the heart of man.
- D. He taught that truth perception is at the heart of spiritual experience.
- i. Brings true personal freedom.
- ii. We live by spiritual principles, rather than by religious rules.
- iii. We place spiritual priorities of the kingdom first in our lives; other things then follow creatively.
- 2. Second, Jesus taught that faith and confidence in the spiritual realities was the foundation of life and sonship. It is the key to salvation.
- A. Faith is the only requirement for salvation. It is not where you are now, but the way you are facing which is the important thing.
- B. Utilize the "mind of Jesus", the Spirit of Truth for inner guidance. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." Our mind-set controls our destiny. Growth is always from within.
- 3. Third, Jesus taught that love and service are the highest motives for living.
- A. The two great commandments: Love of God and man. Love integrates all of the positive and constructive capacities of man. Love is the most powerful human capacity.