The Pursuit of Harmlessness

The world sells us a vision of integrated commitments, of big things broken down to make them compatible with other dreams and aspirations. We are encouraged to change our diets and increase our exercise through piecemeal measures, with minimal cost or inconvenience. The model of paying off big debts in small instalments has migrated from the financial world to our wider lives, with the promise of big returns for small investments. In terms of keeping ourselves fit and healthy, or becoming more productive this a highly commendable approach, but it may carry a cost in terms of our concept of commitment to Christ.

Ours is a generation in pursuit of harmlessness, of blunt edges, of minimised necessity, and all of this can easily run against the grain of the call that Christ places on us. Where churches bill their proclamation of the demands of the kingdom as being in the same category as sticking to our ‘5 a Day’ or our rolling gym membership, where the emphasis is the easy assumption of what Jesus says into our wider network of priorities and aspirations, then we have of necessity made less of what the Lord demands of us than is biblical or helpful. Where we have given our Christian life a slice of the pie, or share of our time, where we have added a segment to our schedule to in some way nod at a commitment to Christ, we have significantly diluted what the gospel asks of us.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is insistently inconvenient, it is disruptive, and subversive, it is sharp edged, and hardwired to negate all our lesser loves until the Saviour is all in all, on the final Day. The message of the Kingdom is not of adding another string to our bow, but of having our lives riven by a sword which never promised peace, rather division and difficulty. Embracing the Lord Jesus Christ means losing our lives in a desire to truly find them, it means forsaking all and everything in favour of him, it will encroach into our time, it will ask us to render our short lives in wholehearted devotion, and it will harm our temporal plans in the pursuit of eternal ends. Jesus is not compatible, he is not comfortable, he is not reducible to a bare minimum or ‘bronze option, while we opt for ‘platinum’ in other areas. We are saved by free grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, but that experience consequently leads us to lay down our everything in gospel-responsive devotion.

As a Christian, all of this challenges me to my core. By nature I want a low impact way to follow Jesus, I want to keep certain parts of my heart and my timetable sacrosanct, I want to buy the gospel app but run my own operating system, but the true gospel won’t let me. The gospel won’t buy my self-justification, it won’t quality-approve my slipshod sanctification, it won’t stomach my lukewarm responses to the truth. Instead it needles me, and provokes me, and preoccupies me, the Holy Spirit strives with everything which is not Christ, or which is half-Christ, making me restless and agitated until that vexation leads to the joyous surrender of discipleship.

As a Pastor this makes me want to preach and teach the gospel as the most crucial thing which the mind of man can meditate upon. If people are going to accept or reject Christ then I want them to know that this is a matter of first and eternal importance, that he is not an anaemic or servile projection of human consciousness, or the panacea to ‘felt needs’, but the Lord of glory, the King of kings. I want to preach a gospel which throws the lifeline of free grace to every soul, but I also want to help people count the true cost of following after Christ. To borrow from Dorothy L. Sayers, I want to re-claw the Lion of Judah, I want with Amos to allow the conscience piercing roar of God in the gospel to come home, to weigh heavily, to work deeply.

All of this means an abandonment of the pursuit of harmlessness. The gospel of Christ is never toxic but it is tenacious, it is never destructive but it is rigorously reconstructive of the human heart and mind. I want to write this on my heart, I want to speak this with love and tenderness to every soul, I want to magnify the reality of Christ’s kingdom now, and the majesty of Christ’s kingdom coming in such a way that glibness gives way to glory, that unhelpful compatibility yields to revolution and biblically principled radicalism.

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