Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Descending Way

A wise person (I don’t remember who) once said, “A surplus of virtue is more dangerous than a surplus of vice because a surplus of virtue is unchecked by the constraints of conscience.” Think about that for a minute. A surplus of virtue is more dangerous than a surplus of vice. It sounds counterintuitive—like Jesus’ paradoxes (e.g., the last shall be first)—but it’s true. Inside each of us is the desire to dominate, to lord it over another. And the more we are convinced of the rightness of our cause, the more we feel justified in wielding power over those whose cause we deem less holy than ours. Yet this desire to dominate does not come from God. It’s part of our sinful nature.

Many of my conservative friends and former students are political activists. They want to lead the nation and shape society for Christ. They are cultural warriors who see their mission as restraining evil and promoting virtue in the world. And they seek to do this by obtaining positions of power and influence in government. I know their motives are good, but their methods are questionable, even worldly. It’s how the world promotes its agenda.

Jesus’ plan for social change was not through political activism but radical social action. He didn’t seek to serve in places of power. He exercised power by service in the lowliest of places. Following Jesus means giving up our quest for upward mobility and trading it for downward mobility.

Jesus repeatedly chose the descending way over the ascending way. He came down from heaven to earth, trading his heavenly glory for an earthly life of service and self-sacrifice. “For the son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). After being lifted up on the cross, he went down to the tomb, then down to the depths of hell. Down, down, down—the descending way.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (
The Cost of Discipleship). The way to glory leads through the cross, and we will all be judged by what we did, or neglected to do, for “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40).

We sometimes sing the hymn
Higher Ground, which begins, “I’m pressing on the upward way.” Maybe we should change it to the “downward way.” If we did, would anyone believe us?

1 comment:

  1. Awesome information and food for cogitation! How I wish those with such lofty agendas of "positions of power for Christ" could actually understand the heart of Christ..."God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble."