Wednesday, October 07, 2020

A Unique Learning Experience

“That is not the way you learned Christ.”

Learning Christ is not like learning Marxism or Islam or Buddhism or Taoism. It’s not even like learning Christianity.

All religious and political movements have recognized founders whose words are studied, analyzed, memorized and followed dutifully, but their adherents are not “learning” Karl Marx or Muhammad ibn Abdullah or Siddhartha Gautama or Laozi; rather, they are learning propositions and theories these men set forth about life, the universe and the proper ordering of society.

Some religious and political leaders succeed, at least to a limited extent, in living out their own ideals. Others don’t do so well at that. Either way, it is pretty hard for us to learn them, even if we are determined to try.

‘Learning’ Political and Religious Leaders

For example, Karl Marx allegedly fathered a child with his housekeeper, drank and smoked to excess, and was afflicted by skin lesions, boils and carbuncles which caused mood swings, depression and self-loathing. It is thought that his theory of alienation may have arisen out of his ongoing physical and psychological torment. Marx taught the politics of envy, quite possibly because he lived so miserably. Notwithstanding the fact that Marxism has been hugely problematic to implement in the real world and has resulted in the deaths of millions, people still want to learn it. But nobody wants to “learn Marx”. Why would they?

Muhammad had thirteen wives, the most famous of whom was married to him at either nine or ten years old, depending on which biographer you believe. Moreover, unlike the myth that Christianity causes wars, Islam demonstrably does. It might be possible to learn to think and live like Muhammad ibn Abdullah, but you cannot “learn” Muhammad or relate to him personally, always assuming you find the sort of world he sought to produce to be an attractive proposition.

Finally, the various sources of information about Siddhartha Gautama are mutually contradictory and ambiguous, and it is unclear whether Laozi, traditionally regarded as the father of Taoism, even existed. These men cannot be judged by how they lived out their own ideals because there simply isn’t adequate information about them to be had. Even assuming they were genuinely historical, you couldn’t learn them even if you dedicated your life to the task.

Learning Christ

When we read what both their followers and critics say about these political and religious figures, it is debatable whether anyone should want to “learn them” at all. And even if we wanted to, we can’t.

But Jesus Christ can be learned. So says the apostle Paul.

Unlike other religious figures, there can be no legitimate accusations of failures of integrity against the Lord Jesus. Claims of sensuality, greed or impurity did not stick to him then, and they certainly will not stick today. When accused of having a demon, he pointed out the illogic of the claim: “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself.” Nobody had an answer for that. The Almighty God himself testified on multiple occasions to the pleasure he took in the life of Jesus Christ in front of a legally-decisive number of human witnesses. “Which of you convicts me of sin?” Jesus asked a crowd of Jews ... to a resounding silence. The man who put him on trial declared “I find no guilt in this man.” The Roman soldiers who beat him and watched him die said, “Truly, this was the Son of God.” The thief who died beside him said, “This man has done nothing wrong.” The closest anyone could muster to an accusation with an actual basis in fact was to passive-aggressively question the Lord’s parentage.

Who would not want to “learn” someone like that?

True Learning

But learning Christ is not merely a matter of book study. It is not even a matter of following a specific set of so-called “Christian” teachings which are alleged to make life better and our future brighter and more certain.

To “learn Christ” is not simply to subscribe to a set of beliefs, or even to investigate a historical figure and attempt to imitate how he lived. Rather, it is to acquire a new self, “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness”. To “learn Christ” is to be “renewed in the spirit of your mind”, not merely convinced of the truth of a doctrine. Learning Christ is, metaphorically speaking, feeding on his flesh and drinking his blood; it is dying with him and rising again in the power of his indestructible life; it is to become the workmanship of God, created anew for good works.

Millions of people struggle to live truly “Christian” lives because they have only learned the moral precepts of the Christian walk and are trying to live these out in the strength of human effort. They have not truly “learned Christ”.

Scripture invites us to do just that.

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