This post is the second part in a series called After You Believe. I borrowed the series title from a book by N.T. Wright, but the content is not directly taken from the book. I just liked the title. (Read Part 1)
I want to make a confession: I am in therapy.
Seven or eight years ago, I started seeing a therapist, trying to work through some baggage that I was still carrying from my childhood. After about a year, I “graduated”—which is to say that my counselor felt that the work we had originally set out to do was finished. So I stopped going.
Then, about four months ago, I realized that I needed go back to therapy. As it turns out, as life goes on, we confront new struggles, new questions, and new ways of doubting ourselves. Now in my early thirties, married with two kids and a whole life of adulthood ahead of me, I realized that there were things I needed help with.
In this blog series, we’re talking about what it means to live a life of faith; we’re responding to the question, Now that I believe in Jesus, what do I do now?
One of the answers to this question is why I go to therapy.
In the book of Genesis, when God creates human beings, we are described as being made in “the image of God” (Genesis 1:26).
Much later, in the book of Deuteronomy, the people of Israel are given one of the most important prayers in the Scriptures:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus is asked about the most important passages in the Jewish Scriptures, and he begins by quoting this same prayer from Deuteronomy.
Deep in our story, we are told that we are made in the image of God and that one of God’s key defining attributes is that God is “One.”
In other words, God is whole—undivided.
In Matthew 5, Jesus challenges his followers with these words:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
At face value, this is one of the most discouraging passages in all of Scripture.
Be perfect? Thanks, Jesus. That’s a big help.
But the English word “perfect” doesn’t fully communicate what Jesus is really saying here.
In Greek, the word Jesus uses for “perfect” is the word telos.
Telos doesn’t mean to be without flaw or to never make mistakes.
Telos means to be whole—undivided.
In The Message version of this text, Eugene Peterson translates Jesus’ words this way:
“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity.” (Matthew 5:48, The Message, emphasis mine)
To be perfect, in Jesus’ sense of the word, is to be the fully-integrated versions of ourselves.
To be whole is to live out our God-created identities.
To follow the way of Jesus is to seek to be a whole person.
This is why I go to therapy.
I realize that, in my quest to be a whole, undivided, fully-integrated person, I’m going to need some help.
When we ask questions about What should we do now that we believe in Jesus, we are often looking for a list of rules—a moral code coated with a little bit of Jesus-style language.
However, the point is not to assign people to a new moral code or to illicit “Christian” behavior from people. It's bigger than that.
In his book After You Believe, N.T. Wright says it this way:
“Virtue… is about the whole of life, not just the specifically ‘moral’ choices” (p. 71).
When we ask what kinds of moral choices we should be making, we are thinking too small.
It’s not that there are not morals or that morals are irrelevant; it’s just that to follow Jesus is much bigger than that. It’s not about following a list of rules; it’s about becoming fully-integrated people. This includes morality, but it does not stop there. It permeates every corner of our being.
This is our pursuit: the undivided life.
Let me put it another way: To follow Jesus is to be put back together again.
Sometimes this means naming our brokenness and attempting to seek restoration from that.
Sometimes this means making choices that reflect who we truly are or, more significantly, who we were meant to be.
Sometimes it means walking into a therapist’s office and saying, “I need a little bit of help here.”
Whatever it means for you, may you be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. That is, may you be put back together as a whole person, regardless of what has fractured you in the past.
What do you think? What are some things that have helped you be put back together? What role do you think morality plays in this conversation?