Christianity, Unconditional Love, and Absolute Tolerance: Matt. 3

In my introductory post I addressed what I feel is a misunderstanding by the general public about Christianity, namely that Christianity demands absolute tolerance for all behavior because it teaches unconditional love.  I refute the idea that Christ taught a ‘anything goes’ gospel.  I have chosen to do this by working through the book of Matthew with this purpose in mind.

The first couple of chapters in Matthew present the genealogy of Christ, and the familiar story of the birth of Christ.  I did not see anything in these chapters that directly spoke to the gospel that Christ would teach – let me know if you think I missed something.  But chapter 3 of Matthew is interesting because it contains a summary of the preparatory preaching of John the Baptist, and the baptism of Christ.

This chapter starts out with a bang:

Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. (vs 2-3)

This is hardly the opening of an anything goes tolerance gospel.  Repentance means change, and turning toward God.  It is the Lords path that is to be followed, not our own.  The followers of John appeared to have the same attitude:

6  And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.

These good folks were not justifying or excusing their behavior, they were openly confessing their sins.  And John’s rebuke of the Pharisees and Sadducees furthers this attitude:

8  Bring forth fruits meet for repentance.

John was calling on the people to show by their deeds that they had reformed their behaviors, and were ready to commit to the straight path that the Lord expects his followers to travel.  John goes on with stern imagery of what Christ’s gospel would entail:

10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

This bears no resemblance whatsoever to the all-inclusive, absolute tolerance characterization that many claim Christianity demands.  Christ’s call is to change our behaviors, repent of our sins, and follow His straight path.  It is not to claim that we cannot change, justify our behavior, and follow whatever path we prefer.

The chapter ends with Jesus submitting to John’s baptism in order to fulfill all righteousness, which is another important aspect of understanding and following Christ’s gospel.

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