Jesus, on the cross, right before he died said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34; ESV hereafter). Here, ‘them’ refers to the Roman soldiers who executed him and the Jews who had accused him falsely, arrested and tortured, and handed over to Pilate to crucify him. He prayed for them to God exactly as he taught in the Sermon on the Mount: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). To this teaching of Jesus, some say, as an excuse for them not to exactly follow Jesus’ teaching, that it was possible only for Jesus who is God. The implication of what they are saying is that it is impossible for any human being to love his or her enemies and pray for them as Jesus did and Jesus’ teaching on that is impractical. For example, in the idea, one of the most well-known Christian philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr said, “The way of agape in the New Testament is never found in history” (Reinhold Niebuhr, Human Nature, in The Nature and Destiny of Man: A Christian Interpretation I. Human Nature; II. Human Destiny, one volume ed., Gifford Lectures (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1949), 88). However, contrary to their persistent assertion, that “impossible” thing has happened throughout the human history, and that, numerous times.
“Stand fast in the faith, and love one another, all of you, and be not offended at my sufferings” (Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas, Chapter VI, Part 3). This is what a martyr named Perpetua, died in AD 203, said to other Christians in the arena, right before she died by being tossed and trodden by a fierce cow. She was a recent convert and young mom of an unweaned infant. She got naked and clothed with a net to make her opposite sex entice the cow. She was tossed and almost lost her mind because of shock and pain, but she stood and endured the forced indecency, pain, and fear until she said this. The last words, “Be not offended” means the same thing that Jesus meant on the cross.
This woman must be a common tender-hearted and sweet mom of a suckling but she must be an example of God’s people whom the book of Hebrews is talking about in 11:36-38. Nevertheless, some ‘Christians’, who insist that it is impossible for any human being to sacrifice him or herself in loving enemies, may say about the martyr that it was possible only in an ancient time. Okay. Even if that does not make sense at all, let it be admitted for a little while.
In 1946, there lived a pastor, Son Yangwon, in Korea. In the year there happened a political competition in Korean between the socialists and their opponents. Some of the socialists killed two sons of Son. After the turmoil was settled, one of the socialists who was accused as a murderer of the two sons were about to be executed after a trial. As Son had noticed it, he asked the authority to release the accused for him to adopt him as a son. As the accused had repented, Son’s asking was accepted. Son adopted his sons’ murderer and educated him that he became a preacher. Until this day, his stepson is a powerful gospel preacher who preaches Christian love with the example of his stepfather.
Son’s adoption of his sons’ murderer is a recent story in compared with Perpetua’s martyrdom. However, what Son did is basically what Jesus did on the cross and what Perpetua did in the arena. What then could be an excuse of those who say that what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount is not practical? Excuses could appear reasonable to only those who would like to make excuses not to accept the teaching of Jesus exactly as he taught. However, their problem is not only the excuse; but there is a more serious problem of them—they do not understand what power is it that enables ‘true’ Christians to love even their enemies following Jesus’ teachings and examples.
It is the Holy Spirit. They say loving enemies is impossible because they have a misunderstanding that the carnal godly mind is the Holy Spirit. If they are thinking so, they are totally missing the teaching of the New Testament—They are not getting the essence of the New Testament almost at all. It is safe to say so because the Holy Spirit is the “promise of God” (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4; 2:33; Gal. 3:14; Eph. 1:13) that Jesus promised to his disciples according to the new covenant (Ezek. 36:22-27). Without the dwelling of the Holy Spirit in oneself, the one does not belong to Christ (Rom. 8:9); in other words, the one is not a Christian at all.
The carnal mind is merely a part of the physical being; it is not eternal spiritual thing. The carnal mind can think about the Holy Spirit through mental process and contain knowledge of Him. However, that does not mean that it is spiritual. It is merely carnal, that is, physical in the sense that it is an outcome of the operation of the physical body. The carnal mind is physical that, when a person dies, it disappears. However, the soul and the spirit are different from it. Even if a person dies physically, they do not disappear. The carnal mind is not soul or spirit. We can know this through a simple logic. If it is soul or spirit, Alzheimer patients do not have their soul and spirit, which does not make sense at all. Think about Alzheimers who had been devout and sincere Christians through their lives until they became one and lost their normal mental process. If they were saved by their faith and obedient life when their mental process was normal, they still should have the soul and the spirit that are living forever in the kingdom of heaven.
This misunderstanding could have originated from a misinterpretation or mistranslation of a verse in the New Testament, Philippians 2:5. The English Standard Version (ESV) says, “Have this mind … which is yours in Jesus Christ.” However, it is not an accurate translation or an interpretation of the original Greek text. The Greek text does not have so much sense of ‘mind’ as it does ‘attitude.’ In this regard, the New International Version (NIV) is accurate which translates, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Having a mind and having an attitude is very different. Having a mind could mean only to have a thought or an idea, while having an attitude is to have willingness and intention to live according to the attitude. Having a mind sometimes could direct the person toward the thought, when it develops an attitude in the person. So, having a mind can be a starting point to develop an attitude; in other words, one could stop at just having a mind not going further to develop an attitude that leads a corresponding deed. On the contrary, having an attitude never fails to lead one to live according to the attitude; if it fails, it is not an attitude but just an idea or a wish.
The attitude that the passage, which includes the verse, talks about is absolute obedience to God or God’s will. Therefore, as one has the attitude of absolute obedience to God or God’s will as Jesus did (Matt. 26:39, 42), he or she must be doing exactly as the will of God teaches, through the words of God, him or her to do. As the Spirit of the Lord, through the words of God, fills one who has already emptied him or herself, having become obedient to death, even a death on the cross, the life the one will live is that of the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, the one’s life is following Jesus’ steps (1 Pet. 2:21).
Then, would they stop following Jesus at a point when they face hardships? Would they stop as they have to love their enemies? Would they flee or recant in a fear of death or pain when a cow or a wild beast rushes into him or her to devour? No! No! No! It is because it is not themselves, but Jesus, “through the Holy Spirit by faith” (Gal. 5:5), who is living in their flesh since they have been crucified with Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:20; cf. Rom. 6:4). All of these are possible only when they have emptied their carnal mind and become obedient to God to death—even by being devoured by wild beasts or being burned alive—so that the Holy Spirit works in them. They are not themselves any longer but they are new creature in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17)—they are one Spirit with Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 6:17). For them, because of the power of God working through the Holy Spirit, it is possible to do all things in Christ Jesus. Of them, no one and nothing can deprive their peace and joy and righteousness in the Holy Spirit which is the life in the kingdom of heaven (Rom. 14:17).
Who are those who still persist that it is impossible for any human being to love his or her enemy as Jesus taught? They must be those who do not understand the Holy Spirit and what power does He give to a Christian in whom God and the Son abide (John 14:23). They are pitiful people if they think they are Christians because they have not tasted the heavenly gift and shared in the Holy Spirit—they have not been enlightened at all (Heb. 6:4). The most serious—fatal—problem of them happens when they, going farther than misunderstanding the Holy Spirit, disparage and speak against Him. That is the sin of which Jesus warned specifically that it would not be forgiven (Matt. 12:31-32).
Therefore, the obedient attitude of one and work of the Holy Spirit in the one are the reason that the one can confidently say this: “I can do all things—whatever it may be—through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13; insertion mine). If you want to live by this power that the Lord empowers through the Holy Spirit and to have the boldness, joy, peace, and righteousness, the necessary and sufficient thing you have to do first is to become obedient to God and his will, humbling and submitting yourselves to death, even that on a cross or on burning woods.