Why Jesus requires our self-denial, not our sword

June 4, 2018

All that lit the dark night were torches carried by soldiers sent to the garden to arrest Jesus. Imagine the irony of that. Roman soldiers arresting Jesus is like a flock of centipedes harnessing the wind. Even the soldiers knew the futility of their assignment as they bowed to the ground when Jesus introduced himself. Stumbling to understand, looking at Judas, they asked again. Jesus confirmed that he was the man they came to arrest.

At that moment, determined to protect Jesus from this injustice, Peter drew his sword and actually cut off the right ear of the high priest’s servant, Malchus.

Blood flowing and tempers soaring, Jesus picked up the ear, miraculously replaced it, and instructed Peter to put away his sword. It wasn’t Malchus’ blood that was required that day. “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” Jesus asked. Peter said nothing and watched as Jesus put his hands, still stained with the servant’s blood, into the soldier’s hands to be led to Annas, then to Caiphas, then to Pilate, and then to the Cross of Golgotha.

“My kingdom is not of this world.”

The courage that motivated Peter to defend Jesus in the garden soon turned sour, causing him to deny Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest. Peter didn’t mind fighting a war he couldn’t lose, but when self-denial became Jesus’ weapon of choice, he wasn’t so sure. As the smoke of that charcoal fire filled his lungs, a battle raged in his heart. Jesus often spoke of suffering, sacrifice, and losing one’s life to follow him, but he also spoke of salvation, a future hope, and the kingdom of God.

When Peter put away his sword, Jesus invited him to a different kind of life altogether.

So when Jesus told Peter to put away his sword, Peter’s life took a whole new turn. The rejection the band of 12 brothers had faced for three years was just the beginning, not the end as he had hoped. The kingdom Jesus spoke of was not a political coup after all. The promises Jesus made would not be realized through conventional methods of war. When Peter put away his sword, Jesus invited him to a different kind of life altogether.

Only a few hours later, Jesus would explain this to Pilate when he said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36). There it is. Ears would have been flying everywhere if this was Jesus’ kingdom, but it wasn’t and it isn’t.

Abandoning our version of the kingdom

Like Peter around that charcoal fire, we often struggle with the implications of building Jesus’ kingdom rather than our version of it. We fear losing our rights and privileges. We wonder how much will be asked of us. We resist releasing entrenched personal convictions. We feel pulled away from our national identity. We aren’t sure that loving people like God loves people will serve us well in the end. And perhaps most of all, we abhor the thought of losing our cherished idol of safety.

Yet when the rooster crowed and Peter and Jesus’ eyes met across the courtyard, Jesus did not shame Peter. Instead, I like to think Jesus gave a reassuring nod that said, “This is hard and painful and dangerous, but it is good and right and beautiful, and I still want you with me as I build my kingdom.”

Making disciples, by definition, invites a new generation of Jesus followers to deny themselves and take up their cross. This language is the language of loss. But it’s not merely a philanthropic loss of donated time or money. It’s not a “no-pain-no-gain” loss that promises a big payoff for hard work. It’s not the kind of loss that sweats bad karma from our pores. And it’s not a loss that sits by and expects the weak to endure abuse at the hands of the powerful.

The cross provides something more atomic than any of that. Jesus’ innocent death at the hands of sinful humanity satisfied the just demand of a holy God, so that taking up our cross is not our attempt to make additional payment for our sin. Instead, when we put away our swords and take up our crosses, we are accepting his payment for our sin, identifying with him in his death, burial, and resurrection, and thus announcing Jesus’ kingdom and God’s offer of forgiveness and reconciliation to a waiting world. We are trading our life for Jesus’, our influence for his gospel, and our future for his kingdom.

So as we invite the next generation of followers to live for Jesus’ kingdom, we, like Jesus, must insist, “Put away your sword.” Here are three simple applications for this:

1. When we put away our swords, we discover the gospel is greater than the horror of sin.

When Peter removed his sword and cut off Malchus’ ear, his intent was not to ignite a violent uprising. He was simply taking things into his own hands to remedy an injustice. He was noble. He was brave. But he was wrong. He was wrong because despite his good intentions, he could not fix the actual problem of spiritual brokenness, and neither can we.

The next generation of Jesus followers put away the sword by surrendering aspirations of self-made success and humbly accepting Jesus’ sacrifice that conquers sin, Satan, and the flesh. No longer can we afford to assume the upwardly-mobile life answers our greatest problems. No longer can we depend on the next political regime to secure our future. The stakes are too big to trust that which produces so little.

As Peter watched the soldiers take Jesus away, he realized just how short his best efforts fell. Soon after the resurrection, however, Peter discovered grace that was greater than all his sin, he abandoned even his good intentions, and he humbled himself by running to the feet of Jesus. It was there that Peter discovered that the greatest work, the gospel work that reconciles sinful men and women to God, was already fully accomplished for him in Christ.

2. When we put away our swords, we announce that sanctification is greater than self-preservation.

This is not a Second Amendment issue. Jesus’ command to Peter in the garden was not a universal prohibition on bearing arms or self-defense. Neither is it a call to pacifism in rolling back injustices or in coming to the aid of the distressed and defenseless. It is, however, a reminder of Paul’s words to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Paul’s identity was so wrapped up in Jesus that his human existence was lived by faith in Jesus’ life and work rather than by his own personal sight or might.

Jesus’ goal for Peter was bigger than our traditional view of success measured by popular influence and increasing affluence. It was, instead, that Peter and every believer would be washed in the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb, be freed from the dominion of sin, and be restored to intimate fellowship with God. So it’s sanctification, our holiness, that is the real success for which we aim. It’s sanctification that frees us to flourish with the life-giving joy of Jesus. It’s sanctification that satisfies our soul, even when it requires the suffering of exchanging our lesser ambitions for God’s greater ones.

3. When we put away our swords, we make a gospel impact that is greater than our personal influence.

The shore of the Sea of Galilee was the location of one of the most powerful conversations recorded in Scripture. It was there that over a different charcoal fire the resurrected Jesus asked the repentant Peter three times if he loved him. Peter answered, “Absolutely!” on every occasion, to which Jesus replied, “Then feed my sheep.”

Peter was a fisherman by trade, so Jesus wasn’t suggesting a career change. This was not a “get back in your boat and be who you were created to be” Ted Talk. Jesus wasn’t simply redeeming Peter to restore Peter’s fallen reputation. Peter’s personal influence was not Jesus’ primary concern.

Feeding sheep nurtures and sustains sheep that depend on the care of a shepherd, and Jesus often used sheep to describe the people in his care. So it seems that Jesus was calling Peter to provide for Jesus’ people, but there was just one problem with that. Jesus didn’t have any people. As Peter looked around, he saw a few disoriented fishermen, but he was hard-pressed to find a flock of sheep. But Jesus knew something Peter still didn’t know: An awakening was coming fueled by the Holy Spirit of God. Thousands of people would hear and respond in saving faith to Peter’s gospel preaching, and a church planting movement would begin that would multiply disciples of Jesus among every nation, tongue, and tribe.

Political empires rise and fall. Vocational trends ebb and flow. Financial markets boom and bust. But put away your sword now because there is a kingdom coming that knows no end. Our greatest work is not to protect our way of life or to build our platform, but to dispense the grace of the gospel that has moved us from death to life. Whether in a fishing boat, a c-suite of a global corporation, a school classroom, or at a nurses’ station, our greatest work is to pass on the gospel that has been entrusted to us.

We may not see all the sheep from where we sit today. We may not see how God can use us, but he is at work, the Holy Spirit is able, and Jesus still saves. So in this moment, God calls the next generation of believers to live as missionaries, putting away the sword, and taking up their crosses to make disciples who live for his kingdom for generations to come.

This article originally appeared here.

Daryl Crouch

Following 28 years in pastoral ministry, Daryl Crouch now leads Everyone’s Wilson, a community transformation initiative that helps churches bring the whole community around every school so that every student, educator, and family can live whole. He’s married to Deborah, and they have four children. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24