A fine balance of power and love

How to live as a radical Christian

Growing up in post-communist Romania, a country where the Christian population still fears the government, I came to believe that being a Christian is to be a pushover, a person with no spine and no will of their own.

Though Christ was preached from the pulpit, the portrait was often skewed. Rarely was Christ’s straightforward and confrontational manner mentioned, how he peacefully and majestically stood up to the Sadducees and the Pharisees, and his bluntness in condemning sin, telling people they would go to hell if they didn’t repent.

Moreover, the episode where Christ overthrew the merchants’ tables was rarely brought up – the action itself and the reasons behind his doing that were often omitted.

A genuine Christian, who wants to live like Christ, is not a pushover.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t judge my parents’ generation. Unfortunately, they did not know better. They had no idea that the most significant social reformers in history were Christian men and women who were radicals for their own time while being entirely dedicated to Christ, mind, body, and spirit.

After reading biographies and autobiographies of various Christian social reformers, I have realised that to be a Christian is not to be weak, fearful, and cowardly – quite the opposite – while simultaneously being loving, kind, and merciful. These men and women were following in the footsteps of their Master with all their might.

Apostle Paul makes an interesting assertion in 2 Timothy 1:7 (MEV) when he boldly claims, “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and self-control.” In unambiguous terms, Paul clarifies that to be a Christian is not to be fearful but courageous. In this verse, Paul uses three comprehensive nouns to describe the spirit of Christ that guided him and genuine Christians for two millennia.

These nouns underline balanced courage, a perfect combination of power, love and self-control. In Christ’s character there is a perfect balance between politeness, kindness, calmness and optimism, on the one hand, and sincerity, righteousness, assertiveness and realism, on the other. He perfectly embodies everything excellent and superlative.

A genuine Christian, who wants to live like Christ, is not a pushover, someone you can step over and easily fool or influence. Not even close. Though their actions embody superlative love, they can be also bold and tough-minded. Though fearless, they are not aggressive.

A Christian who walks in power and has self-control is not a troublemaker but a peacemaker.

Paul keeps things in balance. Misguided power can be dangerous, and Paul knows that. He points out that the spirit of God, while assertive and courageous, is loving, merciful and self-controlled.

This perfect balance is what I love most about the Scriptures. They cover every aspect of life. And Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, keeps this perfect balance in many passages, especially when discussing wives and husbands, children and parents, and slaves and masters. The power that Paul talks about is neither brute force nor violence. It’s instead having the strength as a Christian to live like Christ, no matter how difficult it might be or how much people might hate them for living in a godly way. It’s the ability to face adversity in one’s life, to withstand and meet the challenges that come with living righteously.

Worldly power, whether political, social or economic, is not about living righteously, using one’s influence to do good. It’s rather about corruption, using power to influence or corrupt things to one’s advantage. The word power has a negative connotation, and rightly so. Christians are not afraid to do what is right and disobey unjust laws. Still, they will demonstrate self-control and avoid malicious behaviour. A Christian who walks in power and has self-control is not a troublemaker but a peacemaker.

Being able to suffer and even die for Christ and for what is righteous is something out of the ordinary. That’s what Paul did. He suffered frequent beatings, indefinite imprisonment and persecution because of Christ. And though he was unjustly treated, he acted like Christ.

A Christian’s inner power goes hand in hand with love for their neighbour.

True power shows love and kindness and gives something to eat or a glass of water to the enemy who hates and despises you (Romans 12:20 MEV). Anyone can be kind to those who are kind to you (Matthew 5:46, 47 MEV) or evil to those who are hostile to you. But having the strength to show love, even to your enemies, is something radical. Thus, a Christian’s inner power goes hand in hand with love for their neighbour.

These are not contradictory – power and love work together alongside self-control. Self-control is at the core of the Christian faith. The world suffers from a lack of self-control, which is antithetical to the Christian worldview. The spirit of a Christian is not a spirit of extremes, self-indulgence and pleasure-seeking but a spirit of balance, of equilibrium.

Self-control keeps one’s emotions in check even when times get tough, and exerts discipline, restraint and moderation.

As Paul says in Ephesians 5:15 (MEV), a Christian must be level-headed and sober. Christ did not change his behaviour according to circumstances. (James 1:17 MEV). And a genuine Christian will try to live with integrity regardless of the circumstances. Despite the challenges, they will not switch lanes just because it’s easier.

Though Christians are kind and generous, they are no fools. Walking this fine line takes work, and the only way Christians can achieve this is through repentance and radical change, keeping the word of God and Christ at the centre of their lives.

Living as a true Christian, having this spirit of power, love and self-control, and not of fear, will be challenging. Yet the rewards are having peace, overcoming difficulties with Christ’s help, and loving one’s neighbour even when hated and despised. In the end, power, love and self-control mean having the strength to suffer unjustly, showing kindness even to one’s enemies, and being temperate. And walking this fine line between power, love and self-control shows the radical spirit of a genuine Christian.

Sources: Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind by Tom Holland; Christian Social Reformers of the Nineteenth Century by Hugh Martin;
The Bible. Modern English Version. Military Bible Version. 2014.

Marius Bagu is a freelance writer and the author of Bold Christianity.