Episode 6 Transcript

Episode 6: Inside Outside Upside Down


One of the shared but unspoken views of good church people is that the New Testament is version 2.0 of God’s Law. That God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit got together and worked all the bugs out of the Old Testament, and now we have the New Testament. New and Improved! Now with 30% fewer books and 64% fewer words! 

Like I said, nobody would ever say it like that, but if you’ve spent any amount of time in church you know what I’m talking about. We have some deep misunderstandings about both the Hebrew Scriptures, and the New Testament.

The New Testament is not an updated law code, telling us how to be good. If Jesus came just to tell us to be good, that’s the same thing the Pharisees were trying to do. Heck, it’s the same thing the Romans were telling their citizens. Was it all just about a different list of rules defining what is good and bad? Was Jesus saying, “No, the Pharisees’ list isn’t right, and the Romans’ list isn’t good either. Here, use this list instead.”

Jesus didn’t show up to tell us a new and improved way to be good. He wasn’t hawking an updated list of rules; version 2.0 of the Bible.

What he taught scandalized the Pharisees. And it is just as scandalous today, if we pay attention to what he is saying.

Simeon: Matthew, I can see why so many people are flocking to your churches. With this “I’m ok, You’re ok, she’s ok, he’s ok, they’re ok, We’re all ok” picture of God’s love, you could fill the coliseum every night. But you’re just telling people what they want to hear, not the hard truth they need to hear.

Matthew: What is that hard truth, Simeon?

Simeon:  Please! Surely even you remember the two ways? When our people were about to enter the promised land, Moses said, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live…” 

The hard truth is that life and blessings only come to those who choose the way of obedience. The other way leads to curses and death. You’re only “ok” if you’re on the right path. Everyone else is definitely not “ok.” And you’re not doing them a favor by telling them otherwise.

Matthew: Ahh. The two ways. A foundational instruction for us, to be sure. And one that I hold dear as well. But I see two problems with the way you are using it. The first is that it implies that anyone who experiences misfortune is cursed and must be on the wrong path. Surely you remember Job? Here we have a man who was certainly on the right path, but few have ever been more cursed than he was.

Simeon: Ahh! But in the end he was blessed. God is just. He rewards those who are on the right path, and punishes those who are sinners.

Matthew: Are you forgetting all those Psalms where the righteous cry out because they have been cursed while the wicked prosper?

Simeon: I believe God is just to both—in the end, even if we don’t get to see how he does it. Look, Matthew, I’m talking about a general principle. God favors the righteous, and opposes the wicked. If you want his favor, you have to walk in obedience. If you don’t walk that path, you have no one to blame but yourself for the cursed life you will live. This is the way God works.

Like I said, it’s a hard truth. 

—You said there were two problems. What was the other one?

Matthew: Hmm? Oh yes. 

Our teaching is not that everyone is “ok.” It’s that no one is. It doesn’t matter what path you’re on. You’re not ok. Everybody is in the exact same predicament. 

And fortunately for all of us, God does NOT work the way you say he does. He makes the sun shine on the just and the unjust— on those following what you call the right path, as well as on those following the wrong one.

The true path forward isn’t about piety. Remember what I told you about Jesus: he doesn’t want compliance. He wants transformation.

Opening Titles:

This is—

Jesus for Sex Workers, Church People, and Me

A podcast hosted by Todd Austin

Episode Six: Inside Outside Upside Down

The Teaching

In the Sermon on the Mount, what we’ve been calling the constitution for the kingdom of heaven, Jesus takes ideas from the ancient Hebrew Scriptures and applies them in ways that turn things upside down. We often miss the impact of what he’s doing, because we don’t know the Hebrew Scriptures. Scriptures like this one from Deuteronomy 19:

A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing in connection with any offense that may be committed. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained. If a malicious witness comes forward to accuse someone of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days, and the judges shall make a thorough inquiry. If the witness is a false witness, having testified falsely against another, then you shall do to the false witness just as the false witness had meant to do to the other. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. The rest shall hear and be afraid, and a crime such as this shall never again be committed among you. Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

This passage is part of the background for what Jesus taught in Matthew chapter 5 about retribution. It is fundamental to understanding his extended teaching on forgiveness in chapter 18, which we touched on in the last episode. And it is also the background for a famous rule in chapter 7—a rule I bet you are familiar with. Listen to this one phrase from Deuteronomy again:

 you shall do to the false witness just as the false witness had meant to do to the other…

Do you hear it? We might call this the Iron Rule, because it’s the dark legal shadow of Jesus’s Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Jesus takes a legal principle that is fundamentally about punishment and deterrence, and flips it in an entirely unexpected direction. 

To get the full force of what Jesus is doing, we need to back up a few verses in Matthew. Let’s start with verse 9 of chapter 7:

“Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

So, in everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”

Jesus is using the same formula he used at the end of chapter 5. That formula says, if God is a certain way, then we should certainly imitate Him in that way. In this case, God doesn’t give us what we deserve. He doesn’t even give us what we hope for. He surprises us by giving us “good gifts.” 

And we should do the same for others. We should give them, not what they deserve, but the same good things that God gives to us. In fact, we should give them the same good things that we would be surprised to receive from them if our positions were reversed. Do to others what you would have them do to you. Do to others as God has done for you.

The Golden Rule flips the Iron Rule in the same way that the Mercy Principle flips the Retribution Principle that we talked about in the last episode. The Retribution Principle says God favors the righteous, and punishes the unrighteous. The Mercy Principle says God favors the righteous, and he favors the unrighteous. He causes rain and sun, good gifts, to fall on both. He shows mercy.

And there’s also the Law/Love flip that we saw in chapter five when Jesus walked through the six examples from the Hebrew law, and said meeting a legal standard wasn’t good enough. That the real standard isn’t law, it’s love.

These flips make up the distinguishing characteristics of the kingdom of Heaven that Jesus is announcing. They are the source of the Scribes’ and the Pharisees’ criticism and suspicion of Jesus. And they are also what most good church people just cannot wrap their heads around still today. 

It’s not about fences and hedges. It’s not about compliance and rules. Lawkeeping gives you the appearance, not the essence. The shadow, not the substance. The outside, not the inside.

The 50 Years War

Good church people have spent the past 50 years at war. While they’re not ready to admit it, it’s a war they lost. Decisively. 

In episode 2 we asked the question, “How are the followers of Jesus supposed to affect positive change in the world?” Good church people would still tell you that’s what this war has been all about. About positive change. Standing up for what’s right. Fighting the good fight. Soldiers of Christ Arise, and all that.

Do you remember what the very first battle was over? “The shot heard ‘round the world,” so to speak, happened in 1962, and it was over these 22 words: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.”

This was the prayer that the New York Board of Regents recommended that teachers in all school districts use at the start of each school day. 

Steven Engel, a Jewish man, challenged the imposition of a prayer practice from one faith on children of multiple faith backgrounds, or of no faith. Why should children of other faiths have this imposed on them, or be singled out for not participating?

To paraphrase Paul Harvey, you know the rest of the story. Mr. Engel’s case made it all the way to the Supreme Court. In a 6-to-1 ruling, with two justices abstaining, the court ruled that school-sponsored prayer in public schools violated the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment.

So began the 50 Years War. This was the moment when everything started going downhill, from the perspective of good church people. You still hear people in church talk about it today. 

The most fiercely fought, and bloodiest battleground of this war has been over control of the Supreme Court. On October 27, 2020, good church people finally won that battle—and lost the war—with the appointment of a sixth conservative Supreme Court Justice.

Less than two years later, on June 27, 2022, the Court ruled 6-to-3 that a football coach had a constitutional right to pray in public on the 50 yard line after a game. 

This would have to be the modern poster child of a pyrrhic victory. The kind of victory named for King Pyrrhus, whose irreplaceable losses in battle against the Romans led him to say, “If we are victorious in one more such battle, we shall be utterly ruined.”

Good church people are right there with King Pyrrhus. They began the 50 Years War from a position of incredible power and influence in American life. In the ‘70s, sixty-five percent of Americans expressed confidence in the church. Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, that number has fallen to just 31%. 

Church attendance is in free fall. 1.2 million people walk away from church each year. Before you blame the pandemic, those numbers are pre-pandemic. Attendance numbers for most churches post-pandemic are at 85% of where they were in 2019.

On the same Sunday you can hear prayers of praise for the latest Supreme Court victory, accompanied a few minutes later by anxious hand-wringing over the coming persecution of the faithful in the post-Christian west.

They won the battle, and lost the war. But it was always the wrong war. It was a war about compliance, not transformation.

It’s tempting to make a connection between the battle over public prayer, and Jesus’s teaching about public versus private prayer in Matthew chapter six. This is the verse where Jesus says:

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

I hope you see that there IS a connection here, an embarrassing one for good church people, given how costly the war has been. Is the place for prayer on the 50 yard line? Or in private? But to focus on that would lead to missing the larger point Jesus is making. A point that applies to the entirety of the 50 Years War, and not just to the issue of public prayer.

Outside vs. Inside

One of the consequences of a faith based on fences and hedges, compliance and rules, is a fixation on externals. This was one of Jesus’s most biting criticisms of the Pharisees. He compared them to whitewashed tombs: a beautiful monument on the outside, but full of rotting bones on the inside.

In the constitution for his kingdom, Jesus says one of the distinguishing marks of his people will be a fixation on the inside. As he tells the Pharisees later, if you wash the inside of the cup, the outside will be clean, too. He wants internal transformation, not external compliance. 

And, as we’ll see, this transformation starts with us— with me, and with you. Not with all those so-called sinners the good church people have been treating as enemies. 

And on the flip side, if you’re a post-church person, or a never-church person, transformation doesn’t start with all those hypocrites who make church so intolerable. Real change starts with me, and with you.

This inside-first, me-first, transformation is the main point of Matthew chapter 6. Does God care about good works? Sure he does. But those good works are about changing me—from the inside out. 

The first verse of chapter six says: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

Again, for that good church person in all of us, we need to say here that the reward Jesus is talking about is not eternal salvation. 

If the purpose of your good works is to be seen by others, to look a certain way—in other words, if the purpose is about externals—then being seen is the only reward that will come. Don’t expect the reward of a transformational outcome in your life. 

Jesus goes on to give us three examples that follow a shared pattern. If you do any good work in order to be seen by others in a certain light, then being seen is the only reward you’ll receive. But if you want God’s reward, the promised transformation of your inner turmoil, doubt, anger, and fear into peace, joy, confidence, and love, then you do these things intentionally in secret. Your only motivation is to cooperate with God in allowing him to fix you, not to be a good example to someone else—not to be seen as righteous or good or holy.

We’ve already talked about the prayer example. He also talks about giving to the needy:

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

He talks about fasting:

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Are you seeing it? The focus is on internal transformation, not external appearances of compliance.

Jesus sums up this teaching by talking about where our treasure is. Is it in the seen, or the unseen?

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

It’s likely that you were taught this is about money and wealth. And I guess, on some surface level it is. But that misses the deeper point. This is still about hidden versus seen, heaven versus earth, inside versus outside. In the previous passages he’s been telling us about God’s rewards. These rewards are God’s gift of transformation in our lives. When he talks about treasure here, he’s talking about the same thing, the accumulation of those rewards. It’s not money. You can either accumulate the treasure of appearances, of externals, of the seen—treasures on earth—or you can accumulate treasures in heaven—the treasure of the unseen, of internal transformation. 

He tells us the treasure of the seen, the external, is easy to lose. To foreshadow a bit, it’s because this kind of treasure isn’t built on a foundation that will last. It’s nothing more than a sand castle that will wash away when the rain picks up.

But the accumulation of internal rewards, of a transformed life, is indestructible. It can’t be taken away. It doesn’t erode. It is real. It is substantial. It is built on a rock-solid foundation, and it will endure even when the big storms come.

Jesus has one more internal / external snippet in chapter six. In verses 22 and 23 he talks about being filled with light, or being filled with darkness. The difference, he says, depends on the health of your eye. 

To understand his point, it helps to remember that Jesus’s audience didn’t have our scientific understanding of human anatomy. He’s not talking about the light-gathering and encoding ability of our cornea, lens, retina, and optic nerve. 

In the ancient understanding, light was emitted from the eye in order to evaluate what was seen. In other words, the viewer had agency in determining what was seen, their judgment influenced what they saw, and therefore, Jesus says, whether they were filled with light, or filled with darkness.

If we want to be filled with light, we need a healthy eye. An eye that sees clearly. An eye with sound judgment. Which ties directly into what Jesus says a few verses later, at the beginning of chapter 7:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Are you seeing this clearly? Whether we’re filled with light or darkness is tied directly to a healthy eye, an eye that sees clearly, which is itself directly tied to how we judge our neighbors. And lest you doubt the connection between a healthy eye and judgment, let’s not leave out the two verses right before this: 

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Here is the Equivalence Principle again. That principle that says whatever standard we use toward others is the standard that will be used for us. The principle that SHOULD lead us to being very, very, very generous with forgiveness. Very, very, very generous with extending mercy. Very, very, very generous with the way we judge.

But that’s not the way we judge. We have the 50 Years War to prove it. But it’s even worse than that. The 50 Years War was focused entirely on those we’ve called our enemies, those “sinners,” those people outside the church—those, interestingly, who Jesus calls our neighbors. 

But we don’t even apply the Equivalence Principle to the people we go to church with.

See if you identify with this:

There are some inner struggles it’s ok to talk about with good church people, and some where it’s best to keep things to yourself. You learn in church pretty quickly where the boundaries are, and what externals you have to comply with in order to be accepted. It’s not that you have to be perfect. It’s just that there are certain things they call sin that are ok to struggle with, and others that are definitely not ok.

If you make the mistake of crossing one of those boundaries, the judgment is quick and brutal. You can feel the switch flip as soon as it happens. 

Why do we do so poorly with the Equivalence Principle? Why don’t we judge with more generosity? I think it has to be because we have some false confidence about our own ability to meet a higher standard of judgment ourselves. That we’ve built this enormous sand castle of self-righteousness, of compliance, of law-keeping, and we think God will look on us favorably compared to our neighbor, whose external compliance doesn’t match up to our own. Jesus talks about this later in the Sermon, and it’s not a pretty picture for the good church people. But we’ll save it for the next episode.

One of the big ideas in Matthew is how Jesus treats people who aren’t living up to the standard. People who are the wrong kinds of sinners. Jesus is consistently very very very generous with forgiveness, with mercy, and with the way he judges. The Pharisees have a really hard time with his generosity then, and good church people have an equally hard time applying it today. 

Maybe it’s for the best that we lost the 50 Years War so decisively. It was always the wrong war. We tried to change the country by enforcing the externals on our neighbors. Winning that war would have taken us even more off track than we already are, if that is even possible. Maybe now we will take the plank out of our eye, and start seeing clearly enough that we begin to be filled with light, instead of the darkness that has dominated us for so long.

I wonder where we would be today if in 1962 we had applied the Golden Rule, if we had done unto our neighbors what we would hope they would do for us? I think our story today might be very different. 

Jesus knows what he’s talking about. Maybe it’s time we started listening.


Simeon, Did you know that Jesus himself talked about the two ways? A wide way that leads to destruction, and a narrow way that leads to life.

The wide path is the one that most people choose. But it’s not the path of disobedience. No, it’s mostly good people, with good intentions, who choose this path. It’s the path that seems to make the most sense for fixing what is broken with the world. But it doesn’t work. That’s not where it leads. Instead it leads to war, to exile, to destruction.

This is the path Jesus was trying to warn us about. And he was right. This is the path that led to the destruction of Jerusalem. 

He said the other path, the narrow path, is one that very few people follow. It doesn’t make any sense to most people. It looks like it goes nowhere. It’s upside down, inside out. It’s a path to the bottom, not the top. It’s a path of radical mercy, forgiveness, and love. It’s a path of great sacrifice.

Jesus says it is the only way to live an abundant life. It’s the path that he himself walked. He asks us to trust him, and follow. That’s what I’m trying to do.

Test This Teaching

If you have any affection for what we sometimes call the American Experiment, then I would ask you to consider this: If you want to change the direction of a representative democracy, which is more effective: to change the people who are in charge? Or to transform the character of the electorate? 

The 50 Years War has been all about who is going to be in charge. It’s been about compliance with an external standard of righteousness, while ignoring people’s hearts. Our approach has been we’ll make you wash the outside of the cup, and hope that will lead to the inside being clean. But if not, then the outside being clean will do.

The Jesus Experiment, which isn’t an experiment at all—it’s a promise—says that true change works the other way. It is focused on the inside, not the outside. And on me, not them. It’s not about fixing them, but me. My responsibility to “them” is to do unto them as I would hope they would do unto me. I am supposed to love them, to use the same measure of mercy, forgiveness, and judgment toward them as I hope God will use for me. And to be clear-eyed about how enormous the measure I need from God really is.

The great promise, the reward, is the very thing that we hope for. It is transformation. It is Shalom—a Hebrew word that translates as peace, but means something much deeper. It is a life and a community that is characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law. This great promise can transform any nation, not just a representative democracy.

It doesn’t take much extrapolation to see that the other path, continuing the 50 Years War, ends in the burning of Washington, in the same way that Jerusalem burned in the first century. We’ve seen the beginnings of that already. That path always ends in destruction.

But the kingdom of heaven is open for business, and ready for the work of transformation for all. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

As we close, I remind you again to test this teaching. As you read ahead in Matthew, are the points I’m making consistent with the teaching in this book? Is what I’m teaching consistent with what you see in the rest of the gospels and the epistles? As you spend more time with it, I think you will see that this teaching helps you better understand the epistles. But don’t take my word for it. Go check it out.

And you know the second test. If you apply these teachings to your life, will doing so make you look more like Jesus, or less? And further, if what I’m teaching conflicts with something you’ve been taught before, which of the two, if lived out, looks more like the way Jesus lived? Whichever wins out, pick that one to follow. No matter the cost.

OK, that’s enough for this episode. I hope you’ll join us for the next one. Thanks for listening.

Closing Credits

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