Scot McKnight wrote an excellent post worthy of framing on the meaning of Jesus’ death. What is often lost in the reformed emphasis especially, is the view that for God’s people (and ultimately for the world) God puts in place a new way of being human that breaks the endless cycle of tit for tat, violence. And refuses every other way other than the way of the cross in this life.
We must love our enemies no matter what. We must refuse to listen to the accuser both of God and of the brethren (sisters and brothers in Jesus), the satan. No matter what, we must take the way of not only nonviolence and nonresistance, but active love, the way of the cross.
But since Constantine, the church largely took another way. From it being illegal to be a Christian and serve in the Roman military, in time only Christians could serve in the military. Before Constantine, the church fathers taught against Christians using violence. But Augustine rationalized such use with the help of worldly sources (Cicero, someone like that). Augustine had to talk around Jesus’ teaching, and much of the church followed his error. And the result over the centuries has been anything but pretty, oftentimes even from worldly standards. Not that the world is going to put a charitable construction on what Christians do. But admittedly, aside from that, this is sadly the case.
However you see the relation of the church and state, or whether or not a Christian can kill, we must still take the way of the cross, the way of love. We must love our enemies, and refuse the voice of the accuser against our sisters and brothers in Jesus.
It is through Jesus and his cross that this new way of love was made possible. Through the cross God set in life a new way of love which is to rule the day, over the old way of force, which at best has limited value, and at worst is detrimental, as has been seen over and over again in old and recent history. It is only through God’s grace in Jesus that we can walk in this way. But this is the way we are to choose. And we do so, regardless of how we feel about it, or whether we’re ready or not. I am speaking of a posture of how we obey, how we live with reference to Jesus’ commands in this world. Of course we want to pray and grow to the point that it is in our heart to do these things. But the grace of God in the love of God in Jesus helps us to take the way of the cross, even when we don’t want to do that. The way of humility and love.
We in Jesus are in this way in him together for the world.