Many Christians give in to a quiet cynicism that leaves us unknowingly paralyzed. We see the world as monolithic, frozen. To ask God for change confronts us with our doubt about whether prayer makes any difference. Is change even possible? Doesn’t God control everything? If so, what’s the point? Because it’s uncomfortable to feel our unbelief, to come face-to-face with our cynicism, we dull our souls with the narcotic of activity.
Many Christians haven’t stopped believing in God; we have just become functional deists, living with God at a distance. We view the world as a box with clearly defined edges. But as we learn to pray well, we’ll discover that this is my Father’s world. Because my Father controls everything, I can ask, and He will listen and act. Since I am His child, change is possible—and hope is born.”
—Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life: connecting with God in a distracting world
You may have heard it before: an invitation from Evangelical Christians to “accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.” What on earth do we mean by that? (Or, since it sounds like religious jargon and we can be poor messengers: what should we mean when we say that?)
Ray Ortlund illustrates the modern idea of ‘accepting Jesus’ in two ways:
You and I are not integrated, unified, whole persons. Our hearts are multi-divided.
There is a board room in every heart. Big table. Leather chairs. Coffee. Bottled water. Whiteboard. A committee sits around the table. There is the social self, the private self, the work self, the sexual self, the recreational self, the religious self, and others. The committee is arguing and debating and voting. Constantly agitated and upset. Rarely can they come to a unanimous, wholehearted decision. We tell ourselves we’re this way because we’re so busy with so many responsibilities. The truth is, we’re just divided, unfocused, hesitant, unfree.
That kind of person can “accept Jesus” in either of two ways. One way is to invite him onto the committee. Give him a vote too. But then he becomes just one more complication.
The other way to “accept Jesus” is to say to him, “My life isn’t working. Please come in and fire my committee, every last one of them. I hand myself over to you. Please run my whole life for me.” That is not complication; that is salvation.
“Accepting Jesus” is not just adding Jesus. It is also subtracting the idols.
—Ray Ortlund, Jr., Christ is Deeper Still (emphasis mine)
We shall not merely invite Jesus into our lives. Our lives are a mess! Rather, Jesus invites us into His life. Through what He has done on the cross — in defeating sin, Satan, and removing all the obstacles we have before a holy God — after all that: God accepts us. And then cleans out our heart idols. They were terrible leaders anyway.
“You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.”
—1 Thessalonians 1:9
How shall we fight our fears?
Pastor John Piper gives five steps that are not always easy: A.P.T.A.T.
- Admit honestly — I can do nothing without Christ.
- Pray. (“God, help me not to be afraid. Please help me! Jesus, be near me.”)
- Trust. (In what? Preach the Gospel to yourself on this specific fear.)
- Act in obedience to God’s word.
- Thank God for whatever good comes.
“By the work of the Holy Spirit, God defeats temptation by awakening joy through belief in the word of God which is at work in us. And that word is most centrally the good news that Christ died for us so that all the promises of God are Yes in him.”
This is how we live.
—John Piper, sermon “The Word Is At Work In You,” video excerpt posted as A Tool To Help You Live.
“It is the duty of every Christian to be Christ to his neighbor.”
Because “Christian” means “little Christ,” we are to walk in His steps, embodying His character in truth and grace, alongside those who don’t yet know Him. We aren’t Jesus, but we get to be like Him as He changes us.
“… whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.”
—1 John 2:6
For my money, this is the most challenging command/invitation in Scripture.
Image credit: “Neighborhood #1” by the woodstove on Flickr
A follow-up on yesterday’s post. Here’s the context for Jesus’ words on what really defiles us:
14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
—Mark 7:14-23 (NIV)
“Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” —Mark 7:15
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Seven Deadly Sins:
These are seven categories of sin; ways we creatively disobey God. But they don’t just reside “out there” in the world. They live in us.
The seven deadly sins aren’t just things we do—they’re who we are every day. Author Jared C. Wilson’s study Seven Daily Sins examines the good news that Christ offers a way to deal with these sins once and for all.
The bad news is we carry around sin inside of us every day.
The good news is, through the gospel of Jesus Christ, we can not only identify our daily sins … but kill them.
Let’s stop managing our sin and start experiencing freedom in Christ.
“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” —Romans 7:24-25
There are no quick fixes. While it is tempting to find a drive-thru, feel good solution and “just do it,” we know life is far more complex for using simple methods to get a new you by Friday.
“Christian life does not arise spontaneously in us. The truth of the gospel cannot always be reached through a process of reasoning. We need to meditate long on the words of Jesus. It is only through familiarity and association with the Gospels that we begin slowly to learn to live like him.”
—José A. Pagola, Following in the Footsteps of Jesus. Meditations on the Gospels for Year A. Translated by Valentine de Souza, S.J. Miami: Convivium, 2010, page 23.
How do we not give up?
By staring at the one who never gave up, who was joyfully obedient to God His Father until the very end. And then follow in His steps.
If I invite Jesus into my life — which is a mess — I will become discouraged when He doesn’t change me as quickly as I want, or provide the comfortable life I envisioned. (Many “try” Jesus and conclude He doesn’t work. Because Jesus spoke mostly about the Kingdom of God and invited us to flee from the kingdom of self, He offers a better way than this.)
But if I respond to Jesus, who invites me into His life, I will place Someone at the center who can effectively navigate the twists and turns of life. Know this: out of His great strength, He can make you and me whole. Will you surrender?
I can think of no greater ambition this year than studying the life of Jesus and being changed into His image. Of course not everyone will be changed as they read, for not all have faith. To really know God, we must really know Jesus.
An invitation: Pick up one of the Gospels this month, reading it through five times. With each thoughtful time through your mind will be awakened to the sheer awesomeness of this man. He will surprise, invite, confront, challenge, and inspire you. (And so much more. Like Aslan, Jesus is very good, but He is far from safe.)
- Mark is the shortest, looking at the pattern and purpose of His life, for those on the go. You can read it through in one sitting. (The clear outline: Who is Jesus » why did He come » What does it mean to follow Him?)
- Matthew gives us a healthy does of Jesus’ words, confronting our half-baked ideas about God, self and others. He fulfills the longings of the people around Him, but never in the way they assumed He would.
- Luke examines the evidence for Jesus and brings us accounts from numerous eye witnesses.
- John helps the right-brained (visual, artistic) learner envision Jesus as God come in the flesh. God in a Bod is better than we imagined.
Of course, those are not exactly the groups to which the Gospel writers made their arguments, but a simple way to approach which one to start with, based on how you’re wired.
Each writer was making an argument about Jesus, not just collecting the facts about Him.
- To the Romans » Mark portrays Jesus the Servant
- To the Jews » Matthew sets forth Jesus the King, promised for centuries to the rescue His people and the world
- To the Gentiles » Luke (the only Gentile writer of a NT book) portrays Jesus the Man
- To the Greeks » John shows what ultimately reality looks like as Jesus is the Son of God
If you’re curious why there are four Gospel accounts, Ray Stedman gives us a helpful reminder why:
“There is a reason for this, designed deliberately by the Holy Spirit. We make a mistake if we think these four Gospels are four biographies of the Lord. They are not biographies at all, they are character sketches, intended to be different, intended to present different points of view. Therefore, they constitute four distinct views of our Lord and of his work.
The Gospel of Matthew is written to present Christ as the King. The Gospel of Mark presents His character as a servant. The Gospel of Luke presents Him as the Son of Man — as man in His essential humanity. The Gospel of John presents Him as the Son of God, that is, His deity, and there you find the greatest claims for Jesus being God.”
—Ray C. Stedman, introduction to Mark, Adventuring Through the Bible
Who’s with me?
I’ll be reading through Luke five times in January. How about you?
Let’s meditate long on the words of Jesus.