Becoming God's Spiritual Person
Christianity is not a matter of control. A person does not live a Christian life because of family control, or as a matter of coercion produced by concerned people, or as a matter of fearing what will happen if he (she) rebels against God, or as a matter of “playing it safe just in case there is an eternity,” or as a matter of “business prudence in the area I live in.” Being a Christian is a matter of individual choice in devotion to God. It is based on a trusting commitment to God because He sent Jesus Christ to rescue people from sin. The foundation of this individual commitment is a loving appreciation for what God did for people through Jesus Christ.
No one better understands the limitations of law than does God! Law is inferior in producing human morality or human acceptance of ethical concepts. Laws did not produce the moral and ethical revolution in Israel that God wished! In fact, Israel repeatedly demonstrated that they could know the laws and still be both immoral and unethical! One of the basic messages of the Jewish prophets to the kingdoms of Judah and Israel was this: if knowing God’s law does not lead to an understanding of God’s values and intents, then the effect of godly law is ungodly rebellion. As you reflect on that statement, consider 1 Timothy 1:3-11.
Religious law was used as a primary means of bringing people who are (or were) out of control into control. Just as in our civil law, many people who base their response to God on religious law look for loopholes. Many are convinced that if they can cite a technical loophole, they cannot be condemned even by God if they violate a clear law. Thus some use scripture to search for loopholes instead of using scripture to grasp God’s intent. If you wish to see the inadequacy of the law and loophole approach to surrendering to God, read Matthew 5:17-48.
Often when Paul might have used an A-B-C legal approach to a significant spiritual problem, he did not. When he wrote to Christians in Rome, he declared through many approaches that they suffered from an identity crisis. When he wrote to Christians in Corinth, they did not understand who they were as a result of being in Jesus Christ. When he wrote to the Christians in Galatia, he said the way forward in Christian spirituality is not found in hitting reverse. When he wrote to Christians in Ephesus, he declared they could not become what God envisioned until they understood and trusted what God did in Jesus Christ. To the Christians in Philippi he wrote, “Your quarreling will end when you focus on Jesus Christ.” To Christians in Colossae he said that the meaning of God’s intent is discovered in Jesus Christ, not in the competing religious practices, the philosophy, and or the elementary principles of that day. To the Christians at Thessalonica he declared that their misunderstandings of Jesus’ second coming were destroying rightful hope and producing ungodly behavior. To the preachers Timothy (of Jewish background) and Titus (of gentile background), Paul encouraged them to make practical applications of faith devoted to Jesus Christ. To Philemon he wrote that regardless of the complexities, Philemon was to treat his Christian slave as a Christian brother.
Instead of “laying down the law,” Paul declared that the problems would be addressed by grasping God’s intent expressed through Jesus Christ. When situations seemed ideal for Paul to declare, “Do what is correct, and these laws tell you what is correct!” he did not use that approach. Instead, he did one or both of these things: (1) “Understand and trust what God did in Jesus Christ.” (2) “Understand who you committed yourself to be through Jesus Christ.” Perhaps both statements could be combined in this thought: “You made the choice to be in Christ; honor your choice.”
Betraying Concerns Built on Powerful Motivations
Why? Why do Christians do that? “Do what?” Why do Christians allow anxieties to determine their acts instead of allowing their faith to determine their acts?
Years ago I heard a rather common, reccurring illustration used in efforts to guilt Christians into being more evangelistic. Basically, the illustration projected what would happen to our world if each Christian converted one person to Jesus Christ in a year. Then those converted also would convert one person to Jesus Christ in a year. Then it was declared that in just a few years everyone in this world would be Christian.
To me, the powerful weakness in that illustration is the assumption that all people can be converted to Jesus Christ. Not everyone wishes to be a Christian. The truth is that some are aggressively violent in their opposition to Christian concepts, and others are totally apathetic.
Many years ago, a friend of mine was part of a mission campaign to a foreign country. He returned enthused and convicted that he should return as a full-time missionary. He told his wife that he would do anything necessary to enable her to go the next year, and he did.
The next year she went. He enthusiastically anticipated her reaction upon return. Her experience produced a reaction opposite of his. Her response: If she wanted apathy, she would stay in this country. The apathy she encountered killed that mission dream.
My anxiety for another person cannot be and will not be the basis of that person’s conversion. My faith and the interaction of my faith with that person may result in his (her) conversion. Commonly, it takes faith acts in my life to produce an opportunity to share who my Savior is and why I am so devoted to him.
It is fun to be a missionary in a receptive population. Being among people who are discovering God and being baptized in the Lord Jesus Christ is exciting. However, this fun atmosphere often lasts only a short while in the most receptive places. In years of work preaching and teaching both in America and in foreign countries, I have observed a cycle. For those who happen to arrive first in a receptive area, they find a people who have been seeking. Such people listen attentively and respond quickly. However, those who have been seeking are of limited number. Soon the missionary works on two fronts: (1) Teaching responders how to be Christians, and (2) teaching gracious but cautious people who have not responded. As the converted grow in number, problems multiply in young congregations. Also, as the gracious but cautious people respond or satisfy their curiosity, they increasingly are replaced by opponents who attack and defend. Then two problems arise: (1) In the midst of this transition, the needs of the young congregations increase as the lack of teachers escalates, and (2) the missionary increasingly is viewed as a material opportunity rather than a messenger. Usually, in a relatively short time, the work is demanding, the challenges are overwhelming, and supporters wonder why conversions dwindle.
Among the many things Satan is not is stupid! He convinced a disciple to betray Jesus (John 13:26-30). He manipulated people who claimed to belong to God into killing Jesus (see Matthew 27:20 and John 11:47-50). He caused the Christian Ananias to function on ungodly motives (Acts 5:3-5). He motivated religious people to kill the Christian Stephen (Acts 7). He was the reason the apostle James was executed (Acts 12:1-3). He caused the unconverted Paul to commit hostile acts against Christians (Acts 26:9-12), and the converted Paul to suffer many things (2 Corinthians 11:24-33). He dared to seek opportunity in the Ephesian congregation (Ephesians 4:27), and these Christians needed God’s full armor to withstand his attacks (Ephesians 6:11-20). Never underestimate Satan’s ability to physically harm you or others who serve God!
Serving God in this world will never be simple! No matter where you serve God, the issues become amazingly similar. Is a dedication to spiritually maturing people who are in Jesus Christ as godly as a dedication to bringing people who do not belong to Jesus Christ to the Savior? Does not Matthew 28:18-20 emphasize both? Where is the godly balance between evangelism and edification? Can the pursuits of edification become selfish exercises? If so, when? Can the pursuits of evangelism become selfish exercises? If so, when? Can a person in Jesus Christ be condemned just as can a person out of Christ? If so, when? How important are godly motives to Christian existence? How important are godly motives to conversion? What role does God’s grace have in conversion and in spiritual maturing? What role does human background play in conversion and edification? What role does God’s Spirit serve in conversion and edification?
Some things are clear no matter where geographically one serves God. A Christian teaches about God because he or she loves God. A person comes to God because he or she loves God. Christian service of all kinds is founded on love of God. Those in Jesus Christ share Jesus Christ because they love God. Christians love people outside of Christ because they love God. Christians love people in Christ because they love God. Christians even demonstrate love to the unlovable because they love God. The fundamental motive for all spiritual acts is love for God.
No Christian is effective because “I must to do God’s will because I am afraid to refuse God!” It is expressing love because of the love of God that make Christians effective in both evangelism and edification. Spiritual effectiveness involves both knowing and being.
What Is This Choice?
The foundation of the choice is not built on questions such as “Do want to go to hell?” “Do you want to be God’s enemy?” “Do you want to endure God’s wrath?” “Do you realize the agony flames produce?”
Have modern (or postmodern) Christians concluded that the only way that they can get people to respond to God is by terrorizing them with thoughts of Satan, hell, and punishment? At times it seems this could be the Christian pitch: “So you think you have known guilt as a sinner, do you? Become a Christian, and we will teach you how to really feel guilty!We will make you afraid to do anything—including dying!”
Does that concept capture God’s “good news” in Jesus Christ? Did God send His son to intensify our feeling of guilt or to destroy our feeling of guilt? Did Jesus die on the cross to emphasize the impossible gulf between us and God or to bridge the gulf that separates us from God? Did God provide us a Savior to condemn us or to atone for us? Did Jesus’ resurrection occur to destroy expectation or to give expectation?
Those burdened need their burdens lifted. It is not terror that drives the burdened to salvation. Instead, it is the love that shows mercy and grace that leads the burdened to God. We do not become Christians to have our burdens increased, but to have our burdens lifted by a Savor sent by God. It was Jesus who said,
Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and YOU SHALL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy, and My load light. (Matthew 11:28-30, NASV)
The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:37 (NASV):
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.
The Apostle John wrote in Revelation 1:5, 6 (NASV):
. . . and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by his blood, and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father; to Him be the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
It was because Jesus loved the God who sent him to benefit all people that he surrendered to the cross. Read again John 3:16-21. It was because Jesus loved that he sacrificed his life. Read again Luke 23:33, 34.
When a person understands the love God has for us and the love Jesus has for us, when a person understands all God did for us in Jesus’ death and resurrection, the love of the Father and the son make it easy for those who struggle under their burdens to love in return. In love for the Father who sent and the son who came, it becomes a “no brainer” to present God’s spirit the central place in using our physical lives. Through the will of love, spirituality always becomes intentional and never accidental. It is always a matter of loving commitment and never a matter of selfish terror.