My journey has been a slow one, learning to walk the Christian walk. For most of my life I’ve been embedded within the church (by that I mean both the corporate institution and the relational network of self-identified Christians), yet struggled to take hold of the power of the Gospel that the apostles and early converts seemed to have.
One look at the way the church spread and influenced society and changed human lives and sent rippling shockwaves through all of history tells us that what the early Christians had was profound, real, and powerful. One look at the flaccid counterpart to that church now blowing in the winds of post-modernism tells us that none (or very little) of that profundity, reality, or power exists in their souls.
I don’t mean to say that real Christianity doesn’t exist today, nor that there aren’t considerable gatherings of the Church—the real Church—that are changing the lives of those near them. In fact, what I’m saying is, “Let’s take a look at the mindset of the real Church then and now, and compare it to that of the lifeless clones claiming to be the real Church yet lacking true power.”
By all signs, many of us in America have forgotten (or forsaken) the way of Christ for perceived personal gain. In the end, we have attempted to grasp the world and lost our souls in the process. Sound familiar?
All over America, and much of the Western world, we hear a gospel of personal gain claiming the authority of the gospel of martyrdom, but these two are opposites. Selfishness will never be selflessness, and the sooner we recognize this and renounce selfishness, the sooner we can move into living the true Christian life.
The problem with lies is that they have a way of multiplying and morphing like a virulent strain of influenza, making them difficult to pin down and suppress. We inoculate ourselves to one strain of nonsense only to be infected by another the next day. For the sake of brevity, we will only examine two of these lies, and use them to point out the profundity of the immovable truth.
Lie #1: Jesus died and rose again so you could be saved from hell.
Truth #1: Jesus died and rose again to make holy worshippers out of dirty rebels.
Of course, Jesus did die to save us from damnation, so calling it a lie may be misleading, but saving us from damnation is only the very beginning, not the end goal! He did not save us just to save us. He saved us TO something (himself!). This may seem an unimportant distinction, but in my experience, it’s all-important. Lie #1 either frightens or entices people to ask for forgiveness based on selfish motivations, whereas Truth #1 inspires us to ask for forgiveness for God’s sake. This marks a total departure of intentions from the very beginnings of our walk.
I was brought into the Christian fold under the fear of damnation, not the fear of God. These two things are completely different, the first being moored in selfishness, the latter being moored in self-forgetfulness. When we are awed by the mystery of God’s majesty, we forget ourselves, longing only to throw all we have at his feet. When we are blinded by the light of Hell’s flames, we see nothing of God, and think of only saving our own skin. If we offer ourselves to God for selfish motivation, we are doing nothing more than offering a sacrifice for our own worship instead of God’s, like Cain in Genesis 4.
Don’t get me wrong, we must all repent and mourn our mistakes. There are times when the fear of damnation can inspire in us the type of repentance God accepts. But most often, it has been abused, and has misled many (me included) into a false idea of what Christianity is about. It’s not about us going to heaven. It’s about us being purified so that we can worship God with everything.
Lie #2: Jesus died and rose again so you could be happy.
Truth #2: Jesus died and rose again so that we would know to expect suffering as we throw our lives at his feet.
This one’s tricky because Jesus did die to fulfill our purpose for existing, and in fulfilling our purpose he gives us immense joy. However, once again, if we come to Jesus purely for the hope of personal gain, we destroy the calling.
To embrace the Christian life is to embrace pain and purpose. We do it for God’s sake, not our own, because he is the one who gives us the ability to choose it. It should always be clear in our minds that we cannot choose the Christian life in our own power. This is because everything about the Christian way goes directly against our nature. We are told to die to ourselves when all our nature screams for self-preservation. We are told to hate sin when all our nature is burning with lust for sin. We cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, for any moment of time, choose Christ without Christ choosing us and giving us the strength to choose him.
It is by God’s grace we are forgiven and offered the power to live for him. Not our own abilities, so that no one can boast about how great they are, but so that through him we would boast in how great God is, thereby fulfilling our purpose to worship him in holiness. These truths are simple, yet profound, like everything we learned in kindergarten (“share,” “be nice to each other,” “if you have nothing kind to say—do not say it!”).
For most of us, our reasons for coming to Jesus will be inevitably mixed because we are fallen. But we must recognize this as an incongruity and proclaim, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” Selfishness is the factual state of fallen man, but no state to remain in. How much worse to mistake the good news of the freedom Christ purchase for us with the fulfillment of our fallenness.
When I think about my own selfishness, I often think of myself as the thief on the cross. A thief is one who sins for personal gain. “I take this from you and better my position by doing so.” The soul of the thief is the soul of every person who comes to Christ for selfish purposes.
The men who crucified Jesus mocked him, calling him the king of the Jews, not realizing he was the King of the universe. Not realizing that the crown of thorns they smashed into his skull was the punishment that bought them forgiveness. Not realizing that the sign they hung above his head was a proclamation of the truth instead of a satire for a pathetic, failed political leader. But the thief saw it all and said, “This man is true!”
We come to Christ as the crucified thief—stripped of all physical possessions, able only to offer him our lives. How lucky we are that it is all he asks from us.
Like the thief, we must expect to die beside him, arms stretched wide to embrace the God-Man mirrored beside us, body wracked with pain, soul crying for relief.
This is the calling. This is the true power of the Christian life. That we must deny ourselves for his sake, to be filled with the real and profound power of a transformed life. Expecting pain, yet believing in his promises. Enduring suffering, yet looking forward to the hope we have in Jesus—the hope of fulfillment, joy, and immutable life here and into the halls of timelessness; the promise of redemption and holiness to replace our guilt and depravity; the promise of a real, practical reversal of our desires and actions.
The call is a daily pursuit of the person of Christ, a moment-by-moment renouncement of selfishness—and more than the renouncement of selfishness, it is self-forgetfulness in the awe of the presence of the living God, of true worship in a holiness bought with his blood and offered to us as a free, undeserved gift.
In return, we are asked to walk in his footsteps, mirroring his personhood, following him toward skull-hill to pour out our blood as a drink offering to the God of the universe, trusting that to die is to live. This call, this “good news,” bears no resemblance to the gospels of selfish gain. It is no path for the faint of heart, for those afraid of violence.
Jesus, let us never believe that we exist to please ourselves, but only to please you. Please, in your mercy, offer us the ultimate joy you promise in giving you honor and glory. Like little children, let us make you proud. Likewise, give us patience in suffering. Let us be like Abel who offered his work to glorify you, instead of like Cain who offered his work to glorify himself. Empower us to live for you. Direct our focus toward you. And may every action and thought and word we perform be like incense rising to your throne! We love you, Jesus. Help our un-love!
1 Peter 4:1-2 “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.”
If this encouraged you, please share it with someone!