The great god of our age is ‘THINGS’. Our fallen nature covets THINGS at the expense of God. God gave us THINGS to use and enjoy but instead we use God to obtain and worship THINGS. THINGS are anything other than God himself. THINGS aren’t bad, they are just not God and they can’t satisfy the craving of the human heart for God. God made us for himself alone and our hearts are restless until we come to a place of self-surrender and rest in God. The Self-Life is what gets in the way of our pursuit of God. Anything to do with life that emanates from self = self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, self-admiration and self-pity, to name a few, will make the pursuit of self the holy grail rather than Jesus. What is the cure for such a malady? The cross. Denying self and allowing the cross of Jesus to kill off in us a desire for THINGS will redeem our affections for God and his glory alone. After the cross comes resurrection. The new creation in us will rise again to a place where God becomes our everything. We may have many THINGS or few THINGS but no THING possesses us except our love and devotion to Christ alone!
Prophecy is a revelation of God’s heart and mind. The OT prophets became the message before they delivered the message. On the revelation of the OT prophets and the Law depends the greatest revelation God could ever give to us.
We often hear about how much God loves us and for good reason. Our flesh and the enemy of our souls tries to pull us away from this profound and central truth but there is no greater revelation and commandment than God’s call to us to love him with all of our heart, soul and mind.
The sort of love God is calling us to is characterised by sacrifice. Jesus said, ‘Whoever would save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life will save it.’ True love is demonstrated by what you are willing to give up for it. Every time God’s called me to embrace something, he’s asked me to let go of something else. You can’t go up in God, if you don’t give up something.
The greatest act of love is what Jesus did for us on the cross. Jesus left heaven. The word became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus lived a sinless life. He was persecuted even though he was innocent and he was ultimately killed for his obedience to his Father.
The tragedy is in the last days the love of many will grow cold. Our affections have become more for this temporary world than for eternal things. The western church says, ‘What’s the least I can do and still follow Jesus?’ It doesn’t work like that. That’s an oxymoron.
Following Jesus requires everything. Empowerment comes from dependence upon him. Dependance comes from attempting that which only the Holy Spirit can achieve. The more out of depth you are, the more dependant you are and the more dependant you are, the more empowered you are.
You can’t clock on and clock off with God. You’re either all in or you are taking up space. God wants to be God alone in your life. It’s not God and my career or God and my hobbies or God and my house. It’s just God.. period. He’s a jealous God and he wants you and the affections of your heart.
All the Law and the Prophets depend on this one primary thing = Love God with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind. This speaks of whole-hearted devotion. How much we love God will be determined by our level of sacrifice, the affections of our heart, the passion of our soul and the content of our thinking.
Those who look at Jesus with the eye of reason see the cross as final only in his lifetime. But those who look at Jesus with the eye of revelation see the cross as a finished work both in this life and the life to come.
What some of us lack is a deep understanding of Christ’s finished work on the cross.
It is finished means we’re not saved by our performance. The world constantly tempts us to locate our ID in something and smaller than Jesus Christ. Apart from Christ, we base our identity on our performance, on our strengths and weaknesses and on our successes and failures. The Gospel liberates us from ourselves and connects us to Christ’s finished work on the cross.
It’s not Christianity AND your works or your degree or your bank account or your trophies or your reputation. It’s just Christ and Christ alone. The Gospel frees us from the pressure to perform for our salvation and significance. Who you really are has nothing to do with you but in what Christ has finished on the cross. Our identity is not even established in our fallenness but in Christ substituting himself in our place.
When your identity is rooted in Christ, you are no longer bound by the transient things of this world but are set free to spend yourself on giving rather than taking and on serving rather than being self-serving.
The truest definition of who you are is found in Jesus’ words, “It is Finished!”
The one thing the bible promises us regarding life in this world is that it will be hard and filled with trials, temptations and tribulations. Nowhere does the bible promise that we’ll have our best life now (as popularized by Joel Osteen). in 2 Timothy 3:12 Paul tells Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
This morning I tweeted an important phrase from pastor Tullian Tchividjian’s book Jesus + Nothing = Everything and it is the idea of an “over-realized eschatology”. I want to use this term to say, too many Christians live with an “over-realized eschatology” expecting now on earth what God has promised only later for eternity. This causes us to live with unrealistic expectations for what we will and won’t face in this world.
In light of this how do we approach growth and progress in our faith?
The Gospel didn’t just ignite my faith but it’s the fuel that keeps it going and growing me everyday. The Gospel has “delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14). Progress begins with understanding that in Christ, we’ve already been qualified, delivered, transferred, redeemed and forgiven. Working out your salvation with fear and trembling is focusing on working out what Christ has already given to us and worked into us by his will and for his pleasure.
Our natural instinct as believers is to almost exclusively measure Christian growth around behavioural improvement but the greater issue is what is behind the good or bad fruit of our behaviour? Bad behaviour happens when we fail to believe that everything we need, in Christ, we already have. On the other hand, good behaviour happens when we daily rest in and receive the finished work of Jesus in deeper and deeper ways, destroying any need to secure for ourselves anything beyond what Christ has already secured for us.
The hard work of growth we are called to is to believe again and again the gospel of God’s free justifying grace everyday and resting in what Christ has finished on our behalf. I think real spiritual progress happens when our natural understanding of progress is rooted out and it’s not about first behaving better but believing more fully what Jesus has already accomplished.
Gerhard Forde, in his work, Justification by Faith, once said, “It’s not our movement toward the goal but the movement of the goal on us” that helps us progress in the Christian life. Pastor Tullian (Pg173) says, “Sanctification involves God’s daily attack on our unbelief – our self-centered refusal to believe that God’s approval of us in Christ is full and final.”
When we stop narcissistically focusing on our need to get better, that is what it means to get better. The more we focus on our need to get better, the more neurotic and self-absorbed and worse we actually get. I have to admit that I’ve been too pre-occupied with myself for most of my life and my pre-occupation with my performance over Christ’s performance makes me increasingly self-centered and distant from God and others.
Christian progress is forgetting about yourself! So, aim for progress but remember what it isn’t, your personal improvement and moral progress. Progress is washing your hands of you and resting in Christ’s finished work for you, which will inevitably produce personal improvement and spiritual growth.
Too many of us are caught up with ourselves always on our mind. When you are pre-occupied with yourself, you have no room to be interested in others. The bible exhorts us to, “Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:4). When you are always on your mind, you only ever see life from your limited perspective. Your world becomes bigger when you start to seek first to understand rather than trying to always be understood. God has plans for you that are about your well-being and success (Jer 29:11) but as long as you are always on your mind, you will never understand or embrace the plans that he longs to reveal and outwork in your life.
If we want to follow Christ we must deny ourselves – Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “If you want to come after me, you must deny yourself…” This is a hard saying because it is difficult in our day and age to swim upstream and not be on about your agenda. Everything we are taught at school, in the media and in the culture around us promotes the idea that we are the centre of the universe. But Jesus calls us to live with the spirit of the kingdom of God in our minds and hearts, not the spirit of the world = self! You’ve got to leave yourself behind.
Leaving yourself behind looks like Sacrificing yourself for the Call – Jesus said, “Take up your cross daily and follow me.” You can’t follow Jesus and follow yourself at the same time. You have to choose. No one can serve 2 masters, you either follow one or follow the other. When Jesus took up his cross he sacrificed himself for others. Jesus said, “No servant is greater than his master.” If Jesus is our master and he is our ultimate example, then who are we to think we can follow Jesus and excuse ourselves out of the cost of discipleship. Everyday we have a choice – live for ourselves or live for Christ. Jesus said, “Not my will, but yours be done” and he has been exalted to the right hand of the Father. Satan said, “I will be like God” and the bible says, “He fell like lightning from heaven.” Who you sacrifice for will determine your ultimate destiny.
The Kingdom of God is an upside down kingdom – The spirit of the world says, “Live for yourself and you will have true life.” but Jesus says, “Die to yourself and you will have true life.” We are not to be conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds to think like Jesus thinks and order our lives after the pattern of the kingdom of God. One of the reasons why the world looks at the church and thinks that we’re weird is because we operate by a different law. The law of the Spirit of God is now in effect and what people perceive as normal, God perceives as weird and what the world perceives as weird, God perceives as normal. Living for God and others will be seen as weird but go ahead and live with others on your mind anyway.
It’s dangerous to live for yourself and achieve your goal – Jesus said, “What will it profit you, if you gain the whole world and lose your own soul?” The answer = nothing. You could live completely for yourself and even achieve your goal but be completely miserable because you are the only in your small little world. A Day is coming called the Day of Judgment when your work will be tested by fire and if it survives the test, you will be rewarded but if it is burned up, you will suffer loss (1 Cor 3:13-14). What profit are living for – Temporary or Eternal?
Luke 9:23 “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself.”
I encourage you to see the movie ‘Despicable Me’. Truth is, the only reason I watched it, is because I have three darling kids who wanted to see it. I expected a typical kids movie but what I got was an encounter with Jesus teaching played out on a movie reel.
The story line of the movie is about a man who grows up enjoying being very despicable. He’s a criminal mastermind whose ultimate dream is to steal the moon. For him to do so would mean he’s reached the pinnacle of significance. However, he encounters some stiff competition from someone keen to outdo him and so Mr Despicable encounters three orphans and decides to use them to gain advantage over his competition. Along the journey these three little orphans steal his heart and he starts to soften and prioritize them over his dream of stealing the moon. In fact Mr Despicable gets more than he ever dreamed, he gets a life where he can share love and receive love and his life is never the same. See the movie to fill in the rest of the details.
I think this is a great metaphor for life and ministry. It’s great to have a dream but too easily do we make the pursuit of that dream, call, ministry or life (however you define it) about US. The dream or call may be honorable in and of itself but the subtle shift in our hearts towards ourselves (our success, our image, our reputation, our desires, our needs) can actually be fatal both for us and the dream, let alone others.
As long as your call is about you, you’ve missed the point. In fact, no matter how much energy you expend into making your call happen, the reverse can take effect and it actually starts slipping away from you because you’re misusing the call for the purpose it was given to you in the first place, others.
If you will direct the focus of your call away from you and onto others, your desires and dreams will most probably take care of themselves, or in the case of “Mr Despicable”, your desires will be replaced with God’s desires that are far better for you anyway. Let go, and let God take control of your life. Whether you do or not is a matter of trust. Do you actually trust that God, who called you in the first place, is more than capable of holding your call for you, as well as your dreams and desires?
I encourage you to get on with the business of living for God and living for others without worrying about yourself. Pour yourself out for others and God’s blessing will follow you all the days of your life. The Spirit of the Lord was on Jesus for his ministry to others, not on him ‘just because’. There was a purpose and reason for the anointing being given to him = to heal the broken-hearted, preach good news to the poor, open eyes that are blind and proclaim the year of God’s favor.
The sad truth is you could achieve your dream and ‘steal the moon’ and feel very significant… for a moment… but deep in your heart feel the gnawing ache of emptiness because you have actually forfeited your soul, making your life all about you. Do something weird for a change, actually take Jesus’ words seriously and live by them. I’m trying to and its making all the difference.
I wonder if you have ever walked out in the middle of a movie…? I have a few times. Either the film was boring, not funny or offensive. I’m sure you have had the same experience. Walking out in the middle of a movie is one thing but giving up on your call is another thing. Unfortunately, too many people don’t stay to the end of the call journey and end up missing out on God’s best for them.
In the events surrounding Jesus death and resurrection, the disciples hearts were troubled and laden with doubt because they had hoped Jesus was the one to redeem Israel but it appeared like Jesus death was the end of the story. When Jesus appeared to them in his glorified body, eating fish and asking them questions about their sad faces, all of a sudden the disciples were reminded to stay to the end of the story. Jesus death was the beginning of new life and a new adventure for the disciples and for us.
At times in your call journey, you will face circumstances that contradict the call of God but you must stay to the end of the story. Don’t walk out half-way through because things appear boring, not exciting and offensive to your flesh. Stay to the end of the story and don’t give up on God or your call.
God’s plan from the beginning was for Jesus to suffer but that wasn’t the end of the story. God’s plan also provided for Jesus to rise again 3 days later and conquer sin, Satan and death. Because Jesus is alive, your faith has a future and however doubtful you may feel about your call, stay to the end of the story because God isn’t finished with you yet.
Jesus understood his call and he was committed to fulfilling it. Jesus’ call was to die upon the cross and bear witness to the truth that he is the Son of God. We are all in desperate need of salvation and Jesus purpose was to live and die so we could access it. Jesus is the only way to the Father. Jesus is the truth that sets you free from sin. Jesus is the source of abundant life for every human being.
On Good Friday we remember the sacrifice of Jesus as he fulfilled his call on the cross. Jesus went to the cross because there was no other way to save and redeem us from our sin and rebellion, except for him stepping into our place and taking upon himself what we deserved = death.
Jesus death on the cross is the essence of the Gospel and the only hope the world has. Jesus is our supreme example to follow and he also calls us to take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow him. Taking up your cross means to pick up your own call and die to yourself so you can fulfill the purpose for which you were born. Picking up your call requires sacrifice on your part, a willingness to lay down your life to serve others and a commitment to become more like Christ.
Jesus lived and died for something bigger than himself. He lived and died for the call of the Father upon him to sacrifice his life on the cross so that we might be restored into right relationship with the Father and have eternal life. What will you live and die for? Pick up the cross of your call, deny yourself and follow Jesus’ example. He said, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world.”