Hi there, dear Contender for the faith. It is once again a joy to communicate with you, and I pray that my words will be a blessing to your life. Hey, it’s Summer! This was always my favorite time of the year, in large part because school never much arrested my attention, and I longed for the last day each year. What a great feeling it was to walk away from that building and into a summer of freedom and fun.
Well, now I’m enrolled as a fulltime student in my Lord Jesus Christ’s personal curriculum for me, one that can lead me to true freedom. By what he did for me, he has arrested my attention, and now I want to do my homework so that I can be like him and bring glory to him. I know that he is most qualified to instruct the course because he is The Man who got straight A’s in it – the only man. He is the prototype of perfect trust in God, and that is what the course is all about.
Today one can find a myriad of self-help courses, but what the Lord Jesus offers is a self-helplessness course. His first lecture is recorded in Mathew 5–7, and is known as the Sermon on the Mount. The class of Jews had assembled, and they were eager to hear the professor tell them that they were the chosen people and that he would be leading them to world domination. But the first recorded words of Jesus Christ were: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” “Blessed are those who mourn…” “Blessed are the meek…” “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness…” Oy vey!!!
Perhaps we could capsulize the thrust of Jesus’ message as follows: “The only people who have a chance in life are those who realize that they have no chance.” This message does not sit well with the sin nature of the First Adam that resides in every human. We “naturally” reject the idea that we are innately helpless to do or bring to ourselves or others any good thing. But unless we come face to face with the “…sin that dwells within us” and are overwhelmed by it, we will be Christians who, in essence, say to the Lord, “Thanks for dying for me; I’ll take it from here.”
On the other hand, if we get in touch with the reality of our internal enemy, we will clearly see our need for the Savior from sin and do whatever it takes to get to him – daily. OK, how do we get in touch with this reality? I suggest that one way is to honestly consider the quality of the relationships in our lives. Am I really being and doing for others what Christ would have me be and do? Interestingly, there are about 40 verbs associated with the phrase “one another” in Scripture. They provide a good relational checklist for us to measure our progress in the process of becoming like Jesus (This subject is covered in the book, Loving God’s Way, by Gary DeLashmutt.
If we don’t get in touch with the reality of the sin that dwells in us, we won’t realize our absolute and constant need for the Lord, and we won’t press through whatever stands between us and him. Then we will very likely live in a dream world, and others around us will suffer the consequences of our detachment from reality. The problem is that getting in touch with such reality hurts, and I don’t like pain. But couldn’t I look at pain as a beneficial signal that something is wrong and can be corrected by my cooperation with the Lord? This is one key to embracing the process required for true spiritual growth, and embracing this process is our “homework” in the school of the Lord.
Embracing any process is not something that I as a “behaver” (as opposed to a “feeler”) am immediately comfortable with. I am more concerned with reaching the goal “ASAP,” and perhaps you can identify. For example, when I get behind the wheel of a car, it is to get somewhere (with the sub-goal of passing as many people as possible en route). It is not a natural thing for me to enjoy memorizing other people’s license plates. But don’t worry, I am praying that God will hurry up and give me patience.
In regard to the relationships in our lives, it is almost frightening to admit that the way we are in every human relationship we have mirrors the quality of our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. But isn’t that what the Bible says? Remember the guy who came to Jesus and asked him what was the first and great commandment? In essence, Jesus replied, “OK, I’ll tell you, but if I do, I have to tell you the second one also.” Why? Because the only valid indicator of whether or not one loves God with all his being (#1) is how he treats his neighbor (#2).
“Religion,” by which I mean authoritarian, legalistic systems concerned more with outward form than with godly issues of the heart, separates those two commandments that Jesus inextricably linked together. It allows people to “draw near to God with their lips,” while “their hearts,” as measured by how they treat others, “are far from Him.”
So how should we draw near to God? I assert that His Word says we do so by pressing toward His Son, the Lord Jesus, until we touch him, just like the woman with the issue of blood. Despite her weakened condition, she relentlessly pressed through the apparently insurmountable obstacle between him and her, because she believed that if she could only touch him, she would be whole. The same Savior will make you and me whole whenever we touch him in any category of our lives. So when we see areas of our lives where we are not whole, we know that we haven’t yet touched him there.
It is sort of like what is called a “tag team” match in “Big Time Wrestling.” The rule is that only one member of the team of two wrestlers can be in the ring at the same time. Before the partner standing outside the ropes can come into the ring and help his teammate, the one inside the ring must reach out and “tag” him. What is the proper posture of the partner outside the ring—his back to the ropes signing autographs? No, he is leaning into the ropes and stretching out his hand as far as he can to make it as easy as possible for his partner to touch him. You see, he very badly wants to get into the ring and mangle the opponent.
The Lord Jesus is your partner outside the ring, so to speak. Because Satan is legally the one controlling the world (1 John 5:19), Jesus does not have carte blanche to get involved in every situation that he wants to be involved in. How do we know that? Because, by his very nature, he wants to be involved in every situation where evil is present, and if he could, he would! The Lord needs you and me to invoke his assistance, that is, to “tag” him. When we reach all the way unto him and touch him, he immediately comes to our assistance.
How do we reach for Christ? We act on whatever we know from the written Word, and he will show up (John 14:21). We pray and we obey. We make knowing him the priority of our lives, and that means completely identifying with him by figuratively “dying” to our self-will, just as he literally died to his will to live. We choose his way rather than our own, situation by situation, even though this goes against the grain of our old nature. Yep, that old Adam within us always wants us to sing the song that he wrote in Eden and Frank Sinatra later got rich from: “I did it my way.” Thank God that the Last Adam, when he was tempted in a garden, with Satan humming that tune in his ear, decided to rewrite the words: “I didn’t do it my way. I did it Your way.”
The hallmark of Jesus’ life was his absolute humility, that is, his constant subjection of his will to that of His Father, even to the laying down of his own life (I highly recommend Andrew Murray’s little book titled Humility). What motivated him to rely totally upon His Father? I say it was his complete assurance of God’s unconditional love for him and His faithfulness to do what He had promised, like raise Jesus from the dead. Is there any possibility that such assurance could motivate you or me to similarly unquestioning obedience?
In fact, I think that is the only thing that will inspire us to “take up our cross and follow him.” Why? Because that means crucifying our “flesh,” i.e., our old man, our sin nature. It means choosing to do God’s will instead of our own. And that very often feels like we are dying. That is because a part of us is dying. And we will not do this unless we truly believe that God will figuratively “raise us from the dead,” that is, give us new and better life on the other side of our decision to lay down our will and do His. When we humble ourselves, we will see God exalt us (1 Pet. 5:5–7). The more we fight through everything within us that says, “No, do it your way,” and do what God says, the more we see His faithfulness and the more quickly we will embrace the process the next time around.
Sounds like we’re on a journey. We are, if we choose to follow Christ’s command to “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden….” Hey, that’s you and me, because the burden we are bearing is the sin nature that Adam handed us. But if I do not recognize how heavy that burden is, I will not do what it takes to come unto him. We must, of course, come toward in order to get unto, but it is not until we get unto him that we find the rest Jesus promises us in each situation. If we don’t have rest, we ain’t unto.
Is there anything in me that says, “No, don’t go all the way unto Jesus, just take a few perfunctory steps toward him so you’ll look good.” Yes, there is, and the record in Luke 5 documents this where Jesus is on the boat with the Apostles. They had fished all night and caught nothing. Jesus suggested that they throw the nets “over there.” Peter, no doubt muttering, “What does a carpenter know about fishing?” grudgingly assented to throw in a net, and it was soon full of fish. What was his response? “…Depart from me, for I am a sinful man….” Another way of putting it might be: “Jesus, would you mind leaving the boat and going back to the shore? We know you can walk there. You see, the reason I want you to go away is so I will look more like you. When you are so close to me, the discrepancy between our thoughts, words and deeds is too obvious!”
What else could Peter have said? How about “Stay here, Lord, and help me overcome my frailty and be like you.” You see, the recognition and admission of our weakness will lead either to despair, and turning away from Christ, or to a determined mental march to take hold of his strength. The choice is ours – daily. Therefore, we should say what David said: “Create in me a clean heart, oh God….” Now don’t pray that unless you want God to show you dirt, because that is what will happen. Of course, how can you clean something if you do not find the dirt? And your attitude toward the dirt you find is directly proportional to your confidence in the power of the cleanser you have, right?
That is why Philippians 3:10 and 11 says what it says, in the order it does: “I want to know (1) Christ, and (2) the power of his resurrection, and (3) the fellowship of his sufferings, being made like him in his death, so that I may attain to the resurrection out from among the dead.” If I do not know Jesus Christ—his love, his understanding, his compassion—and if I do not know that he will raise me from the death of my self-will, I will not enter into the fellowship of his sufferings by crucifying my will and cheerfully embracing his. But when I do, I attain unto the “resurrection,” figuratively speaking, out from among the “dead” (implying that some Christians will not choose to go through this process and will remain “dead” in their own wills).
Sometimes when people are on the edge of their comfort zone, they say, “I’m at the end of my rope.” Really? Because that is where you will find the Lord Jesus. He can’t show up until we exhaust all our other means of self-sufficiency and look unto him. The record of Abraham, who is called “the father of all who believe,” provides us with a clear example of someone in touch with his own helplessness. It took Abraham a while to get to that perspective, and his taking matters into his own hands at one point has resulted in a lot of problems in the Middle East (via Hagar, he fathered Ishmael, the father of the Arab race).
Romans 4:18 (KJV) states that “…against hope [Abraham] believed in hope….” What are those two hopes? The first one, the one Abraham was against (that is, he rejected it), was the hopeless hope of his five senses: he was about 100 years old and Sarah was no spring chicken. The other hope, the one Abe embraced, was the promise of God that he and Sarah would have a son.
Unfortunately, the King James Version does a poor job of translating Romans 4:19. It states that Abraham “…considered not his own body now dead…neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb.” The words “not” and “neither” are not in the original text, and of course leaving them out changes the whole meaning of the verse to say that Abe did consider the facts as they were in reality. To leave the verse as is in the KJV might lead to a kind of “ostrich” mentality whereby Christians consider it “negative” to face reality. Some might go so far as to discourage any confession of the situation as it really is: “Don’t even say you’re 100, Abe. Say you’re 25.” Such a “positive” confession actually undermines genuine faith, because people inherently know it is a lie.
The key is to do what the New International Version says in its excellent translation of Romans 4:19: “…[Abraham] faced the fact that his body was now dead…” Please allow me a play on words to say that what he really did was to “faith” the facts. That is, he trusted the promise of God, which was truth, and truth supersedes facts. You and I can do the same thing in any situation and see similar results. Amen.
Because “The heart [of man] is deceitful above all things…” (Jer. 17:9), I say that each of us needs to call upon “outside experts” to help us find out what we do not know that we do not know about ourselves. I’m talking about things that stop us from being like Christ. Whoa, what I do not know I do not know about myself is scary. But I have to get in touch with it if I am to change it and show people the love of God that has been shed abroad in my heart. Who or what are the outside experts? I suggest that they are the Word of God, the spirit of God and the people of God. So let us keep hiding the Word in our hearts so that we do not sin against God, and let us learn to walk by the spirit so as to be able to hear His still, small voice.
Just as importantly, let us each enroll at least one maturing Christian (preferably of the same sex if it is not our spouse) in an iron-sharpening-iron relationship with us so as to invite feedback and input about how we are doing in our quest to be like The Man. Let us consider how to spur on one another toward love and good works, and let us hang in there with one another in this often tedious, but most rewarding, process. We really can taste the sweet fruits of true Christian love, and thus bring glory to our God and our Lord as others see that we are their disciples and reach out for that same love. Go for it!