The Fruit of Following God – Part 12: Walks by Faith

Hebrews 11 is the chapter that summarizes so many demonstrations of faith in the Bible. In some ways, it is amazing that the author of Hebrews wrote such a short compilation since evidence of faith is seen throughout Scripture. Of course, the author did write:

“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets…” (verse 32).

One might even ask, “What about Job?!” Nevertheless, God’s people indeed “walk by faith, not by sight,” (2 Corinthians 5:7). And we cannot walk by feelings either, although the presence of feelings and emotions about the Lord are not to be dismissed as inappropriate in the Christian life.  As we trusted Christ for our salvation from sin and hell, so we must continue to trust the Lord through our entire lives.

“This is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4).

The disciple of Christ learns to trust God though the good and the bad, during the blessings and the trials. In his prayer life, the disciple is able to express desires and hopes and to cast his every care and worry upon Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Jesus exhorts the burdened in His day and assures them of His help when He says,

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

As growing disciples, we gradually learn that God has a plan for us and that He also has the power to provide for us. And He answers prayer. We can give Him our worries (Luke 12:22-26) and our future (Matthew 6:34) as He knows every need of our lives (Matthew 6:25-34). The disciple lives a life of faith even when the feelings and the sense of the presence of God is missing. Habakkuk learned this lesson as Babylon hovered over Israel and the threat of losing everything loomed large. The Lord told him, “The righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). Habakkuk finally reached a point of resolution, recognizing that even if he were to lose everything, He would still have God and he could rejoice in that assurance:

16 I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us. 17 Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. 19 God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:16-19)

This is the walk of faith: trusting God when all that you have is God.

I still recall working on a construction site in west Fort Lauderdale, Florida as a new Christian back in the summer of 1973. There was a Hispanic worker named Louie serving on the same site with a crew separate from ours. But he found out that a lot of our crew were Christians, as we were serving together during the summer with a Navigator ministry summer beach project. He was excited to know this, since he had just recently become a Christian. The joy in his salvation was evident and although his English was somewhat limited, he and I could both talk together about our newfound faith. But one day Louie came to work and it was obvious that he was “in the dumps” emotionally. His joy and happiness were missing – he was a young man who wore his heart on his sleeve. When I asked him what was wrong, in his simple English he replied, “God seems gone. I don’t feel Him with me.” I had been there before, so I explained to Louie that sometimes God intentionally removes His presence (or a sense of His presence) to test us and to strengthen our faith. He wants to see if we love Him or His blessings more. Louis seemed to understand and in time he was back to his “old/new” self. The Westminster Confession of Faith states that sometimes

“God withdraws the light of His countenance”; yet believers are “never truly destitute of that seed of God” in their lives (18:4).

This is what it means to walk by faith, clinging to Him and trusting Him even when the darkness appears to be prevailing!

My Friend Grant

Last week I reacquainted myself with an old friend. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years. But the time we spent together was the most important important time in my life. Without overselling it, this friend did more for me than anyone else I know. And now that we’ve reintroduced ourselves, I can’t wait to dive back in and pick up where we left off.

My friend isn’t an old work buddy or classmate. My friend isn’t even a person. It’s a set of bookmarks.

I call it “Grant.”

Let me back up.

I first heard of Grant in 2010. A blogger I follow recommended it as the best thing ever (that’s how it came across to me, anyway). In the article (you can read it here), he explains how he had come across a Bible reading plan that actually made him want to read the Bible. Every day. And he didn’t want to give up. I had to keep reading.

The beauty of the plan is its insanity. Here’s the gist: the Bible is divided into 10 sections, and you read a chapter from each section every day. Yes—you read 10 chapters of the Bible every day. And, as he explained, you actually like it.

This didn’t make any sense to me. I had become a Christian several years earlier but had never really read the Bible with any regularity outside of church services. I was on the up-and-down see-saw of guilt when it came to reading the Bible and learning more about the gospel. So it seemed insane to think that I would go from a starvation diet to a 7-course meal . . . every day.

The only thing more insane than this plan was how well it worked for me. If I read a chapter that didn’t jump out as particularly relevant or significant to me, no problem—there were plenty more opportunities that day. The time required to read everything meant that I couldn’t slow down and meditate too much on any passage. That turned out to be fine. Since I knew so little of the overall story of the Bible, my meditations often led me to thoughts and conclusions that sounded spiritual but (come to find out) were directly condemned in other parts of the Bible! By seeing the “big picture,” I became better and wiser at seeing how all of Scripture (even the “boring” parts) were essential to God’s plan to make me more like Jesus (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Why the name “Grant”? Because the plan was put together by Professor Grant Horner, an English professor and Christian who started using it in graduate school to keep himself connected to God’s word in all its beauty. (You can read his story as well as his explanation of the system here. There’s even a snazzy set of bookmarks to print out for yourself at the end.)

How does this work itself out in my day? When it’s time to sit down and read my Bible, I open up to the first section: Gospels. I read the chapter at a brisk pace, not pausing for too much reflection. When I finish, I try to summarize the chapter in my head with a sentence or two, aiming to use the passage to answer the questions “Who is God?”, “Who am I?”, and “What does God ask of me?” Then, without further ado, I turn straight to the second section (Pentateuch) with the help of bookmarks. (My wife printed out the ones above and laminated them for me. She’s the best.) And so it continues, until I read all 10 chapters or (as sometimes happens) I run out of time. In those cases, I pick up where I left off later in the day. (Note: I also spend time every day memorizing Scripture, since it’s the best way I know to meditate on truth and work it through my head into my heart. Read widely and deeply!)

Without fail, I read at least one thing every day that thrills me, intrigues me, jumps out to me, or obviously applies to me. It often happens in my favorite part of the Bible, the Old Testament’s wisdom literature (covered in sections 5, 6, and 7). But now that I’ve got more experience with the Bible’s overall story, it also happens when I’m reading Paul’s letters or the Old Testament prophets. I have even been moved to tears by Leviticus (really, no kidding), in part because reading the entire Bible helped me see how each of its parts connects to Jesus and to myself.

Take a peek at my friend Grant for yourself. Get to know it yourself. But more importantly, get to know the God and Savior he showcases.

Saddest Christmas Song Ever

Advent brings out an interesting mixture of emotions for me. On one hand, I remember the Decembers of my childhood and the anticipation of Christmas, presents, and an obscene number of cookies. As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve been initiated into “grown-up Christmas.” Finances can pinch. Weather can threaten. But more than anything, Advent is a time when we remember what we’ve lost. We think about loved ones who won’t be attending the family Christmas party. Divorce, addiction, and death break the shiny image of our culture’s “perfect Christmas.” Loneliness is never more acute than when it seems everyone else isn’t suffering from it. The colder temperatures make it physically harder to bridge those emotional gaps. For large numbers of our neighbors—including our neighbors in the church—it really isn’t the most wonderful time of the year.

Thank God for the gift of music, which gives us a way to express the truth in a way that engages our hearts as well as our minds. I hope you don’t think it’s strange, then, that I’m so thankful for sad songs at Christmas. I need songs that help me express the sadness and longing that, to my surprise, sprout out of my heart during this season. Without them, I wouldn’t just feel cut off from the people around me—I’d feel cut off from God.

Perhaps the saddest song for this season is the medieval “Coventry Carol.” Set in a minor key to a haunting melody, the carol tells the saddest part of the Christmas story: Herod’s panicked order to kill every male child under the age of two in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:13-15). The song, presented from the perspective of the women of Bethlehem, laments the impending doom of “the holy innocents,” as church history has remembered them. Here are the lyrics, which have been updated very little over the centuries:

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
By, by, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we sing
By, by, lully, lullay?

Herod the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor child for thee!
And ever morn and day
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
By, by, lully, lullay.

(You can listen to a beautiful choral arrangement on YouTube here. For those with more eccentric tastes, Sufjan Stevens’ version is just as beautiful. You can find it here.)

Why do I love this song so much? First, it’s a beautifully bittersweet song of loss and mourning. But secondly, I’m comforted at the deepest level of my heart to know that I am not the first person to feel sad around the holidays. Far from it! In fact, the very first years following Christ’s birth were marked by pain in the holy family itself: the pain of out-of-wedlock teenage pregnancy; the pain of staying committed to your betrothed despite the shaming whispers; the pain of fleeing from violent authorities and sojourning in a foreign country. In other words, the song encourages me to remember that Jesus knows what it’s like to suffer at the holidays.

As a Christian, I am part of a big, timeless family that has always shed tears, not in spite of following Jesus, but precisely because of him. Jesus’ own mother would have her soul pierced to see the humiliation and death of her beloved firstborn (Luke 2:35). Our brothers and sisters around the world who are persecuted for Jesus’ sake in prisons and in slums simultaneously remember the unspeakable joy and the unspeakable sorrow that is theirs only because of Jesus. Those of us who feel abandoned by our friends and families, who have made decisions with devastating consequences, who have to bear the scars of sin within and without—Advent and Christmas are for us. They always have been. And, because our suffering Savior is now our triumphant King, they point to a time when no more children will die, and the sufferings of this present time won’t compare to the glory we enjoy—provided we suffer with him (Romans 8:17-18).

Image credit: “Sorrow” by Alexander Boden via Flickr, license CC BY-SA 2.0. Original was cropped to fit slider.

The Fruit of Following God – Part 10: Grows in Holiness

The disciple of Christ has a new attitude toward their personal sin. Others’ sins might bother him and society’s ills might be personally discouraging and inflaming, but suddenly he sees that the biggest problem in the entire world is his own sin. Like David, he cries out,

“For I know my transgressions,and my sin is ever before me.   Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:3-4).

Usually, after the first light of the Holy Spirit shines in the believers heart, the sensitivity to personal sin becomes enormous. As a matter of fact, on a number of occasions, I have heard young believers bemoan the fact that they didn’t realize that they had so much sin in their lives. Others have stated that they were happier as non-Christians because they could sin and not feel so badly or be convicted by it. The growing disciple hates his sin. He begins to acknowledge his sin more readily. He begins to think, “I have more sin than I thought I did. I didn’t know that I could sin so much.”

The disciple of Christ, ultimately, wanting to please the Savior so much, does not desire to be stained or ruined by personal sins, sins that he knows Christ died for. Holiness involves dying to sin and living for righteousness (1 Peter 2:24). Growth in holiness means “putting sin to death” (mortification, see Colossians 3:5-9) and seeking all the means necessary to live for Christ (vivification, see Colossians 3:1-4, 10-14).

The Christian disciple who pursues holy living recognizes that his greatest enemies are the lust of the flesh (sensualism), the lust of the eyes (materialism) and the boastful pride of life (egoism) as well as the world (i.e., the unbelieving world and its principles that are antagonistic to God), the flesh and the devil (see 1 John 2:16). As the believer recognizes that he is secure “in Christ,” he is able to pursue the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). He knows that Christ is his victory and failure is not the end. He loves the law as a means to guide him in a life that is pleasing to God. He wants to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:14-15).

Help Needed

It’s difficult to write for an audience you don’t know. The pastor who penned the Letter to the Hebrews clearly knew his readers, since he is able to reference their circumstances and sufferings with some detail. But I don’t have that luxury in writing for you! However, I imagine that you, dear reader, know much more about deep snow than I (a Southern boy, born and bred) do. As you know (and as I’m told that), when walking through snow that’s above your knees, it’s exhausting to move over long distances. I have walked across soybean fields, where the plants grow very densely, causing me to “high-step” the whole way. After a hundred yards or so, it stops being fun!

I imagine, though, that there’s one thing that might make your walk easier. If someone has gone before you to tramp down the snow, and if you’re able to walk in their footsteps, it must make a night-and-day difference! There are still problems, but because someone else has already done the far harder work, you’d be able to make it pretty easily.

So it is with the Christian life:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
—Hebrews 4:14-16

Being a Christian is meant to be a lifelong, dedicated game of follow the leader. Jesus is impeccably qualified to be our Savior—literally! That is, he’s perfectly suited to understand and feel for us, since he is one of us. There is no circumstance we go through that is foreign to Jesus. No one “gets” the human experience, with all its ups and downs, like him.

And to top it off, Jesus was impeccable (from the Latin peccare, “to sin”). Consider how amazing it is for Jesus, having slogged through the same life as us, without sinning at all. As a young child and teenager, he never failed to love God and people perfectly. He was tempted in every way—think about that: every way—that we are. But he never gave in and succumbed to disobedience or an unloving heart. And now, as he serves as God’s appointed mediator, he can beckon to us from heaven, as it were, saying, “Where I am, you can be, too” (see John 14:2-3).

What’s that mean for us? It means that the heavy trudging through a nasty and broken world—the really heavy trudging—is finished. What we face in this world really is hard, but it’s nothing compared to what the Son of God had to do—and did. So we can come to God. It really is possible for us to follow him all the way to the end, and we really must. We cannot give in to the pressures to loosen our grip on the gospel. And while we wait to reach heaven ourselves, it’s okay that we’re needy. In fact, only the needy find help, since only they know they can approach God with confidence (amazing!) and find undeserved grace and mercy when it’s needed.

Keep trudging. The way is clear.

The Power of the If

Do you find history interesting? If you think history is all about memorizing dates, I doubt it. But, as many people have pointed out, maybe the best reason to study history is that it is so full of good stories. I studied ancient Greek in college, and if there’s one period of history that’s chock full of daring deeds and notable quotes, it’s the five-hundred-or-so years when the Greek city-states were in their prime. In particular, the people of Sparta were famous for the bravery and brutal military discipline that pervaded their entire culture. Yet they were also known for their great (if deeply sarcastic) sense of humor. In fact, the English word “laconic” (which describes an answer that is amusingly clever and brutally blunt at the same time) comes from Laconia, the region where Sparta is found.

Just one example of the Spartans’ clever brevity comes from the late classical period, when Philip II of Macedonia attempted to invade Sparta. Having already conquered many of the Spartans’ neighbors, Philip sent a messenger with terms of peace—and a warning: “If I invade Laconia you will be destroyed, never to rise again.” The Spartans responded with a single word: “If.”1  As a result, neither Philip (nor his famous son, Alexander the Great) ever tried to conquer the Spartans.

In Hebrews 3:1-6, the author wraps up his argument for Jesus Christ’s superiority to Moses by saying that we experience the blessings of belonging to his family (literally “house”) “if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast” (3:6). In the next section of the letter (Hebrews 3:7-4:13), the author uses a great story from the history of God’s people to underline a very important point about faith and obedience.

So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice,  do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.'” See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.'” And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.” And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.” It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.

Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

In order for this passage to hit you like it should, it’s important to have a basic grasp of Israel’s timeline. In the period following their exodus from Egypt, the nation of Israel (led by Moses) wandered for forty years through the wilderness before ultimately arriving in Palestine. They were led into the Promised Land by Joshua, and after approximately four hundred years of chaos and disorder in the land, Israel began its all too brief golden age under David, who reflected on the wilderness period in Psalm 95 (quoted throughout this passage). After him, it would be another thousand years before Jesus’ earthly ministry. It looks something like this:

Moses —> Joshua —> David —> Jesus Christ [note: not to scale!]

The author poses this question: Who, out of all God’s people in history, have actually followed through with their commitment to follow God and experienced his promised rest? Looking at the wilderness period, the statistics are shocking: of the generation who left Egypt—a generation comprised of perhaps a million people or more—only two were allowed to experience a taste of God’s rest by entering the Promised Land.  And, the author points out, the “rest” experienced by those who continued to inhabit the land was fleeting and incomplete, to put it mildly!

What was the difference between those who rested (even if only superficially) and those who died before achieving it? Throughout this passage, the author divides those who followed God in this way: those who believed, and those who disobeyed. In the words of Martin Luther, the “sin behind the sin” of disobedience was unbelief. People either took God at his word (and acted accordingly) or they didn’t (and acted accordingly). The former group got rest; the latter died in their disobedience, experiencing the various consequences of sin before dying restless.

What’s the lesson for his audience (and for us)? First, be warned that sin is blinding. The people who died in the wilderness considered themselves to be faithful believers—even when their idolatry, blasphemy, and raw disobedience blatantly contradicted their words. Sin blinds us all. The question isn’t “Am I self-deluded?” but “What am I doing about my self-delusion?” Do you really believe that you’re that blind to yourself and your true obedience?

Secondly, the only remedy to the blinding effects of sin is to surround yourself with other believers who can see your heart better than you can.  Someone who claims to follow God but refuses to commit to a local group of believers isn’t just missing out; they’re out to sea without a compass or a sail, completely open to any number of dangers. Do you have a diverse group of Christians—that is, a local church—where you let others see the real you? Is there anyone in your life who knows you and God well enough to encourage (or “exhort,” 3:13) you where you really are?

If not, the threat is real. The full and final rest of God isn’t in a safe suburb in Palestine; it’s in the new heavens and earth, which we still await with patience. Are you going to make it to the finish line of life and experience that rest? You won’t if you don’t take Jesus at his word to save weak and weary sinners like us and live out of that faith. And you won’t if you don’t have a meaningful, practically challenging relationship with a local church.

Your sin may blind you, but it cannot throw off the all-seeing, all-knowing, searching Scriptures of God. Whatever lies we tell and walls we build up, God won’t judge us according to our own consciences but according to what he tells us in his word. Will you endure the hardships of the Christian life and receive the reward of living forever before God and his glory? You will if your faith is such that you take God at his word and repent of your sins. If.

  1.  Plutarch, “De garrulitate, 17.”

The Historical Works of Mercy

I find that there is often a big difference between what we profess to be true concerning what we believe as followers of Jesus, and how we act on or demonstrate the reality of what we believe.  This is a common biblical theme; there is a difference between knowing what to do and doing it.

What prompted this thought in me was a recent statement someone made to me that the church that I attend was lukewarm.  You know where I am going with this; lukewarm = being spit out of the mouth of Jesus (not the end I had in mind, from Revelation 3:16).   You can understand why I was concerned.  So I asked myself how you could make the judgment that a group of followers of Jesus was lukewarm.  I mean, you need to have some sort of mental checklist  that you work your way down, and if more check marks are on one side than the other you can reach your conclusion, “Yep, lukewarm.”  But how do you develop that checklist?  I suppose that you can go to the bible and pull out the beatitudes of Jesus, the fruits of the spirit in Galatians, the chapter on love in I Corinthians, or maybe the ten commandments and sugar them down into check boxes, but you still have to know how to judge whether love, joy, peace, patience and so on meet the biblical standards, and then you further need to be able to tell that someone may not be ready to murder someone, but might instead harbor deep-seated anger in their hearts against their brother that is as good as murder.  And our judgment can’t just be based on agreement with doctrinal statements, because here too beliefs can be sorted broadly into opinions/preferences and convictions.  Only the latter category affects the way you live your life.  As James 2:18 states:

“someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” 

Said another way, the proof of the evangelical pudding is in the way we live, not in what we profess to believe.

And this is not always easy to judge rightly.  As evangelicals we often appeal to the biblical text and definitions, but more often than not we end up making our judgments whether a person is a real Christian or not based on how often they are in church, whether they faithfully (and generously) give when the collection plate is passed, their willingness to volunteer for church activities and committees, whether they smoke, drink, dance or play cards, or any of a dozen other measuring sticks the church has used in its history.  In the end of the matter, however, we really have no idea of how the Father looks on the hearts of those we have put on the balance scales, and then there is always that nasty plank that seems to obscure our vision.

But let me return to my original question and let me offer a historical perspective on how we can judge whether our church, and specifically ourselves, are on the road to stagnant lukewarmness.  If it is true, as John says in I John 4:20“If you do not love your brother whom you can see, how can you love God whom you cannot see?” then we may have a starting point for measuring our walk as followers of Jesus.  The historic church developed two lists that defined our spiritual duty towards one another and all those outside our church doors, the first is drawn from the words of Jesus in Matthew 25, and the second from the various teachings of the bible.  List one is referred to as the corporal works of mercy, those things that we ought to do that contribute to the physical welfare of those we come in contact with.  The second list are the spiritual works of mercy, those things that we ought to do if we see a person as bearing the imprint of the Father and we desire their eternal good.  In them, I think, we find a handy measure for whether we are followers of Jesus, a congregation of those He has called, or merely going through the motions.

Without further comments, consider these.  The corporal works of mercy are to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to welcome in the homeless, to visit the sick, to ransom the captive, and to bury the dead.  The spiritual works of mercy are to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to admonish sinners, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive offences willingly, to comfort those that are afflicted, and to pray for the living and the dead.  In these lists we find a guard against lukewarmness.  In these lists we find an answer to the question “What should I be doing as a follower of Jesus?”  In these lists we find a summary of what our church congregation and committees ought to be investing our time and money towards.  To borrow the words of the Apostle Peter in II Peter 1:10-11 (commenting on his own list of measuring standards):

for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble;  for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.”

The Fruit of Following God – Part 8: “Grows in Christ-likeness”

After I became a Christian, the first verse that I memorized was from the Navigator Topical Memory System (TMS) and for me it was absolutely true:

“Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new!” (KJV).

The believer in Christ is changed. He realizes that his motto in the Christian life could easily be patterned after the words of John the Baptist when he states, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). The disciple of Christ wants to become more like Christ and less like self. Through the use of the means of grace (Scripture, prayer, the sacraments, worship and fellowship, etc.), he finds that his old life is no longer personally appealing and only a life that is conforming to Christ-likeness will satisfy. Of course, growth in the fruit of the Spirit and dying to the deeds of the flesh are true indicators of becoming more and more like Christ (Galatians 5:16-25).

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8).

Often this growth in Christ-likeness occurs in more obvious fashion during the time just after one becomes a Christian; deeper Christ-likeness is shaped and formed over the long haul, as God uses events, circumstances, others and even suffering to purify the dross and make His children more like gold (Psalm 66:10; Isaiah 48:9-11).

Each disciple of Christ willingly asks the question of himself, “Am I becoming more and more like Jesus in my attitudes, actions, choices and lifestyle?”

The Fruit of Following God – Part 7: “Lives to Glorify God”

Ultimately, this attribute answers the questions, “Who (or what) is first in my life?” And, “why do I exist?” These questions address what is often called “The Lordship Commitment.” Does Christ hold first place in the life of the disciple? Will he or she submit to and obey His revealed will in all matters of life? Is his or her passion and motivation now upon glorifying God instead of living for oneself? The Apostle Paul told the Corinthian believers (who truly struggled with their passions), “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God,” (1 Corinthians 10:31). The growing disciple of Christ begins to discover area after area of his or her personal life that needs to be submitted to the will of Christ. He does not want to live for self but for God’s glory.

This disciple is sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading in all matters of obedience to God’s law (his expressed will). Obedience spawned by love for God and out of gratitude for His grace and forgiveness becomes a heartfelt passion, even though struggles with sin remain a reality. Self is no longer the driving force in their lives. Even though some of us may have come to faith in Christ out a motive for self survival but slowly, over time we realize that we have been captured and saved by God to live for Him and His honor alone. Although sin still has its subversive grip in our lives, we want to give God our all and be an example to others regarding a life that is now completely given over to our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no disparity between making Christ Savior and making Him Lord. We want Him to be Lord, even at our conversion (Colossians 2:7). Although the disciple does not fully understand the commitment being made to Christ when he or she trusts Him for salvation (similar to marriage I might add), the disciple wants God to rule over his or her life. He has tried life his way and found it lacking. When it comes to focusing upon Christ and the Christian life, he is “all in!” The lordship of Christ begins at salvation but becomes more fully realized as the disciple walks through life with a new master.  And with each passing day, this follower of Jesus is able to say more and more “Not to us, but to your name be the glory!” (Psalm 115:1).