Will Work For Eternity

It is sad to me how we see sin and disobedience so visibly in contrast to the lives of those in pursuit of the Gospel. Why are those living in sin so much easier to spot than repentant faithful believers? I’ve been thinking a lot about how it looks to have a life comparable to the first followers of Christ who Luke calls the Way in the book of Acts (9:2). He does not call them Christians (Acts 11:26). And even after establishing the historical pinpoint for the first use of the term “Christian,” he never calls them by that name again in the rest of the book (Acts 19:9; 19:23; 22:4; 24:14; 24:22). I find this very interesting. Their existence as believers included both a verbal expression of faith and a visual manifestation of their faith in behavioral patterns. How do we get to that level? How does holiness change us from the inside out so deeply that it overtakes every single extension of our lifestyles? And how do we pursue this without slipping into legalism and license?

Contemporary culture places so much faith in the abilities of mankind. So often it replaces the person and finished work of Christ with our own unstable and empty endeavors assuming that we can earn a place in Heaven with our good works and honest passions. And in doing so, it redefines who we are as human beings. If there is any inkling of confidence in our own works as being worthy of eternity, we have placed a piece of ourselves on the same level as God. This is done through greed, lust, judgment, and any other act that does not submit to the authority of the Gospel. We see this played out every single day in corporate business, film, music, relationships, and even the church itself with the recent decision of the ELCA being a prime example. The only problem is that the Bible speaks against this.

Chapter two of Ephesians begins with a Pauline summary of the Gospel and verses 8-10 say,

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Clearly, we are not saved by our own abilities. It is a gift from God. We do not become holy by picking and choosing certain behaviors that are going to make us look more righteous. That’s works-based righteousness. We do not become holy by showing up at church every Sunday, singing every lyric to every worship song, memorizing enough Scripture, and knowing enough Christian people. That’s works-based righteousness. We do not become holy by listening to the “right” music, watching the “right” movies, and reading the “right” books. That’s works-based righteousness. The only way in which we can truly pursue holiness is by total and complete submission to the Gospel thereby receiving the grace of God which changes the fabric of our lives from the inside out – not from the outside in through self-righteous, moralistic fine-tuning of outward behavior.

I see this happen in myself all the time. It is so much easier to play the judge and decide the outward behaviors that will make you look like a better Christian. But in the end, that is legalism and it is the same thing Jesus verbally attacked over and over again with the religious leaders of his time. It is also easier to decide that the rules don’t apply and that your faith in Christ is so firm that anything goes and nobody can tell you what to do. But that’s license and works-based righteousness. To be holy means to be set apart. Romans 12 calls us to not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. It also says to be “living sacrifices” to the world. It does not say to be tolerant and indifferent. It does not say to subscribe to legalism or license. And it certainly does not say that you can be judge in place of the true Judge. Jesus was not tolerant, indifferent, legalistic or anything else. He was God. And because of this, he was mercilessly beaten and nailed to a tree where he hung until his death – a death he died for the very souls who placed him on that cross.

Legalism and license are dangerous tools of humanity. When we begin to convince ourselves that we are God, we forget the cross of Christ and we make the Gospel about us and not about Jesus. I have been reflecting on Hebrews 13:2-3 lately and it says,

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

It does not say entertain those who you deem worthy of your entertainment, but entertain them all. Don’t remember those who you deem worthy of remembrance, but remember them all. Christ challenged the sins of others, but he loved them deeply. He pursued the drunkards, the prostitutes, the poor, the broken, and the hopeless. He gave his life for the calling of the Gospel and for those who did not know him. And we should love, embrace, entertain, and remember others in the same manner.

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Good thing -> god thing = bad thing

Upon returning to Austin, I found quickly that I needed to get a job if I wanted to eat this next year. I had a few employment options that I was working on over the summer, but everything fell through. So I decided that I would ask my church here in Austin if I could come on late and join their internship program. I was excited to find that there were no closed doors for me and I have officially been hired through the whole school year to work for Hill Country Bible Church UT. I will be helping organize missional communities through the church, meeting with MC leaders in order to encourage and help them however I can, leading a Bible study with my buddy Riley, and I will be starting a weekly communal prayer gathering so that we can practice praying for the church, its leaders, and the mission.

Looking back, it has been funny how all of this came to be. Over the summer, I wanted to try and find a job that would pay above minimum wage, offer reasonable hours, and be right on campus so that I wouldn’t have to drive to school and work everyday. None of those options worked out for me and getting back to Austin, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do. My time in Omaha was a truly satisfying experience for me and my desire for this next school year is to live out everything that I’ve learned. All of my reservations and hesitations to committing to church responsibilities came from my lack of clarity on my job schedule. But now that my job is with the church, that isn’t an issue anymore and that came about by simply praying for clarity and direction.

More and more I am seeing my prayer life change and I am seeing this change even in moments like the one I just wrote about. It is becoming more sound Scripturally as I am seeking to apply the acts of Christ in my own life. But more than anything, it is becoming more and more of a departure from my own will in order to implore God’s will in my life. Because my own free will is so hopelessly drowning in sin and destruction that my hands can do no good on their own. Why then wouldn’t I pray for my passions and my desires to become aligned with the holy God of the universe? “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6). At ground level, this is a scary thought for me to think about because my efforts are not enough, yet it is so hard to let go and let God take over. Whether or not we admit it, this culture we so gladly exist in affects us deeply and we are all of victims of it in one way or another. At the heart level, it is even worse because when we truly examine our motives to do good we will find sin. Whether it is selfishness, control, or even a self-esteem boost when we do something that God created for good for the sake of ourselves we rid that action of good entirely. Because we waste it on our selfish, broken, and sinful selves. Voddie Baucham says it this way:

“I am totally, radically depraved beyond the shadow of any doubt. I can’t be good. Even when I do things that look to be good, I do them for the wrong motives and that destroys the good that was in them. I can’t be good.”

We are hopeless when we look to ourselves. But we are not without hope. When the author of Hebrews calls us to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess,” he is talking about Christ and his sacrifice on the cross. God gave his Son over to death and satisfied His wrath on that cross so that we might taste life and enjoy it in His presence. The God who created the universe right down to the very fibers of our being loved us so deeply that even while we were his enemies pursuing everything but His purpose, He sent his one and only Son to die for the world. In our hopelessness and in our brokenness, that is the hope we profess.

Finally, this is a great video. Thanks to Nathan Bliss for sending it to me. I love listening to Matt Chandler. Watch this and you might see why.

“At the root of all sin is the confusion, or inversion, of creator and creation. The worship of created things can be either the worship of things God has made, such as the environment or the human body, or the worship of things we have made, such as the television (which usually sits in the middle of the living room with all of the seats facing it so that hours can be paid in homage to the glowing deity that demands sacrifices not unlike the little shrines present in Buddhist and Hindu homes that are eerily familiar minus the remote control). The result of this error is that a good thing become inordinately elevated to a god thing and therefore a bad thing. Often times the god we worship is simply the one we see in the mirror every morning as we brush our teeth.” (Mark Driscoll, “Vintage Jesus,” pg.168)

“Be wary of people who don’t constantly point you to the blood-spattered cross of Jesus Christ.” – Matt Chandler

A New Chapter

My heart has been elevated. A new excitement flows within my veins and carries me forward with a confident urgency in what is to come. No longer do I exist within a world of self-indulgent therapeutic moralism, but rather within a furious pursuit of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Now I have a new purpose of sharing my pursuit of life with those around me. It is my job. It is my school. It is my city. It is my friends. It is my family. It is my life. It is my mission.

But the most profound feeling within me is that of joy. Instead of seeing life and the responsibilities that come with it as an  unavoidable duty, the opportunity that I have to face those things is a delight. I am waiting for school to begin right now and I have a lot of free time on my hands so I know that it will get more difficult and frustrating, but this year already feels different. And  that is because of the condition of my heart. There has been a particular scripture on my mind and in my prayers a lot lately. It comes from Isaiah 26:3-4 and it says:

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.

I am praying earnestly that I would continue to experience that type of relationship with the Lord. Because when I become frustrated, angry, depressed, bitter, or hopeless in response to people or circumstances in my life I have removed my perspective from Christ and his sacrifice and have placed it instead on those people and those circumstances with the expectation that I can control them. My mind is not stayed on my Savior. But the promise of that passage is encouraging to me and it is one that has sunk into my heart lately.

This school year is going to be amazing. Some really exciting things will be happening in my life and I am looking forward to using this blog as an outlet both for sharing those moments as well as the lessons I am learning in my own walk with Christ. Paul’s letters continually speak of walking in the new self, a pursuit of and growth in love for the person and works of Jesus, and a distancing from the old self which is “earthly” and wordly. This means dying to yourself daily in order to follow God’s will for you. It is not an appealing lifestyle to the world and more specifically our culture which believes we are empowered and fulfilled by the works of our hands, but the Bible says that the righteous works of our hands are like filthy rags before the Lord. The Gospel counters man-made culture often because it is the Word of God and the exapnsion of His will which is not our own selfish and sinful will. It is contrarian. But it is joy.

And my heart will attest to this.