Archive for April, 2013

What a Jesus-Follower is Like

That phrase in I John 2:5-6 has always been more than a bit intimidating: By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

Are you kidding me??? is a very common reaction. Jesus walked in the closest communion with His Father, experiencing temptation but never committing sin – His heart and mind were pure. And I’m supposed to walk like him? I’m a cesspool of foul desires, evil thoughts, and guilty actions.

But there it is. The expectation is that Christians will reflect Jesus. The Holy Spirit comes, not as some mystical theory, but as a living Presence, changing the heart of the believer and pouring, daily, the life of Jesus in our souls. Slowly, we are becoming like Him. In my case, there are extra o’s: sloooooowly.

Sometimes it feels like we’re actually becoming worse, but that is because as God gives light progressively into our minds and hearts, we simply see more of the reality of our fallenness. Yet, that same light is also purifying us, in the most consequential and sequential daily miracle the world will ever see. Sinners transformed.

I see 5 words that can sum up what I John teaches us about a growing-into-the-image-of-Christ disciple:

  1. Authentic – a formerly dishonest heart is becoming truthful, leaving behind hypocrisy and embracing – before God and men – spiritual reality.
  2. Believing – the one who despised Jesus Christ and took His name in vain now gladly acknowledges Him as the only Savior – his/her only Savior.
  3. Holy – once running in the ways of the world, and delighting in sinful pursuits, the follower of Jesus has now broken with worldly patterns, even while still loving those yet trapped in their sin.
  4. Loving – the hallmark of Jesus’ presence in the heart is love – a formerly self-centered soul now increasingly acts on the impulses of love vertically (God-ward) and horizontally (with other men).
  5. Obedient – God’s commands now take precedence over the expectations of others; and, even at great cost, over our own preferences and desires.

Every one of these things is a miracle. We don’t need to divide the sea or multiply loaves of bread to prove the existence of God. We just need to follow Jesus and give Him the reins in our lives.

No disciple of Christ walks perfectly in these things – none of us can come close to living in the perfect holiness of Jesus. It will be a source of utter futility to read the text as if it meant, “the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk perfectly in the same manner as He walked.” That interpretation is the fastest way into the pit of despair.

Nonetheless, the evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit is clear – when these five traits increasingly fill our lives, even starting in small measures, we are walking with Jesus. And, the converse is true – no matter what we say with our lips, if we are not practicing authentic, believing, holy, loving obedience, then (as John so bluntly phrases it) we are liars.

A Jesus-follower looks like Jesus. It’s gradual, slow, step-by-step, and discolored by the power of remaining sin in the heart of the believer. But now, the true disciple grieves over that sin and consistently turns away from it. The Jesus-follower brings his/her foulness to God and receives pardon and fresh power. The believer falls six times and gets up seven times, and keeps moving forward.

That, too, is a miracle of grace.

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satisfiedWe all want to be satisfied (in the most common use of the term). I made some (smoked) pulled pork last night – and believe me, we were all satisfied at meal’s end!

But, our temporary feelings of satisfaction pale into insignificance when we consider this question: Can God be satisfied? Clearly, we’re going to need to consider a variant meaning of the word compared to, say, the appeasing of our fleeting appetites!

“If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation (satisfaction) for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.” I John 2:1-2

For God to be satisfied, in this case, means that His wrath is fully appeased through an effective, once-for-all-time sacrifice to take away the guilt of sin – healing the breach caused by our rebellion.

Yes, God IS satisfied – utterly, totally, and universally satisfied – and it has something to do with an advocate for sinners, Jesus Christ.

Satisfied here implies complete, without flaw – when Jesus said, “It is finished!” as He perished on the cross, it meant that satisfaction for sin was now reaching a whole new level. One sacrifice for all sin, for all peoples. A satisfaction that anyone in the entire world could enter into, at any time, and be reconciled with God.

We don’t sacrifice a lamb for our daily sins – that is to go backwards into the time when God was instructing the human race through types and symbols. All those temporary sacrifices were like brush strokes, painting the portrait of the Lamb of God to come who would fully satisfy the wrath of a just God with a perfect sacrifice.

We need no Mass to crucify afresh the body and blood of Christ. We can do no good works to appease God when He has already satisfied His perfect requirements through the giving up of His Son. Our acts of devotion are to be from a wellspring of gratitude and joy that God is satisfied with those who embrace His Son.

We cannot earn favor. We cannot cancel our guilt. We cannot cleanse our own stains. We cannot appease our offended consciences or obey a law that we already despise; and we certainly cannot satisfy a holy God. Our feeble efforts at reconciling ourselves to God through ANY religious observances or good works are like sitting on the beach digging through sand with a bent spoon to try to find a bit of water, when the whole ocean is in front of us.┬áThat’s the bad news.

The good news is that God is satisfied – with Jesus Christ. Embracing and following Him, we enter into a rest that nothing else can give: the smile of a satisfied God.

If I put a heaping plate of nourishing food in front of you, and you decide instead to scratch around on the floor looking for crumbs – would that satisfy either of us? So, when God makes abundant provision and we embark on a do-it-yourself project, we stiff-arm the only One who can satisfy.

We can be washed in the ocean of God’s grace. Bent spoons and crumbs don’t bring a smile to God’s heart. Anything that has the trappings of Christianity without the satisfaction of God as its constant heartbeat is simply missing the point.

It is vanity to think that we could satisfy a God who has already satisfied every requirement of His holiness. We can, however, bow to worship and humbly receive His gracious kindness.

“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness.” I John 1:8,9

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