I was driving home from church on Good Friday evening dialing in the radio when I heard an interview with Ray Vander Laan. In this Focus on the Family radio show interview, Ray said something profound which has stuck with me all weekend. In fact, I sense this will be the theme of my life for the foreseeable future. I looked it up on the Focus on the Family website so I could quote it verbatim:
I’ve said it this way. If you ask a Christian, why did Jesus die? Most of them can tell you. I mean, if you’ve been a Christian even a short time, He died to save us from the guilt of our sins, pay the penalty. Praise God! Amen! Good theology. My question to my students is, why did Jesus live? Did He live just to get us to His death, to tell us who He was and how He was going to die? How come He talks about it so seldom? Did He live just to explain why they would kill Him? I don’t think so. I think He lived to say, when you figure out why I died, here’s how to live. I think those two have to fit together. And I think if you asked me what’s the biggest weakness in [the] contemporary view of Jesus, we all want the benefits of His death. I’m not sure we’ve fully bought into what it means to live as Jesus lived. 1 John 2:6 is my class theme every year. “Whoever claims to be in Him, must walk as Jesus walked.” And that’s to me, what gives the Gospel its punch, is people see it being lived out in practical ways. –Ray Vander Laan
“We all want the benefits of his death. I’m not sure we’ve fully bought into what it means to live as Jesus lived”. This phrase haunts me because of the depth of its truth. As a Christian the foundation of my belief is that I’m saved by grace through faith, not by anything I have done but by the gracious mercy of a loving God. Because of His great sacrifice on the cross I am set free from bondage. Yet, how does this translate with Jesus’ teaching me to take up my cross and follow him? What part does “denying myself” play in my faith? I can tell you this- and you might not believe this is true- but I am NOT a perfect person. Sometimes I’m not even a good person. I get cranky, stubborn, staunchly opinionated, and I can be hard to be around- ask my family. I’m sure that never happens to you. I need these devotions and Bible studies, song lyrics and radio shows to remind me what’s central to my faith. Salvation? I’m pretty confident God has taken care of that for me. Walking the way Jesus walked? I’m equally confident I have a long way to go here. Sometimes I nail it, but most times I’m like Peter denying I even know Him- if not by my words, certainly by my decisions.
The embarrassing truth about this is that while I need to be constantly reminded of what it looks like to live out my faith, many non-believers think this is a given, which is why we’re so often open to the charge of hypocrisy. We claim to be “Christians” which literally means little Christ, but in reality we act so much more like the self-centered culture that surrounds us. Mahatma Ghandi is rumored to have once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians”. Can we blame his assessment? Christians, me included, talk so much about impacting the world. What would actually happen to this world if people who claim to be followers of Christ actually did the things he said to do- “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, “forgive as I have forgiven you”, “Deny yourself”, “love your enemies”, “in your faith become as a child”… This is the “punch of the Gospel” as Vander Laan put it. Granted, this walk of discipleship, of being conformed into the image of Jesus Christ, is a life-long process. Most times I wish I was a little further along, but for now I’m just thankful that Jesus loves me enough to call me to follow Him.
I take comfort with the words of the Apostle Paul when he spoke of sharing in the sufferings of Christ and having the full power of Jesus’ resurrection. Paul said this to the church in Philippi, “…not that I have obtained all this, or that I have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus has taken hold of me”. Friend, if Jesus has taken hold of you, He is conforming you into His likeness by His Spirit. He wants you not only to believe the truth of God’s love for you and the world around you, but also to reflect that same truth in your actions. As I press on I have a task ahead of me- mostly involving submission. What areas of your life need to be submitted to Jesus’ transforming grace?