Getting Out of the Nursery

I wrote “In my last post on this book [this week’s], Stott explains the Christian’s responsibilities.” quote from my previous post on September 22…

I lied…

This post was supposed to be the “last post” on John Stott’s book Basic Christianity.

It is not. There will be this one and then another.

This post will deal with the responsibilities of a personal commitment to live for Jesus Christ. 

I see the responsibilities of the Christian two ways.

Number one, we have a private responsibility to work toward living a more righteous life.*

Number two, we have a responsibility to do God’s work within the church and God’s work within this world.

Let’s focus on number one because our efforts at private growth are the bedrock of everything else. 

Some would disagree; their efforts are all about church work and work within the world but I know if I don’t have my private commitment to my Father and His Son right, everything else is “just a show.”

Some feel that responding to “the call” is all that is needed.  It is a privilege to be a child of God but we don’t have responsibilities to go along with the privileges.  Just give your life to Christ and that takes care of it.  After being born again, you can resume your regular life and be assured that you are saved.  There is a problem with this.  New Christians don’t want to return to their regular life; they want something different because they are new creatures in God.**

John Stott writes that “Everybody loves children, but nobody in his right mind wants them to stay in the nursery” [136].  But this is the problem with many Christians who focus on privileges and aren’t interested in responsibilities.   They are born again in Christ but they never grow up.  Stott says “Others even suffer from spiritual infantile regression.”  God intends us to become “mature in Christ;” birth should be followed by growth in righteousness.  Justification leads to sanctification.***

When I first read Basic Christianity I knew very little about what lay ahead in my life.  I knew that something special had happened to me [I was born again] but I really did not know what God expected of me [long term].  I knew of His Son but I did not know how to grow closer to Him.  What I needed to understand was I had to develop my mind.  I had to learn about my faith.  I also needed to understand that I needed to work on my relationship with my new Father and His Son.

Obviously the place to start is the Bible.  Good Christian literature helps with growth also [books like Basic Christianity].  I started with the New Testament and I soon began to understand that Jesus advocates for Christians to love their fellow man.  Jesus also intends for us to conform to His character and behavior.  God wants us to obey His commandments and with help from our Holy Spirit, He wants us to do His will.  Our bodies are our temple and God dwells within us.  Not only are we are supposed to take care of our bodies, we are also supposed to make the effort to monitor what goes into our bodies.  Harmful temptations are real and our “original sin” nature makes us vulnerable to making horrible choices.  God expects us to submit to His authority and if we do, good things will appear in our behaviors.****

“Our relationship to our heavenly Father, though secure, is not static” [Stott, 137].  Most of us are very busy and don’t want any other things added to our list of things to do, but arranging time for God every day is a must.  I know many Christians who have never opened a Bible.  I know many Christians who say they cannot pray.  Stott comments that the road to victory in the Christian life is simple, an alarm clock, self-discipline, a Bible reading plan, a Bible, good Christian books, but most of all an honest desire to know God more and decrease the distance between yourself and Him.  Add an honest desire to live a more “Christ-like” life and you have all the basic ingredients for growth. 

Let me also add some very personal needs for growth.  Prayer is our effort to communicate our concerns to God and that is important.  We all have problems and God can help us if we ask Him.*****  Often I hear that prayer is like a wish list, with God as our Santa; some say I am not sure I do prayer right.   I am certain that God hears all our prayers, whether they are about our own needs or the needs of others.  It is also important to listen in the process of prayer as God may speak directly to our Holy Spirit. 

To listen requires silence and as we grow in our faith it is important to learn to meditate on the world of God.  I have personally read the Bible from cover to cover many times and that is good, but what can happen with a rigorous Bible reading plan is there is no time to reflect on God’s Word.  Stott recommends “Pray before you read, asking the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and illumine your mind.  Then read slowly, meditatively and thoughtfully.  Read and reread the passage.  Wrestle with it until it yields its meaning” [138].  Keep a notebook about your reading and read other books about the Bible [a good commentary is helpful].  Overall, look for Jesus Christ.

He is there.

When we commit to follow Jesus, we have a new Father.  It is important to realize that life after our commitment is a life-long effort to know Him better and better.  We may make an effort to emulate Christ in our lives and that effort is extremely commendable, but it is important to be realistic in our efforts.  Christ lived among us and He never committed a sin.  We are not built that way and He knows it.  We will sin but the most important thing is to confess it.  We will have remorse about sinning but don’t dwell on the sin too long.  God does not want a relationship that is static.  He understands us, He made us and He wants us to continue our efforts to know Him more.  Find a way to accept His forgiveness and move forward, getting even closer to Him.

Let me close with the ideas of privilege and responsibility.  To be a child of God is a wonderful privilege and no one should take it for granted.  However, it is just the beginning to giving ourselves to Christ.  Obligations or responsibilities are very important.  We are obligated to grow up as Christians.  We are responsible for our own commitment.

It is not good to be classified as one of those Christians who are born again but do not grow.  Stott writes “To neglect to grow in your understanding it to court disaster” [137]. 

I don’t know about you, but I want to get out of that nursery.

*By righteous life, I mean private righteousness, not public righteousness.  No human can be like Jesus but we can all make an effort to get closer to the Son of God and God Himself.  I use the word “work” cautiously, because I am not advocating legalism.

**”Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”  2nd Corinthians 5: 17.

***Of course justification is giving our lives to Christ [we are made right, or justified];  sanctification is growing in righteous, Christ-like behavior.

****These “good things” are called fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

*****There are many books on prayer but one of the most thorough is W. Bingham Hunter, The God Who Hears.  I discussed this book on “St. John Studies” beginning with my November 10, 2016 post entitled “Exposing my Bias.”

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I Am A Child Of God…

I am a child of God.

What does that statement mean?  It is obviously an identity statement.  I could say “I am David Carter.”  I could say “I am a golfer.”  I could say “I am a teacher.”   However, when someone identifies themselves as a child of God, that statement seems more important than any other statement of identification.   Frankly, I think it is.  As John Stott draws his book Basic Christianity to a close, he focuses on the idea that Christians are children of God. He refers to the Apostle John who explains in his prologue to his Gospel that “He (that is, Jesus) came to His own home and His own people received Him not.   But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God; who were born…of God.”

The major questions about this child of God designation are these:  have you received Him? Do you believe in His name? 

Some might question is God not the Father of all men?  Aren’t  all people children of God?  Well certainly God created man, but that is not what a person means when they say “I am a child of God.”  The identity “child of God” is more than acknowledging that I am a creature who was created by a Creator.  When I say I am a “child of God” I declare that I have a special relationship with God because of my acceptance of Christ in my life.

Reference the statement above:  “He came to His own home and His own people received Him not.”  Contrast that to this idea:  when He came to me, I received Him.

But what does all this mean?  In Basic Christianity, Stott has written a book for a seeker, an individual who has made a new commitment to Jesus but they are not really sure what that means.  They need more information because they want to grow in their faith.   They may be happy that they feel momentarily free from their sins and they may be excited about the new direction they are going in their life but their life change is new.  They don’t really know what their future holds.  They are affectionately referred to as “baby Christians.”  Human babies are fed by parents and growth for them is natural.  Christian babies grow through their own effort: to grow they should read God’s Word and obey God’s Word in their lives.

In this post, I will comment on Stott’s “privileges” for the person who is a new creature, that person who has joined the family of God, and now is related to God as Father.

The first privilege is an intimate relationship with God.  Sins were a huge barrier between God and us before we declared Jesus Christ as our Savior.  Stott writes simply, “We were under the just condemnation of the Judge of all earth.”  Due to Christ bearing all our sins on the cross, we have been “made right” with God.  Our Judge has now become our Father.  Stott comments on this new life by turning to the words of the Lord’s Prayer.  Before I went to church and said the prayer, the words were only an exercise in rote learning.  After giving my life to Christ, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name” took on a whole new meaning.  He knows my needs before I ask Him.  He promises to give good things to His children and I am now His child.  Do I have carte blanche with my behavior?  No, God disciplines me when I sin and even though I have declared my love for His Son, I will continue to sin.  However, new Christians must realize that God is disciplining us for our own good.  We need His guidance in life so we can grow closer to Him.

Secondly, we have an assured relationship with God.  “Assured” is one of the most important words for a new Christian.  Some people act as if they only hope for a brighter future, but Christians are assured that God will never desert them, God will give us peace and rest and God will give us eternal life. 

Let’s stop and clear one thing up:  God is not promising that life will always be happy, that the problems of life will not occur.  However, He is promising that He will always be there to help us in the tough times.  This is very confusing to new Christians who feel close to God when things are “right” and distant from God when things are “wrong.”  This can plunge the new Christian into uncertainty as we desire all highs and no lows. 

One key to overcoming this problem is to read God’s Word and believe it.  God promises eternal life to those who receive Jesus Christ in their lives.  Secondly, God speaks to our hearts.  When we believe in God, His Holy Spirit comes into our lives and He directs us.  Stott writes “The outward witness of the Holy Spirit in Scripture is confirmed by the inward witness of the Holy Spirit in experience” [134].  When we cry out for God in our prayers, listen.  He will answer if we are quiet, meditative and receptive.  Thirdly, if we are active on His urgings through the Holy Spirit, we will find spheres of life where we can do His work.  There will be evidence of His influence in our acts.  This “indwelling” of the Holy Spirit also gives us a new path to righteousness as God leads us down a new pathway to life.

Security.  Who does not want that?  This is the third privilege that new Christians will eventually discover.  A major fear that many have is the penchant to sin after declaring a “new life in Christ.”  How can this be?  The things I did before I came to Christ are still there:  the old temptations, the old triggers to sin, the weaknesses that have led to sinful habits.  Many new Christians don’t understand that we may be “justified” once but we need to be forgiven every day.  Paul said we have to “die to sin daily.”  Eventually we hope that sin tugs on us less as we seek God more and more but real life is a see-saw battle as righteous behaviors can emerge in one instance and then sinful behaviors can emerge in another.  So many Christians refer to this as the “old man, new man” problem.  When we declare Christ as our Savior, we try to put our “old” behaviors away and we seek better behaviors [our “new” man].   However, the “old man” returns from time to time.  Old habits are hard to break.  New habits are hard to adopt.  Where is security in all of this?  God knows the battle we are waging because His only Son walked this earth living a human life.  His only Son is also in heaven at His right hand advocating for man.  God knows every sin we are going to commit before we commit it.  Our weaknesses are baked into who we are and God has made us.  Despite this, God wants us to succeed in our efforts at righteous living.  Satan is the one who wants to see us fail.

I love the way Stott ends this section of his last chapter.  When we give our lives to Christ, we are cleansed from our sin.  He references Peter who asks Jesus to wash his hands and his head as well as his feet, but Jesus replies “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, for he is clean all over.”  In Jesus’ time in the Middle Eastern world,  dusty conditions made it customary for people to bathe before leaving their home for social gatherings. When arriving at someone’s home, a slave would still greet them and wash the dust from their feet.  Stott likens this to what happens when we give our lives to Christ.  We receive a bath which symbolizes the fact that we are made right with God.  That bath never needs to be repeated, but as we walk through the dusty streets of this world, we constantly have to have our feet washed.  This is God’s daily forgiveness.

I am a child of God.

When someone identifies themselves as a child of God, that statement seems more important than any other statement of identification.

It means that God will give you an intimate relationship, an assured relationship and a secure relationship.

New Christians don’t know what they are getting when they give their lives to Christ, but in the closing words of Basic Christianity Stott explains the privileges. 

In my last post* on this book [about the last pages of the book], Stott explains the Christian’s responsibilities.

*My first post on Basic Christianity was October 25, 2020 [entitled “Studying Stott Once Again”].  When I began blogging on December 30, 2014, I had never commented on two books at once, but I admire John Stott so much I wanted to do this, alternating comments on Basic Christianity with The Cross of Christ.

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Being A Christian

As I have “ping-ponged” back and forth between The Cross of Christ and Basic Christianity,  I have been heading toward conclusions, the final summaries of each book.  The Cross is considered by many theologians as John Stott’s magnum opus, the crowning glory of all his writings.  Basic is a much earlier work, designed to be helpful to the person who has made a commitment to Jesus but is not that familiar with what that entails.  They seek more basic knowledge about their new faith.

We are in the final chapter of Basic and after navigating through introducing Christ as a person, man’s need for Him, and His work here on earth, Stott is discussing man’s response to Jesus’s sacrifice for us, His death on the cross.

I find it very interesting to read these words: “Yesterday really was an eventful day!…Up until now Christ has been on the circumference and I have but asked Him to guide me instead of giving Him complete control.  Behold He stands at the door and knocks.  I have heard Him and now He has come into my house.  He has cleansed it and now rules in it.”  These are words from a diary, and the next day’s entry is “I really have felt an immense and new joy throughout the day.  It is the joy of being at peace with the world and of being in touch with God.”

These words are from John Stott’s own diary, written when he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ.

What is next in his days ahead?   Life…

The day we find Jesus is pivotal, but life goes on, with its good days and bad days.  Many feel a spiritual high as they realize a freedom from the bonds of sin they have never felt before, an exhilaration of a brighter future with a new approach to life.  That “high” may last for a while but eventually life interferes and we find ourselves confronted with problems and some of them are so severe that our new faith is sorely tested.

We cannot just freeze time and enjoy one bright, shining moment forever.

There is much more to the Christian life than this.  We have to find a way to grow our faith in the midst of what life offers, and we know that life will offer challenges that can suck any enthusiasm we felt out of our “eventful day”.  Stott points out that wise new Christians make commitments to joining a church, hoping that fellowship with other Christians can inspire us and guide us through the good times and the bad.  Christians interested in growth will start the process of learning as much as they can about God, seeking to do His will.  Sinning does not stop in a new Christian’s life so it is essential to understand the grace of God, for we need it every day as we are tempted to do what is not right.  Many Christians look around and see that there are places where there is great need and they decide they can spend their energies serving their fellow man.

As John Wesley says, being made right with God is not the end, it is just the beginning.  We are supposed to move from justifying grace to sanctifying grace.

I remember my own experience of justification.  I like to think it was a pivotal moment.  Before that moment, I was someone who worked very hard; my whole life was centered around pleasing my boss.  I loved the attention I got because when I took on big projects, I succeeded.  I was climbing the ladder of success.  My problem was that I did not have a “relationship” with Jesus Christ.  I had been committed to my goals in life so much that I had quit going to church [even though when I was “going to church” it was just a duty, not for the worship of God].  I fell into the habit of needing Sunday to rest a little and prepare for the work in the upcoming week.  I had life under control.  I was very effective in my job and that was all that mattered.

Until…

I realized one morning that I had left my family behind.  That is where it started.  I had a wife and I had a son.  I barely gave them one percent of my attention, but one morning I awakened to find that I was about to lose them and that shook me to my core.  I needed them but instead of being in their lives, I took them for granted.  I just assumed my family was ok as I selfishly pursued my life vision.

They weren’t. 

I remember the “pivotal moment” that morning when I took the family dog on a walk.  I had heard the most crushing news I had ever heard in my life.  My world was crumbling and the guy who thought he was under control suddenly realized that his “control” was just a figment of his imagination.

My direct address to God that morning was “What do I do Lord?”  He spoke to my Holy Spirt that morning, giving me a message that at the time made little sense: “Go to work, have the best day you can have and wait for help.  I am sending you help.”

John Stott gave his life to Christ and felt that Jesus was taking over.  The next day he knew Christ was in his life, controlling his life and [cleansing it and ruling it].

My point is this:  everyone’s experience is different.  I embarked that morning on a process that took a long time.  It was a full year of commitment to Christ before my wife would even utter the words “I love you.”  I did not deserve those words but maybe she saw a penitent husband who was trying to live a better life, a life dedicated to God, my wife, my son and my church.  Work was good but it was not number one anymore.  My whole experience taught me that putting work “center stage” in one’s life is folly.

My experience taught me that justification is just the beginning.  The real work of the Christian life is beyond the “pivotal moment.”  Do some make that walk to the altar, declaring their new-found faith and stop?  Yes they do.

Stott writes after one lets Christ in the door of their lives, this is just the beginning of the Christian life.  “Becoming a Christian is one thing; being a Christian is another.” 

Taking that first step is important.  You cannot be a child of God without it.  It is truly a miracle.  God has given you a new life.  You are a “new person” in Christ.  You are a new member of a new family, the family of God.  When you were born, you were not conscious of the event.  With the new birth of Christ, you are fully conscious and you know something has happened, something needed, something very good.  You have become a new creature in Christ.

But it is only the beginning.  Stott’s final chapter of Basic Christianity is dedicated to the rest of your life.

I love the title.  It is so appropriate.

“Being A Christian”

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But What About Evil People?

Right in the middle of the next to last chapter of John Stott’s book The Cross of Christ (a chapter entitled “Loving Our Enemies”), he has a discussion of a topic I really don’t care to write about.

Most Christians know that Jesus admonishes us to love our enemies: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”  “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” [Matthew 5:44, Luke 6: 27 and Romans 12: 14].  The idea is that we can overcome hateful people by showing them how to be good.  Repaying hatefulness with hatefulness only sends the message that their bad behavior is acceptable.  We justify it by mirroring it.

But what about evil people?  What is the Christian (living under the “cross of Jesus”) to do about the truly evil people of this world?  Are we supposed to love evil people and bless evil people?

Stott opens this discussion with the following questions: “Does the cross commit us to nonviolent acceptance of all violence? Does it invalidate the process of criminal justice and the so-called just war?  Does it prohibit the use of every kind of force, so that it would be incompatible for a Christian to be a soldier, police officer, magistrate or prison officer? [291].

These are very difficult questions and each question could be the subject of a chapter by itself.  I won’t address all of them in this post but I will attempt to comment on the Christian’s response to evil.  Of course God knows that evil exists and God knows that man is capable of evil.  With this in mind, God knows that we have to have some kind of response to the existence of evil in this world.

Stott draws heavily on Romans, Chapter 12 and 13 as he discusses evil.  The words of Paul give us counsel about how to handle this ever present problem. 

First of all, Christians are supposed to hate evil.  Paul writes “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”  Normally Christians think that love and hate are “mutually exclusive.”  Love will expel hate and hate will expel love but what about evil?  All the advice we receive from God’s word about love seems to ignore the “evil” word, which is the most extreme form of hate.  Paul indicates that we cannot compromise with evil.  It is not on the same plane with love.  While good is the enemy of hate, evil in this world spoils all forms of good.  God hates evil so we should hate it also.

Secondly, Stott points out that we should not attempt to repay evil.  “Do not repay anyone evil for evil…do not take revenge, my friends” writes Paul in Romans 12: 17 and 19.  Revenge and retaliation are not approved by God for if we indulge in those activities we are merely adding more evil to this world.   Responding to the evil of this world can even make a Christian evil.  Why would God desire that?  The worst evil was done to Jesus while He was on the cross and when He could have retaliated, He chose not to.  He chose the route of peace.

Thirdly, evil needs to be overcome. Paul does admit in Romans 12 that evil needs to be overcome.  The main question is how do we do this?  Will blessing evil people work?  Will praying for evil people work?  Will finding a way to serve evil people work?  The world says evil should always be repaid with evil or rather that evil should be repaid with extreme revenge or retribution.  There have been so many movies churned out of Hollywood with that theme.  For example, evil people harm a man’s daughter and what does he do?  He punishes the evil people using extreme violence.  The audience cheers his acts and he eliminates the bad people of the world (usually with minimal harm to himself).  Finally, at the end of the film, the “good guy” ends up face to face with the leader of the evil people and you know what happens: the horrible person meets his end, gets his “just desserts” so to speak.  We can imagine what God thinks about this.  Stott says that when evil is repaid with evil, evil wins: we are increasing the world’s total of evil.  He cites Martin Luther King who called this the “chain reaction of evil” as hate multiplies, violence increases and man descends into a “spiral of destruction.”  What did Jesus’s response to the evil done to Him on the cross accomplish?  It brought salvation to millions of people. 

Ok, repay evil with no response…

But do evil people get off without suffering any consequences for their actions?

The answer is no, but the punishment does not come from man, it comes from God.  This may make us crazy as we think of examples of evil people in the world who have power, wealth and worldly influence.  Do we have to wait until their “last judgement”?   Stott writes the evil people of this world “are storing up wrath against themselves, for the day of God’s wrath, when His righteous judgement will be revealed.” 

What about society; is it totally Godless?  We have laws to deal with heinous acts.  Those laws require punishment by the state.  Paul’s words do not mean that people who do great harm to others should go unpunished; he is trying to say that it is harmful for Christians to have a direct hand in the punishment of evil people.  Ordinary people should not take the law into their own hands despite the desire for revenge. 

Where does all this leave us as we see evil abound  in this world?  My son lives in Memphis Tennessee and this past week a young kindergarten teacher was kidnapped while she was jogging.  Three days later, authorities found her body.  Yesterday a nineteen year old man went on a shooting rampage throughout the city, killing four and wounding three. 

Real people have suffered there.  Lives have been lost and families are now faced with horrible grief for their loved ones. 

How should they respond?

I recall June 18, 2015, a story of a heinous act that brought me to tears, brought me to my knees.  Emanuel AME church in Charleston South Carolina suffered a horrible loss.  An admitted racist entered the church on June 17, while a Bible study was in session.  He opened fire and took the lives of nine people.  I was rocked by the act, but what transpired forth-eight hours later inspired me to be a better man.  I heard the reporter tell of the family members who confronted the killer at his bond hearing. 

They forgave him.

They did not excuse his actions, but

They forgave him.

Ethel Lance was murdered that night in the church.  Her daughter Nadine Collier spoke directly to her killer:  “I forgive you … You took something really precious from me. I will never talk to her ever again, I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you and have mercy on your soul.”

It was later revealed by news outlets that the killer expected the killings at Emanuel to trigger a response.  He wanted the killings to start a race war.  Little did he know that family members would react the way they did.

Possibly family members knew that spewing hatred was not the way to respond, wishing harm on the killer would do no one any good.  Healing began at that bond hearing as the state took over the role of punisher.  God will do His part in the killer’s future, at his judgement day.

Jesus prayed for His executioners. That inspires people to be better people.  He forgave His executioners.  He left punishment to the wrath of God.

Additional information for this post comes from USA Today Website  “Five Years after Charleston Church Massacre:  How “Emanuel” Reveals the Power of Forgiveness” accessed on September 8, 2022.

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Easy to do? No, but essential…

It seems that peace in this world today is elusive.

Yet the call to Christians today is the same as it always was.  Matthew 5: 9 says we are called to be peacemakers.  First Peter 3: 11 tells us to “seek peace and pursue it.”

In Chapter 12 of John Stott’s book The Cross of Christ, his call for peace is preeminent.  If we are to live “under the cross” every aspect of our lives is to be shaped by the cross, including our conduct in relation to others and this includes that problematic group of people that we all seem to have: our enemies.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” [Matthew 5: 43-45].

That seems to be such a high bar, especially in this world today when love and peace do not seem to be uppermost on most people’s minds.  It may seem to be hyperbole, but the prevailing response to differing opinions today is often anger resulting in conflict, attack, and disparagement of others with different viewpoints.

Yet Stott says being a “peacemaker” is essential for living a “true” life devoted to “love and justice which characterized the wisdom of God in the cross” [288].  He points to three places where peace should be foremost: the church, the family and the Christian’s life.

Let’s summarize what Stott says about the church because of all places, one would think that love and peace should reign there, but sadly that is not always the case.  Detractors of the church can find multiple examples of Christians not exhibiting love and peace with their fellow Christians.   When a brother or sister have a sin problem that becomes public, self-righteous gossips appear within the church [quick to judge and spread their opinions].    When a contentious issue outside the church becomes a discussion within the church, people pick sides and go into attack mode against differing opinions.  The objective is to demolish differing views.  When a pastor makes a mistake and needs grace, support and restoration, the most common response seems to be a quick demand for resignation [no grace, no support and no effort at restoration].  The New Testament is clear about the need for love and peace regarding differences in the church.  “Jesus Himself made it abundantly plain that the object of discipline (within the church) was not to humiliate, let alone to alienate, the person concerned, but rather to reclaim him or her” [Stott, 290; see also Matthew 18: 15-17].  In my opinion, when contentious issues arise within a church, intelligent discussion should happen (everyone involved should gather factual information, after careful thought, everyone involved can express their views in a respectful manner, everyone should know that changing other people’s minds is not the goal but understanding other views is the goal even if those views differ from yours [and you don’t intend to alter your personal viewpoint).  It may be needless to say but nonbelievers bolster their reasons for nonbelief when they see Christians who are unable to exhibit love and peace in their “own house.”  Why would they want to become members of a hypocritical institution called “the church,” people who say one thing and then do another.

An additional area where love and peace should reign is the home.  Christian parents should want their attitude toward their children to be marked by the cross.  Stott writes “Love is the indispensable atmosphere within which children grow into emotional maturity.  Yet this is not the soft, unprincipled love that spoils the children, but the ‘holy love’ that seeks their highest welfare, whatever the cost [Stott, 289].  Christian familial love does not eliminate discipline because the loving parent knows that the goal of parenting should be the highest good in the child.  I know this phrase is too simple but Stott writes “Justice without mercy is too strict, and mercy without justice too lenient.”  Children know about justice and mercy because they know when they do wrong and they know they deserve punishment.  Parents have the job of setting boundaries and children know they need them, we all need them.  Again love and justice comes from God and parents should know how to love the family and how to mete out deserved punishment.

Lastly, the Christian’s struggle with love and peace is the bedrock from which the two aforementioned areas are built.  What am I to do if it is impossible to live at peace with someone who is unwilling to live at peace with me?  What did Christ do when confronted by hostile forces that meant Him harm.  Jesus was the “world’s preeminent peacemaker.”  Stott writes “when He [God] determined on reconciliation with us, His ‘enemies’ who had rebelled against Him, He ‘made peace’ through the blood of Christ’s cross” [289]. 

What must we do?  I agree one hundred percent that it begins with listening.  Stott calls this listening “sustained, painstaking listening to both sides.”  When I used to teach listening skills I often drew a distinction between listening with an open mind and listening with an empty gun chamber.   A poor listener is not processing another’s message with the aim of understanding as much as they are preparing to “fire back” a rebuttal in order to win what they see as a debate.  It takes effort to sympathize with others, much less empathize with others.  It takes effort to understand the language that has led to misunderstanding. 

If understanding occurs and responsibility for misunderstanding is accepted, it is hard to apologize to others, for today no one seems to want to accept blame.  If others have done wrong, it is equally uncomfortable to have to rebuke another, for that risks destroying relationships, anger and further recrimination.  Again we can turn to the Bible for guidance in these matters.  Jesus said “If your brother sins, rebuke him and if he repents forgive him.”

Stott comments “The incentive to peace-making is love, but it degenerates into appeasement whenever justice is ignored.  To forgive and to ask for forgiveness are both costly exercises.”  My belief is that the idea of peace and loving one another is a cornerstone of our faith.  Easy to do?  No, but essential for our ability to stay true to God .  “All authentic Christian peace-making exhibits the love and justice—and so the pain—of the cross” [289].

Our new pastor at my church inspires us all with the last words he says after he prays his benediction.  He raises his arms toward God and the cross that hangs from our ceiling and he utters these words:  “Go in peace.”

Easy to do?  No, but essential…

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Come In Jesus…

In the previous post entitled “The Decision to Open the Door” [August 19, 2022] I refer to John Stott’s use of the image of Christ at our door, knocking to get in.  One can look at the famous painting entitled “The Light of the World” and see that the door that Jesus is knocking on does not have a door knob.  It has to be opened from the inside.  “The Decision” is focused on just that, our decision to let Jesus in (a metaphor for letting Jesus into our lives).

Let’s take the metaphor further.  He is knocking, knocking, knocking and the big question is what must we do?  John Stott in his book Basic Christianity says we must listen to His voice.  Many choose to turn a deaf ear to Jesus or drown out the whisper of Jesus’ voice.  “Sometimes we hear the voice through the pricklings of the conscience, sometimes through the gropings of the mind.  Or it may be a moral defeat, or the seeming emptiness and meaninglessness of our existence, or an inexplicable spiritual hunger, or sickness, bereavement, pain or fear” [Stott, 125-26].  Whatever the vehicle, Jesus’s  message is clearly delivered; you need Me.  “I can get you through what you are going through.” 

Secondly, we must open the door.  This is the actual act of faith that triggers our act of submission to our Lord and Savior.  This signifies that we indeed need Him.  Stott says the door does not swing open by chance.  It is not partially opened with Jesus peeping in.  It is closed and we have to decide to allow Him entry.  “ If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in” [from Revelation 3: 20].  Everyone must make his or her own decision to do this.  No one does this for you.  Pastors, parents, counselors, friends can point the way, but you have to decide to let Him in.

Stott writes that this is a unique act. “Your hand and only yours can draw back the bolts and turn the handle” [126].  When Christ comes inside [inside your life] He will bolt the door from the inside and will never abandon the house.  “Sin may drive Him into the cellar or the attic” but He won’t leave.   “He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” [Hebrews 13:5].

Here is a catch.  Opening the door does not make one an angel.  Christ can enter and cleanse you of your sins but it is the beginning of of a long-term transformation process.  You character will begin to be molded to His will.   It only takes a moment to open the door and receive forgiveness but it is the beginning of a lifetime of adjustment.

Stott likens the process to renovating a home.  There are so many shows on television today detailing the steps one makes to renovate.  The process can be wrapped up in a thirty minute segment or at the most, an hour.  That is not the way it works with Jesus.  His entry is only the beginning.   The full quotation from Revelation 3:20 is  “If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with Me”.   Many Christians love to call Jesus their friend; can you imagine The Christ coming into your home and sharing a meal?  Can you imagine conversing with Jesus, enjoying His companionship?   Revelation 3: 20 really says we have been strangers but now we are friends.  We have had a door between us but now we are sharing a meal.

Here is the part that most new Christians do not understand.  Jesus comes in as our Lord and Master.  Our house is now under His management.  I think of Him as cleaning up all the rooms in my house (even though it may be bad to picture Jesus as a cleaning person).  No area is hidden.  Stott says “As He steps across the threshold, we must hand Him our whole bunch of keys, granting Him free access into every room” [125]. 

What does He ask of us?  He asks us to repent of our sins.  Sin displeases God and it is because we cannot clean up ourselves, that He needs to come into our house.  We cannot forgive ourselves and we cannot make the needed improvements without His wisdom and power.   Many people feel they can change on their own [thank you very much God!] but in my experience, the extermination of bad habits needs a power most of us don’t have.

Stott says we must think of God as rearranging the furniture in our homes, with total power to do so.  We don’t need to resist His efforts but in my experience most of us do.  Stott writes “[there should be] no attempt to negotiate our own terms, but rather an unconditional surrender to the lordship of Christ” [125].  This language is so vague and it has to be; Stott cannot tell each of us what the Lord will demand and what problems we have that must be addressed.  He just says it this way “forsake evil and follow Christ.”

I love the way he closes this section of Chapter 10, because he calls on those who open their doors to trust Christ.   There is much work to be done and much more to the Christian life than letting Christ in and confessing our sin, but this is the necessary first step.  To be a Christian, we must take it:

“Lord Jesus Christ, I acknowledge that I have gone my own way.  I have sinned in thought, word and deed.  I am sorry for my sins.  I turn from them in repentance.  I believe that You died for me, bearing my sins in your own body.  I thank You for your great love.  Now I open the door.  Come in Lord Jesus.  Come in as my Savior and cleanse me.  Come in as my Lord and take control of me.  I will serve as You give me strength, all my life.”

The prayer of salvation.

Hear His voice.

Open the door.

Pray the prayer.

Get ready.  He will rearrange your furniture, clean your house and take control of all your keys.

Just what we need…

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The Decision to Open the Door

Open the door. 

Making decisions can be difficult, even deciding to open the door.  We always know we can keep it closed.

You are raised in a Christian home.   You never missed church.  Your parents drilled the Gospels into you as a child.  You attended Sunday school.  Now you are an adult and you assume you are a Christian.  Have you really opened the door?

You are born into a Christian culture.  There are churches everywhere.  You know that most people in your culture believe and so do you [kinda].  You are a “good”  person, crediting the influence of the church and the culture on your belief system but you don’t really do anything to show anyone that you believe in God.  You assume you are a Christian.  Have you really opened the door?

Then we have people like Saul, who was on the road to Damascus.  He was getting quite famous for being a Christian persecutor.  Suddenly a bolt of light hit him and he fell from his horse and he heard the voice of God:   “Why are you using violence against me?”  His life was never the same from that point on.  He became a soldier in God’s kingdom.  He opened the door.

And we have John Wesley who tried to “force” himself to be devout.   He knew he should be but the natural, heartfelt acceptance of God as his Savior was lacking.  In 1738, Wesley reluctantly attended a group meeting on the evening of May 24th on Aldersgate Street in London.  As he heard a reading from Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans, he felt his “heart strangely warmed.”  He writes in his journal, “I felt that God loved me.”  He opened the door.

There was a man who felt he knew it all, that he was totally in control of his life, just to wake up one morning and get a shocking message that plunged him into a “lost state.”  For the first time in his life, he cried out “I don’t know what to do God: I need help!”  He was “at the end of himself.”  Help came from God as the message came about what to do.  Help came from Christians who mentored the man and he gave his life to Christ.  He opened the door.*

Opening the door is hard; it is admitting need.  One needs what is on the other side of the door.   Many do not perceive their need; their attitude is “I need nothing.” 

What is on the other side of the door?  Holman Hunt created a painting in 1853 which is entitled “The Light of the World.”  Jesus is carrying a light and He is knocking on a long unopened door seeking entrance.  The painting is based on Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hears My voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.”    John Stott uses this painting to illustrate the personal commitment that “real” Christians have to make to Jesus Christ.  They choose to open the door and let Him in.  “Every responsible adult is obliged to make up his own mind for or against Christ.  We cannot remain neutral.  Nor can we drift into Christianity.  Nor can anybody settle the matter for us.  We must decide for ourselves” [Stott, 121].

I would be remiss if I did not state right now that responses to Jesus’ knock do not have to always be dramatic, a bolt of light, a warmed heart or an anguished cry for help.   The decision to open the door to Jesus can come in many, many forms.

But “true faith will translate such mental belief into a decisive act of truth.  Intellectual conviction must lead to personal commitment” [121].  Whether dramatic or not, the knock of Jesus on our door requires our decision to follow Him, our commitment to further His kingdom.

It is a humbling moment for a person to admit that they need help.  They need a Savior.   Stott was told that he needed to appreciate what Christ did for him.  Jesus came to earth and died an ignoble death so that Stott [and all of us] could be saved. 

We live in a world that does not encourage humility.  Many have material prosperity and they have accumulated that at the expense of a real appreciation for the gifts that God has given all of us.  “Look at me in my fine home, my fancy car. I live a successful life on my own God, thank you very much.”   Stott writes that material prosperity has invaded the church and brought with it a “complacency”.   Stott is hard on these people, people who like to look the part but they really don’t do anything to show they really believe.  He calls them “Christians in name only”, their interests are “shallow” and “casual.”  Jesus said in the Gospels that this type of person is lukewarm, not hot or cold, they are “distasteful to Him.”  Stott writes this type of person is suffering from self-delusion:  they say “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.”  They don’t know they are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked” [123]. 

Let’s say we open the door to Jesus.  He comes into our “house” and we commit ourselves to Him.  Being the people we are, our natural question is what is He going to give me?  Here is the answer:  commitment to Christ gives us righteousness.   We grow to want to meet God’s standard of obeying His laws [every attribute, every attitude, every behavior, and every word].  We can’t meet this perfect standard but we want to try.  When we fail, God extends His grace to us as we seek forgiveness and continue on in our quest for obeying God’s laws.  Christians do not have the strength to do this on their own, but “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” [2 Corinthians 5: 21].

Commitment to Christ gives us a hunger for spiritual wealth.  We begin to see that money and possessions will not bring us what we need; we need happiness that derives from God-centered behavior, spiritual knowledge of God and His word and a freedom from sin. 

As I write about Jesus at the door, He is knocking on it.  He is not pushing it open.  He could put His shoulder into the door and force it open. He is not shouting at us to open the door.  The irony is that Jesus is the owner of the house.  Stott writes “He is the architect, He designed it.  He is the builder; He built it” [124].  We are only tenants in a house which does not belong to us.  He is knocking and waiting, waiting for us to open it.  It is a decision:  to open the door to Jesus or keep it closed.

What will you do?

*That man was me.

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Spheres of Service for Christians

John Stott closes Chapter 11 of his book The Cross of Christ with a section called “Spheres of Service.”  “The community of Christ is a community of the cross and will be marked by sacrifice, service and suffering, how will this work itself out in the three spheres of home, church and world?” [Stott, 281].

That is a very reasonable question given the nature of the Christian’s life.  If a person gives their life to Jesus Christ and receives the baptism of the Holy Spirit, that Spirit can* cause a change in their life, a change which will result in a need to act out their faith in this world.  Becoming a Christian is not just a public statement; it may also be a commitment to change the world for the betterment of God’s Kingdom here on earth.  Stott discusses three spheres of change:  the family, the church and the world.  In all three areas, a righteous Christian will bear fruit** [their faith will have a positive impact].

In the home of a Christian family, love should be the main theme, what Stott calls natural human love, further enriched by supernatural divine love, between husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters.  Stott points to Ephesians 5: 21 which has often been cited as “difficult” for wives because it recognizes husbands as the head of the family.  Stott does not agree that Ephesians is harder on wives than husbands; “the quality of self-giving love required of husbands is arguably even more demanding.  For they are to love their wives with the love which Christ has for His bride, the church.  This is Calvary love” [282].  It is self-sacrificial, constructive, resplendent, caring and protective.  Of course what he is saying is that being the head of the family is not an easy job.

In the church the sacrifice, service and suffering inspired by the cross begins with pastors.  Their leadership style should be inspired by Jesus Christ and He led his followers by His humility and service.  With Christ as the model, pastors see a Man who lives by His Father’s power.  Jesus was not harsh in the exercise of authority and did not focus on wielding his own power.  “If Christian pastors adhered more closely to the Christ who was crucified in weakness and were prepared to accept the humiliations that weakness brings, rather than insisting on exercising their own power, there would be much less discord and much more harmony in the church” [282].

Within the church community the key word is unselfishness.   Many in church can find themselves working hard to be the most ambitious Christians in church but that effort should be devoted to helping others [the call is to love one another rather than self].  The needs of others come first, others are valued more than self because that is the model of Christ who renounced His rights and humbled Himself in order to serve. 

Finally we turn to the world and here Stott says that Christians should have a mission mentality.   Churches can be preoccupied with their own affairs but there is a very needy world outside the church building.  Stott says that “mission arises from the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus.”   In other words, the church should be characterized by suffering service, akin to the attitude expressed by Mother Teresa who said that “Love means to be willing to give until it hurts.”  

Today, Stott claims that too many don’t understand suffering service because that has been overshadowed by the unbiblical prosperity gospel [which focuses on devout Christianity equaling personal success].  The cross calls us to “mission”, meaning that we are called to individual and family sacrifice, helping others over our own economic security, solidarity and empathy for the poor, and renouncing the idea that our wealthy culture is better than any other culture.  Stott writes that each of these ideas lead to a death of sin in us and a life dedicated to others who need our help

Related to mission in the world is the desire to work for social justice in the world.  When we see basic human rights being denied, it is our job to work to correct that injustice.   Stott lists many examples [of which I will give a few]: political injustice [the subjugation of minorities], racial injustice [discrimination against people based on race or color], sexual injustice [the oppression of women].  The church can let this injustice stand but if we love people, we care about how they are being treated.  It is our obligation to change institutional structures that inhibit the development of people.  “Christians cannot regard with equanimity the injustices that spoil God’s world and demean His creatures” [285]. 

As I get ready to conclude this post and wrap my discussion Chapter 11, I have to ask what is our “sphere or service.”  I am reminded of the great commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”  Matthew 28:19-20a.  When one considers these words it sounds like Christians have a lot of work to do.

Stott would agree; work in the family, the church and the world.

*Of course, a Christian can ignore the urging of the Holy Spirit to do God’s work in the family, the church and the world.  That is why I wrote “can.”

**We often think of Apostle Paul’s list in Galatians 5: 22-23 but one can argue that “Godly work” done in the family, the church and the world is also “fruit.”

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The Quest for Power in the Church

“The worst and most blatantly self-centered prayer ever prayed” [John Stott, The Cross of Christ].  Those words by Stott describe the following sentence by the sons of Zebedee, [ the apostles James and John]: “Teacher,” they said, “We want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

I am not sure I would call that a prayer, more likely a request.  Self-centered?  You bet.

What are these apostles asking?  The words are from the book of Mark and they are asking Jesus for power. 

Power.

They want to sit at Jesus’ right hand and His left in His glory.  They want positions of honor, thrones.  Jesus knows His mission; He has come to this earth to hang on the cross, to suffer weakness and shame.  They don’t know that or don’t believe that.  Jesus says to them “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”  He knows they don’t want His future but Jesus knows what they want.

They want power.

The church is an institution and individual churches are institutions within the larger institution.  Every church has a power structure that emanates from the pastor.  Sadly, churches have many people like James and John.  Stott calls these people “go-getters, status-seekers, people who are hungry for honor and prestige, people who measure life by achievement, who are aggressively ambitious for success.” 

The problem is nothing could be further from the life that Jesus Christ led, nothing could be further from the goals that Jesus Christ had.  “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

Power seekers make choices that are of this world.  When they join a church, they want to run it.  They want to have the ear of the pastor.  They want to be the most important people in the church.  They want to set the tone.  They want to make sure they are at the “top of the heap”.  It is just their nature.  Stott says they have a choice between self-ambition and sacrifice and they have chosen self-ambition.  When Jesus calls for humility, that call falls on deaf ears; they don’t want that.  They only understand the opposite of that: pride.

The second choice these power seekers make is between personal power and service.  Stott writes it seems clear that James and John were not seeking “seats on the floor, or on cushions, stools or chairs, but on thrones” [280].  James and John focused on the glorious Son of God but ignored the other part of the equation—the suffering servant.  Jesus knew that He would only enter glory by suffering, but James and John did not understand this pathway to glory.  Perhaps they missed their former life where they were well-to-do members of a fishing family that had enough success to have servants.  Perhaps they fantasized about being Roman rulers or even tyrants like Herod.  The model they knew was based on people who “threw their weight around,” manipulative people, exploiters, and tyrants.  “The symbol of an authentic Christian leader is not the purple robe of the emperor but the coarse apron of the slave, not a throne of ivory and gold but a basin for the washing of feet” [Stott, 280].

The last choice a power-seeker makes is between comfort and suffering.  No one can doubt it; following Jesus was hard.  James and John had become vagrants.  That happened to all the apostles as they followed Jesus.  Maybe they wanted some creature comforts instead of moving from place to place with no real place to rest, no real place to call home.  Stott imagines they would rather have goblets of wine, sumptuous banquets and luxurious pre-banquet baths.  Who wouldn’t?  “The spirit of James and John lingers on, especially in all of us who have been cushioned by affluence [Stott, 281].  The life of an apostle was one with little security.  Comfort was not a priority; hardship was the theme of the day.  “To follow Jesus is always to accept at least a measure of uncertainty, danger and rejection for His sake” [281].

This brings us to the ways of the power-seeker.  How does a person exert influence in the church?   James and John made a direct request but most often the road to power does not  come through words. 

Money is a key factor for most power-seekers.  When a person can tithe and donate large chunks of their wealth, most pastors avoid antagonizing such a person.  Churches have to have funds to operate.  The catch is that people who make large donations expect access; they expect some decision-making ability in how a church operates.  They expect to wield power.

A second factor is community status.  High-ranking officials in a community naturally exert power in the church.  If a person has a high-profile in the community, they will have a high-profile in the church.  People who are not members of a church may look at who attends and they may be impressed that a mayor, a judge or chief executive officers attend.  The idea is that some of this prestige may rub off on them.  This makes a church a fashionable place to attend.   The high-profile person wields power.

A third factor (believe it or not) is service.  Service is what Jesus expects of His followers, but what about people who serve too much?  I have seen people who make it their job to serve at church so much that no one else is asked to do the work of the church.  What is this person’s goal?  They want to be seen by the pastor as “indispensable”.  When a problem occurs, an initiative needs to be tackled or a mission needs to be accomplished, this power-hungry service-oriented person is consulted because they have a track record of getting things done.  This type of person can insinuate themselves into top leadership in a church just like a wealthy person or a high-profile person. 

Look into their hearts.  What are their goals?  Are they truly doing the work of the church or are they enjoying the credit for doing the work?   It says in Matthew “Only God knows our hearts, and only He knows whether this person has sincerely put his faith in Christ as his Lord and Savior” [7: 1].   Many hard workers are true servants and they do not have ulterior motives.  Others have power as their motive and service is how they achieve their goal.

Stott says the selfish, power-hungry request of James and John is sandwiched between two explicit references to the cross.  That offers a contrast.  Compared to Christ’s sacrifice, their request is described as “shabby, tatty, threadbare” [281].  More importantly this single episode of two power-hungry apostles highlights the choices the church has to make on a regular basis. 

Does the church follow the “way of the crowd?”

Does the church follow the “way of the cross?”

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Having a Double Attitude…

The double attitude.

We are new; Christ has redeemed us…

We are fallen; we continue to sin…

In my previous post I stated that this double attitude would be the focus of my comments this week.  As John Stott heads toward the end of his book The Cross of Christ, his last chapters deal with how we should live under the cross.  Our identity is shaped by our relationship with Jesus; our purpose is shaped by His sacrifice.

He says we are called to self-affirmation and we are called to self-denial.

Let me ask which “call” would you rather hear?   Jesus spent a lot of his time on earth preaching about people.   People are valuable in God’s view.  How much more valuable are people than birds or beasts?   Humans are the “crown of God’s creative energy” for God made them in His own image. 

Jesus had a positive attitude toward people.  He never seemed to hate anybody or dishonor anyone.  In fact He went out of His way to accept the people that the world rejected.  In a patriarchal society, He spoke courteously to women in public.  Little children were invited to come to Him.  He delivered hope to the Samaritans and Gentiles.  Of course, He allowed lepers to come to Him for healing and He defended wayward women from stoning.  Stott writes in all His “diversified ministry His compassionate respect for human beings shone forth” [274]. 

One must also remember Jesus’s mission and death.  He did what he did for human beings.   Jesus came to serve us, not to be served by us.  “He was the Good Shepherd who came into the desert, braving the hardship and risking the peril, in order to save only one lost sheep.  Indeed, He laid down His life for the sheep.   Stott quotes theologian William Temple who writes “My worth is what I am worth to God; and that is a great deal, for Christ died for me” [from his book Citizen and Churchman].

Ok this raises a serious question.

How can we value ourselves and deny ourselves at the same time?

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” [Mark 8: 31].

We are called to be dead to sin and alive to a life in Christ.  Self-denial is not so much the denial of luxuries [chocolates, cakes, cigarettes and cocktails] as much as it is the renouncing of our right to go our own way.   Self-denial means to turn away from self-centeredness.   In a recent study I have done on changing behavior, many Christians don’t seem to be able to assess their own behaviors accurately.  Dr. Larry Crabb writes that we love the broad road of life rather than the narrow road.  If life gets too uncomfortable, if the sacrifice is too great, if Jesus calls us to do too much, we back away.  “Jesus lived an abundant life—a life abundant in trials and sorrows, a life abundant in difficulties and pain, a life abundant in rejection and loneliness” [Crabb, Inside Out. 14].  In short, the goodness that Jesus requires must not get in the way of the good life of comfort that Christians want. 

Crabb’s book in uncomfortable because he points out that Christians are horrible in their efforts at self-denial.  We practice “Vending-machine Christianity:  Insert a dollar of ethical living and out comes a thousand dollars of personal well-being in an improved world” [Crabb, 12].  We are good at one type of denial; we are good at denying how poor we are in practicing a holy life.

According to Stott, Jesus calls us three times to die to self.  First is His call to die a legal death.  We die to sin when we join with Christ in His death on the cross.  His resurrection leads to our freedom from sin which justified sinners enjoy.  Secondly we die a moral death.  Our old nature and our evil desires die.  We are supposed to want a righteous life when we can practice continuing fellowship with God.  Thirdly, we have a physical death.  We lose our strength as we live our lives.  Even though we grow weaker in our physical bodies, Jesus’ strength is made perfect in our weakness.  

Stott writes “how have you reacted thus far, especially to the emphasis on dying to self, or rather, putting it to death by crucifying it or mortifying it?  I expect (and hope) that you have felt uneasy about it” [273]. 

My feelings about the Christian self (one that can be affirmed and denied at the same time) are complicated.  We like to make the world simple with our black or white perceptions.   The world is hardly ever black or white, right or wrong or good or bad.   People are rarely completely evil or completely good.   All people are complex, mixes of evil, glory and shame.  We cannot deny our fallen self any more than we can accept the affirming idea that Jesus came to this earth to save us.  Most of us would love to be affirmed and stop at that, but life is not always a “bowl of cherries” [excuse the awful cliché].

“Standing before the cross, we see simultaneously our worth and our unworthiness, since we perceive both the greatness of His love in dying, and the greatness of our sin in causing Him to die” [Stott, 278].

In truth, Christians should have “the double attitude”.  We are new because Jesus Christ has redeemed us, but we never need to forget we are fallen; for like it or not…

we continue to sin.

In our next post, we will continue “Self-Understanding and Self-Giving” as we discuss “Living Under The Cross.”  We will consider self-sacrificial love and spheres of service.

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