“For consider him who endured such hostility from sinners against himself, so that you won’t grow weary and give up. In struggling against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” – Hebrews 12:3-4 (CSB)
It’s tempting to think that Jesus’ struggle against sin was somehow different than ours. That misses the fact that he was fully God and fully man. He was equally and 100 percent both at the same time without any confusion or superseding of one nature over the other. From the time of the incarnation, Jesus became the ultimate picture of what it means to be fully and truly human. So when we think we can’t resist sin’s pull any longer, we are just getting started. We have not shed blood unwillingly yet alone willingly. Our struggle has not come close to his – a struggle that he won because of the Spirit’s power at work within him. That same power is in us who believe. The Spirit guides us, enables us, and empowers us. How can we not keep fighting?
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart. – Proverbs 21:2 (ESV)
We naturally assume we are right. We assume our opinions are right. We assume our decisions are right. We assume our motives are right. But in the end, only one knows what is truly going on inside of us. Only one knows whether our heart is in the right place. Only one can see past the facade. And only one perfectly loves us through it all.
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?-unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5, ESV). We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. There are no additions. It’s faith in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and nothing else that makes us right with God. Even our faith is a gift from God.
At the same time, Scripture reveals that the faith which saves is never alone. It’s not a mere intellectual ascent or an emotional moment when we walk an aisle and pray a prayer. Faith changes us. Faith always produces fruit. We cannot shy away from that reality. It’s right to lovingly call people who profess faith in Jesus to leave behind sin, especially unrepentant sin that is publicly evident to all and damages Christian witness. Yet even in the midst of that, we must maintain a posture of grace. We are not responsible for the quality or quantity of someone else’s fruit. Our role is to spur people toward faith that expresses itself through love and good deeds. That starts by practicing the same thing ourselves. After all, Paul says “examine yourselves” not “examine others.” Maybe we should start there and work our way out.
Where you are, there you are. It’s redundant. It also drives home the fact that we are not in the future nor are we in the past. We are not like God who eternally exists outside of time. We are finite beings who are inside of time. Our existence is confined to that framework. Our present circumstances are where we are. More importantly, they are where God has us.
We spend a lot of time trying to figure out what God would have us do. Some decisions are clear cut. God never leads us to sin or make an unwise decision. But beyond that, there is a great degree flexibility in the decisions we make. The neighborhoods where we live, the jobs we have, the friends we have, the school where we send our kids, the church where we are involved, these are choices left to us. Certainly there are times where God calls us to do something specific and we should always follow the Spirit’s leading in those moments. But that’s the exception. The truth is that regardless of what we choose, God is present and active in each of these areas. We have been invited to join him in what he is doing where we presently are. The question is whether or not we will embrace that opportunity. Where you are, there you are – and God is at work.
Relationships are messy. They aren’t static nor do they follow a linear progression. We’d never try to program our relationship with our spouse or our friends. So why do we try to program discipleship in the local church? If discipleship is fundamentally about a growing relationship with Jesus, why do we insist on treating it so differently? Programs have a role to play and we definitely need a strategy for making disciples. We also need to teach people how to grow as disciples as they go about their work, school, child-rearing, marriage, etc.
When Jesus told his followers to go and make disciples, he meant for that to be done in the context of everyday life. You could argue this has always been God’s design. In Deuteronomy 6, Israel was told to talk about God’s law in the rhythms of daily life. Growing our love for God and others doesn’t primarily happen in an awkward one-on-one relationship or a one-size-fits-all program. It happens when we realize that everything we do, from the mundane to the exciting, is an opportunity to grow in our relationship with Jesus. The challenge is to see what it is about our situation that can increase our love for Jesus.
A few weeks back, my kids were playing a game together where the younger one would try to imitate the older one. It was quite amusing to watch her struggle to do all the things her big sister could easily do. Kids have a tendency to imitate others. It’s a part of growing and learning. It’s also a biblical idea. Jesus told his followers to do for others what he had done for them. Paul repeatedly encouraged his readers to imitate his lifestyle. The writer of Hebrews told his audience to imitate the faith of their leaders.
All of this got me thinking, “am I living a life that’s worthy of imitation?” The point is not for people to imitate me because of some inherent goodness nor is it for me get any credit. It’s for people to see so much of Christ in me that they say, “I want to live like that.” It’s about pointing people to him. He’s ultimately the one we are to imitate.
I’m a planner. I like to sit down, figure out the best way to do something, and then do it. For some things that works just fine. Especially if it’s something that I know how to do. Planning brings a level of certainty to the situation and it makes me more comfortable. As humans, we are wired for predictability (even if the only thing predictable is that we like the unpredictable). But life isn’t always predictable. There are times where we know we need to so something but we aren’t sure how to do it. We don’t know the best way forward. We aren’t even sure that it will all work out. We just know that we need to do it.
That’s where faith comes into the picture. Faith requires us to take the next step even when we don’t have all the answers. It’s a scary place to be and maybe that’s where God wants us. It means we have no choice but to rely on him.