Christ our Life (Part 2)

Christ our Life (Part 2)

Christ our Life

(Part 2)

Our Conversion was Christ-centered

In the religious world, people generally are “converted” to a religion, such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, or Judaism. They accept a set of beliefs, a system of religion, a collection of rules, a few rituals, and a philosophy of life. Even in the realm of “Christendom,” people speak of “joining a church” or “becoming a member of such and such a denomination.” In effect, people are converted to a particular form of “churchianity” or join what amounts to a religious organization or club. Ask a person what he is religiously and you will often hear him respond, “I’m a Baptist,” or “I’m a Lutheran,” or “I’m an Episcopalian,” or “I’m a Pentecostal,” or “I’m a Methodist.” We find people converted to a church, a denomination, a religious system, a doctrine, or a socio-religious organization.

In contrast to this prevalent perspective, early believers turned to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. We read statements such as the following as we open the Scriptures:

  • “. . . they turned to the Lord” (Acts 9:35).
  • “. . . many believed in the Lord” (9:42).
  • “. . . a large number who believed turned to the Lord” (11:21).
  • “. . . considerable numbers were brought to the Lord” (11:24).
  • “. . . they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (14:23).
  • “. . . Crispus . . . believed in the Lord” (18:8).

Jesus Christ (and God the Father) was the focus of their conversion since He was the center of their salvation. They came to Him, believed in Him, turned to Him, and were brought to Him—so they might love Him and live for Him! True “Christianity” is really Christianity. Christ is to be the primary focus.

Were you truly converted to Christ Himself? Did you deny yourself to follow Him (Mark 8:34)? Did you place your faith in Him, leaving every form of self-trust (2 Timothy 1:12; Ephesians 2:8-9)? Did you turn from your sins in His name (Acts 2:38)? Did you confess Him as Lord (Romans 10:9) and call on His name (Acts 22:16)? Were you buried with Him in baptism (Romans 6:3-4), in His name (Acts 2:38), and did you rise with Him to walk in newness of life in Him (Colossians 2:12-13; 3:1)? Were you seated with Him in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6)? Every aspect of our response to God’s grace centers on Christ Jesus, His Son. This is a vital matter for each of us to thoughtfully consider as we ponder our own salvation commitment.

Leaving All for Christ

The rich young man asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). He must have been a religious, respectable, moral person for he claimed to have kept the commandments of God since his youth (vv. 19-20). But Jesus in love replied, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (v. 21; cf. Luke 18:22; Matthew 19:21). Regretfully, he went away with deep grief; the price of following Jesus and receiving eternal life was too great for him. Jesus had put His finger on his real problem: love of property and possessions (vv. 22-25).

In view of the materialism that pervades our American society, Jesus may be saying something similar to many of us: If you would escape an earthly-focus and lay up treasure in heaven, turn away from your pursuit of wealth, give your riches to those in need, and follow Me without compromise. The American dream of “the good life” has dulled the spiritual senses of many so that the truth of God cannot be perceived! Many are destroyed because of their materialistic desires (1 Tim. 6:9-10).

After Jesus offered the demanding words to the rich man and he turned and walked away, Peter responded, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You” (Mark 10:28). Our Lord’s amazing answer was that those who do leave possessions and sever earthly relationships for His sake will receive much more even in this life and will receive eternal life in the coming age (Mark 10:29-30). The lesson Jesus wants us to learn is this: Anything that comes between you and your Lord must be renounced.

Anything that acts as an “encumbrance” or “hinders” our devotion to Jesus must be laid aside (Hebrews 12:1, NASB, NIV). If anything you possess detracts from your spiritual life, do not hesitate to forsake it. Jesus declared, “No one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions” (Luke 14:33). D.E. Rogers has said, “Just as Jesus found it necessary to sweep the money-changers from the Temple porch, so we ourselves need a lot of house-cleaning.” Since our saving relationship with Christ and our possession of eternal life is in the balance, don’t allow any compromises in your commitment to Him!

This was Paul’s experience. When he met Christ, Paul renounced his religious attainments: “Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7). But he goes on to state that he turned his back on “all things” for Jesus: “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (v. 8). Why was the apostle willing to labor for years with little to his name in some of the most difficult circumstances we can imagine (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 2 Corinthians 6:4-10; 11:22-29)? Why was he willing to be regarded as a “fool for Christ’s sake,” and be considered “the scum of the world, the dregs of all things” (1 Cor. 4:10,13)? The answer is Jesus! In the words of Rhea Miller’s song:

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold,

I’d rather be His than have riches untold;

I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands,

I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand.

Than to be the king of a vast domain

Or be held in sin’s dread sway;

I’d rather have Jesus than anything

This world affords today.

Christ may not be calling us to actually sell all of our possessions. Most early Christians continued to have such possessions as houses (cf. Acts 10:6; 12:12; 17:5; 21:8; 16:15; 1 Corinthians 11:22). But whatever legitimate possessions we do have must be used for the glory of God and the cause of Christ–rather than our own selfish pursuits (cf. Acts 4:32-37; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Philemon 2; Colossians 4:15). Do we use our homes in this way? Do we use our automobiles or trucks in this way? Do we use our money in this way?

Following Jesus

Leaving all is only the negative response. Following Jesus is the positive. The rich young man was also commanded, “Come, follow Me” (Mark 10:21). We all are aware of Jesus’ call to discipleship of those who became apostles, such as Peter and Andrew (Matthew 4:18-20), James and John (vv. 21-22), and Matthew (9:9). His command, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (4:19), was answered with immediate obedience (v. 20). On another occasion, when a man indicated a reluctance to break human ties, Jesus said, “Follow Me; and allow the dead to bury their own dead” (8:22; cf. vv. 19-22). Jesus pictured Himself as the Good Shepherd and His disciples as sheep: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). If we are true “sheep,” we will hear and follow Jesus our Shepherd wherever He may lead and whatever He may require.

One of the basic texts on discipleship reiterates that we are to follow Jesus: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34; cf. Matthew 16:24; 10:38; John 12:26). Not only is denial of self and cross-bearing required of the disciple, but also a life of following Jesus. We follow Jesus at home and on the job, at school and in the market place, while working and resting, while traveling and at home. We must follow Jesus every day, 168 hours a week. Arlie Hoover, commenting on this verse, wrote: “No absolute monarch, no totalitarian dictator, ever demanded more of his followers” (Dear Agnos, p. 179). Jesus could demand such absolute commitment because of who He was and is—our sovereign Lord and Ruler. We do not simply follow Jesus’ teachings as a Muslim would follow Muhammed’s Koran, or as a Watchtower Witness would follow Watchtower literature, or as a Mormon would follow Joseph Smith’s Doctrine and Covenants. We follow Jesus Himself! And we follow His words because they are His words! He deserves to be followed with all of our heart.

Losing Our Life for Jesus

We are well aware of Jesus’ wonderful statement, “I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly” (John 10:10). We rejoice in this new life that is ours in Him, but we must at the same time renounce our past–a life dominated by sin. Jesus declared, “He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it” (Matthew 10:39; cf. 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24).

Isn’t it true that most of the people you meet from day to day and most of the people you already know are endlessly searching to “find” or “save” their earthly life? They are involved in a hopeless, defeating quest to find a fleeting measure of happiness in this world. Some try to “find their life” by “getting high” at Saturday night parties or spending the weekend at the lake. Others seek to “find their life” by saving for retirement or in traveling the world. Still others attempt to “find their life” by living a common and ordinary existence with family, home, and job filling their mind and occupying their time. And many are trying to “find their life” by escaping into the world of television, videos, and novels; deadening their spiritual senses with rock, country, rap, and even classical music; or occupying their thoughts with senseless sports, meaningless hobbies, or time-consuming clubs and organizations. As Paul says, they indulge “the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (Ephesians 2:3), and are “enslaved to various lusts and pleasures” (Titus 3:3), while they vainly seek to “find” their lives.

In contrast, Jesus says that only the one who will “lose his life” for Christ’s sake will find it. He made the contrast even greater when He said, “He who loves His life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal” (John 12:25). You will not find spiritual life and satisfaction until you “lose” or “hate” your life out of Christ. The familiar words of Isaac Watts should express our own attitude of heart:

Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were an offering far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Living for Jesus

Why are you living? For whom are you living? What is your motivation in life? If you are a genuine believer, there should be no hesitation in saying that you consciously, deliberately live for Christ. Paul wrote, “If we live, we live for the Lord” (Romans 14:8), and “For to me, to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21). Those around us live for self, but we are to live for Christ! Paul clearly shows this contrast: “He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died, and rose again on their behalf” (2 Corinthians 5:15).

Before you came to Christ, you directed your own life. You did what you wanted to do when you wanted to do it. We might say that “self” was the center of your life and personal desire was the controlling principle. The unbeliever seeks to please self, pamper self, and gratify self. Many people say that they must “look out for number one”! However, this self-orientation is the essence of sin. As Isaiah stated, “Each of us has turned to his own way” (53:6). Or as Paul remarked, “They all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:21).

Since you turned to Jesus and acknowledged Him as Lord, you have a different control in your life—Christ Jesus. Since we are recipients of His bountiful love, how could we do other than to live fully, completely, and consistently for Him!

Devotion to Jesus

“Devotion” is “strong attachment expressing itself in earnest service,” and the term “devote” is defined as “give or surrender completely.” We say that a woman is a good mother when she is “devoted” to her children. A man is a good husband when he is “devoted” to his wife. A person is a good employee when he is “devoted” to his job. But our highest devotion is to be rendered to our Lord Jesus Christ.

We are to “surrender completely” to Christ as did the Macedonians who “first gave themselves to the Lord” and then expressed their love by giving to others (2 Corinthians 8:5; cf. vv. 1-5). We are to have a “strong attachment” to Jesus that is expressed in the way we live. Paul was especially concerned that we offer “undistracted devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35). We are to have a certain detachment from even legitimate and rightful activities and relationships in life in light of our unqualified devotion to Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 7:29-32a; Luke 9:57-62; 10:38-42; Mark 10:29-30). Hoover emphasizes this complete devotion demanded by Christ: “Jesus claimed man’s highest loyalty. He demanded from his followers total, uncompromising devotion to him and his cause. He seemed to go out of his way to warn the crowds of his stringent demands for discipleship” (Dear Agnos, p. 179).

This devotion to the Person of Jesus is meant to be the driving force of our lives. Every aspect of our personality is to be devoted to Him, every talent He has given to us is to be used in His service, and every thought is to be taken captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Our hearts are to be entirely given over to Him (cf. 2 Chron. 16:9). Barnabas visited the new believers in Antioch and “began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord” (Acts 11:23). We likewise need a “resolute heart” that is true and loyal to Jesus our Lord.

As we noted earlier, Paul wrote to the Philippian brothers, explaining why he was sending Timothy who would be “concerned” for their welfare. He contrasted this devoted worker with others who “all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:21). Are you seeking your own interests—or Christ’s interests?

Where does the devotion of your heart really lie?

The disciple of Christ learns to be intolerant of anything that might stand between his soul and complete devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. He is ruthless without being offensive, firm without being discourteous. But he has one passion and one passion alone. Everything else must be brought into captivity (William MacDonald, True Discipleship, p. 44).

Your Body Given to Jesus

Since you have been “bought with a price,” you actually are “Christ’s slave” (1 Corinthians 7:22-23; cf. 6:20). You belong to Jesus! Your body belongs to Him both by right of creation and by right of purchase. As Paul expressed it: “The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord; and the Lord is for the body. . . . Your bodies are members of Christ” (1 Corinthians 6:13,15). Since your body is not your own but belongs to Jesus, it is to be used only in a way that would bring glory to Him (v. 20). This would include:

Keeping your body pure and undefiled

Taking sufficient rest and sleep

Keeping your body clean

Eating nutritious, wholesome food

Protecting your body from needless dangers

Engaging in exercise or other physical activity

Guarding your body from physical illness

Avoiding injurious practices and habits (e.g., smoking, drugs, drunkenness, etc.)

Maintaining positive and wise health practices

In short, recognizing that your body belongs to the Lord Jesus will involve “nourishing and cherishing” your body as a priceless gift of God (cf. Ephesians 5:29). If persecution should arise and you are called upon to suffer for Christ Jesus, then your body can be offered up to Him as a sacrifice of love. Paul says that “the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:10; cf. v. 11). Do you recognize that your body is owned by Christ? Do you consistently offer your body as a loving sacrifice to the Lord (Rom. 12:1)?

Pleasing to Jesus

When you genuinely love someone you desire to please him. And the more deeply you love him, the more joyful you are when he takes pleasure in your efforts to please him. So it is in our relationship with Christ. Because we love Him with all of our heart, our highest desire should be to please Him in what we are and in what we do. Joy will be ours when we know that He smiles on this response. In the words of Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts:

Our restless spirits yearn for Thee,
Where’er our changeful lot is cast;
Glad when Thy gracious smile we see,
Blest when our faith can hold Thee fast.

Paul’s commitments in life were right: “We have as our ambition . . . to be pleasing to Him” (2 Cor. 5:9; cf. 7:32). The inclination of our “old self” is to please self, as we noticed before (cf. Romans 15:1-3), thus it will take effort on our part to “learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph. 5:10). We are to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord to please Him in all respects” (Col. 1:10). Since Jesus has revealed His will by means of His Word (John 14:15; Matt. 28:20), we must know His Word and submissively yield to it if we would please Him.

One of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve had is sensing that I bring delight to the heart of my Savior and Friend! If you are married, with a dear husband or wife, surely one of your greatest pleasures comes from bringing delight to that precious loved one. In an even greater measure, when we please Jesus, we too are pleased and find spiritual blessing. When we bring Him great joy, we also rejoice. We can receive the smile of Jesus’ approval as we look to Him in faith, in love, and in humble submission.

Obedience to Jesus

Scripture says that “Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord” (1 Peter 3:5). Sarah’s verbal respect of Abraham (calling him “lord”) would have been empty, meaningless, and hypocritical if she had refused to obey her husband (in all things that were right, v. 6). Jesus emphasized this same connection between Lordship and obedience when He asked, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). Since we recognize Jesus as Lord, we must live in obedience to Him. Significantly, Jesus is “the source of eternal salvation” only “to all those who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9).

It is not difficult for us to obey someone whom we truly love and respect, particularly if we are convinced of his love for us. If a child is convinced of her father’s love, she will want to obey him. If a wife trusts her husband’s love for her, she will desire to submit to His leadership and headship over her. Further, the child will want o obey the father because of her love for the father, and the wife will want to submit to her husband because of her love for him. Love and obedience are often joined together by Jesus Himself:

  • “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).
  • “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me” (John 14:21).
  • ” If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word” (John 14:23).

Therefore, our love for Jesus will express itself in careful, consistent obedience to His will expressed in His Word. We cannot know true fulfillment and joy unless we are willing to humbly submit, in loving faith, to Christ’s will. As the beloved verse says:

Trust and obey–
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus
But to trust and obey.

Along with our love for Him, when we obey the Lord, we will be able to experience and enjoy His marvelous love for us: “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love” (John 15:10). “He who has My commandments and keeps them . . . I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him” (John 14:21). The contemporary emphasis on Christ’s presumed “unconditional love” for us is without Scriptural foundation. It is merely a slogan that people assume to be “true” because of its repeated use. Although Christ (as well as God the Father) does love everyone unconditionally in a general sense (and in this we can rejoice), His special, intimate love is reserved only for those who love and obey Him with all of their heart! (Note God’s conditional love at 1 John 3:1; John 17:23; 14:21, 23; Heb. 12:6; cf. Psalm 91:14; 103:11,13,17-18; 119:132; Deut. 5:10; 7:9.) We love and obey and rejoice in His love; He loves and rejoices in our loving obedience!

Today it is commonplace for people to claim a relationship with the Lord. They speak about praying to Him, singing His praises, and reading about Him. Yet, regretfully, there is something missing in their response: practical obedience to Jesus. Sometimes when this omission is brought to their attention, these disobedient “professors” angrily exclaim, “Who gave you the right to judge me! I know what I experienced and I refuse to become a legalist about obeying the Bible! After all, I’m saved by faith alone and not by works!” Others may not be as outspoken. They may say that they want to obey the Lord, however, when certain areas of practical obedience to Him and His way of life are brought to their attention, they respond with indifference or even strong opposition.

These responses are hypocritical. It is impossible to have an authentic relationship with Christ as Savior if we refuse to acknowledge Him as Lord and obey Him in daily life. Although some may say that insisting on obedience to Jesus is legalism, it is actually the practical expression and outworking of genuine faith and love. Furthermore, we must not only obey Jesus but also the apostles and prophets whom He sent. Christ said to His chosen proclaimers: “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me” (Luke 10:16; cf. Matt. 10:40; John 13:20). We cannot be loyal to Jesus while rejecting truth proclaimed by John, Paul, Peter, and other apostles whom He sent. The apostles did not speak on their own authority, but they were given authority by the Lord Jesus (2 Cor. 10:8; 13:10). Paul declared, “The things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment” (1 Cor. 14:37; cf. 1 Thess. 2:13; 4:2; 2 Peter 3:2).

Practical obedience to Christ and the apostles remains a way of determining whether we or others are in a loving and intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, “To this end also I wrote, so that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things” (2 Cor. 2:9). The next time you hear someone profess his or her great love for Jesus and a deep relationship with Him, while walking in known, unrepentant sin, you should know that this is merely an empty claim. “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him” (Titus 1:16a). As John writes, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments” (1 John 2:3; cf. vv. 4-6).

Richard Hollerman

(Please go to Part 3)

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