is Christianity about following Christ, becoming more like him?

Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if he were you.

Dallas Willard

We are flooded with so much that distracts us from our true calling as Christians. It’s not like we’re to ignore everything else. But what’s at the heart of who we really are?

For Christians it’s to be no less than Christ himself. And that doesn’t mean only to save us, and help us through life. But much more. To be in the process of becoming more and more like him, no less.

When people think of the word Christian, I wonder what comes to mind? Too often Christendom and the vestiges of that, I’m afraid. Not that all and everything in that is bad. But there has been much there, and still much remains that is really not Christ-like.

Notice what Dallas Willard says. This is a process, not something instantaneous. It requires effort and takes time. And prayer, and the work of God’s Spirit. It is certainly beyond us, not something we can achieve by following a few rules, not by our own self-effort.

We need to commit ourselves to wanting to know Christ. Simply asking Christ to make himself known to us is a good start. And then with the commitment to follow him in all of life, even when we have no clue what that means. I can’t imagine who Christ is myself. I need God’s revelation to help me. As God begins to give that to me over time, then I’ll learn more and more what that means. In loving others, in seeing in myself what is not Christ-like, in seeking to prayerfully adjust my life accordingly.

In and through Jesus.

is it marked by the fruit of the Spirit?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Galatians 5:22-23

Recently in a podcast I was listening to, it was asked whether or not “Christian” endeavors were marked by the fruit of the Spirit. We live in a day of a lot of anger in the midst of a “culture war.”  You can see this clearly on social media, like on Facebook. Often the posts seemed marked by lots of fear along with more than enough anger. What often seems missing are what Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit.”

This is a good test anywhere, actually. At home, or at work, wherever. Is my life marked by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? If not, then I’m not living out or showing the character of Christ. Of course it’s not like we’ll be perfect or fully developed in this. But “are we growing in it?” is the question.

This is not so much a matter of feeling, not necessarily at all. It is about the difference God’s grace and the Holy Spirit makes in our lives. Instead of the works of the flesh (click above link), the fruit of the Spirit.

Yes, it’s the Spirit who produces this fruit. But does that mean that we’re not to try to live in such fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, etc.? No. We should attempt to do just that. Not unlike the gifts of the Spirit, it is of the Spirit, but we still must do it. Something we do with the Spirit’s enabling. In the same way, we live out more and more of the character of Christ through the Spirit’s work, as actually a part of the fruit that the Spirit produces in our lives. Of the Spirit in and through Jesus.

more cushion

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

John 10:14-15

Jesus is our shepherd, and he knows each one of us. A good pastor knows his people. He understands their felt needs, their propensities, what they need to realize their full potential- what God created them for, to be fulfilled in the new creation in Christ. And it comes out of a heart of love. Pastor is another word for shepherd, and Jesus knows us, his sheep through and through. Out of a heart of love, he gives us the cushion we need, grace to continue on in spite of ourselves and all the troubles we face. We then pass that same love to each other, as we continue on in our quest to follow him.

continue in God’s grace

As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.

Acts 13:42-43

If there’s one thing I would want to press home to myself and others, it’s the importance and necessity of simply remaining in God’s grace through Jesus. There’s nothing more essentially basic than that. If we have any hope at all of actually having faith, and living in it, and by that I mean, beginning to see, understand and experience what God has for us, then it’s all because of God’s grace.

By God’s grace, I mean God’s gift in Christ, received by faith. It’s never something we could ever earn or deserve. Based on Christ’s sacrificial death for us through which we receive forgiveness of our sins and his resurrection life, beginning now.

Yes, it was especially crucial to the Jews of that time with the big change in place. But God’s grace is always radical in any context. Somehow we think it depends on us. It’s not like we’ll end up inactive, but what activity we have that’s actually Christian will be solely because of God’s grace, his gift to us in Christ by the Holy Spirit.

Yes, that’s the message I need day after day. Simply to continue on in the grace of God. In and through Jesus.

“What is truth?”

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

John 18:33-38a

The ongoing reality that truth is under attack seems especially prominent in our thinking today in the United States. And it doesn’t matter which political side you might be on, or your political thinking in general, it does seem indeed that “truth is on the scaffold.”

I for one accept truth gathered from science as part of God’s general revelation to us, hopefully that, not sloppy thinking. Always a work in progress, but not to be disregarded as a result. Most all of the advances we’ve gained in medicine and technology are due to science. And there is truth in the sense of integrity in people trying to pool knowledge as to what is good and right and helpful for humans individually and in community. That I would take as a part of what theologians call “common grace,” God’s gift to all humanity.

The truth Jesus was getting at is different in that it goes beyond what humans can actually measure and tell, even if there’s a sense that something like this exists. There is a certain knowing that goes beyond what humans can test and verify in any scientific way. We might well be learning more and more about what the universe consists of, mysteries in that, and its origin. But can we really venture an answer scientifically as to why this is so? I don’t think so. I remember a few decades back there seemed to be a movement to try to figure out that puzzle scientifically, maybe in a modernist optimism. But it seems to me that has long since been abandoned perhaps influenced by a postmodern realization that the good found in modernism has its limits.

Jesus comes and gives us the sense that there is something found in his mission, even in him which gets us to the reality of what truth is at its center, and heart, without disregarding the truth humans come up with, however so limited. In this case there is no limit, but its our own blindness and limitation due to our finiteness as humans, and brokenness which keeps us from seeing it, indeed, even taking it seriously. Maybe we can see that in Pilate who seems to me to be skeptical of it.

All I can say for myself is that I try to see everything in the light of what I would call this ultimate truth found in Jesus, who himself said elsewhere:

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6

That is where I rest, and what I am assured of. But given by God, not something we humans can come up with ourselves. Yet something we have to be open to receive by faith. In and through Jesus.

God’s grace from start to finish

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Acts 11:19-26

I particularly would like to dwell for a moment on one part of this passage.

When [Barnabas] arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.

God’s grace is God’s gift given to those who are undeserving. By simple faith it is received. That gift is in Christ, in God’s salvation in him, forgiveness for our sins through Christ’s death, and new, eternal life through his resurrection.

God’s grace is what we have to depend on. It never ever for a moment depends on us. We can live in this new life only by God’s grace. We are completely dependent on it. In that grace we find the sheer goodness of God, and that God keeps his promise in Christ to those who we no longer depend on themselves, but on Christ.

Of course we can’t merit this gift. As Paul points out in Romans 4, it would no longer be a gift if we could.

Later we read concerning another missionary venture by Paul and Barnabas:

…many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.

Acts 13:43b

It is God’s grace, his gift in Christ that we’re always and forever dependent on. Revolutionary to the Jews during that time, who supposed the Law of Moses remained binding on them as God’s people. But still revolutionary in our day. Really in every time and place. We’re to continue and indeed can only continue in the faith through that grace/gift, and nothing else. In and through Jesus.

Jesus’s word on judging others

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

Matthew 7:1-6

I was reminded just now by a brother, and find it odd, how I have often felt on edge when being around judgmental people, and sadly I’m thinking of judgmental Christians. I’ll never meet up to their standards they impose on others. Not only do I fail in what I do, but they always know what to do.

I wonder if there isn’t a form of Christianity which lends itself to this kind of thinking. It would affect even the most loving, who would have to catch themselves from being just their loving selves and be shamed into towing the line.

Jesus’s words emphasize that we need to be self-critical before we can be of any help to others. We can help others in the way God has helped us. The accent will always be on God’s grace, and from that, truth will be found.

Sadly there are some who will appreciate none of the jewels of grace we have to offer. We shouldn’t waste our time continuing to try, but should remain in prayer for them.

vindication from God our Savior

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god.

They will receive blessing from the Lord
and vindication from God their Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, God of Jacob.

Psalm 24

When I read in the psalms about God vindicating his people, I think how undeserving I am of such vindication. And this is a psalm of David, who doesn’t seem that worthy of vindication when you consider his great sin of adultery and murder. But maybe that is meant to be an encouragement to the rest of us who, while we may have not committed such an act, still know we’re so undeserving because of what we have done, left undone, and because of grievous attitudes in our heart at times.

Just to make it clear what vindication means, it involves someone being proven to be in the right. When one thinks about that, one can’t help but think of God’s grace without which none of us would ever be in the right in the first place.

What especially stood out to me today in reading this great psalm is the line: “They will receive…vindication from God their Savior.” I think that helps us understand how God’s people are vindicated. It’s not because of them, but the God who saves them.

N. T. Wright helped me see from the psalms how God’s righteousness is tied to God’s salvation of his people. God’s saving act includes vindicating his people, who apart from that would never be vindicated. Of course this goes beyond what we deserve, because when we read all of the psalms and the rest of Scripture we understand that no one deserves vindication in themselves. We’re all sinners.

We receive vindication from God because of our faith and the difference God makes in our lives. We are different through and through, not wanting to do what is wrong, but wanting to do what’s right, even while we do fail along the way. It’s God’s working that makes us want to face our true selves, repent, and walk in God’s way, and keep doing that again and again with our ongoing confession of our sins, and endeavor to walk anew and afresh in God’s will for us in Christ.

And so we can be encouraged with this thought. God’s vindication of us is completely not because of us, but because of God, as by faith he credits righteousness to us, and helps us to want to live accordingly, even in the midst of our inevitable stumbling. God will vindicate us, yes, each one of us, in and through Jesus.

 

keep on keeping on in the word

I guess if there’s one theme you might pull out of this blog it’s this idea: that we’re to continue on in God’s word, Holy Scripture, the Bible. God himself has to take our blinders off. We can’t do that ourselves. It’s up to us to remain in the word, and continue in it. It is nothing less than God’s word. That makes all the difference.

Of course we need a mind that’s open, a heart that responds: we need faith. And somehow that comes to us as we prayerfully continue on in Scripture.

We need to process and practice it. But the bottom line is to find God’s grace for us in Jesus through the gospel. That makes the needed difference, so that we can appreciate and experience more and more the depth of the reality we find in God’s word. In and through Jesus.

remaining in the truth and life God gives us

Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Philippians 3:16

I remember the good, gifted servant of the Lord, Chuck Swindoll and one of his books entitled Three Steps Forward Two Steps Back. I think of that book title when I think of this subject, holding on to the progress and growth the Lord gives us. Paul makes the point in this great passage in Philippians that we’re to continue in the new way or place growth in Christ brings us. It is certain that we’ll at least be tempted to drift back. I think I remember hearing Swindoll say that for every three steps forward we go in the Christian life, we go two steps backward. That seems to play out in experience, unfortunately.

It’s important for us to hold on to the growth we have. And the only way to do that is simply to continue to grow (2 Peter 1). But it’s important not to backtrack and settle for the old, thinking what breakthrough or growth we experienced is not ours to remain in. Again I remember hearing Swindoll say in the past that if God gave something at one point, it is still always good at that point, not something to surrender, words to that effect.

It’s by faith and effort, more faith and prayer, more prayer and effort and faith that we do this. In and through Jesus.