What is your response when you hear something for the first time? That one thing you hear could completely change the direction of your life.
A paralytic man was healed by Jesus and everyone was amazed and said,” We have never seen anything like this.” Mark 2:12 In the same way, I think there are some things people have ‘never heard’ that are quite amazing.
You can’t do the same thing again and again and expect a different result. You may also be conditioned to ‘hear’ the same things again and again; and the results may not be amazing.
Recently I heard ‘again’ how prayer has four components, based on the acronym ACTS. A: adoration, C: confession, T: thanksgiving and S: supplication. Have you hear this as many times as I have? I’m not sure who started this. It is very creative and homiletically useful. I remember utilizing it in my day. However, teaching people to pray in such a way is a formulaic approach.
My wife would get frustrated if I didn’t talk to her at all but she would get equally frustrated if I talked to her in a prescribed order. Come to think of it, I’ve done that. It didn’t go well. I suppose there are good intentions in this, but formula messages only get formula results. I’ve heard of ‘amazing grace’ and I think we need to hear ‘amazing words’
Many people have never heard that God’s perfect work has been accomplished in them. It’s impossible to believe something that you have never heard. For many years, I only heard or felt like I needed to learn and follow ‘principles’ to be a fervent, righteous living person. This was presented as Christianity to me. I tried to act (and pray) like a Christian, and following these principles would make me a better christian. There was nothing amazing in any of this.
This does not result in worship, joy, peace and rest. You continue to be preoccupied with yourself and it is unlikely you will be thinking of others. A friend recently sent me this quote:
“We are free to sacrificially love others horizontally because God has sacrificially loved us vertically. In Christ I already possess everything I need, so I’m now free to do everything for you, without needing you to do anything for me. I can now spend my life giving instead of taking, going to the back instead of getting to the front, sacrificing myself for others instead of sacrificing others for myself. The Gospel of grace alone liberates us to live a life of breathtaking generosity, unrestrained sacrifice, uncommon valor and unbound courage.” T. Tchividjian
One day I heard something that I never heard before. It was amazing. I heard that the Christian life is a life lived by faith. I heard that I was complete in Christ already. I heard that I could accept all of this as my new start. I could keep trying to arrive at the point of being acceptable or trust that I already am. I either believe that I am righteous in Christ or keep trying to pursue it.
Just for a moment consider the difference and impact of these two options.
You live in a way that constantly focuses on your behavior, with an emphasis on your shortcomings or you live by faith in God’s work in you that is complete. You are constantly trying to get more of Jesus, trying to get closer, stronger and better. or you start trusting what “has been done”, both for you and in you. Trusting replaces trying. You have exchanged your work for God’s work, “in Christ”.
Don’t act as a Christian but live “as” a Christian
Completeness does not mean that your behavior always lines up. It may require more intentional focus for you to trust rather than try. It may surprise some people that I would say, “the real work begins” and that is the work of trusting. Trusting is transformation. I’ve heard many more messages that told me how to “act” as a Christian than how to live “as” a Christian
When I recently heard a message about the importance of ‘my’ faithfulness, I remembered that “faithfulness” is a fruit of the Spirit. “ Galatians 5:22 What is your way to faithfulness?
Recently a friend commented “This is so hard to understand and communicate.” He had been looking at various types of discipleship and study materials for his men’s group and everywhere he looked he noticed there was always an emphasis on what we need to be doing to be better Christian men. It is difficult for people because they are programmed to focus on their faithfulness and behavior.
In John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives “life”, the flesh profits nothing, the words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life.” Jesus was speaking about this all along. Like today, there were many then who didn’t know that the flesh profits nothing.
In vs. 60 after Jesus said He was the bread of life, the people said, “This is a difficult statement, who can listen to it.” It is difficult to hear because we are so programmed to emphasize the things we need to do. Earlier in the same chapter when Jesus was asked, “What must we do to do the works of God, he replied, “Believe in Him whom He has sent.” Vs 28,29
I am amazed that people prefer to argue and debate all of this. They prefer to focus equally on that which is sinful and unsanctified. They emphasize the need to be balanced. They are concerned or afraid that people will take advantage of this and go out and sin.
We are sanctified “by faith”. Sanctification for those first listening to Jesus centered on what is measured and profitable in and through the flesh. It is no different today.
A person who is born of the Spirit, can live in the Spirit or walk in the Spirit. Jesus started something new, eternal, and complete. Is it possible to live a life on this basis?
Processing the words of Jesus by the flesh was difficult. Understanding the Spirit was difficult because of the earthly thinking (perspective) they took. The message of sanctification by faith is the same. These are ‘heavenly things’. It was difficult at the time of Christ and difficult for my friend.
When Nicodemus. a very religious man, was introduced to the Spirit life, he said to Jesus, “How can these things be? Jesus replied, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things.” v10 “I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you “heavenly things”
He who believes Jesus said, (a) has eternal life vs 16 (b) will not perish vs 16 and (c) will not be judged vs 18. This is such good news. This news is amazing.
Ezekiel 36:26. “I will give you a new Spirit and I will put My Spirit in you, I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh ” I wonder what part of this people don’t accept or believe. It is this Spirit that Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about and came to give us.
These are the heavenly things; not religious, formulaic, from the flesh, or based on our works in the past, present or future. These heavenly things transform our perspective and performance.
I know some people talk about “practice makes perfect”. I reverse this to say that “perfect makes practice.” If you start well it will keep you and grow you.
There may be more downs than ups, and any time you turn back to the flesh (your faithfulness) you will ‘again’ discover that it does not profit. Hopefully you will become convinced that you need to rely and trust in God’s perfect and complete work “in the Spirit”. You will be amazed.
Part Two: Next Post