You and I have no right to do with our lives as we please! Unless, of course, it pleases us to live the way Jesus Christ wants us to, as is true of any real Christian. If it doesn’t please you to live His way, are you a real Christian?
Our lives are not our own, because Jesus Christ has purchased us with His blood (1 Peter 1:18-19). He owns us completely. And we confess that this reality is “our only comfort in life and in death” (Heid. Cat. 1:1), that we belong to Him.
The Christian’s life is all about Jesus. (Phil.1:21,23)
So, if a Christian is a disciple of Jesus Christ (and he is), then if you and I are Christians we must take up our cross and follow Him, giving Him our absolute allegiance. Anyone who wants to be salt in this generation must put Christ before anyone or anything in this world, whether it be his own family loved ones or even his own life (Luke 14:26-35).
This is radical, and someone who does this consistently will stand out in a crowd, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did literally when they refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue, everybody else being on their knees. Everyone who comes within the orbit of your life will recognise before long that you are fundamentally different.
The reason why putting Jesus first in our lives makes us radically different from our non-Christian neighbours is because Jesus’ character and agenda are polar-opposite to the character and agenda of the world.
As to His character, He came to reveal and do the will of His Father in heaven (John 6:38), though it cost Him everything. The unbeliever seeks only his own will. As to His agenda, He came to establish God’s Kingdom on earth to the glory of the Father (Matthew 3:2; John 18:36-37). The unbeliever is working to build the kingdom of man in opposition to God’s Kingdom.
Christ’s agenda for the Church takes the form of the Great Commission: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20).
This commandment from our Lord is for every Christian, not just for the twelve Apostles, nor just for ordained church planters and missionaries and denominational mission boards. After all, Jesus gave the Great Commission to His disciples, all of whom died some years later but well before the commission was completed. It still remains incomplete. It is for every disciple now to obey.
Absolute allegiance to Jesus Christ means that we will give our lives to and for the discipling of New Zealand (and other nations as we have opportunity), teaching our neighbours, both by word and example, to observe all that Jesus commanded us. But not in our own strength, for the task is impossible for us to do without the Lord Jesus supplying us with grace through His Holy Spirit. That’s why He promised He would be with us to the end of the age.
Without Christ’s power working in and through us, we cannot stand out from those around us, we cannot be radical in our allegiance to Jesus, nor can we fulfil His agenda.
And this is where we get into difficulties. To be truly salty salt as we should be, our lives must be realigned and re-built from the roots up in accord with Christ’s agenda. That’s what radical commitment implies, the word radical having to do with roots.
In this postmodern world it is so easy for us to allow the world to influence us through its various media, as we expose ourselves (or are exposed) to the literature, education, entertainment, music, advertising, and news media produced by the world.
If we are not careful to critically evaluate everything we take in, and filter out that which is toxic, we are subtly and unconsciously changed and conditioned by it, adopting some or many of the values, methods, life-style, dreams and ambitions of the culture and society around us.
As Tony Payne points out in his Leader’s Guide to The Course of Your Life, many tend to adopt an agenda for their lives much like the world around them:
“If you’re a typical young woman in your early twenties, your agenda might be something like this:
1. Find a job that will kick-start my career.
2. Save enough to travel.
3. Find a boyfriend
4. Fill my life with memorable experiences.
“Or if you’re a married middle-aged man, perhaps your unspoken life agenda is more like this:
1. Keep wife happy (because happy wife = happy life).
2. Get the kids into good schools.
3. Buy best house in best suburb I can afford.
4. Earn enough money to do 1-3 in a job that doesn’t frustrate me to death.
5. Have some fun, although 1-4 will probably prevent that happening.
“Now life agendas like these are based on the assumption that the overriding purpose of your life is to be happy, successful and fulfilled.” (pages 48-49)
He goes on to point out if these are our priorities in life, then all our actions and decisions in life will tend to further these aims.
And then when someone becomes a Christian, instead of letting God totally re-write their life agenda, they merely add church and church things to their agenda as an extra item to be fitted in somewhere.
But then we look to the world as if we are pretty much the same as they are, no fundamental differences, just some extra religious things sprinkled in, especially on Sunday. And because we tend to look so similar to them, they do not see any real reason why they would want to become a Christian, because they are not “religious types.”
We might respond to them by arguing that Christianity is not about “religion”, but that it is about being in relationship to the living God through faith in Jesus Christ, and about the true way things are in the universe, and about the reality of heaven and hell, etc.
Nancy Pearcey, in her book Total Truth, points out a major problem here. “We may do a great job of arguing that Christianity is total truth, but others will not find our message persuasive unless we give a visible demonstration of that truth in action. Outsiders must be able to see for themselves, in the day-to-day pattern of our lives, that we do not treat Christianity as just a private retreat, a comfort blanket, a castle of fairy-tale beliefs that merely make us feel better.”
She continues: “It is all but impossible for people to accept new ideas purely in the abstract, without seeing a concrete illustration of what they look like when lived out in practice. Sociologists call this a ‘plausibility structure’ – the practical context in which ideas are fleshed out. The church is meant to be the ‘plausibility structure’ for the gospel. When people see a supernatural dimension of love, power, and goodness in the way Christians live and treat one another, then our message of biblical truth becomes plausible.
“But what if people see Christians practicing injustice and compromising with the world? Then who will believe our message? A verbal presentation of a Christian worldview message loses its power if it is not validated by the quality of our lives.” (pages 354-355, emphasis added).2
So, we do need to know how to think in a Christian way, and we need to know how to apply Scripture to our daily lives. As Reformed believers we recognize that this is vital. But if we are going to be God’s instruments for discipling New Zealand, we must do more than that. We are going to have to win our neighbours to Christ by demonstrating in our lives what it means to be a closely-following disciple of Jesus Christ, adorning the gospel with the power and beauty of a consistently godly life.
That means that we must die to ourselves, and be prepared to deny ourselves not just the sinful pleasures, but also the legitimate pleasures that this life affords, so that we can live for God in a Christ-like, self-sacrificially loving way. Sometimes we have to say no to legitimate desires in order to be a blessing to those around us. Godliness in marriage, for example, will often require this.
As I said earlier, this is radically different from the world. And at times it appears to be radically different from my own life-style, and from the life-styles of most believers around me.
It seems to me that it is far too easy for most of us to remain fairly comfortable in our practice of the Christian Faith. For example, in our giving most of us are comfortable, i.e. we do not give in a way that hurts us, that makes us have to cut back on our luxury items, let alone actually ‘tighten our belts’. And those of us who tithe might think we are doing okay in this duty, forgetting that the tithe is meant to be the minimum we give back to God for the work of ministry; and not thinking too closely about our Lord’s commendation of the widow who, trusting in the Lord’s provision, put all her money in the temple coffers (Mark 12:41-44).
How many of us practice hospitality in a self-sacrificial, radical way? Not just having our friends over on a Sunday for coffee and lunch, but opening our home to strangers who may be visiting church for the first time, or even unbelieving neighbours, with a view to winning them for Christ. Or do we avoid that because we value our leisure time too much, and it is too much effort. And anyway, hospitality is not our gifting, not our calling, like it is for those who are naturals at it. Never mind that we are all commanded to practice hospitality, and not just to family, friends or acquaintances either (Hebrews 13:2).
A while back I started reading Rosaria Butterfield’s book on hospitality, “The Gospel Comes with a Doorkey” (a book that had been favourably reviewed in this magazine) because I believe hospitality is an important ministry and tool for evangelism, and we as a family here are keen to practice it. But I didn’t get very far in, before I laid it aside for another book. And now, writing this article, I think, “Why didn’t I finish the book?” I think it is because I could see where it was going, and it was going to challenge me to go outside my comfort zone to practice what really is just Christ-like self-sacrificing love in the context of hospitality.
Then there is outreach, e.g. to Muslims. Not many of us target the Muslims we know for outreach. Evangelism to them requires not a little, but much, self-sacrifice, especially of our time and care. When Muslims convert to Christianity they leave behind a whole community of which they were a part, becoming isolated from all former sources of emotional/relational support. The church they then join must become for them a true support community, like close family, or else they will flounder, and perhaps fall away.
But that would require a time and emotional commitment to serving and loving them that few of us are prepared to give. We feel it would be too much trouble, and we are too busy and tired already. And thus we let the opportunities go begging. And what does our Lord think of this?
As Christians we are supposed to keep in mind at all times the reason God put us here. It is not about us. In its overarching terms we are here to bring glory to God. More specifically put, we are to bring every area of creation and of our lives under the dominion of Christ to the glory of our God.
And as we do this we let our light shine in such a way that men may see our good works and be won for Christ.
Is this what your life and my life is all about? In principle maybe, but what about in practice?
How then can we grow in our light-shining saltiness?
Well, we agree with John Calvin do we not, that our hearts are idol factories. So we need to repent and put away our everyday idols, the things in life we look to for happiness and contentment, the things that control us, and take up too much of our time and devotion, and weaken our loyalty/commitment to Jesus Christ and His agenda for our lives. We need to die more and more to our self-centred, self-indulgent personal desires and ambitions, praying for the Lord to grow in us a servant’s heart by the power of His Word and Spirit.
We should be encouraging our ministers to cut closer to the bone with the scalpel of application, to the point where we become uncomfortable on Sundays under the preaching. And we should encourage our ministers not only to comfort, exhort and encourage us to change and grow, but also to call us regularly to repent of our idolatry and half-heartedness in following Jesus.
We also need regularly to remind ourselves of the reason we are alive, the reason we exist and for which we were saved, i.e. the glory of God in the discipling of our neighbours, both near and far, and the enjoyment of Him forever.
1. Payne, Tony, 2011. The Course of Your Life: Leader’s Guide. Matthias Press, Kingsford NSW Australia
2. Pearcey, Nancy R., 2004. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois
Mr Ed Rademaker is a member of the Palmerston North Reformed Church.
Photo by Mathias Reding on Pexels