We are so eager to spread the good news. We love to share our testimony. We enjoy praising the name of Jesus that we are so loved by our heavenly Father. Why are we so fearful of admonishment? Why do we rarely teach? Why do we choose the course of least resistance at the cost of the lives of those we break bread with? Why have we so numbed ourselves to the severity of the Gospel we proclaim that we choose to seek comfort and peace in this life while sending those in our care off into an eternity of pain and unrest? Do we not believe in the promises? Do we not believe in the warnings, the consequences, the costs? The Gospel of Jesus is not there to make us happy. It is there to change us. It is there to transform us. This implies that what we were and what we still are in many ways is not the ideal and is need of transformation and change. Therefore, we need to change. We must change. To reject change and to reject transformation is to reject Jesus and reject the Gospel. Worship songs mean nothing without change. An inspiring message means nothing without change. Any and all Christian activity done in the name of Jesus without change is meaningless. There must be change. We don’t live under the banner of Christ with the understanding that we are fine and all that remains are rejoicing and laughter. The banner of Christ that hides our life in its shadow declares to us on a daily basis that we are sinners, we need to repent and change and we are not finished. As a Christian you are still under the care of the physician. Therefore, admonishment and teaching in the name of Jesus and with wisdom is not only a blessing but it is life-saving. We need correction and admonishment when we stray from the light of Christ. Admonishment in this scenario is true love. Love that desires peace, unity and comfort at the cost of truth, life and unity with Christ is not love at all. This is hate. This has not real concern for the other person. Be wise and careful how you teach and admonish. Pray and pray again before doing so. Have patience and be quick to pray and seek the Lord’s will before you do either. But for Christ’s sake and the sake of those you love, teach, rebuke, admonish and love.
If we desire change, we must introduce something that has the power to create change. If we desire a radical change, we must introduce something that has radical power. We face extreme troubles with insufficient resources, and we desire a change in our limited ability to ultimately overcome and find success. In order to create a change in our limited human ability to overcome the daily trials of this world, we must introduce something so radically powerful and real to give us any hope that the change is possible. This new agent for change must be more extreme than the obstacles we face if success is possible.
To commit to this process and to hope in this change requires great trust and confidence. Jesus Christ claims the power to produce the change necessary for overcoming the challenges of this world and providing us with a hope beyond them. If we approach these promises with anything less than complete submission to their power and reality, we should not be surprised when our progress in this life remains limited by what we try to overcome. There is no complete healing without complete submission to the healing agent. If we cannot or will not take the promises of Jesus seriously then we must not seriously hope that we can ultimately be healed. If we cannot submit to the reality of Jesus Christ’s life on Earth and continued presence in the form of the Holy Spirit, then we must submit to the fact that our problems will remain.
Faith in Jesus Christ is all encompassing. There is no halfway. There is no 50 percent. Faith in Jesus Christ establishes truths that must be foundational, never decorative or supplemental. These truths include complete submission to his life and death on the cross, complete submission to his resurrection and life in our present age through the Holy Spirit, complete submission to the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit to transform us from sin and self-indulgence to righteous passion and service in the likeness of Jesus Christ. These truths must be held if the obstacles they promise to overcome shall be in fact overcome. Pretending to take medicine will only result in pretending to be healed.
There is something radically different in the way a person is transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ versus the way they naturally mature or alter their behavior over time. As people age, inevitable changes occur. These changes can vary from the slight to the dramatic, but they can be followed with relative ease. Observing a person’s growth over a given period of time is like tracking a sequence of interconnected dots. There is a well-established understanding in human development that while some changes give cause for some consideration, there is often a relatively simple explanation as to how or why the change occurred. This is not to belittle the change; it is simply to address the fact that human change is relatively predictable. But a person confronted by the Gospel truth of Jesus Christ who yields to the authority of said truths experiences a transformation rather different than the traditional course of maturity or human development. The transformation of a person by the Gospel of Jesus Christ is nothing short of supernatural. The changes in the person are inexplicable. They defy logic. Moreover, these changes are real. They do not come and go like a phase. They are roots that are planted deep and yield consistently good fruit. As the Gospel of Jesus Christ transforms a person, the desires and interests of their old self are radically transformed as well. The desires that used to satisfy now fall pitifully short of satisfaction. While the old self clung to certain idols of the heart with stubborn persistence, the new self becomes aware that these old desires never truly satisfied and only bring distance from the God that has satisfied the self so completely. True transformation by the Gospel can be measured in many ways, but one way is in how ready we are to hold on and how ready we are to let go. If the desires of our old self continue to convince us of their power to fill our cup, we have not yet made room for God to fill it. If the desires of our old self become to us slithering snakes or poisonous spiders that we are quick to let go of, we can be encouraged that the truths of the Gospel are in fact transforming us.
Many characteristics may define a Christian life. Many things may be signs that someone truly lives their faith in correspondence with the Gospel. In this reflection series, we’ll explore how different Scriptures emphasize service as a defining character trait of the Christian.
Service can be defined as what you do for something or someone. But in the Gospel context, service is much larger than that. Service, according to the teaching of Jesus, is a way of life. More than an aspect Christian character, it IS Christian character. In these reflections, we’ll discover five elements of service that please God.
- Serving with Obedience
- Serving with Strength
- Serving with Suffering
- Serving with Priorities
- Serving with Change
The apostle Paul left behind a lasting legacy in the many letters he wrote to churches and individuals important to the early Church. While at first glance all of the letters seem to discuss the same topics and ideas, as one devotes more time to them, the diversity within each letter separates them into distinct messages, rather than one massive “Paul Letter” section of the Bible.
The letter to the Ephesian Church expresses sound Christian theology; however, its purpose-driven nature sets the letter apart from the others. Throughout the letter, Paul not only reminds us of the things that have been and will come as we continue to walk in the light of Jesus Christ, but also devotes significant attention to the idea that falling back into a previous way of life is no acceptable option if the experience of meeting Christ was true and Spirit-led.
The idea of “genuine change” is best expressed in a different letter: Galatians 5. Paul compares this change in a person’s life and character to a fruit tree. Paul used the idea of “Christian Fruit,” first taught by Jesus throughout his lifetime. As a person begins to change their life in Christ they witness the emergence and growth of “fruit,” namely love, joy, patience, kindness, faithfulness, self-control, peace, gentleness, and goodness. It is in the discovery of this fruit that, Paul explains, a follower of Christ will become aware of the change promised by Christ emerging in their character as a Christian.
A theme of Paul’s letters, including the letter to the Ephesian Church, is the notion of a “new life” and an “old life.” This idea is far from original with Paul as it was first and best explained by Christ himself in the Gospel of John where Jesus talks with the Pharisee, Nicodemus. According to Jesus there was a clear difference between a person’s old way of living and their new life as his disciple. Just as a baby, once born, does not return back to the mother’s womb, likewise a new Christian does not return to their “old life.”
However, this desire to stay away from the “old life” does not come through force or insistence by anyone but the person directly involved in the change. There must be some experience that plants the seed of this desire in the heart of the individual, a seed that continues to grow over time. Awareness of the distinction between the two lives emerges within a person, along with the desire to maintain the newly found direction of this “new life.”
When we are children there are many instances where we are headed straight for a mistake or a bad situation. Parents may try with all of their might to prevent children from experiencing the predictable outcome that might bring harm. However, there are also times where the parent knows that to allow the child to experience disaster may be the most effective decision. It may be that allowing the child to fall, so to speak, and allowing the child to experience falling will prompt an experience, not rules, that will encourage a change.
For example, when I was young I loved to play in the sink in our kitchen as my mother cooked or did housework. My mother would fill up the sink for me and then allow me to play in the water with my favorite toys, clad in a raincoat to protect me from the violent splashing that would ultimately ensue. However, one day my mother was not around to ask to fill the sink, and I saw an alternative in a large pot of water atop the stove. Unaware that the pot had been left to boil in preparation for pasta, the only thing I saw was an opportunity for me, along with my toys, to explore new and exciting waters. Needless to say, what followed was a massive burn that left a sizable scar on my left hand that is still with me. As a result of this experience, I did not stop my fun water game of splashing, raincoats and toys. What I came away with was a cautious awareness of pots and boiling substances on the stovetop. That burn gave me enough to know that I never wanted to make the same mistake again. The scar was a visible reminder of my decision and its consequences.
When Christians, like Paul, discuss the idea of a new life, many people assume that this is just cheap Christian lingo, something we know is in the scripture but don’t know how to experience. Reading Paul’s desire for the Christians at Ephesus to “put off the old self” makes us aware that there’s something to be done there, but defining the “old self” can seem complicated and discovering the “new self” can be rather ambiguous and hard to comprehend. What is not difficult to understand is that both Jesus and Paul took this “new life” extremely seriously.
Jesus himself made it perfectly clear that to be a Christian and to represent his name in our new identity means carrying the burden of a cross that accompanies this “new life.” For some, this cross is heavy, splinter-ridden, and a burden. This perception of the “new life” can soon make returning to the “old life” without the cross look pretty appealing. Assuming that the cross means judgment, rules, and impossible expectations makes burning oneself in the boiling water of the “old life” almost desirable. The difference between the Christian who has not truly encountered the living God and the Christian who has been born of the Spirit, is that the first has not truly understood the dangers of the boiling water, and the second has found that one burn was enough. The first saw no reason to change; the second saw that change was the only option.
Being changed by God is not something that happens to you but something that happens within you. The change is supported by the awareness that ahead of you is a well-lit path, and behind you the dark ground already traveled. Someone who has truly met Christ recognizes that in the darkness exists a world of mistakes already made and desires left unfulfilled. For this person, walking ahead into the well-lit path of “new life” with Christ is an opportunity to enter into a world of hope and promise. From this place, the decision to place the hand in the boiling water a second time would seem insane.
At the heart of the Christian’s transformation is an inner acknowledgment that to “go back” is not only counterproductive but counter-intuitive. Going back is never an option. Service, bearing the cross in the new life, becomes a part of who you are, and less a list of things you are required to do. Service becomes more of an instinct and less a choice to be considered. Serving the king, the suffering servant, the great Teacher, becomes your lifelong desire, the essence of who you are and everything you do.
To know Jesus is to be made like him. By serving him and serving like him we truly find union with him. This union establishes us firmly on the rock that is Jesus Christ. It is then on this rock that we can honestly and confidently refer to ourselves as Christians.