Saturday, September 01, 2007

On Looking unto Jesus

So I’ve been blogging about discipleship lately, drawing my thoughts mostly from John’s gospel, chapters 14 through 16, where Jesus has a sit-down with the disciples for the very last time, just before his arrest and execution. I’ve been backtracking a lot, going over the same ground again and again, but also making a little headway each time. What I’ve been at pains to say in the last couple of posts is that while we may cull many characterizations of the life of discipleship from Jesus’ talk (and in fact I listed 16, but you may find more), that’s exactly what they are. They are characterizations, descriptions of discipleship, not commands. They are, to use the language of grammar, indicatives and not imperatives. They "indicate" something about the life of discipleship, rather than laying down a roadmap or a set of rules.

And the reason I’m going on so about this is because I find so often that we resort to "roadmaps" as a means of achieving something we desire spiritually. As a means of pleasing God, as a means of receiving from God, as a means of following Jesus.

Following Jesus? And haven’t I been saying all along that disciples follows Jesus? That’s what a disciple does. But when Jesus announced that he was going away, one of the disciples said, "How can we go on following you, since we don’t know the way to where you’re going?" To which Jesus enigmatically replied that he himself was the way.

Unity with Christ. It’s a phrase you hear from time to time, but it doesn’t occur in the passage of Scripture or in any other. Nevertheless, the truth we’re after, the explanation for how it is that we can follow Jesus, not by following rules or roadmaps and not by strength of will or even purity of heart.

Because you see, the roadmap can't help you if you're completely out of gas.

Let me give you a common example. I heard a pastor say last week, "We should all be people who are able to say, 'Yes, I may have foibles and failings, but my heart is entirely yours, Lord.'"

Sorry, but I think that's a sidetrack. First off, thought I do wish my sin were nothing more than "foibles and failings," I know better. This is a deceptively pretty but drastically misleading mischaracterization for the muck that sloshes about in my heart more or less routinely. The pastor's statement pictures sin (in the form of foibles and failings) as somehow superficial in the Christian, not touching the heart, which is pure and 100% chasing after God all the time. The paint-job may have a nick or two, but the engine purrs like a kitten!

But if all that were true, we would take up our crosses daily with the greatest of ease and joyfully carry them through every degree of persecution. In fact, if it were true, we would not particularly need a savior any longer. His help was essential to get us these shiny new hearts, and we owe him our lives for that, but from now on we’re adequate to every task. And why not? Our hearts are right, after all, and our sins are merely foibles!

Well, that’s the reason importuning sermons about how we just have to do something -- some certain spiritual something -- to do it more or better, and then . . . and only then . . . will we at last have victory over sin, living lives of abundant joy, etc.

I’m going to get around to talking more specifically about believing in Jesus, and about loving Jesus, and about abiding in Jesus, which I have called the triad of discipleship. I’m going to show you in Jesus’ own words how these are not so much spiritual tasks as descriptors of the life of those who are in Christ (as Paul would likely have put it). These ways of being, ways of following Jesus, rise naturally from the reality of our union with Christ. I’m going to focus on this for a while for the simple reason that I need to preach it to myself.

I need to investigate this business of unity with Jesus, "Christ in me, the hope of glory," because I'm really not hearing about it in my own community. It is Jesus who is the author of my faith, and Jesus the perfecter or finisher (what praise he deserves for this!), and if it is through faith that I can follow Jesus, grasping the life of discipleship and all that it entails, then I need to look to Jesus, the best kept secret in the Christian church!


Milton Stanley said...

Good word, Bob. I agree that the "heart totally sold out for God" concept must come from those who don't really know their own hearts very well.

Anonymous said...

Here's a great sermon, sort of related.

Making a pilgrimage means setting out in a particular direction, travelling towards a destination. This gives a beauty of its own even to the journey and to the effort involved. Among the pilgrims of Jesus’s genealogy there were many who forgot the goal and wanted to make themselves the goal. Again and again, though, the Lord called forth people whose longing for the goal drove them forward, people who directed their whole lives towards it. The awakening of the Christian faith, the dawning of the Church of Jesus Christ was made possible, because there were people in Israel whose hearts were searching – people who did not rest content with custom, but who looked further ahead, in search of something greater: Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna, Mary and Joseph, the Twelve and many others. Because their hearts were expectant, they were able to recognize in Jesus the one whom God had sent, and thus they could become the beginning of his worldwide family. The Church of the Gentiles was made possible, because both in the Mediterranean area and in those parts of Asia to which the messengers of Jesus Christ travelled, there were expectant people who were not satisfied by what everyone around them was doing and thinking, but who were seeking the star which could show them the way towards Truth itself, towards the living God.

We too need an open and restless heart like theirs. This is what pilgrimage is all about. Today as in the past, it is not enough to be more or less like everyone else and to think like everyone else. Our lives have a deeper purpose. We need God, the God who has shown us his face and opened his heart to us: Jesus Christ.