Going on with the Lord
What does it cost to be a Christian?
God has provided a quite simple way to free us from the power of wrongdoing. Religions of the world teach that we must earn our freedom from sin. Jesus taught that belief in Him is the way to be saved from disobedience of God's law and so open the way to friendship with God. He freely forgives those who repent and willingly turn their lives around. Paul wrote the theory of this in the first 11 chapters of Romans. In chapter 12, beginning with 'therefore', he showed that the next step in receiving new life from God is total surrender. The life and sufferings of Jesus compel us to commit our lives to Him in total contrition. God invites us, as an act of worship, to give our lives in sacrifice. He consecrates our lives to His service. Our Father does not require us to learn academic knowledge but to make a complete and unconditional surrender of absolutely everything in our lives. This springs from a pure love and deep thankfulness for what He has done for us which is more important than how little we have to offer.
From then on God works within us to cleanse, purify, refine and bring us to that condition of holiness that will prepare us to enter the glory of His presence. We do not need to concern ourselves about our own unworthiness. No one needs to fear that they are too ignorant or too low on the moral scale. Our part is to trust and obey. God is able to take us through every experience so that we will be transformed into His likeness. There will be many times when we fail to trust Him and to obey His will. There will be times when we feel we cannot make the spiritual grade, when the road is too hard, when we seem to do all the wrong things. Then is the time to rest in His loving forgiveness and know that He will not let us go.
When Noah went into the Ark he left behind a world that was destroying itself in sin. He left behind friends and relatives. He had to make a decision to be totally obedient to God's command or totally disobedient. There was no middle course of action (Genesis 7). The same applied to Abram except the immediate consequences would not appear quite so drastic. With him it was either staying in his old home and surroundings or leaving them behind forever. Again it was not easy to leave family and friends behind with all their fond memories (Genesis 12. 1). The full reward of his decision would not be apparent in this life. Others would inherit and enjoy benefits but his life could be hazardous and hard. Thus might we examine the lives of all the men and women of old who gave themselves to God. They had to make a decision, they had to 'nail their colours to the mast' and they had to leave behind an easier life of material gain (Hebrews 11.37-39).
Jesus made it clear that it was no different for those who follow Him. Huge crowds went with Him through Galilee and eventually to Jerusalem. Not everyone in those crowds was keen to walk in His steps, to give up everything so that they could follow Him to the cross (Matthew 11. 37,38). There came a dividing of the ways, a time when they would need to make up their minds because there is a way of the Lord and a way of the world and their goals are not the same. That's why he told the parable of the Sower (Matthew 13 1-23). Why didn't everyone accept Christ's way of life? Jesus made it clear in that story that there were different types of people and they received His teaching in different ways. Some didn't follow Him at all for the Devil quickly persuaded them that it was all an illusion and that there were much nicer ways of living. Some followed a short distance but the Devil made life difficult and they didn't possess the staying power. Some followed for quite a long time but there were so many other things to do in life in the pursuit of this world, its riches and interests. But some caught a vision of Jesus and what He could really do, not only with them but with the whole world. They were prepared to pursue the vision at whatever the cost. They were prepared to follow Jesus through poverty and suffering and to put up with discomforts and irritations. They saw how Jesus had left everything that He had in His heavenly home with His Father in order that He might come to Earth and save the whole human race (2 Corinthians 8.9). They saw what it had cost Him in suffering and death while on Earth so that they might have new life. They were prepared to share His ideals and principles of total obedience to God in every department of their lives so that they could go where He would send them and do what He commanded.
Those ideals and principles would lead to moral uprightness of character such as the world laughs at. Their choices and decisions were unlikely to bring this world's top jobs. Instead of expecting the rest of the world to serve them, they would find themselves serving those around them, including possibly street beggars and chronically sick.
But the life of faith in Christ is not all difficulties and problems. While folk in the world wear themselves out in useless and often mindless pursuits, followers of Jesus are at peace. As they walk with their Lord they find He directs them into the right paths (Proverbs 3. 5,6). They see and enjoy more fully the beauty and wonder of the Earth in which we live. They are learning the lessons of love and gentleness, patience and perseverance. They become aware that some temptations to which unbelievers fall are not temptations to them at all. Followers of the Lord Jesus don't want to ruin their bodies with habits that destroy health. They don't want to break up family life or destroy society by violence. This is not 'pie in the sky' nor is it just being 'goodie goodie'. Its logical 'to follow the manufacturer's instructions' and accept the rules which the great Creator of the Universe has provided. In whatever way we explain the origin of temptation, yielding to temptation to do what is clearly wrong is not funny or clever and it doesn't lead to a happy and fulfilling life. Then why don't the majority of people on the planet follow the way of the Lord? For some 'strange' reason most people prefer to rebel against God who gave them life. Like the camel in the Zoo, they quite happily bite the hand that feeds them. Is it really so strange? (Ephesians 6.12; 1 Peter 5.8; Gal.5.17;)
Following the Lord Jesus Christ is not easy and requires the kind of discipline that most people are not prepared to accept because they want their own way. They fail to realise that God not only shows the way of life but also gives strength and courage to endure what may be hardship and pain. A Christian does not always see the way ahead or even where the next meal is coming from but such are prepared to trust God that he will not leave or forsake and will bring them through every experience triumphant, learning lessons all the way.
Total surrender of 'self' to Christ is sometimes hard. Many, who regard themselves as Christians, never yield every part of their life to Him. They become part of a Christian community and sometimes making remarkable sacrifices for Him, yet there are departments of their lives which they never seriously give up to Christ's control. One of these concerns money matters. Control of income and expenditure is Christ's province. How we get our money and how we use it, is part of our training for the Kingdom of Heaven. Is the job we do morally acceptable the Lord? Does the occasional 'flutter on the gee-gees' or entry in a prize draw demonstrate a real dependence in faith upon Him? Another problem, as James shows in his letter, is our tongue. Fully surrendered to Christ it can do a power of good. But allowed even a little 'freedom of speech' it can do a power of harm. Lip service to a set of doctrines is no substitute for 'speaking the truth in love'. God has given us the gift of time, and the moments, days and years just fly by. What are we doing with God's time that we said we surrendered to Him ‑ or did we? We are either doing God's will or we are having our own way. God has given us gifts to use for Him.
We have also picked up some bad habits on the way. Of course we cannot help the inheritance of our genes ‑ at least not immediately after we are born. But God has made provision for weaknesses ‑ and there is only one way to get rid of them. Is there something in our lives which we would rather not have ‑ a little deceit here or love of gold there, a readiness to utter the unkind word or tendency to go off the deep end in bad temper? Tut-tut surely not! But yes, Christians have been doing it for two thousand years and history testifies to their cruelty to fellow Christians and to others. So what do we do, and what is God's provision for such characteristics? There is only one way; such traits of personality must be surrendered to God at the foot of the cross. We must ask Him to take them from us and He will do so, dramatically sometimes. There can be no excuses, no way round such difficulties. They must be faced for what they and honestly brought to God in prayer. He will not fail us.
The reason for total surrender to Christ is so that we can walk and talk with Him all the remaining days of our life but that is another story. And the ultimate achievement of total surrender and walking with Him is that those who share everything they have now with Christ, will share with Him in a Kingdom that will bring the unsaved millions of this world into life as it should be lived ‑ for Him and Him alone.