How did Jesus, the only perfect person in history, manage to attract the notoriously imperfect? Jesus was a friend of sinners. They liked being around him and longed for his company. While at the same time the legalists found him shocking and revolting. He accepted invitations to dinner and even invited himself to homes that were socially unacceptable, like Zaccheaus'. Even when he was at Simon the Pharisee's house (an acceptable place), a woman, who was a sinner, interrupted their meal by washing Jesus' feet with perfume, wiping them with her hair and tears. Simon recoiled with horror, and Jesus ended up rebuking him. Pharisees thought of their dining table as a "little temple"; they refused to dine with Gentiles and sinners. Jesus told the parable of the great banquet to drive home that God loves sinners and they will no doubt fill the majority of seats of God's marriage feast in the New Jerusalem. "For the Son of Man came to save what was lost." "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick."
To find a clue why Jesus made one group (sinners) feel so comfortable, and the other group (self-righteous) feel so uncomfortable, think of the woman caught in adultery. John 8. After writing on the ground for a moment, Jesus said to the Pharisees, her accusers, "If any of you is without sin let him be the first to throw a stone at her." When all of them had filed away, Jesus turns to the woman: "Where are they? Has no one condemned you?" he asks. "Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin."
This is the clue: Jesus brings to the surface unacknowledged hidden sin, yet forgives any freely acknowledged sin. The adulteress went away forgiven with a new lease on life; the Pharisees slunk away stabbed to the heart, but not repentant. Sinners know they are wrong, and God's forgiveness looks very appealing. C.S. Lewis put it well, "Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfying that they cannot repent and accept God's forgiveness. The proud, the materialist, the self-righteous are in that danger." Personally, I find that the latter group are the most difficult to evangelize. Even if they do respond and become Christians they resist Christ's call to become his disciples. They try to excuse their lifestyle on one pretext or another; their hearts have divided loyalty: self and Christ. That never works; self always wins. "He who is forgiven little loves little," Jesus said to Simon the Pharisee. Pharisees, proud and legalistic (and usually materialistic), don't see themselves as desperate sinners; they think they are in the 90th percentile -- rich because God blesses them, proud of their achievements, arrogant towards God, and despising those in the lower classes (see the video Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen to illustrate the pride and arrogance of British nobility).
The society in Jesus' day was a religious caste system and Jesus broke all their rules. He had no qualms about socializing with sinners, women or even Samaritans. He touched, or was touched, by the "unclean" -- lepers, demon possessed, a hemorrhaging woman. And his attitude towards women was truly amazing for that day -- Jesus turned upside down the accepted wisdom of the day about women: women traveled with him and his band of followers; he used them in his parables, and frequently he did miracles on their behalf. Mary anointed him for his burial, and after his resurrection he revealed himself first to women.
In short, Jesus moved the emphasis from religious exclusivism to God's mercy (inclusive). Instead of the message "no undesirables allowed", he proclaimed, "In God's kingdom there are no undesirables". By going out of his way to meet with Gentiles, eat with sinners, and touch the sick, he extended the realm of God's mercy. To Jewish religious leaders, Jesus' actions jeopardized the very existence of their religious caste system, no wonder the Gospels record more than twenty occasions when they conspired against Jesus. Is he inferring that behavior doesn't matter? Of course not! As Paul would say, "May it never be!" Rom. 6:1. Behavior is simply not how to be accepted by God: we are accepted by God when we appropriate God's forgiveness bestowed on us as the result of Christ's work on the cross.
That's the "great reversal", the revolution of Grace, Jesus proclaimed and lived out in his life and ministry. Normally in this world we look up to the rich, the beautiful, the successful. Grace, however, introduces a world of God's wisdom, looking at the world, its people, and its values through "grace-healed eyes". Jesus often told parables which made the poor and oppressed the heroes. One such story featured a poor man - Lazarus, who was being exploited by a rich man. Death reversed their fortunes. Abraham said to the rich man, "Son, remember that in you lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony." Luke 16:25.
The early church practiced this new wisdom and grace. As a result, early Christian's were renowned within the Roman Empire for their lifestyle of serving the less fortunate financially, and tending the sufferers from the plagues (e.g. bubonic-black death) which were so common in those days. For the first few centuries, at least, the church took literally Christ's command to receive strangers, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and visit those in prison. After Constantine legalized Christianity, the church itself became wealthy leaving welfare to the state.
This phenomenon of reversal lay at the very heart of Jesus' mission -- he himself was the Suffering Servant "despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering." (Is. 53). He told his disciples that the world hated him and it would hate them also (John 15). Jesus lived out God's wisdom. In Jesus, God gave us a face, and we can read directly that we matter to God. He gives us a picture of the heart of God. God is not the unmoved Absolute, but rather the Loving One who draws near to each one of us -- we cannot easily escape his seeking, loving initiation.
Jesus has given us many good reasons to obey him; he has been incredibly good to us, that's what Mt. 6 is all about. It is his grace in giving us the things we need when we love him and put him first. We ought to obey Jesus because his commands are not burdensome like the rules of the Pharisees (and many churches today). Rather, when Jesus tells you "a new command I give you, love one another as I have loved you." (John 13:13) - it's going to help you, not hurt you.
That, of course, means that obedience takes faith. This is the goal of obedience: to see God's plan work out in your experience and life. You can't see that if you are insisting on doing your own will. You have to believe Christ has your best interest at heart when he tells you to do something, especially if it's beyond your fleshly desire and ability (e.g. loving exactly like he does).
The way to get close and intimate with Jesus is obedience; it is obedience which draws us close to him, like he was with his Father. Jesus said his Father was always close with him because he always pleased his Father, did his Father's will, spoke his Father's words, and did his Father's works. So if you want to spend your life chasing the material things Jesus talks about in Mt. 6, know that it will cost you dearly: it will cost you the intimate relationship with Jesus. Since I'm assuming you don't want to let things come between you and your first love for Christ, you must check and see whether you are using the things he has given you to build eternal value. Be concerned and spend your life building a kingdom-orientation to life, not a selfish-orientation. Otherwise, you will always be talking about what you want, what you need, and what you demand instead of what Jesus wants, what Jesus needs, and what his glory demands. For self-centered greedy people, Jesus' concerns do not come up in their conversations.
Two men whose lives illustrate legalism and grace are Saul and David.
- Saul, whose heart is inclined towards himself, and
- David, whose heart is inclined towards God.
1. Saul's view of God: he would not let God be God; he rebelled against God's will, and placed self at the center of his life.
2. David's view of God: he truly loved God and submitted to His authority, obeying God with a humble and teachable heart. II Chron. 16:9 "The eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His." There is a strong stamp of affirmation from the Lord which comes with our obedience. On the other hand, no amount of human effort and works will bring about God's approval. Personal devotion to God and obedience mark the life of one who understands and walks in Grace. A legalist takes his identity from how he looks to others, and therefore hides his sins and blame-shifts, nullifying God's grace, living in hypocrisy while protecting his role, his image.
- David's view of God should be our view of God. God's omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, His loving concern for all -- especially for me, His faithfulness and holiness. How does it effect my life? How should it effect my life?
By submitting to God's authority, David was recognizing he was the creature and God was the Creator. When you consider how charismatic and strong David was, it was no small thing for him to humbly choose submission and obedience. Learning how to live in submission to God is a process. It is obvious that David was often in a mess, due to his own impetuosity, before he cried out to God in prayer. But God heard and answered him, delivering him out of his own foolish predicament. E.g. Ps. 34, "This poor man called and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles . . . blesssed is the man who takes refuge in Him." This was written after his episode in Gath with the Philistine King Achish.
- One of our greatest concerns should be to uphold God's reputation. We must trust the Lord to help us achieve this goal while accomplishing His work. A life fully submitted to Christ shapes our character to become more like Him. We will manifest Jesus' kindness, mercy, love, purity, and wisdom in ways that are reflected through our own distinctive personalities. To put it another way: God is making us holy. Truly holy people are humble and easy to be around. They are the first to acknowledge their sins and shortcomings; they've been around God too long to pretend they are perfect. Then why are godly people so joyful and radiant? For one thing they know their sin problem has been cast on Christ; they don't try to please him through efforts of the flesh, but by their obedient walk in the Spirit. Holiness comes from knowing that obedience must arise out of living in the presence of God -- walking with him, talking with him, asking for his help -- that's how we become more and more conformed to Jesus Christ by the Spirit.
The Psalms reveal much about David's prayer life. He and the Lord talked as two good friends; he poured his heart out to God and held nothing back. David did something more important than merely expressing his feelings in prayer. He reflected on his deepest feelings right in front of God. He wept, he complained, he "grumbled morning, noon and night", and paraded his problems in front of his Comforter who he knew cared about every detail of his misery. Though his prayers often expressed intense pain; his hurt was nearly always transformed into praise. His praise did not spring from naive optimism, but from his complete trust in his loving God who David knew was involved and concerned in his every pain and hurt.
- We must never take advantage of God's Grace, and interpret blessings in our lives as necessarily a sign that god has always approved of our decisions and actions. When we take advantage of God's Grace, and his longsuffering patience, we lose perspective on God's plan for our lives. Never rely on past success as security from future failure: failures often follow victories. Success often makes people very vulnerable to rationalization of their weaknesses, and open to Satan's attacks. Don't allow temptation to lead to desire, that is only one step away from the act of sin itself. Temptation per se is not sin, but if you are caught off guard, Satan will see to it that you fail God: "If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall." I Cor. 10:12. And once we fail it is particularly difficult to admit sin because it will lead to embarrassment. However, if we cover our sin we are taking advantage of God's Grace, and are vulnerable to continuing in that sin. In David's life, the more he tried to hide the first sin of adultery with Bathsheba the more he committed additional sins. Avoid this predicament by facing the sin immediately, accepting God's forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Confess it to those you've sinned against, and to a trusted friend who will hold you accountable.
At times, David, misinterpreted his success and popularity as a sign of God's blanket approval of all he was doing. And his failures always related to the fact that he failed to consult God concerning His will. This was true as he schemed and lied in order to escape Saul. When fear replaced his faith he took matters into his own hands and began to scheme and connive. Then he failed to do God's will. However, when he once again put his faith in God he could balance his human skills with dependence on God to use those skills to achieve the Lord's divine purpose. This is very apparent when David emerged from the cave of Abdullam and faced both the Philistine army and King Saul (I Sam. 23 and 30).
Each time David acknowledged his sin and repented, God forgave him and restored him to fellowship with Himself. But the consequences of David's sins were far greater and more far reaching than he could have imagined. Those most affected were his own family members, but the results also extended to all Israel. He lost the respect of his own people, Joab his faithful commander, and even the pagans of the land. In Ps. 51 we again see "a man after God's own heart" -- David's prayer for forgiveness and restoration. The results of that restored relationship are recorded in Ps. 32:2-5.
David's failures always related to his lack of submitting to God, trusting in his own ingenuity and gifting: Taking matters into his own hands. He loved the Lord, but his obedience was partial. He would charge ahead impetuously without ever consulting the Lord, and he would soon be in deep trouble. Then he would lie and connive his way out (like feigning madness). But God always exposes us when we sin in private (like lying and manipulating), and then we get shown up in the public arena as well.
Eventually David obeyed God, submitted to His authority with humility. No one loved God's word more than David. He meditated on it morning, noon, and night. Gradually God was able to soften David's strong will, making him thirsty for an intimate relationship with his Creator -- restraining his hot-blooded temper, and convincing David to seek God's will and submit to it.
David learned his greatest lessons of depending on God when he was under the greatest pressure and adversity -- then he asked God to be his deliverer and defender. But even when David lunged and got into trouble, he learned to cry out to God in prayer, and God heard him and delivered him over and over again. So don't resist God's comfort and help, don't withdraw from God and the BOC -- sitting in your misery alone. We must not deny our pain, but bring that pain into the very presence of our God who cares for us.
- A very important aspect of our life in submission to God are the people he has put in our life to speak the truth to us. One of the greatest protections you have against your sin areas, your self-deception and discouragement is objective counsel from a mature Christian in the BOC. Someone in a position to point out your willfulness. You should seek such a person for counsel and become accountable to them. Saul did not want the counsel of others -- he ignored Samuel's guidance, and lost his support. Saul refused to listen when Jonathan pointed out his sin against David, even trying to kill his own son -- so Saul lost his son's emotional support. He killed the priests who gave David bread, and ended up going to a witch for direction -- a practice forbidden by God.
- Don't underestimate God's goodness. He has your best interests at heart, and He knows what he is doing in our life. Usually though, we have to learn the tough discipline of saying 'no' to what we desperately want because it is nearly always an idol. God will not give you that special 'gift' until you learn relinquishment --> trust his goodness and obey him no matter how much it hurts at the time. Don't keep rebelling and resisting obedience. A submitted life is one that cares about and lives for God's opinion; joyfully recognizing that he has a wonderful life all laid out for you. The only real happiness and safety you can know is in trusting, obeying, and giving your whole life to your loving Savior, Jesus Christ. That is what he is looking for in His disciples.
To summarize: Personal devotion and obedience to Christ are the marks of the one who is His disciple. Living by God's principles, a lifestyle of godliness and grace, will result in effective ministry empowered by the Holy Spirit. (Gal. 6:19; Phil. 4:13, 19)
In our role as workers, avoid focusing horizontally on others who are more gifted, receiving more praise, and holding more important positions. When we focus on them we become competitive and legalistic. If we willingly, with all our heart, work as faithful stewards using the gifts God has given us, we will advance as He empowers and directs us. We will live with "supernatural sense", not "common sense", and God, Himself, will defend and protect us like He did David. And as Christ promised, "He will never leave us or forsake us." (Heb. 13:5).
Application #1 Grace and Obedience
This revolution of grace, this "great reversal", is just as offensive today as it was in Jesus' day. He was full of "grace and truth" instead of demanding that the sinner fulfill a long list of requirements, Jesus emphasized faith and that spelled freedom. A works-religion was replaced by a grace-oriented relationship -- liberating GRACE! His followers loved it. His enemies hated it . . . . and him. The earliest grace-killers were the Pharisees. And even today grace is terribly offensive to those who are proud of their own righteousness. If Jesus himself had not lived extending grace to sinners, and teaching mercy and justification (e.g. Luke 18 - publican & Pharisee praying), we would spend our lives here on earth trying to please God and being condemned by Pharisees. But Christ always wants to correct our tendency towards law-keeping, and judgmentalism, through his grace. We are 'graceless' by nature, we resist it, we fail to show it, but God never stops teaching us. He is committed to our becoming more like his Son - "full of grace and truth". In fact, it is God's Grace that ultimately produces obedience in us without legalism or coerciveness. True obedience is a response to God's Grace, empowered by his Spirit.
Andrew Murray in the School of Obedience gives us the secret of true obedience: "The secret of true obedience is a close personal love relationship with God." He points out that Christ lived day by day, every moment as he taught and did God's works, in continual vital communication with his Father. "I seek not my own will but the will of Him who sent me." "I came to do your will, O Lord." And in Christ's teachings he claimed obedience based on love from anyone who would be his disciple:
- "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."
- "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me." John 14:15,21
- "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love."
- "You are my friends if you do what I command" John 15:10,14
These words of Jesus express the centrality of obedience, which is only possible under Grace, from our response to his loving us unconditionally. There is a divine connection between God's love in Christ and our whole-hearted loving obedience. Jesus taught this simple truth so clearly:
Obedience is the very starting point of true sanctification. Abiding in Christ is the secret, and brings with it the full enjoyment of God's Grace.
With us, as with Christ, the life of continual obedience is impossible without continual fellowship with God. When we believe him, and abide in Christ, giving up our strong wills to him, then, and only then, will Christ teach us how to keep his commandments and abide in his love. Then His will is the desire of our life, and obedience becomes our life-goal. But we must see that the life of obedience is so contrary to our sin nature that it will be a process. We need to ask God to show us how Christ, and his obedience, can actually be a part of our daily life, moment by moment.
In Christ, his obedience was a life-principle, it was a joy, it led to waiting on God's will, even unto death. In Christ, this obedience sprang from the deepest humility (Phil 2:5-8), and of entire dependence upon God. "I can do nothing of myself." "The Father, who dwells in me does these works."
What are some of the characteristics of a grace-filled, obedient, abiding in Christ life?
- Absence of selfishness; instead open-handed generosity.
- Encouragement in every situation - we keep our lives flexible, affirming members of the BOC with acceptance.
- An emphasis on servanthood, and our lack of adequacy; only God is adequate to accomplish his ministry with his power. II Cor. 3:1-17.
- A desire to obey God for it is his love which motivates us.
- Release from past failures, and an absence of shame. I Tim. 1:12-14. "The grace of our Lord was more than abundant . . . I was shown mercy."
Expect God to make these things true, with your child-like dependence on His grace. Jesus is the answer; in him we have his wisdom and the power to walk in the obedience of faith. I Cor. 1:30. He offers himself to us as assurance, and asks us to trust him for it. As Christ is the righteous One for your righteousness; He is the obedient One in your obedience.Application #2 Grace and Obedience
There are high stakes in this game called life. Jesus Christ invites us to accompany him on an incredible journey toward a meaningful life -- he wants to be the defining and directing Person in our life. He wants the pleasure of an intimate relationship with each of us, as well as the right to guide and direct us.
Ironically, many of us who are Christians resist becoming devoted followers of Jesus. Instead, we cling tenaciously to our areas of independence convinced we can find meaning and happiness for ourselves in this flat, plastic, material world. We soothe our conscience by following Christ selectively when it seems convenient and self-gratifying. Then we wonder why our Christian walk becomes sterile and burdensome.
We should not be surprised that Christ's call to an obedient close relationship with him goes against the grain. Satan is the god of our world, and he presents our fallen nature with an upside-down, inside-out world that appeals to the wrongness in our fallen nature. This explains why Christ's call, and his life and teaching, flew in the face of the general climate of his society, and our society today. He said, "What good will it be for a man if he gains the world , yet forfeits his soul?" Mt. 16:26. Jesus taught that the way to gain something was to give it away. The key to living was dying to self. Greatness is achieved through serving. Independence is not be valued, but rather the obedience of his disciple who then becomes effective and fulfilled.
Especially is this true in Jesus' disciples who are leaders -- spiritual leaders are only effective when they lead as obedient followers of Christ. We are too easily convinced about leaders lives by the external qualities of charisma, competence, and knowledge. These are not the primary qualifiers: character and submission to Christ are most important, particularly in the selection of leaders. In all of our failures in leadership the cause can be traced to ceasing to follow Christ.
All of us will spend our whole life committed to someone or something. Jesus challenges each of us to transfer our personal allegiance from ourselves and our idols to him. We who have accepted Christ need to embrace him as the only qualified authority in our life. He is the only one we can trust. Left to our own choices we will inevitably self-destruct. It's a scary thought, but true. Following Christ is simply a matter of unqualified obedience to the incarnate God of the universe; this is the obedience Christ both demands and deserves. He is the compelling Jesus, when we experience His marvelous grace every hour of our lives in every area. Why wouldn't we submit to him and follow him with implicit faith? We know what happens when we live for ourselves.
Another point to make is that it is so important to keep our relationship with Jesus vibrant and growing. When we drift away through neglect, or busyness, Christ's transforming power to make our life what it should be is in our experience nebulous. When, however, Jesus is the central and deep relationship in our life, walking with him, and working for him is the most intriguing adventure of life.