This will be the last of my daily blogs for awhile; I simply cannot continue to invest the time and keep up with the demands of seminary and my other work. My intent is to try to publish at least once a week because I still feel the call to do so.
Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.—1 Corinthians 8:6 (NIV)
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.—Genesis 1:26a (RSV)
“See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil.—Deuteronomy 30:15 (RSV)
[Jesus said] You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.—Matt. 5:48 (RSV)
“The time has come,” [Jesus] said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”—Mark 1:15 (NIV)
As I read Paul’s verse from 1 Corinthians this morning, I was struck by its tightly-packed nature. In this one sentence, Paul summarizes what it means for Christians to live in the Kingdom of God as well as the basis for our hope—Jesus Christ and him crucified.
What does it mean to live in the Kingdom of God? To live in the Kingdom means that we must allow God to rule our lives so that we live according to his purposes for creating us. What are those purposes? In the creation stories we read that God created humans to have fellowship with him, to worship and obey him, and before the Fall, Adam and Eve enjoyed that kind of relationship with God because they DID obey. In other words, as Paul says, they were living for God. Then came the Fall when we freely chose to rebel against God’s creative purposes for us and the Bible tells us that things went south in a hurry. First, we humans no longer have the ability to be perfect, i.e., mistake-free, in our discipleship, even if that is our intention. Second, because we are sin-marred, fallen creatures, we have no hope of ever living in God’s Kingdom because there is no sin or imperfection there; God simply cannot allow it as the story in Genesis 2 makes clear.
So what can we do to fix this? Nothing. There is absolutely nothing we can do in our own right that will fix the problem. Try as we might, we humans, because we are Fallen creatures, cannot live up the standards required to live in God’s Kingdom. There is no hope and if that were the end of the story, our lives would be quite depressing and miserable. In fact, I suspect this world of ours would look radically different (for the worse) than it does now.
So what’s the solution? Jesus Christ and him crucified. In his infinite love for every person, even the worst of us (and you may fill in the blank here), God became human and did what was necessary to restore our broken relationship with him—he died on a cross and bore the full brunt of the punishment that is justly ours because of our sinful rebellion. In other words, God suffered our punishment for us so that we might eventually enjoy a fully restored relationship with him. This is partly what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians when he talked about living through Jesus. It is the sole basis of our hope if we ever want to live eternally in God’s Kingdom. It is also the sure antidote to smug self-righteousness because without that cross, even the best of us will fall short and be denied entrance into God’s eternal Kingdom.
That God loves us enough to become one of us and take on himself our richly deserved punishment so that we might have our relationship with him restored is truly Good News and that is why I believe Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). In other words, it’s why I reject this notion that there are many paths to God because no other path offers a solution to this problem of sinful humans living in God’s sin-free, perfect Kingdom.
So what do we have to do to obtain this benefit? We simply have to accept this wondrous free gift by believing that God did exactly what he said he did for us in Jesus and then turn from our selfish, self-centered ways—what the Bible calls “repentance”—and begin to live lives that bear attendant fruits. To repent means more than trying to follow a legalistic set of rules in an attempt to see how many of them we can follow (and measuring our own righteousness based on our ability to do so). No, true repentance demands a radical alteration of our entire lives where we focus on living for God, not ourselves, and true repentance always bears its fruit, just as evil bears its own fruit. Therefore, I am always skeptical of anyone who claims to have repented but does not show evidence of it (and I’m not thinking of so-called “death bed conversions” here—that’s a different topic for a different day). Nor do I believe for one minute that the Blood of Christ covers someone like that. How else can we explain Matthew 7:21? Grace is a free gift but it is never offered cheaply. Neither is it offered up as a license to continue sinning (living for ourselves instead of for God).
Let me share an example from my life to illustrate this. I’ve been divorced twice and married three times. On the one hand (at least the first time), I have tried to live according to God’s stated purpose for the way he wants men and women to live together (Matt 19:4-6), i.e., I got married. On the other hand, I have failed twice and according to Jesus, I’ve committed adultery twice. Given my dubious track record, how can I show repentance and live for God? Simply this. As a tangible sign of my repentance, I am resolved to do whatever it takes on my part to ensure this marriage will not end in divorce. That requires effort and intentionality. It requires I live for someone other than myself, to love my wife as Christ loves his church, and it demands that I ask God’s help in doing so every day I live. Do I get things right every day? Of course not; in fact, some days I don’t even come close! Does that mean I’ve not truly repented? No, because despite my failure to be perfect in carrying out my resolve, I have not abandoned it and continue to strive for it. More importantly, I count on Jesus to be present in my daily living and to work within me, to transform me so that I might be better able to truly bear fruit consistent with my repentance. In other words, I live through Jesus. This is the other thing Paul meant in 1 Corinthians when he talked about living through Jesus. In so doing, I can live in confidence that Jesus has forgiven me for being two-time adulterer because he helps me bear fruit consistent with my repentance. And because it is Jesus who enables me to bear those fruits it is NOT merit on my part because it is not my own doing.
So each day I try to live for God. But each day makes me painfully aware that despite my best intentions and efforts, if left to my own devices, I cannot do so without failing. That’s why the Jesus’ cross is so precious to me. It is my one and only lifeline. Yet because Jesus does live in me, I am slowly but surely being empowered to live a life for God. That’s why I am utterly dependent on Jesus to save me. That’s how I live through Jesus.
In sum, when Christians say that we live for God, i.e., that we live in God’s Kingdom, we are saying that we acknowledge God as ruler of our lives and will try to worship and obey him because we do acknowledge his Lordship and rule. Yet in trying to live for God, we Christians also humbly admit that we are incapable of fully doing so because of our sinful nature and accept the free gift offered to us in Jesus, trusting that we are made righteous in him and opening ourselves up to his transforming power and presence in our daily living. In other words we live through (or because of) Jesus. Make no mistake. We have to do our part, but we live through Jesus.
What about you? How do you live for God and through Jesus? What is the basis for your hope (or do you have one)? How can we Christians help each other live for God through Jesus? If you are not living for God through Jesus, what’s holding you back? Share your doubts, reservations, and/or skepticism with us so that we might share with you our Hope in the daily context of our various lives.