Don’t Waste God’s Time

Introduction

Few understand what being called into the life of Christ means to them or requires of them.  Fewer still understand what, having answered this call that life looks like as it is lived out, let alone how such a life is even possible.  And very, very few know that answering that call and living that life is what God expects of all of us.

2 Cor 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Ephesians 4:22-24 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, [23] and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, [24] and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Col 3:1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

2 Cor 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

The New Testament talks about the life we live when we live it in/for Christ.  These verses council us that when we give ourselves to Christ, we’re new creations; that we’re to put off/away our old selves, and seek the things of Christ – the things that are “above, where Christ is seated.”  And having done that, we’ll be equipped to “abound in every good work.”  Not many of us live that way; perhaps not you. Why not?

If you have acknowledged the Lordship of Christ and repented of your self-obsessed previous life, having at some point desired to live for and serve Him, and yet you look at yourself now and find little if any of that attitude in your heart, what’s going on?  Is God’s word wrong?  Are you wrong?  How can you be a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17) in Christ, yet not experience any of the signs of that reality in your life? 

Coming to Grips with Christ’s Message and Call

Perhaps it’s because you skipped over the Ephesians admonition: “put off your old self”?  Do you find yourself holding onto yourself and your habits and desires rather than abandoning yourself to Christ?  Before any of these promises can be realized, Christ has to be what you want above all of your worldly affections.  And, when His life is what you want preeminently, you must then intend to love and serve Christ, rather than yourself.  Listen to William Law:

“This doctrine (of living for Christ) does not suppose that we have no need of Divine grace, or that it is in our own power to make ourselves perfect. It only supposes that through the want of a sincere intention of pleasing God in all our actions we fall into such irregularities of life as by the ordinary means of grace we should have power to avoid; and that we have not that perfection, which our present state of grace makes us capable of, because we do not so much as intend to have it.” (Italics mine)

What you routinely do – your behavior – reflects your desires.  So if you want to know your own heart, look at what you invest your time in – what you intend (or “purpose”) to do.  It’s a kind of diagnostic.  Where you spend your time, energies, and resources will accurately point to what your heart most desires.

If right now it’s something other than Christ, by no means fake that it is (whether to try to reform yourself or merely show to others).  That simply will not work.

What has to change is your heart.  And the Changer is not you but the Spirit of Christ in you.

Phil 2:13 13for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort – for the sake of his good pleasure – is God.

It is God who both creates the desire for Himself in you and animates you to live as He would have you live.  But there are two distinct but cooperative aspects to this life — to being a Christian: What God has done, and has promised to continue doing for you; and what He expects you to do (2 Cor 5:15):

[15] And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised.28

Those “that live” are those who have been called to Him by His Spirit.  This verse is saying “if you have His Spirit, don’t turn from it to focus instead on yourself.”  What does it mean to “live…for him who died for them and was raised”?

Well here’s the bottom line: He has called you to Himself (2 Tim 1:9).  He has called you to reject your attachments to the world, and instead to live for Him (Acts 3:19).  He has given you His Spirit to enable you to do just that.  The question is this: what are you going to do with His gift of His Spirit?

What you can do with it is ignore it.  This is clearly the implication in 2 Cor 5:15, above, as well as the volume of practical experience we all have with those claiming the title “Christian”, but whose lives testify to other priorities.  Do you truly want to waste the Spirit’s time in you, pushed to the background?  For how long?

When you kill time, remember that it has no resurrection. – A.W. Tozer

Do you really want to waste God’s life with you[i]?

In order to prevent God from wasting His time with you, you have to forsake the things you value, trusting Christ to take care of them. Clear your mind so you can put on His mind (Rom 12:2). This isn’t some Eastern mysticism.  This isn’t something only special “Jesus people” do.  This is something each and every follower of Christ – “Christian” – is called to do.  And it begins with nothing more, nor less, than a decision and a sincere commitment to follow and obey Him.

When you continuously reject your world-focused life (repentance), you will be given a “heart of flesh” (Eze 11:19) instead of one of “stone”.  Once you have sincerely done this and pleaded for life with Him, He opens to you His way of thinking and of seeing the things and people all around you. Everything is new (2 Cor 5:17).

This change is both the simplest act but perhaps the most difficult thing to do you will ever pursue.  Jesus called it to “strive” (Ἀγωνίζεσθε, from which we get our word “agonize) to enter by the narrow gate (Luke 13:24).  It takes your focus and determination simply because your old self (Paul’s “old man”, Romans 6:6) absolutely will fight tooth and nail to maintain control of you.  He has to be resisted.  And he doesn’t give up until he is completely defeated from control of your life by Christ’s Spirit in you working with your rejection of him.  The process can take a lifetime and still be incomplete (Phl 3:12).  So it must be continuously pursued intentionally, until such time that it is no longer you or your effort but the Christ in you that has transformed your first nature into Christ’s.  And once you’re there, things are altogether new.

How Does the World Look Through the Eyes of Christ?

Well, distinctly different than through failed, human eyes.  Fortunately, God has given us some glimpses of what His realm looks like in His word, from the Gospel stories of Jesus to John’s Revelation.  Perhaps there is no more stark contrast between God’s view and our own human view of things than Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (SOTM).  If we’re to glimpse God; if we’re to delve down into His being and see His heart and see, there, what He would have us be in our lives in and with Him, we can best do so by studying this most revered teaching of Christ.

The World Inverted

The SOTM has been dissected and variously interpreted by preachers and Biblical scholars no doubt since Matthew and Luke wrote it down.  Of it, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Humanly speaking, we could understand and interpret the Sermon on the Mount in a thousand different ways. Jesus knows only one possibility: simple surrender and obedience, not interpreting it or applying it, but doing and obeying it.”

Throughout Christ’s message, we’re confronted again and again with challenges to our natural human view.  This is exactly Jesus’ intent.  The reality of His Kingdom – the realm in which He is King – is diametrically different than the world the average human inhabits.

He starts out with the Beatitudes (Mt. 5:2-11, Lk 6:20-26).  Their repeated word translated in our Bibles as “blessed” is the Greek Μακάριοι (makariós) whose root meaning is “happy”; fortunate; well off.

The beatitudes are word pictures of how God sees those in His Kingdom. They are, among other things, a 180° inversion of the way the world has us see things. In His Kingdom, the poor (or poor ‘in spirit’), mourners, meek, those who seek righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those persecuted for the sake of righteousness (or justice) and those who are persecuted for Jesus are all, to Christ, “happy”; are fortunate in their condition. “If you live in My Kingdom”, he seems to be saying, “no wrong that you suffer from the world can detract from your joy.” 

All who heard this message would have picked out one or more of the conditions and thought: “Hey, that’s me He’s talking about”.  They had no privilege nor comforts within their society.  But in His society, they would be happy nonetheless.  There, they are Μακάριοι.

Next (Mt. 5:13-20) He tells those who would follow Him into His Kingdom that they need to be “salt” and “light” to those around them.  Salt is a preservative.  It keeps things so that they don’t decay and rot.  Light shows the way.  Christ sees His followers holding society together and representing Him to the world clearly and unequivocally.

Next He says: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:27-36, Mt 5:21-48).  His hearers would immediately understand that they did not do these things, but in His Kingdom they could and would.  Here Jesus dramatically ups the ante as to what his hearers think is praiseworthy.  For example:

You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court

 And;

27“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; 28but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Jesus presents a list of these “You have heard it said…But I say…” references to the laws in the Torah in which he considerably ratchets up His expectation for those in His Kingdom, each landing on his hearers with the force of a body blow.  At the end of this prosecution of the current ideas of “good”, He even insults His Jewish hearers saying, in so many words “If all you do is care for your brothers (i.e. those you love), do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Matthew 6 contains the Lord’s prayer.  It deserves a paper in its own right.  But for now I will just note that Jesus instructs his hearers to pray for God’s (i.e. His) Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.  This is the core and context of His whole discourse – the coming of His Kingdom and in that Kingdom what life is like.

The second half of Matthew 6 contains His assurance that for those who abandon themselves to follow Him into His Kingdom, they will be provided for by God.  This message is as important and as beautiful for us to receive as it was for the poor assembled on that hillside in Galilee 2000 years ago as a response to our in-bred impulse to take responsibility for our own well-being.  Giving that responsibility over to another, even God, is the preeminent human challenge.

[25] “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? [26] Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? [27] And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? [28] And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, [29] yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. [30] But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? [31] Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ [32] For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. [33] But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

[34] “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

The record of Jesus’ sermon then moves on to a condemnation of hypocrisy and judgmentalism (Mt 7:1-6, Luke 6:32-37).  Here he further removes these common human characteristics from the nature of the one alive in His Kingdom.  There there is no guile.  There one looks for ways to accept another, build him up, forgive him, and not judge him.

Then in Mt 7:7-11 Jesus pauses once again to provide assurance to His hearers who are perhaps contemplating following Him.  Here He characterizes the imminent generosity of the Father that will see to their provision and well-being, just as a loving human father would, saying:

[9] Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? [10] Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? [11] If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Jesus then presents His overriding admonition, summing up all that has preceded it, when He presents what we know as the “Golden Rule”: Matthew 7:12

 [12] “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Isn’t it truly amazing that God can summarize His rules for living in one sentence?

Penultimately, Jesus issues a warning that entering His Kingdom has its “cost” Mt 7:13-4:

[13] “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. [14] For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

It’s perhaps worth a moment’s reflection to deal with why it is hard; why there is a cost to this decision.  Forgetting all the theological backstory for a moment, one simply has to understand that giving yourself up to another – to become His child, His servant, His apprentice – without a direct say in what comes next is a cost.  And one must also acknowledge the derision from others, perhaps even the persecution one can receive (increasingly these days) when living in Christ.

The manner of your living is 100% determined by how you respond to Jesus’ challenge.  There can be no clearer choice.  There can be no more tumultuous journey than to follow Him into His Kingdom.  And, as He says, tragically, “many” haven’t and won’t.

Finally, then, Jesus contrasts the results for those who decide to follow Him with those who don’t (Mt 7:15-27, Lk 6:43-49).  Here Jesus unequivocally says “If you heard these words and ignore them, then you’re on your own”, characterizing that person’s condition as producing “bad fruit” and being swept away, in contrast to the one who heard and has obeyed.

Conclusion

Christ offers the Holy Spirit to those who trust Him for their lives.  His Spirit, through grace dispensed, enables its trusting recipient to live the life God desires for him.

What that life looks like is no mystery.  Jesus Himself has spelled it out in dramatic and convicting detail in His Sermon on the Mount.

The potential Christian can clearly understand through the words of Jesus exactly what is expected of him in making the decision to follow Christ, and can rely on the assurances of scripture that he will succeed in living that life.


[i] I am thankful to my Pastor, Scott Lowther, for this powerful image.  I was so moved when I heard it I felt I had to offer this piece.  I so appreciate Scott’s dedication to expounding God’s word.