Category Archives: Gospel Centrality

Jesus is after our Joy

 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:24–26 ESV)

This is a difficult saying for us to hear in modern America.  We don’t like anything that sounds like sacrifice, giving up or dying.  We have heard this passage preached and read through it, but somehow have a difficult time filing it so we tend to do our best to forget about it.  This passage is in the same vein as what Luke records in 14:26-27:  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”  Why would Jesus say such a thing?  Why all this talk about death, dying, and hating.  We know that hating is a Semitic term to love less, but what is Jesus getting at?  Yes, we must deny, follow, love everything less than Christ and be willing to give it all for Him and His kingdom.  The question is, “Why?”  Is it just our duty?  Is it just what is required?  Is it because Jesus does not want us to enjoy anything in this life?  No!  It is because Jesus is after our greatest joy.  He is calling us to exchange that which is fleeting and temporal for that which is ultimate, eternal joy.

This may be a new concept to many of us, but God is not out to stifle our affections and suppress our feelings, but is rather after our greatest joy.  The problem is that when Adam & Eve sinned (Genesis 3), everything that was good and perfect in Eden was fractured and now true joy evades us.  We now prefer to worship created things more than the Creator (Romans 1:23-24) of all good things.  This is the root of sin, we prefer that which is created over the Creator.  This idolatry of the soul is so pervasive that it is the controlling influence in all of our lives.  We make things, even good things (like family, marriage, children), ultimate things; we make good things, god things.  But nothing in creation is designed to hold the weight of our worship except for God himself.  That weight will crush those good things because they were not designed to hold it.

So when Jesus tells us that we must lose our life to gain real life and hate everything else in comparison to Him, it is because He is after our joy.  You will never have joy when your spouse, children, job, success, image or _________ is that which you look to to provide ultimate meaning, value and significance.  These things will fail you, they weren’t designed to hold the weight of your worship; when these things are our idols, we corrupt them and strain them to the point of breaking.  The ironic thing is that we cannot fully enjoy the good gifts of God (like marriage, children, success or a good name) until we loosen our death grip that we have on them.  Until they are no longer ultimate things, joy will evade us.  Therefore, this saying of our Savior is good, not harsh.  He came to redeem and restore, He is restoring all things and is making all things new (Revelation 21-22, Isaiah 65:17).  We all rejoice in something; these sayings of Jesus are aimed at redeeming our rejoicing.  They are aimed at restoring a proper order in things.  Jesus “came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV).  “Jesus calls his followers, not to a dour, lifeless, miserable existence that squashes human potential, but to a rich, full, joyful life, one overflowing with meaningful activities under the personal favor and blessing of God and in continual fellowship with his people.” (ESV Study Bible comment on John 10:10).  Only the one who walks in this truth is free to enjoy God and His gifts.

No One is Able to Snatch Them Out of the Father’s Hand

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me,is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”” (John 10:25–33 ESV)

Jesus is in a heated discussion with the self righteous, religious elite in John 10.  In verse 24, they ask “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are ithe Christ, tell us plainly,” to which Jesus answered that He had told them, but they did not believe.  Why didn’t they believe since they were very religious men?  They did not believe because they were not sheep.  Don’t read past that.  Jesus said that His sheep, that God gave to Him, hear His voice and follow Him; furthermore, He knows His sheep and gives them eternal life.  There is not much mention of their choice; God had chosen them and given them to Jesus.  Jesus then goes on and provides GREAT comfort to the Christian when He says, “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”  This paints a portrait of God’s activity in the hearts of men, He is not distant or disconnected.  The religious elite’s response was to stone Him, not because of His good works, but because they knew what He was claiming.  He was claiming to be God, He was claiming that He was the messiah.
This section provides us with much encouragement to share our faith because sheep will hear the beautiful message of the Gospel and respond in God’s timing.  It does not depend upon our ability to articulate everything correctly, it depends upon God’s effectual call in the life of His sheep.  This is freeing and liberating!  Sheep hear His voice and follow Him and He knows them and gives them eternal life and “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand!”  That is good news!

Only Grace Redeems and Restores

“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:1–3:3 ESV)

Paul views his life as Christ’s and lives on mission to accomplish his calling by reminding himself that Christ lives in him and loved him and died for him.  Gospel logic drives Paul.  He ferociously reminds himself of Christ’s sacrifice to empty himself so he can be filled with the Holy Spirit.  “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”  Galatians 2:20-3:3.  Paul then presses in to the Galatians this same thought process.  The Galatian Christians had left the Gospel of Grace and gravitated to a works centered sanctification, which is our natural proclivity because we always like to add something of our own.  They implemented rules and regulations (laws) to change – Paul asks them, “who has bewitched you,” and prompts them to continue in the Spirit of Grace.  You started by the Spirit of Grace and are sanctified by that Spirit.  Gospel threads are in focus here.  The One who began the good work in them was the One that would be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6).

The law (our moral obedience to God) reveals sin (Romans 3:20-26) and functions to restrain it’s effects, but it is powerless to redeem and restore the soul – only Grace redeems and restores.  Our white knuckled obedience to God is powerless to produce love and affection.  You can obey God’s laws and commandments without trusting him, but you can’t trust God without obeying Him. One involves a contrite heart, and one involves a self righteous heart.  Which one is yours?

“What does this mean? It means that we not only want our school to be a place of learning, but a culture of grace as well. Rules and regulations are necessary because they work to reveal and restrain sin, but they cannot rescue us from it. It is only God’s grace that has the power to change a person’s heart. So we must always make sure, that in the classrooms and hallways of our schools, that we are not asking the law to do what only grace can accomplish.”

The Disciplines are Powerless to Irrigate Our Dry Souls

Undoubtedly if you have been in the faith very long you have have experienced dry periods in your walk with God.  But, if your walk with God has become characterized by drought then something is wrong.  If you have little affection for Jesus then something is not right.  The common answer is that we should join a Bible Study, pray more, serve more, get in a small group, and the list goes on.  But we know that the disciplines, on their own, are powerless to irrigate our dry souls, we need something much more to satiate our longings.  We need to be captivated; we need to move from a marginalized faith to one that is impacting and fully engaged – and because we want to, not because we have to.  CS Lewis’ quote from the Weight of Glory puts it this way:  “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”  Affection or desire is a crucial component to our faith; John Piper puts it this way:  “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”  If you want to be truly filled and satisfied, then your life must be reflecting the glory of God – that is God’s created purpose and the way the universe works.  There is no system or formula to produce affection or desire, it is by constantly reminding ourselves of God’s great love and mercy for us that our affections are stirred.  The more we understand the gap between our holy sovereign Creator and us and that He was willing to bridge that gap, the more our worship and appreciation increases.  This grace is the fuel for Christian growth.

Never Shift From the Hope of the Gospel that You Heard

“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” (Colossians 1:21–23 ESV)

We were all alienated from God, dead, helpless, hopeless.  Dead men can’t reach out, but because of His great love, He reached down.  He has reconciled us (notice that we are passive) in order to present us as holy, blameless and above reproach before Him.  This is possible because He did it, not because we contribute anything.  It is imperative that we not shift our hope from the Gospel as we begin our sanctification process.  Meditating upon these truths presses the Gospel deeper in to our souls and provides the fuel for sanctification because we become confident of this, “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6 ESV).
Paul reminds them of who they were and what God did for them in Jesus.  These are Christians that he is talking to.  Remembering what God has done and continues to do has a way of redeeming our rejoicing.  The Gospel does that, it reminds us of our complete inability and His complete ability.  It reminds us of the great exchange, His righteousness for our unrighteousness.  We brought nothing to the table, being spiritually bankrupt and we continue our relationship the same way – in utter dependance.