Choosing Christ

Colossians 2.6-7
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. — C.S. Lewis

The words, Christ, Jesus, and Lord, in Colossians 2, were written with the intention of provocation.

To the ancient Jewish elite, accepting Christ in the person of Jesus demanded a radical reorientation of how they understood faith.

To the Docetists, believing in Jesus as a man required an intellectual transformation. (They denied God would humble himself to the nature of a man, a view deemed heretical at Constantinople in 325 C.E.)

To the the secularists, submitting to Jesus as Lord — the one who holds authority over heaven and earth — would confront their illusion of control over their own lives.

Although the names of the groups have changed in today’s world, many of the confrontations of choosing Christ remain the same.

Though it is fairly palatable to accept Jesus as a man, or even an inspiring moral teacher, choosing him as Christ and Lord comes at a cost — socially, professionally, and otherwise. The path of least resistance is to settle for inspiration while maintaining functional control over our own heart, mind, and strength.

This dilemma famously provoked C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell.

You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

This confrontation is not without an invitation, however. In accepting Jesus as Christ, our Lord, we find the richness and full depth of the human experience — a reality the rest of Colossians 2 explores in depth.

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 15 (Listen – 5:30)
Colossians 2 (Listen – 3:27)

Getting to the Heart :: The Weekend Reading List

Our hearts, like fine instruments, need to be tuned. Proverbs warns, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” This may have been what Jesus was thinking of when he said, “…for out of the overflow of the heart, (the) mouth speaks.” Our heart sets the course for our life. If our heart is envious, entitled, impatient or pleasure-seeking, everything in our life will be marked by these traits.

Legalists suffer from myopic focus on behavior. If a person is angry, legalists demand the person control the outputs of anger. Don’t lash out. Pause before you react. In contrast, the target of the gospel is the heart — it address a person’s actions by moving directly to the root.

For example, is a person angry:  (1) because he feels superior and sees others as a nuisance, (2) because he lusts for success and lashes out when things get shaky, or (3) because something happened in the past and he now responds disproportionally under the same circumstances.

In the first case, the root of the anger is entitlement — and the root is likely fleshing itself out as he belittles people who work in service positions or spends large amounts of money on things that refine his image. Multiple sins often draw life from the same root.

In the second case, the root is the idol of success. The person might use peers to scrape his way to the top — taking credit for other people’s work and shifting blame for failures. He could also be ignoring relationships that don’t seem to benefit his bottom line.

In the later case, the root of his anger is likely either guilt or bitterness. If the person is full of guilt, he may not have forgiven himself or walked through the necessary steps to seek forgiveness from those he has hurt. If he is bitter it’s possible he is delaying the journey to forgive someone who has hurt him.

When we get to the root issues of the heart we begin discussing motivations rather than just actions. Focusing solely on actions is like a doctor handing throat lozenges to a coughing patient who is really suffering from pneumonia.

In some ways it’s more comfortable to deal exclusively with actions rather than addressing heart issues. After all, if it’s simply an action that’s our core problem, we can often provide the solution on our own — willing ourselves into change.

Seeing God’s grace as the primary means of change doesn’t mean we stop working on our will. True change happens when a person responds with all of their heart, all of their soul, all of their mind and all of their strength. In his book, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on DiscipleshipDallas Willard clarifies, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it’s opposed to earning.”

In this, we seek to live dedicated lives of faith empowered by the Holy Spirit. After all, what person can change their own heart? Tell two people in love to stop their hearts from loving. Tell an envious person to have a content soul. It can’t happen. When the gospel drives at our heart it takes us beyond our own sufficiency to our need for a Savior — someone who can change our heart.

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 12 (Listen – 7:05)
Philippians 3 (Listen – 3:45)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Kings 13 (Listen – 7:05) Philippians 4 (Listen – 3:45)
1 Kings 14 (Listen – 7:05) Colossians 1 (Listen – 3:45)

 

The Weekend Reading List

How You Have Loved Us :: Throwback Thursday

Philippians 2.5-11

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

By Augustine of Hippo (354-430 C.E.)

How you have loved us, O good Father. You did not spare your only Son, but delivered Him up for us wicked ones!

How you have loved us. For Christ did not grasp to be equal with you, but “became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Christ alone — “free among the dead” — had power to lay down His life, and power to take it up again. For our sake, he was to you both victor and victim. For us, he was to you both priest and sacrifice.

Rightly, then, is my hope strongly fixed on Him, that you will heal all my diseases by him who sits at your right hand and makes intercession for us; or else I would utterly despair. For numerous and great are my infirmities — numerous and great are they — but your medicine is greater.

Terrified by my sins and the load of my misery, I had resolved in my heart to flee into the wilderness; but you forbid me. You strengthen me, saying that Christ “died for all, that we should not live unto ourselves, but live unto Him.”

Behold, O Lord, I cast my care upon you, that I may live and “behold wondrous things out of your law.” You know my unskillfulness and my infirmities; teach me, and heal me. Your only Son Christ — “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge ” — has redeemed me with His blood.

— Abridged and language updated from Confessions.

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 11 (Listen – 7:05)
Philippians 2 (Listen – 3:45)

Three Kinds of People

Philippians 1.21
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

By C.S. Lewis

The price of Christ is something, in a way, much easier than moral effort — it is to want Him. — C.S. Lewis

There are three kinds of people in the world. The first class is of those who live simply for their own sake and pleasure, regarding Man and Nature as so much raw material to be cut up into whatever shape may serve them.

In the second class are those who acknowledge some other claim upon them — the will of God, the categorical imperative, or the good of society — and honestly try to pursue their own interests no further than this claim will allow. They try to surrender to the higher claim as much as it demands, like men paying a tax, but hope, like other taxpayers, that what is left over will be enough for them to live on.

But the third class is of those who can say like St. Paul that for them “to live is Christ.” These people have got rid of the tiresome business of adjusting the rival claims of Self and God by the simple expedient of rejecting the claims of Self altogether. The old egoistic will has been turned round, reconditioned, and made into a new thing. The will of Christ no longer limits theirs; it is theirs. All their time, in belonging to Him, belongs also to them, for they are His.

Because there are three classes, any merely twofold division of the world into good and bad is disastrous.

It overlooks the fact that the members of the second class (to which most of us belong) are always and necessarily unhappy. The tax which moral conscience levies on our desires does not in fact leave us with enough to live on.

The Christian doctrine that there is no “salvation” by works done according to the moral law is a fact of daily experience. Back or on we must go. But there is no going on simply by our own efforts. If the new Self, the new Will, does not come at His own good pleasure to be born in us, we cannot produce Him synthetically.

— Abridged from CS Lewis, “Three Kinds of Men” in Present Concerns

Editor’s Note: I included this today as an extension to yesterday’s stirring thoughts from J.C. Ryle. These two men, in addition to their contributions to historic Christianity, articulate the tensions and glories that wait ahead of us on the journey of faith. Let us set our eyes on Christ, our hope and glory.

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 10 (Listen – 4:27)
Philippians 1 (Listen – 4:03)

The Inward Battle

Ephesians 6.11

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

Praying and sinning will never live together in the same heart. Prayer will consume sin, or sin will choke prayer. ― J.C. Ryle

One of the Fruit of the Spirit is peace — a gift which we receive from God. Yet here, in Ephesians, the focus of scripture turns to war. Timothy Keller, in a sermon on spiritual warfare, quotes the 19th century Anglican bishop of Liverpool J.C. Ryle on the way spiritual war and peace exist in the life of healthy followers of Christ:

Let me talk to you about true Christianity. There’s a vast quantity of religion current in the world that is not true, genuine Christianity. It passes muster, it satisfies sleepy consciences; but it is not good money. It is not the real thing…
There are thousands of men and women who go to chapels and churches every Sunday and call themselves Christians… But you never see any ‘fight’ about their religion! Of spiritual strife, and exertion, and conflict, and self-denial, and watching, and warring they know literally nothing at all.

Let us consider these propositions.… The saddest symptom about many so-called Christians is the utter absence of anything like conflict or fight. They eat, they drink, they dress, they work, they amuse themselves, they get money, they spend money, they go through a scanty round of formal religious services once or even twice a week, but the great spiritual warfare … its watchings and strugglings, its agonies and anxieties, its battles and contests … of all this they appear to know nothing at all.

Do you find in your heart of hearts a spiritual struggle? Are you conscious of two principles within you, contending for the mastery? Do you feel anything of war in your inward man? Well, let us thank God for it! It is a good sign. It is strongly probable evidence of the great work of sanctification. 
All true saints are soldiers. A real Christian can be known as much by his inward warfare as by his inward peace.

May the peace of Christ be in you as you fight the good fight necessary to cultivate the fruit of heaven on earth.

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 9 (Listen – 4:16)
Ephesians 6 (Listen – 3:17)

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