I won’t waste time by detailing the ins and outs of the spiritual struggles that are unique to my life. Suffice to say that they have been long-standing and they have created a situation where much valuable time and talent has been wasted and for no real good reason.
Once making a decision to really live the faith, not just the faith that I agree with or the faith that I find convenient, but to make a consecrated decision to follow Jesus through a life of obedience – one has to count the costs. I have done that many times over. Further, although those who have not walked in my shoes could not understand what I mean, the fact is the Master has communicated to me the reality of his existence many times over. He has not done this in the “blinding light/burning bush” sort of way, but instead, he has done so through countless serendipitous events, what common vernacular these days would call “synchronicity.”
There have been so many of these synchronous events that any kind of internal debate about the validity of these experiences at this point would be a fruitless waste of time. Rather than falling into that pit of delusions and dead ends again, I choose instead to believe and further, to believe in order to understand. Jesus is where it begins and, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, he is also where it ends. I lean on Hull’s words here:
Mohammad and Buddha were normal men who reached extraordinary heights as humans and whom others came to admire. Jesus was different; he was, as G.K. Chesterton reportedly called him, “the everlasting man.” In Christ, God became his own prophet and burst onto the scene, speaking with authority and performing miracles. He was so extraordinary that it took 451 years and ecumenical synods for the church to explain who he was. No one really grasps it even now. “God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ.” (Colossians 1:19) The only rational response is to bow before him and, like Thomas, declare, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)
Hull, in his remarkable book entitled Christlike: The Pursuit of Uncomplicated Obedience, writes in a concise and straightforward way about what it means to follow Jesus, to truly follow the Master. He begins by citing a familiar scripture, Philippians 2: 5-8:
Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Hull is tracking the deep obedience that Christ’s life exemplified and it is exactly this same sort of deep obedience to which we are also called. According to Hull, this powerful passage of scripture reveals four key elements of Christian response that is in conformity with Christ:
Humility comes to a person who grasps that all gifts, talents, opportunities, and accomplishments are from the hand of God. It is rare to hear a person take credit for all his or her accomplishments; even the most secular award recipients give God and others some credit.
Humility is the starting line for putting on Christ; its absence makes conforming to Christ impossible. God stands in opposition to any person who doesn’t have it. Humility attracts God’s grace, and just as surely, pride runs it off. I would define humility as the acknowledgement of who and what you are dependent on. Humility’s power is that it frees a person to focus on others; it opens the door to begin to affect others as Christ did….When we lose our pride, lay aside our desire to control, decide to obey and live for others, humility becomes our habit. It makes its way into our character through the regular practice of prayer, through the assimilation of God’s word, and in living for others.
Jesus modeled a submission that was fueled by love; therefore, it endured and had no limits. He submitted to his Father’s will, which was for him to give up the privileges of divinity. There was no limit to Jesus’ willingness to serve the Father he loved….let it be said that submission is the fruit of humility. The two together form the identity of Jesus. When his disciples follow his example and submit to the Father out of love, their lives have a transformative effect on those they come in contact with. When a person submits and serves from a basis of love, that person is free from self interest, and the joy comes through.
Christian spirituality finds its only meaning in obedience. Any other destination for what we call our spiritual worldview would discredit it. The only road to a life of satisfying obedience is one paved with humility and submission. When the word “obedience” stands alone, it feels austere, possibly even legalistic. Jesus never thought of obedience as a sterile act of courage; it was his heart responding to his Father, another way of saying, “I love you.” For him, obedience to the Father was uncomplicated and heartfelt.
Sacrifice is the natural result of humility, submission, and obedience. Jesus’ sacrifice was the greatewst and most outrageous in the history of humanity. Not only did he choose the indignity of taking on a body, even in this very hour he continues to inhabit such a limited container, he continues to bear the wounds of his execution.
In relation to sacrifice, Hull makes an interesting yet alarming observation. Personally, I find that his remarks, although some might consider them extreme, to be both cogent and eye opening. As Christians committed to a life of obedience, we would do well to pay close attention to what the author is telling us in regards to the future:
In America and Western Europe, one can still speak their religious mind without fear of jail. I believe this will change in the next decade; it will become illegal to speak of the falsehood of other religions under the guise of hate speech. Most Christians in the West should be more concerned with the serious de line in evangelical faith. It is wobbling seriously at this time and if things remain the same will soon fall on its face onto the hard ground of relativism. When evangelicals give up on hell and the exclusiveness of Christ, Christianity will no longer be a threat to the Enemy or a serious solution to evil. The sacrifice of today’s disciple will be taking a stand and being labeled for it, being hated for it, and losing friends over it.
As the future unfolds, the issue of obedience to Christ will most likely take on new parameters. Increasingly, many of us will be forced by circumstance into making a true and heartfelt decision regarding our character and our faith. A few years ago I would have not believed the prediction of Hull just quoted. However, I have watched the insidious progression of post-modern values and moral relativism and, at the same time, the steady decline of both the church and how it is viewed by our society. These two factors have brought me to a point where I feel Hull’s predictions are not all that far-fetched. In fact, they are already beginning to materialize.
Think about it.
© L.D. Turner 2014/All Rights Reserved