12:00AM EDT 4/29/2013 GLENN BERTEAU
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Jesus had a way with words. He was as gentle as a lamb. He welcomed outcasts as friends, touched lepers to heal them and held children in His arms. But He also demanded utter loyalty and complete obedience—nothing else and nothing less. If we exclusively focus on His kindness and compassion, we understand only part of His character, His purpose and His heart.
Today, many Christians are convinced that Jesus Christ came to Earth to make them happy and successful. In the church world we seem to gravitate to books and messages that focus on success, fulfillment and pleasure. When they experience any kind of disappointment, they believe God has let them down. Pain isn’t part of the plan! They then assume God is mean because He let them be hurt.
But Jesus didn’t come to make us feel better about our selfishness and sins. He came to forgive our sins, transform us and change our hearts so we find sin detestable instead of desirable. To make that happen, something deep inside us has to die.
Here’s the truth: Jesus didn’t come to hurt you. He came to kill you.
Not long before He was arrested, Jesus told Philip and Andrew: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity” (John 12:24–25, NLT).
Jesus didn’t come to make our normal, selfish, sinful lives a little better. He came to radically transform life as we know it. He came to kill our sinful lives so we could experience true life. A kernel of wheat doesn’t flourish until it “dies” by being planted.
Jesus was referring to His own death, burial and resurrection only a few days away, but He applied this principle to us too. If we love our sinful lives—valuing success, pleasure and approval above all else—our spiritual vitality will wither away and die. But if our love for those counterfeits dies—if we “care nothing” for them—we’ll experience the real adventure of knowing, loving and following Christ. We’ll really live! It’s our choice.
People who aren’t familiar with the biblical concept of “life through death” may assume, “Yeah, but that’s just one passage. Surely that’s not central to the teaching of the Bible.” Actually, the principle is found throughout the Scriptures. For instance, Paul’s letter to the Romans contains many references to it (see Rom. 6:2-4).
So what does it mean to follow Jesus? It means to be “joined with” Him in death and resurrection. Jesus loved the Father with all His heart; we’ll love the Father with all our hearts. Jesus obeyed the Father, even when it cost Him His life; we’ll obey God even when it’s inconvenient and painful.
We choose righteous living and obedience—not only when we’re in church on Sunday morning, but all day, every day. We live for God, not for ourselves. We study God’s Word, we pray, we give, we serve and we act like disciples of Christ—not to earn points with God and twist His arm so He’ll bless us, but because we’ve already been blessed beyond anything we can imagine!
When we trust in Jesus, we join Him in death, and He raises us from the dead to new life. The Christian life, then, isn’t just a different set of moral laws, rigid rules or habits to follow. It’s dying to ourselves and being raised back to life in Him! Now everything is different. Nothing is the same. Things that used to be so important begin to lose their grip on our hearts. We want to know, love, serve and honor God out of a full heart of thankfulness.
Our purpose has changed, our hearts are transformed and our loyalties are forever altered. Paul sums up the radical transformation: “But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:22–23).
We don’t just sit, soak and sour in the pew—sitting Christians hatch hypocrites! We get up, go out and care for people around us with love, humility and power. Our identification with Christ’s death isn’t just a theory; it shapes our choices every moment. Our choices, though, begin in our minds. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace” (Rom. 8:5–6).
What do we think about all day, every day? If we charted the contents of our thoughts for 24 hours, what would they reveal about our hearts and our values? To many of us today Jesus is saying, “I’ve given everything I’ve got for you. I’m tired of you taking Me for granted, using Me for your selfish purposes and complaining when I don’t jump through your hoops. I have some hoops I want you to jump through. They’ll cost you everything, but they’ll give you what your heart really longs for.”