THE ABIDING LIFE
Thoughts on Salvation
Happy or Holy
By Gwen Sellers
Continued from "Salvation and the Christian Life"
I previously wrote about salvation being not just a way to Heaven but an invitation to be an active part of God's plan. Here's the thing about God's plan, though: following it is risky. Let's go back to Acts 3-4. Peter and John were going about their usual days, healed a lame beggar, preached the Gospel, and then were thrown in jail. Great start to the day, pretty distasteful finish. But what also happened that day is many believed in Jesus.
I have too often chosen personal comfort over God's Kingdom. I've feared what really living for God will mean for me. Living for God doesn't always feel good. People who live for God get thrown in jail. They get killed. They get teased. They are disliked. They are looked down upon as strange. They have to forgive other people. They have to sacrifice their own desires for the benefit of others. They don't get all the perks of worldly success. Of course, this is not categorically true. Many times people living for God do have all the trappings of worldly success. Often they are well liked and have not only joy, but happiness. But that isn't a guarantee.
You've likely heard the saying, "Jesus didn't come to make us happy; He came to make us holy." That's true. But we say it like happiness is a bad thing, as if holiness precludes happiness. Sometimes in the process of being made holy, we won't be particularly happy. But sometimes we will be. In one of my favorite passages of Scripture Jesus told His followers, "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full" (John 15:10-11). Joy is different than happiness, but sanctification is intended toward fullness of life; it is not a form of penance meant to cause unrelenting misery.
I must confess that I have bought into this false dichotomy — of either being happy or holy, not really following God or being harshly persecuted — and, though God has graciously dispelled the lie, it has been a source of some consternation. I have led a privileged life. I have not been persecuted for my faith nor have I suffered all that much in other ways. So if I'm not "suffering for the Lord," have I really been leading a Christian life? If I'm not miserable, does that mean something is wrong? As I said before, sometimes I have chosen my own comfort over living for God. But sometimes living for God just hasn't been all that uncomfortable. And that's okay.
Perhaps surprisingly, Willard's discussion of Matthew 5-7 in The Divine Conspiracy* has something to say here. In part, he talks about the Beatitudes and how we have understood them to be categories of people who can or cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. Instead, Willard suggests that Jesus was giving practical examples of people in the crowds around Him. He was turning common thought of the day on its head. When prosperity and social acceptance were viewed as blessings of God, Jesus boldly proclaimed that the outcast had been blessed by God in His coming. It is not that their being outcast made them automatically blessed or some special class of people God loves best. It was simply that God's Kingdom is made available to all, even those we would least expect.
Something I like about God's plan is that it is coherent and headed in a single direction, yet it is also personal. The way God works in your life looks a little different from the way He works in mine. God does not change, but He made each of us unique and He relates to us in that uniqueness. There are no hard and fast categories of exactly what it looks like to follow God. Of course there are some generalities and there are hard and fast truths. But walking with God is a journey of trust, an unfolding story that feels new and dynamic to us as we live it.
Peter and John eventually got out of jail, but they did spend a night there and faced trial by the same council who had condemned Jesus. Who knows how despondent they were? The risk was real. Later persecution was certainly not lacking. But neither was later joy. What it comes down to is this: the risk is in the unknown. When we live for God's Kingdom we give up our sense of control and let the chips fall where they may. Do I trust God enough to do what He calls me to when He calls me to it, disregarding the possible outcomes and trusting that He is in control?
For me, fear about possible outcomes is really an issue of heart. It should not surprise me that when I am trying to protect myself, avoid the risk, I feel pretty empty. I look at myself more and more. I am hungry and thirsty and cannot be filled. But when I just trust God and choose to take the risk, even if the circumstances look pretty bad from the outside, my heart is okay. I may be discouraged and even depressed at some points. But ultimately times of refreshing come. Jesus told His followers, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?" (Matthew 16:24-26). When my focus is on the Kingdom and on the greatness of our God, any loss to me really does seem like nothing (Philippians 3:8).
* Please note that while I find this book to be beneficial in my own spiritual growth, I do not necessarily fully endorse all of Willard's points. As with all things, each of us should judge what we are taught against the truth of Scripture.
Image: Courtesy MeLissa LeFleur; the author with a baby enrolled in the Compassion International program in the Dominican Republic
Tags: Biblical-Truth | Christian-Life | Personal-Life
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Published on 1-19-15