Two thousand years ago the world was very different than it is today. And yet, the heart conditions of that time can still be found in many these days. Jesus of Nazareth exposed these heart conditions by demonstrating to the world what a perfectly pure heart looks like. Not only that, but He presented a challenge to all of us. He insisted that we can embrace that same purity for our own hearts and lives!
Notice that I used the word “embrace.” This is not about an achievement. It is about devotion. Not just devotion to a cause or principle, but to a person. The true disciples of Jesus who continued with Him did so because they were drawn to His remarkable goodness and love. They wanted what He had. They were willing to let go of their former goals and aspirations in favor of His agenda. By following Him they were impacted by His uniqueness. They were being changed simply by their association with Him!
Hundreds of years before, God rescued the descendants of Jacob from slavery in Egypt and established a covenant with them. They were to observe His moral and civil laws and participate in a number of rituals that both honored Him and atoned for their imperfect observance of His laws. Some kept His laws to the letter, but not in sincerity. Others failed miserably but were forgiven and continued to trust in Him.
In the fullness of time, Jesus came to fulfill all that God had planned in calling Abraham, establishing the nation of Israel, and the righteousness that the law could only foreshadow. The laws of any society attempt to protect the citizens from one another. This new society, the Kingdom of God, would have a higher standard, a higher law, one that deals with the root problems of every community. The human heart, from which all conflict arises, must be transformed by the power of the King!
When Jesus presented this impossible and unrealistic standard, one would have expected a wholesale rejection of it. Many of course, did reject it in the end. Even so, all knew that He was right, as we all do today. If they would only have been more patient, they would have eventually understood the beauty of His plan. He did not come to destroy our hope for peace with God and contentment in this life. He came to bring in the Kingdom of God. That meant sharing His righteousness and holiness with us, and at the same time taking our guilt and sin upon Himself at the Cross.
We today must not also misunderstand Him. With a clearer understanding we will not be so inclined as some to water down His teachings to be less radical. He knows our weakness, but also how to empower us. It is for us to embrace Him, His teachings, His perfection, His holiness, His greatness. As we trust in Him, He will give the grace to accomplish the impossible!
Diluted Christianity is so revolting. The half-hearted Christian is a sad person indeed. Trust me, I have been there! The abundant life that Christ promised can be experienced, but only if we make the conscious decision to patiently trust in Him and His work in our lives. Total surrender to Him might seem at first frightening, but oh what a sweet surrender it is! It is to abandon fear, failure, compromise, cowardice and folly.
Again, it is not about an achievement. It is about a commitment. It is an answer to a call. The highest power in this universe is calling us unto Himself. Everything, including our sin that stood between us and Him has been dealt with on the Cross. Once we accept this we can know a freedom which we never knew existed, and a sense of nobility and integrity that only identification with Him can bring. With that freedom we can demonstrate to this world what this heavenly society truly looks like. We can live in the Kingdom of heaven now, and become that city set on a hill which cannot be hid. (Matthew 5:14-16).
His is a Kingdom that cannot be shaken nor destroyed.(Hebrews 12:28). It is advancing at this very moment. We are called to join in this forward movement that cannot fail! Will we settle for a comfortable religion that we have designed to make us feel good about ourselves, or will we answer to this glorious call from God? His is a long-term strategy. It will not be finalized tomorrow. But every moment, every day has its own struggles and its own victories.
Every time we choose God’s ways over the ways of the world, a victory is won. Every time we seek to please Him, rather than ourselves, and risk displeasing the majority, we experience more of the Christ life. We find fellowship with Him in His sufferings, as well as in His joy! Faith is knowing Who Jesus truly is and who we are in Him. Our pleasure is His pleasure! We are happier when we patiently love and forgive one another, when we seek for the good of others over our own, for His glory.
The people who answer to this call are known by various names. They are the Church, which in the original New Testament Greek, means “the called out.” (1 Peter 2:9) They are the brothers and sisters of Christ (Romans 8:29). They are members of His Body, joined together in the Spirit to carry out His purpose in the earth. (Ephesians 1:22-23, 3:10-11, 4:12, 5:30, 1 Corinthians 12:27).
The metaphor of the Church as His body indicates a closeness and connectedness, as does the picture of it as His family. Another portrays His people as an army, crashing down the gates of hell! (Matthew 16:18, Ephesians 6:10-13, 2 Corinthians 10:3-6). This army must stand under its Commander and Chief, Jesus Christ, and fight this spiritual battle as a unit. As we look at the great diversity among Christians today, we acknowledge again the seeming impossibility of this ideal. Those things that are impossible with men are still possible with God! (Mark 10:27). Not only that, but it is impossible for Him to fail! (1 Corinthians 13:8).
He is calling forth from our hearts a willingness, an optimism, a desire to answer to this higher calling. What will be our response? Perhaps the greatest and most effective Christian who ever lived, Paul the apostle, has penned the most inspiring words along these lines:
“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.
Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” NASU