We are now in the eighth week since we last met in person. Perhaps you have been feeling untethered. How does one do what they are convicted of doing without a next appointed time to gather? Often each action item we contemplate leads to the realization that the undertaking is not currently possible. For those of us that have grown up in the church and known Jesus for a good while, it may lead us to feel stuck. Some may feel like we are merely idling until we receive the green light to resume our normative discipleship path.
However, this global period of “time-out” may identify a nagging sense that there must be more to discipleship, Christian formation and the Bible than we have digested to this point in our lives. Are you feeling a little lost in what it means to follow Jesus without the structured and repeatable steps of a faith tradition? There must be more to following Jesus than Sunday worship, fellowship with Christian friends and getting involved in congregational functions. Might God be inviting us into the full story of the Bible in its own, original ancient context free from modern denominational traditions and presuppositions? Could we have been tripping over religion and denominational preferences hindering us from the truly good news of the Bible?
Many of us have been on a four-month journey through Genesis chapters 1-3. We understand we were created by God in His image to be His imagers. To represent Him in the world and to grow in likeness to Him. Every human, no matter how well known or short-lived, has a role to play in someone’s life. Every task we undertake that honors God and our fellow humans becomes a spiritual calling. To God, the role of minister, elder or leader is not superior to any other calling. We all have the same God-given vocation.
We learned in recent weeks that God chose Abraham and Sarah to start a new family that would bless all nations. Many years later, Jesus, born from the family of Abraham, would be the descendant to bring all the nations of the world back together under God (Matthew 1:1; Luke 3:34; Galatians 3:16-18, 26-29). Much happens in scripture between Abraham and Jesus. However, it is essential to realize that God has always loved His people before structure and repeatable steps were given. God rescued His people from Egypt before giving them the Law (Exodus 3:7, 10; 4:23; 5:1; 6:7; 7:4). The Law was not about earning a place in God’s family. The Israelites were already God’s family.
God’s laws provided His people with the ability to display their desire to be in the family of God. The rules showed God that His children were not disloyal. They would not align themselves with other gods. Loyal believers allowed God to use the nation of Israel to minister to all the other nations like “a kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:5-6). God’s Law was given to help His loyal followers avoid other gods and live happy, peaceful lives with one another, not to improve God’s disposition toward them as His children.
Unfortunately, the Bible tells us that humans could not keep the Law. All humans failed at imaging God. Jesus is the only human to be perfectly loyal to God. Jesus is the ultimate imager of God (2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15). Jesus is the illustration of how to image God. God wants us to transform (Christian formation) into Jesus’ example (2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:10) as we journey in discipleship. The Gospel is transformative. Anyone who has embraced the Gospel “is a new creation; the old has passed away” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Therefore, membership in God’s family cannot be earned. It can only be received.
Salvation is not about our performance. It has never been. Our motivation for imitating Jesus cannot be to make God love us so that He will let us into heaven. God already loved each of us “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8) and were God’s “enemies” (Romans 5:10). Our motive for imitating Jesus is not to keep God loving us so that we will be saved in the end. Setting aside renouncing of one’s faith and allegiance to God, what cannot be achieved by performance cannot be lost by performance. Our salvation has everything to do with what Jesus did for us. Jesus lived not so God would love Him or be happy with Him. God loved Jesus already, long before He ever came and finished the work given to Him. God loved Jesus “before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). God loved us “before the foundation of the world,” too (Ephesians 1:4).
Jesus lived a certain way to show others God (John 17). As the Father loved Jesus, Jesus has loved us (John 15:9-17). Jesus asks us to love each other as He has loved us. The goal of our lives should be showing others our loyalty to God, gratitude to Jesus, who saved us and helping others enter God’s family (John 13:34-35). In times like the present, we look to the New Testament Church for guidance.
The New Testament Church was a family. They had no buildings, no legal status and most likely, no hard-set structure for meeting times and places. Baptism was their pledge of allegiance to the Kingdom of God and the world was their mission field. They presented themselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, as spiritual worship (Romans 12:1-2). We cannot lose sight of our spiritual worship of God being intrinsically tied to the way we live. It is not only about a thirty-minute sermon, an experience in a building or an experience in our homes. Worship is about a life oriented by and directed to God.
Therefore, what do we do if we feel stuck? We make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). We share our faith and how we came to believe the Gospel. It is amazingly simple. Call people, FaceTime people, write emails, send letters and postcards and talk to people from six feet away telling them about your life before you believed the Gospel. There will likely be something in your story that will make a connection to their story. Then share the story of how God sent Jesus so that we could be forgiven and have eternal life with God; our very existence God wanted from the beginning. Tell people how your perspective has changed. Tell them how you have changed your view of you and why you are here on earth.
Finally, respond to people during this time like Jesus would respond to them. It is a powerful action enabled by the Holy Spirit. People will notice. They know when someone loves them or not. They know when you put them ahead of yourself for the sake of the message of the Gospel and the one and only eternal Kingdom.
May the Lord bless you and keep you and give you peace until we can meet again.
Stan Wilson is a Nashville native. He is married to Cheryl and now calls her family’s retired farm in Mt. Juliet home. Stan and Cheryl met at David Lipscomb High School, and they married in 1992 at Harpeth Hills Church of Christ. Stan returned to Hazelip’s School of Theology at Lipscomb in 2016. He completed his Masters of Divinity in the Spring of 2019.