I don’t mean to be a downer, but we need to examine the Scriptures carefully. I mean, far too many in our Lord’s Church are confused and overrating their standing in His Kingdom. Now, I am not implying that you need to see yourself as being lower than a weasel, but then again, don’t start thinking yourself as being a Strong Stallion, either.
I could sit quietly in my little home and mind my own business. Like Bilbo Baggins, I could stay in my hobbit hole away from danger. And, sit by my “own fire with a pipe, a glass of good beer, and a meal to look forward to.” But, no, like Habbakuk, “I will stand at my guard post. I will station myself on the wall. I will watch to see what He will say to me and what answer I will get to my complaint.”
Then Yahweh answered me,
“Write the vision.
Make it clear on tablets . . .”
I don’t have any tablets to write on, so I will have to use my laptop, but in my studies today, I ran across some things that Jesus said that intrigued me. Now, I admit that we tend to ignore these words (or at lease try to ignore them) but I feel our Father’s Spirit wants me to address them this morning:
Large crowds were traveling with Yeshua. He turned to them and said, “If people come to me and are not ready to abandon their fathers, mothers, wives, children, brothers, and sisters, as well as their own lives, they cannot be my disciples. [Ouch!] So those who do not carry their crosses and follow me cannot be my disciples.
Huh? Did he really mean that? Well, He went on to explain his comments with a couple of important illustrations:
“Suppose you want to build a tower. You would first sit down and figure out what it costs. Then you would see if you have enough money to finish it. Otherwise, if you lay a foundation and can’t finish the building, everyone who watches will make fun of you. They’ll say, ‘This person started to build but couldn’t finish the job.’
“Or suppose a king is going to war against another king. He would first sit down and think things through. Can he and his 10,000 soldiers fight against a king with 20,000 soldiers? If he can’t, he’ll send ambassadors to ask for terms of peace while the other king is still far away. In the same way, none of you can be my disciples unless you give up everything.
Oh, ow! That is rough to read.
Yeah, you think so? But the prophet Isaiah pointed this out many years before Jesus arrived:
We’ve all become unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like permanently stained rags.
All of us shrivel like leaves,
and our sins carry us away like the wind.
In realizing this about himself, the Psalmist cried out:
My guilt has overwhelmed me.
Like a heavy load, it is more than I can bear.
Now, before I lose you on all this, we need to allow the Spirit of God to calm us down and guide us as we begin to search our hearts. To be a disciple of Jesus does not require you to be perfect and without sin. Those kinds of thoughts are total bonkers. Don’t get trapped in that kind of thinking.
We are talking about people, real life, honest-to-goodness real people. The early Church wrestled with this and finally realized that everyone is saved by grace, through faith, and not our works. It took time and wrestling with the Scriptures, but they saw that if men hoped to find their salvation through keeping the Law, they would have to live perfect lives, and that‘s impossible. If we are saved by grace, through faith, and not by works, then we don‘t have to be perfect. We simply have to trust in the Perfect Savior and His sacrifice on the cross of Calvary. And, even after we are saved, we still don‘t have to be perfect. Indeed, we can‘t be perfect. We will continue to struggle with the flesh, and our flesh is sometimes overcome by sin (Romans 7; see also 1 John 1:8-10).
In the same way that we are saved by grace, through faith, we also serve by grace through faith. Did you catch the significance? Consider this:
“Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and firm in your faith just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” —Colossians 2:6-7 (see also 2 Corinthians 5:7).
We can‘t merit salvation by keeping the Law, and we can‘t be sanctified by keeping the Law, either. We are sanctified on the same grounds that we are saved.
“The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort?” (Galatians 3:2-3)
Since salvation is by faith, apart from works — why would I expect God‘s servants to live their lives without sin? No, this isn‘t an excuse to wallow in sin, either, or to be sloppy about obeying our Lord. But it does inform us that there are no perfect saints (in the sense that they never fail, never get angry, never think an evil thought, never make a wrong decision, never deal harshly with someone).
No, disciples don‘t have to be perfect for God to use them. Scriptures make it clear that all we have to do is lean on the greatness of God, the sovereignty of God in salvation, sanctification, and evangelization. You cannot explain our faith by giving men credit for doing everything right; the success of the gospel relies wholly on the sovereignty of God, who causes even the opposition of unbelievers and the failures of the saints to achieve His foreordained purposes! It isn‘t about great men, but about mere men who have been empowered and used by a great God to do great things. I‘m not going to ignore, deny, or gloss over the failures of men, to assure myself that God‘s purposes will be accomplished. His purposes are accomplished through imperfect human instruments. Our weaknesses are designed to cause us to lean more heavily on God, rather than to trust in our own strength:
“But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (II Corinthians 4:7
“Therefore, so that I would not become arrogant, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to trouble me – so that I would not become arrogant. I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’
So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong (II Corinthians 12:7-10
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