Monday, October 03, 2016

Monday Morning Rewind: A Christ-Centered Life

"Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words."

Those infamous words are attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, though there is zero evidence of his ever having spoken or written this, or anything like it.

But even if he had, it would remain a stupid thing to say.

Yesterday, we finished week three of a four-week series entitled "A Different Kind of Life."  The Scriptures repeatedly call God's people to "stand out" and lead a life that is markedly different from others--noticeable to the point that it is questionable to others.  Like those on whose shoulders we stand who healed the sick, fed the hungry, educated children, treated women as equals, and changed the world through lives no one in the 1st century had ever seek before, we are people whose lives should evoke the simple question, "who ARE you?"

But none of that means anything if it isn't grounded in the person and the work of Jesus.  We can feed the hungry, heal marriages, start addiction recovery programs, and help people economically, but without a Christ-centered life that produces a verbal witness, all we will do is send people to hell sober, with full stomachs, happy marriages, and fatter checkbooks.

The reason we focus on tangible and more immediate needs is to point to the ultimate need of forgiveness of sins and the transformation of our hearts.  Without that message at the core of everything we do, we are merely dabbling on the surface of things.  The point is we can't just live differently and make a lasting difference on people if that difference isn't informed and empowered by something beyond this world.  And in the introductory verse of Romans, Paul describes five ways that Jesus completely transformed his life--ways that describe how our own lives can be transformed.

Jesus Changes Our Lives. The Christian Gospel isn't just another religion alongside other world religions--another "choice" among many paths to God.  Jesus transforms His followers at their core, and Paul's own testimony is evidence of the miracle that Jesus works into each of us.  This former Pharisee who was committed to earning his salvation by obedience to the law now calls himself a "bondservant of Jesus Christ."  This "Hebrew of Hebrews" whose identity was once wrapped up in his ethnicity is now the "apostle" sent out by the one who came to save the whole world.  This persecutor of the church--the 1st century equivalent of an ISIS recruit--is now set apart to proclaim the very message he once sought to eliminate from the earth.

When we read the opening words of Romans, we are reading the words of a changed man.  And it is that change that empowers us to live the different kind of life to which we are called.  In our own strength, we can only "fake it" for so long.  The life we are called to live can't be produced in our own strength.  We can never be happy enough, or inspired enough on our own to keep it up.  It requires a complete overhaul of our identity.

Jesus Moves our Assurances. The whole of the Christian message is rooted in the fulfilled promise that Paul describes in verse 2.  The promise of Jesus was a promise first made in the Garden of Eden, and Paul emphasizes here that it is a promise that has been kept!  In our world, of written contracts and low trust, its easy to be a little skeptical.  But we serve a God who keeps His promiises, and all of our assuracnes can be placed in Him.

Jesus Centers our Focus  In verses 3 and 4, we see Paul describing the essence of the Christ-centered life.  This "Son of David" who came as Messiah--this "Son of God who is perfect man and perfect God--has conquered death.  As we live high-risk, high-stakes lives for His glory, bad things might happen.  But the worst thing that can happen is death--something Jesus has already defeated.  This is a man worth placing at the very center of our lives.  This is a man worthy of defining the totality of our identity.

Jesus Increases our Gratitude.  In verse 5, Paul reminds us that if we are Christian, our story begins and ends with grace.  Unmerited favor.  Something we get that we do not deserve and could never earn.  The gratitude that comes from realizing this is more than enough motivation to live differently, noticably!  No one should change their life rythym becaue they were made to feel guilty.  We should be intiving strangers to our table because of the grace of God that invited us--strangers, aliens and enemies--to HIS table!  We should live questionably because we serve a Savior who did things that blew people's minds.  When you have been transformed to the core, you posess the kind of grace that won't burn you out.  Gratitude for what Jesus has done becomes the nuclear source from which we can continue to live questionably and hospitably.  Its all about gratitude.  Everything else is a fossil fuel that runs out.

Jesus Encourages our Awe.  In verses 6 and 7 we see the heart of what it means to find your identity in Jesus.  Here we see that as His followers of Christ, we are His property (we belong to Him), and we are His beloved.

You were loved before the world was created.  You were chosen before you were born.  Jesus bled for you before you were born.  The Holy Spirit has immersed you into Christ permanently--eternally!  Imagine the kind of powerful life you can live when you simply embrace and live in that identity!

David Hume, the 18th century skeptic philosopher, left his office one evening, telling a colleague of his intent to hear George Whitfield, the British preacher and revivalist.  Surprised, his colleague said "I thought you didn't believe the Christian message."  Hume replied "I don't.  But I'm not going because I believe.  I'm going because George Whitfield does."

How many people would say that about you?  Is your life so immersed--so centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ--that they would say of you what Hume said of Whitefield?  "What they believe is crazy!  But I am fascinated by them, because it is obvious to me that they really believe this stuff!"  That is a Christ-centered life!

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