June 10, 2012

People of the Kingdom

Last night I finished reading John Piper’s book, Finally Alive, for the second time. In it, he shows from Scripture why we must be born again, how it happens, what it looks like, and more about what it means to have eternal life as a gift from God through faith in Jesus Christ. 
One major point is that a person who has the life of Christ is different from those who do not. The one who is truly born again cannot help but behave in ways that show his or her life is changed. Today’s reading includes a description of those changes. This passage is Jesus telling His disciples about the kingdom of heaven.
For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 25:14–30)
Jesus used illustrations from ordinary life to illustrate extraordinary life. In this case, the illustration is about cash (called talents), but those who see themselves with no money or special talents can still identify with this story because God’s gift is far more than mere money; it is His very life. Those who are reborn have the life of Jesus Christ in them and will use what they have been given, wisely investing that new life in ways that bring an increase.

However, at the crux of the story is the importance of understanding of the true nature of the Master. Here, the servant who didn’t produce sees his master as a harsh person making impossible demands. He blames him for his own lack of obedience.

Applying this as Piper does in his book, the person who has the life of Christ knows what Christ is like. There is no mistake about the nature of our God when we are infused with His life and reborn into His family. However, those who do not know Him in this way may claim to be His servants, but in reality they have no idea of the goodness and mercy of God. Instead, they think God demands certain good deeds and will never be pleased with anything less.

The Gospel is not about earning the favor of God. It is about God bestowing His grace and life on us. When this happens, we believe in Him and are made new. He gives us His life and with that comes all the resources of the Lord and a changed attitude toward God. We know Him and want to live out the life He has put in us, not hide it or blame Him for making more demands than we can possible muster.

The “servant” wannabe cannot please God, even if he tries. Sin spoils all our efforts for without Christ, sin permeates our deeds, words, motivations, even our idea of who God is and what He wants. Without new life, there is no return on our deeds, no faithfulness, no rewards from God, no joy to enter. Those who are not reborn cannot see or enter the kingdom of God and wind up in outer darkness.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. (John 3:16–21)

Lord, the gospel is the most amazing reality possible. You, in mercy and grace make it possible for sinners to have new life. Not only that, we can serve You in faithfulness because of that life that comes from You. Then You turn around and reward us for doing it, doing what we never could have done without You. This morning I can only shake my head in amazement at the wonder of Your great love for sinners such as I — and then determine that I will be faithful with today’s opportunities to serve You.

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