March 9, 2017

Amazing grace

A few times over the past forty-five years, I’ve been strongly tempted to turn away from following Jesus. Being a Christian is too difficult. His commands are too much for me and various other reasons.

The same temptations are not new. When Jesus described how deeply they must rely on Him, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” (John 6:66)

Another of John’s writings again mentions those who abandoned their relationship with Jesus, if they had one in the first place. This passage from 1 John 2:15–29 gives a few more reasons that pulled them away:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

Desire for comfort, possessions, prestige, and a host of other temporal wants and wishes are a distraction, particularly when following Jesus calls me to difficult things or to turn from temporary pleasures. After all, isn’t this life the only one I’ll have?

“Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

Antichrist simple means all that is opposed to and contrary to Jesus and His work. Some people jump on the church bandwagon, but abandon it when they discover that Christianity is not about making money, building status, or doing anything for selfish gain. The Bible says, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” (James 3:16) Following Jesus means giving up all my own dreams and ambitions.

“But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him. And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.”

John hints that keeping on with obedience is important. Genuine Christians will not lose their salvation by disobedience (just as we do not earn it by obedience), but failing to abide in Christ is dangerous to my spiritual health.

Fortner adds a few more reasons ‘disciples’ fall away. Some of these are from the parable of the sower (see Matthew 13).

Some forsake Christ because they received the Word as stony-ground hearers. Having no root, their ‘faith’ withers as soon as some trial arises that requires more faith. This stony ground might include those who are interested in Christianity for emotional reasons or because they are hurting and want Jesus to ‘fix’ their lives, but their hearts are not soft toward Him; they are only in it for themselves.

Others turn for Jesus because they received the Word as seed sown among thorns. Their faith may have sprouted, but the “cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches” choke out the influence of the gospel and their lives bear no fruit. This is something like the command to “love not the world” and a big distraction from eternal matters and from following Jesus.

This goes along with the failure to count the costs. Those who realize that He calls us to “lose our lives that we might gain life” determine that the price is too dear and they are not willing to give up anything.

Still others will begin thinking that going to church and being called a Christian looks good on their resume — until they realize what the Gospel actually is. As the Bible says, the natural person is highly offended by the gospel of God’s free and sovereign grace. Without genuine saving faith, they cannot endure a faithful, consistent declaration of this good news. They are offended by God’s grace or by the simplicity of the salvation message.

Is Jesus offensive? Yes, to some — or they would not have crucified Him, or they would not take His name in vain, curse Him, mock or laugh at Him, or persecute His followers.

Is Jesus worthy of total commitment and eternal love? Yes . . .

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

Dear Lord Jesus, You know the times I’ve felt like running from You and how easy I slip into an “I don’t care” attitude about Your work, Your people, Your goodness. You gave Your life that I might live — that I might also be forgiven . . . even for my slipping and sliding. The most precious thing is that You continue to pick me up and hold me close to Yourself. 

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