There’s some site I’ve seen posted a lot recently on Facebook with celebrities proclaiming their faith. The quotes include comments about reading their Bible and falling on their knees in prayer every day. Some comment on how they couldn’t get through life without their faith and/or God. While I do not pretend to know anything about their spiritual lives, I am not convinced they are Christians, if that’s something I’m supposed to take away from the quotes. Don’t get me wrong; I’m really happy to see that some top celebrities are reading God’s Word. I would be happier if they would mention Jesus in there somewhere.
John 14:6-“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Many of my friends and family will readily tell me they believe in God. But the conversation comes to an abrupt halt when I ask them to tell me what they believe about Jesus. I would venture to guess that most people believe in God and feel He helps them in their lives in some way but they see no need for Jesus.
I have believed in God all my life. From as far back as I can remember I have felt connected to Him. I have always known He loves me and I never doubted that He exists. Jesus was kind of a side item. I knew in my head that He “died for me,” but didn’t really understand how that affected me. It was only when I truly understood who Jesus is that God began to have a real impact in my life. My spiritual life went from a bunch of beliefs, most of which I made up, to the reality of God. He went from being a distant spiritual being to a living presence. My impression of God shifted from a demanding Father to a loving one. In their commentary “The Fourfold Gospel” J. W. McGarvey and Phillip Y. Pendleton write: “Nature shows God above us; the Law shows God against us; but the Gospel shows God with us, and for us.”
As I studied the Bible I could see the big picture of the world; how events in the Old Testament all led up to Christ and how the world as we know it will end with His return. I no longer fear the world because it is no longer a random bunch of happenings. While we are subject to man’s depravities in the short-term, God has ultimate control and will take it back in the end. I find great comfort in that. I also find comfort in knowing He has a reason for every single human being, including me. God had a plan for me even before I was born. Life is no longer about me; it is now about serving God and leading others to Jesus. The hopelessness is gone and I have new resources to help me manage the sadness I have always felt.
God provided the law to the Israelites as a way for them to live to set themselves apart from other people, to show their love for Him through obedience, and to acknowledge their need for His forgiveness of their sins. There were rituals, sacrifices and laws that they strived to obey. These were external symbols God used to illustrate His authority, His direction on how we are to live, and the requirement to pay a price for sin. They foreshadowed Jesus. Once He died and was resurrected, the need for these things went away. Because of Jesus, I don’t have to DO anything for God’s forgiveness. It’s hard to fathom that God offers this kind of rescue to us. All I have to do is know that Jesus is who He said He is (God). Until I fully grasped what God did in the person of Jesus I depended on successfully obeying a bunch of rules to insure I received God’s forgiveness and blessings. And that’s why I viewed life as so hopeless.
Each time I failed God I sank deeper and deeper in an abyss. At some point, I gave up trying and convinced myself that God really didn’t care how I lived. In my belief system, God didn’t require anything of me; I call Him my Santa Claus god because I decided to believe He existed only to give me the things I needed and the things I wanted. But deep down I knew I was wrong and I was engaged in a never-ending mental wrestling match. A summary of my thoughts might go something like this:
If I’m good for a while, then I mess up, will God give me a second chance? I hope He loves me enough to give me a third, fourth and fifth chance. There has to be a line to cross where God says “enough is enough” and He’s done with us. How does God determine when we cross that line? Is He comparing me to Mother Theresa, the Pope, my grandma, maybe Oprah? For every bad thing I do, must I do something good to even up my score or can I assume it only takes one really good thing to make up for lots of kind-of-bad things? What if I forget something bad I did and don’t make up for it? If I find a number of people who don’t view what I did as bad can I cross it off my list? What if I die right after a bad deed and don’t get a chance to do the good thing I intended to do to make up for it? Does the intent to do good count or do I actually have to do it? Is God keeping a tally sheet of my sins? Even my thoughts are bad – there’s not enough time in the day to do a good thing for every bad thought I have!
It was mentally and emotionally exhausting and as the failures piled up the harder it was to see a way out! I was fighting a losing battle. Then God led me to an understanding of what He did in the person of Jesus. I learned that my perception of God and Jesus as being separate was wrong; God is three persons yet one. This is a difficult concept to grasp, but I accepted it by faith. I don’t have to understand it I just have to know it’s true. I learned that there’s nothing I can do to earn God’s forgiveness; Jesus did all that needed to be done. I learned what grace is and I learned what God’s mercy is: God gives me what I don’t deserve (forgiveness) and He refrains from giving me what I do deserve (punishment). It’s so simple, yet so complicated. But this new understanding freed me from constantly looking back and drowning in my past. It gave me a way to show God I love Him simply by putting forth a sincere effort to do what He asks.
I’m not suggesting that once I figured out what God did in the person of Jesus all my problems disappeared. But it was the beginning of a life that allowed me to move forward, assured I was forgiven for all my poor choices; it enabled me to wake up each morning knowing I have a clean slate in God’s eyes. Life is still difficult. In some ways it’s even harder. But with Jesus there’s hope. It’s not a constant fight to live up to an unattainable standard. Now that I know Jesus, the Spirit dwells in me, the other person that God is while still being God. That’s what I didn’t understand before. And that is where I found hope where I saw none before. I’m not alone in this.
John 14:17 – “…even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”
It’s frustrating when non-believers relegate my experience as merely a belief or adopting a religion. The God that created this universe dwells in me. When I fully understood that, it overwhelmed me. I cried and I repeated the idea over and over in my head, trying to wrap my brain around it. It still amazes me. I’ve tried to come up with a way to explain the experience. In the commentary The Fourfold Gospel (McGarvey and Pendelton) there is a comment regarding Luke 1:15 that says “the stimulation of the Spirit is elsewhere thus contrasted with alcoholic stimulants.” I’ve considered explaining the experience by comparing it to drinking alcohol, but thought it a bit irreverent. Seeing it in print by accomplished Christian authors assured me it’s OK to use the analogy. If I were to tell someone who has never drank alcohol the way they will feel and the things they might do if they consume several drinks, they might not believe me. But once they start drinking, they will find it to be a real experience. The Spirit indwelling me is the same way. It wasn’t a response to something I read nor was it a mere decision to accept a particular doctrine. It is as real as the experience I have when I drink alcohol. When I began leaning on His power instead of going it alone, I was able to rid my life of so many harmful habits and behaviors. That’s the difference Jesus has made.
John 16:7 – “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.
Jesus’ disciples begged Him to stay but He assured them His leaving was for their good. Jesus died so we can have a personal relationship with God and that relationship can exist because the Spirit dwells in us. There can be no closer relationship. And the only way to receive the Spirit is through the re-birth we experience when we accept what Jesus did for us on the cross. Only as a believer of Jesus are we counted as one of God’s children.
Simply put, without Jesus, you don’t have God. It grieves me when people claim a faith that includes God but they don’t see a need for Jesus. They will not spend eternity with God, and they will miss blessings God wants to give them in this life. God has given us the responsibility of helping others understand who Jesus is. It’s hard to do in the culture that exists today. Not only is it a narrow gate to God, He tells us few will find it.
Matthew 7:14 – “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
“Imperfect knowledge of Him troubles, but perfect knowledge and love cast out fear.” (I John 4:18 partial paraphrase in The Fourfold Gospel, McGarvey and Pendleton)