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Those of us who claim that we are Christian in America or anywhere else in the world have a calling–from the poorest and/or unemployed and/or homeless to the richest and including Presidents, Prime Ministers, Dictators, and/or Kings and Queens. And this calling is true for everyone who claims the name of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior . . . no exceptions . . . .
None . . . .
In Romans 1:16, the Apostle Paul stated the following: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” And he lived out what he believed and suffered a “litany of abuses once he became one of those whom he had [previously] persecuted” and “after an intense missionary career spanning twenty years or more (45-66/67 A.D.), Paul (on the same day as Peter) paid the ultimate price for his Christian faith: martyrdom. He was beheaded outside the walls of Rome on June 29, 67 A.D., and remains one of the Church’s brightest witnesses of radical, self-giving discipleship” (quote source here). I wonder how many of us are willing to live out our faith like that as we go about our daily lives living in a secular culture full of excesses and distractions with a great pull to “fit in.”
Talk is cheap. Living it out isn’t. And there is a huge difference between talking about it and walking it out in our daily lives. Lots of folks talk about the Christian life, but the proof is in their actions and how they treat others. That’s where the rubber meets the road, and where the rest of the world can clearly tell if we mean what we say or not.
His [God’s] divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Our calling is clear–we are to add to our faith in Jesus Christ these attributes–goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love–for if we possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep us from being ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (vv. 5-8). And if we don’t possess them, we are nearsighted and blind, forgetting what Jesus has done for us in forgiving our past sins (v. 9).
In a recent blog post, “The Power of Love,” I discussed I Corinthians 13, the chapter in the Bible best known for it’s description of what real love looks like. If we don’t have real love for others, all other attributes are meaningless. Jesus even stated in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” And in Matthew 5:43-48 Jesus stated:
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
One of the most difficult things we are called to do as Christians is to love our enemies and to forgive those who abuse us. I know how I’ve struggled in my own life in the past five years with trying to genuinely love and forgive those who caused my unemployment through no fault of my own. While I have personally wished them no ill will, my anger at them as vacillated back and forth over these past five years, especially since I have been unable to find work due to that very unfortunate experience. However, even in the most vitriol times of my anger, I can honestly say I didn’t hate them, but you wouldn’t have known it by the anger that I spewed out at them in the privacy of my own apartment. Maybe beating a pillow would have been better, but the boil had to be lanced in some way. That’s an explanation and not an excuse.
However with that being said, I also believe that God is in control, and that nothing happens by accident. I wrote about it back in September 2013 in a blog post titled, “Contemplating God’s Sovereignty.” While several areas of my life have changed for the better in significant ways during these past five plus years, one of the biggest areas of challenge for me has been my anger due to this very long time of unemployment. Of course, God knows just what we need in order to change a destructive habit in our lives, and sometimes it’s a life altering circumstance He brings our way. And our response is crucial. It’s hard to love others when anger is so apparent. And God knew I had to deal with it in the right way (and I must admit I’ve stumbled a lot getting there over these past five years). Yet I knew I had finally–after all this time–reached an end to that severe anger that I felt when I recently sent my former boss who fired me a congratulatory email when I found out that he had recently been promoted to president of one of the number of institutes housed under the umbrella organization I worked for at the time I lost my job. It’s been a long time in coming (the loss of my anger, and his promotion to president, too). I remember him telling me when I worked for him that his goal was to become president. And I knew when I read that he had become president and I wasn’t angry about it or at him (in fact, I was happy for him) that my anger had finally subsided.
We are called to love, period. And it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are or who our enemies are in the process. If we profess to love and follow after Jesus Christ, we don’t get any wiggle room to continue living with destructive habits. The option, of course, is always ours as to whether or not we change, but God has a way of bringing to light those areas in our life that need attention. And the improvement may not happen overnight, either (such as in the case of my anger against my former employer), but the struggle for me has always been in the right direction and I knew that I desperately wanted and needed to get over it and not be angry anymore.
We are not perfect, but we should never use that as an excuse not to change or to keep on sinning in any area of our lives when God has shown us our need to do an “about face.” And God knows our heart and whether or not we are willing to change. We live in a culture saturated with “self” and it pulls at us every single day to live our lives like the rest of the culture. But Jesus calls us to a higher calling of self-sacrifice and loving others, regardless of the situation or circumstance.
How are we loving others, including our enemies?
They will know . . .
We are Christians . . .
By our love . . . .
YouTube Video: “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love”:
William Farley has written an excellent book, “Gospel-Powered Humility,” (P&R Publishing, 2011) on the subject of humility. I first learned about it from a book review by Aimee Byrd written just a couple of months ago. I knew the minute I read that book review that it was a “must read” and I have not been disappointed. In fact, I have been humbled by it.
As Farley states on the back cover of his book: “Humility is not a popular concept in our world today. It is seen as a weakness in a culture that prizes self-esteem and validation. Unfortunately, these worldly attitudes about humility have leaked into and influenced the church as well.
“Far from being weakness, humility is the crucial virtue. Not only is it integral to the process of conversion and sanctification, but from its soil sprout the fruit of the Spirit. Yet many Christians are unaware of this crucial connection . . . .”
I’ve touched on the topic of pride in a previous post (see “Our Default Mode”); however, this book is excellent in helping us to understand the differences between real humility and pride which is most often disguised as a type of pseudo-humility. Early on in the book Farley defines humility and pride in very clear terms:
“Humility is one of the least understood spiritual fruits. It is not self-hatred or lack of self-confidence. Humility and low self-image are not the same thing. Indeed, they are polar opposites. Increasing humility brings rest with self, with God, and with life’s circumstances. It produces real lasting joy and healthy self-image. Humility is the ability to see spiritual reality, to see things as they really are. It is the capacity to see myself in God’s light, in the context of his holiness and my sinfulness. In other words, it is the ability to see self, and this world, through God’s eyes [emphasis mine]. God empowers the humble person to increasingly see himself as he really is: ‘wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked’ (Rev. 3:17). The person growing in humility sees his gifts and faults, his strengths and weaknesses, with increasing clarity. Ironically, as we will see, this humility lays the sure foundation for real contentment and healthy self-image because the humble Christian also increasingly sees and feels God’s great personal love. The truly humble believer has a low view of himself, but an increasingly high view of God and his fellow man.
“Pride is the opposite. It is spiritual blindness. It is a delusional, inflated view of self. It is unreality on steroids. And the scary part is this: The thing to which we are most blind is our pride [emphasis mine]. A demonic Catch-22, pride causes us to chase our spiritual tails. We cannot see pride—even though it is our most grievous, disabling sin—because its very nature is blindness, and the first thing to which it is blind is its own existence. Even though God was speaking to me about my arrogance through Isaiah 66:2 and I Corinthians 13:12, because pride blinded me I could not see it. Dazzled by my own self-respect, I could not see my failings. Pride is a spiritual veil blinding us to the truth about ourselves and God. The proud person has a high view of self but a low view of God and his brother.
“ ‘There is no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves,’ wrote C.S. Lewis. ‘If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed’ (quote from “Mere Christianity,” by C.S. Lewis, pp. 109, 114).
“Here is the great paradox: the proud man thinks he is humble, but the humble man thinks he is proud. The humble man sees his arrogance. He sees it clearly, and as a result he aggressively pursues a life of humility, but he doesn’t think of himself as humble. The proud man is completely unaware of his pride. Of all men he is most convinced that he is humble” (Ibid, pp.24-25).
The insidiousness of pride is what makes us think we are humble. It is, indeed, “a demonic Catch-22” as stated above. The prophet Jeremiah stated, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). That goes against everything we want to believe about ourselves. In our pride we want to believe that we can be–indeed, that we are–humble most of the time. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I love what Aimee Byrd had to say in her book review of “Gospel-Powered Humility.” She starts off her review with, “I’m not perfect. Don’t we love to pithily drop that aphorism? What we really mean is, I’m pretty darn close. . . . Some of us are masters at hiding our pride—even from ourselves. We can even make it look meek.” She continues, “As he (Farley) broke down some of the symptoms of a prideful heart, like critical speech, spiritual elitism, grumbling, and avoiding confrontation, I started to see a picture of myself. I wasn’t so inspired.”
As Farley points out in the preface of his book (quoting Dr. Jim Edwards, p. 10): “American Christianity is suffering theological collapse. The primary commitments of church members seem to be peace, the search for personal fulfillment, and the conviction that God judges no one.” In another quote by David Wells (p. 10), he notes, “In America 45 percent (of Christians) say they are born again but only 9 percent, and maybe only 7 percent, give any evidence of Christian seriousness by way of minimal biblical knowledge for making life’s decisions.”
As Byrd points out in her review, “Our generation has done well preaching the love of God. The problem Farley points out is that we’ve stopped preaching and talking about the wrath of God. He points out the necessity of explaining the bad news so that we can even see the good news. Without the bad news of God’s wrath over our sin, we keep feeding our fantasy life steroids. Sure, we recognize that we are not perfect. But in our imagination, we aren’t too shabby. We think we’re pretty good.”
And that is the whole problem—we don’t see sin the way God’s see it. Hence, even in our sin we still think we “aren’t too shabby.” And we miss God altogether in our blindness—a blindness that comes from pride.
The final chapter of this book is on the power of a humble believer. As Byrd’s states in the last paragraph of her review, “After serving up a convicting gut check on intellectual pride, spiritual pride, selfish ambition, and pride in your giftedness, Farley offers up the most powerful part of his book: Hope for proud Christians. This is where he really brings our pride issues to the cross, to the One who was humbled in our place. He explains how Jesus atoned for our pride, that His life and death motivates us to pursue humility, how in love He helps us to grow in humility and that this good news should completely astound us! That’s gospel-powered humility.”
I highly recommend this book on a subject that is rarely preached on today—humility. It is at the heart and core of the gospel message. As Jesus humbled Himself to the will of His Father, so in like manner must we do the same to live a life centered on God, on others, and not on ourselves. From humility sprouts the fruit of the Spirit–“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). The Message Bible states those same verses like this: “But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”
So if, as Farley states on the back cover of his book, you’ve been thinking of humility as a “weakness in a culture that prizes self-esteem and validation,” think again. “Far from being a weakness, humility is the crucial virtue.” This book will show you just “how much humility does matter . . . and what we can begin to do about it.”
Let me ask you a question. Do you consider yourself to be Christian? If so, do you know what “will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8)? The Apostle Peter tells us clearly in his first chapter (the first of three very important chapters we need to heed) of his second letter–2 Peter. Let’s read what he had to say in 2 Peter 1:3-11:
“3His (Jesus Christ) divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
“5For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
“10Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Now let me ask you a second question. Do you really want to “participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (I Peter 1:4b)? If you are more inclined to live life on your own terms and desires while professing a faith in Jesus Christ, you might want to stop right here and examine your true motives. If your faith is in things you can see, it is not true faith. Your faith must be anchored in Jesus Christ, the only true way to salvation.
*to our faith, add goodness;
*to our goodness, add knowledge;
*to our knowledge, add self-control;
*to self-control, add perseverance;
*to perseverance, add godliness;
*to godliness, add brotherly kindness;
*to brotherly kindness, add love.
Of the seven attributes listed above, the first one, “goodness,” can trip us up at the outset. Goodness is often mixed up with “good works,” and a lot of folks think they can work their way to heaven by doing good works—but they can’t. We can only receive salvation through faith in Jesus Christ—not by anything that we do or accomplish on our own. While it is true that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:16-20), we must first come to Jesus Christ in faith not because of anything we have done, but because of what He did on the cross. We cannot earn our way to heaven through good works. Note also that we are to “add” goodness to our faith. Therefore, our faith in Jesus Christ must already be established. And it is our faith in Jesus Christ that propels us to do the works that He would have us to do.
The attribute of “goodness” is internal—it is who we are at the core of our being that makes itself evident outwardly in how we respond to others—it is genuine; whereas “good works” is external–what we “do”–which could come from selfish motives such as trying to impress others or earning a place in heaven (which cannot be done). Genuine “goodness” comes after faith, and instills in us kindness, benevolence; it builds good character and makes us trustworthy, and we become generous with others—treating others well (even our enemies). It is the very character of Jesus Christ living in us that produces these qualities of goodness. We cannot produce them on our own. We may try, but we’ll fall woefully short.
To goodness we are to add “knowledge.” Because our faith is grounded in Jesus Christ, our knowledge also comes from Him. And the source of that knowledge comes from the Bible. We must be grounded and established in the Bible on a daily basis. That is where we learn how to live wisely and not be tossed “to and fro” by all the temptations in the world. We learn to stand up for what is right, even if we end up standing alone. We don’t follow the crowd, but stick close the Source of our strength (Jesus Christ). There are all kinds of “knowledge” out there, but the knowledge to live a life that is pleasing to God is found in the Bible.
To knowledge we are to add “self-control.” I think most of us are aware of our shortcomings in this area. For example, America ranks #1 in the world for obesity. Our excesses are killing us, whether those excesses are in food, alcohol, drugs, illicit sex, and that list goes on and on. Now remember we are building on faith, and we’ve already added knowledge. It’s that knowledge that will help us in the area of “self-control.” Just saying “no” is not enough. Start by putting on the armor of God every morning (Eph. 6:10-18) to be armed for the battle you will face throughout your day.
To self-control we are to add “perseverance.” Ah, “there’s the rub,” as Hamlet said in his soliloquy, “To Be or Not To Be” (Shakespeare). Perseverance—enduring—is where we fall flat on our faces many times. It’s where the rubber meets the road. It’s where the fainthearted turn back. It’s where, as the Newsboys sang in their song, “Stay Strong,” “sin becomes cliché” (YouTube Video is at the end of this post). It’s where we make excuses for our behaviors (read that as “sins”) that we just don’t want to give up. It’s where the truth of our convictions become evidently clear to a watching world. As Heb. 12:1-3 clearly states: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (listed in Hebrews 11), let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance [emphasis mine] the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” [emphasis mine].
To perseverance add “godliness.” If you’ve made it this far, you’ll know that your perseverance will add godliness because it is Jesus Christ who has brought you this far, and the only godliness we will ever have comes from him and not anything in ourselves.
To godliness add “brotherly kindness.” Can you see now how this walk of faith builds itself up—one building block after another? First we started with faith at the very core, then added goodness, then knowledge, then self-control, and if you’ve stuck with it that far, perseverance which in turn gives you the godliness that only comes from Jesus. With all of that being built up in you, you can now express genuine brotherly kindness to others, including your enemies, because the focus has been taken off of yourself and you’re clearly running the race as Jesus intended.
And to brotherly kindness, we are to add the most important attribute on this list—“love.” I Corinthians 13, known as the “Love” chapter, states at the end, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” We started out with “faith” and ended up with “love”—the kind of love that is from God which we are now able to extend to others–in fact, to the rest of world. It’s the kind of love that sent Jesus to the cross on our behalf—true, genuine, sacrificial love.
Peter concluded this section by stating, “But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:9-11).
“For if you do these things, you will never fall . . . .”
So let’s go out there and run this race.
YouTube Video: “Stay Strong” by the Newsboys
Photo credit here