What's Shaping My Life?
This question lodged itself in my mind during our Sunday morning Bible study. "Are Christians in danger of living in a delusion?"
We were discussing the ministry of King Jesus and what it means to follow Him, and we read the statement from John the Baptist in John 1:29, “Behold, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world.”
I asked the group for their thoughts on this wonderful verse, and someone rightly said, “It's a framing of reality.” — It’s what’s most real in the world.
That thought struck me — it gave me great pause. It is a framing of reality! John was telling a fundamental, world-shaping truth. This is what the world is about; Jesus is redeeming the world. This is what Paul means in Ephesians 1:9-10, “...[God] set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him [in Jesus], things in heaven and things on earth.”
These verses, as brief as they are, set the whole world and the whole of our lives into their proper places. The whole world is about Jesus saving it. That’s its deepest meaning. My whole life is meant to be understood in light of Jesus’ saving work on the cross. These things define the terms, the rules, the playing field, and everything else!
What a fantastic thought!
But, what are we doing with this reality?
I asked the group, “Do you think most Christians live like this is reality?”
The silence of the moment answered the question for us.
I think many Christian live with tension — the tension of life in this present world AND life in light of Jesus’ redemption of this world. For many Christians, I think there is a struggle to connect the two.
We live real lives in the world filled with real cares, real struggles, real tensions, and real frustrations. Things pull at us right now: Growing up, getting married, raising babies, working a job, going to school, starting businesses, having friends, enjoying hobbies, etc. Add on to that things like economic ups and downs, political chaos, the LGBTQ revolution, school shootings, abuse, personal sickness, sky-high medical costs…the list goes on and on.
Life in the world is hard, and difficult, and pulls at us in so many ways!
Life in the world can be incredibly overwhelming and so all-consuming that we sometimes fail to connect our temporary earthly lives to greater reality that Jesus is taking away the sins of the world!
Instead of learning where our earthly lives fit in with Jesus' eternal Kingdom plan, we easily become consumed in our little lives, building our little kingdoms, and focused totally on ourselves...
Such a self-centered lifestyle often becomes all-consuming...so consuming that when we attend Church and sit in Bible studies, we're left wondering, how does Jesus fit into my busy life?
But as Christians, the Bible gives us a picture of life that is not consumed by the cares of the world, but a life that is controlled by a crucified and risen Savior Who is redeeming the world. As the Baptist rightly states, “Jesus is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.”
I know from personal experience that the complexity of life in the world can, at times, seem to be at odds with what I find in the Bible.
In the Scriptures—the Psalms in particular—I find a picture of a quiet, pastoral life with God — meditational mountain tops, spiritually invigorating pastures of rest, quiet streams of God’s goodness, and a life overflowing with heavenly serenity and praise to God.
I so long for such a life!
And I think those images are good and right, even when they seem distant and disconnected from the life I’m experiencing in the world.
But it's also important to see that those pastoral images are not at odds with our complex and often chaotic lives in the world.
Because alongside those pastoral pictures of peace are the real struggles of life; the cries of grief and loneliness, the struggles of sin and the flesh, the enemies who seek to devour us; barrenness and loss.
The Bible gives us imagery and language for both the good and bad of life; both the ups and the downs.
We ought to be thankful for that — if we’ll listen, the Bible teaches how to feel and how to express our feelings.
And yet, the hope of Scripture is not just honesty about how hard life is; the Bible doesn’t save us simply by agreeing that life is hard. It agrees about life’s difficulties while pointing us somewhere better…
The Bible always points us to the promise that the Lamb of God is redeeming the world!
The truth of Jesus’ redemption is what gives joy to the joyful times of life;
And understanding Jesus doubles our joys and halves our sorrows. (C.S. Lewis notes the same about true friendship).
The truth of Jesus’ redemption is what gives meaning to our suffering and loss in hardship.
The truth of Jesus’ redemption is what gives meaning to our whole lives.
God did not create to live disconnected from what He's doing, but to be intimately connected—heart, mind, and soul—to everything He's doing!
And so I asked our group the question, “Do you think we Christians are living like that? DO we live like Jesus’ redemption of the world is what frames and gives shape to our lives?”
Are Christians conducting their marriages in light of Jesus taking away the world’s sins?
Are Christians raising their babies and children under the reality of Jesus redeeming the world?
Are Christians starting and running their businesses in light of the gospel promises?
Are Christians engaging in the workplace in light of Jesus taking away sin?
Are Christians participating in politics with the hope of King Jesus redeeming the world?
Are Christians ordering their weekly/monthly/yearly schedules around Jesus’ redeeming the world?
All of these questions are important and have far-reaching implications for our lives, but they are also secondary questions; they all rest on another question that must be asked first.
Are Christians valuing and being shaped by Jesus Himself?
When we hear John the Baptist say that “Jesus is the lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world…,” are we hearing that as a personal promise that I don’t have to go to hell when this life is over, or are we hearing that as, “God has fundamentally changed everything about the world”?
If I hear that statement only as the personal promise that I can avoid hell in the future, it really won’t have much of an effect on me right now. I’ll be thankful for that promise, but I won’t actively be shaped and changed by it right now' nor will I seek to be...
If, on the other hand, I realize that John’s statement really means that God has changed everything…well, then, everything has to change. Everything about me has to change.
In the Shape of the Cross...
The Apostle Paul, throughout his 13 New Testament letters, talks about how everything changes in and through Jesus. We are united with Jesus is His life, death, and resurrection by faith, and that has a definitive effect on our lives.
His theology of the Christian life has come to be known as “Cruciform living” — which means “living in the shape of the cross.”
Paul, along with all the New Testament writers, present a picture of the Christian life that is not merely interested in the resurrection, but a life that is controlled, compelled, and shaped by Jesus' resurrection.
The resurrection is the proof that Jesus takes away the sins of the world!
The fact that Jesus is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world becomes, for the Christian, the single most important and controlling fact of life.
And, while this is not the place to tease out all the applications and implications, we are safe to say that everything about how a Christian thinks and acts is to be bound up in the cross and resurrection of King Jesus.
To speak as Paul does, our lives in Christ are to be Cross-shaped.
What is Cruci-form Living?
While the entire New Testament is the answer to this question, I think we see a condensed pattern offered in Acts 2 as the early Church is forming and finding its nature, shape, and identity. After the Holy Spirit is given in full measure, and the Apostles ministry begins, the New Testament Church is born. Consider with me the pattern described as the early Church is coming into being…
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Devoted: Extremely loyal.
This is the earliest record of the New Testament Church given in the Bible — People heard the gospel Word of Christ preached, God gave faith, the people responded, and the Church was born. And notice what life looked like for these people who understood that Jesus was taking away the sins of the world….
They devoted themselves to the authoritative right teaching of the Bible.
They devoted themselves to the fellowship of the Saints of God.
They devoted themselves to sharing meals together, most importantly the meal of salvation, the Lord’s Supper.
They devoted themselves to prayer: Corporate, familial, and private.
The resurrection of Jesus had made them extremely loyal to Him and to His Church. God has changed everything in Jesus, and God was changing them.
And out of their devotion came a new way of life: A life shaped by the teachings of Christ, the constant presence of other Christians, continual reminders of Christ body and blood for our sins and salvation, and ongoing communion with God. They became people who shared a common way of living, holding all things in common, sharing their earthly goods with one another, spending their days with one another, eating with one another, worshiping with one another.
In other words, the Church was being cruci-formed (verb) in every way. The fact that Jesus was taking away the sins of the world meant that God had changed everything, and everything about them would change along with it. They were becoming “new creations in Christ Jesus” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Has a Delusion Taken Hold?
I have been reflecting on that discussion in our small group ever since Sunday. "Am I living a cross-shaped life? Is my life framed and shaped by the great news that Jesus takes away the sins of the world?"
The reality is that my life is shaped by whatever I am extremely loyal to. I will yes or no to something based upon my loyalties.
These are questions every Christian should be asking.
I can’t help but look at the picture in Acts 2 against the state of many Churches and Christians today—myself included— and wonder, “Has a delusion taken hold?”
Delusion: Something that is falsely or delusively believed or propagated; a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary.
So many Christians seem to live as if the promise of salvation is something we collect at death, and no sooner. "Salvation is a future promise, but not something that helps with things on the ground now." Their lives show little to no evidence that they are being conformed to Jesus.
So many people claim to be Christians while their lives demonstrate loyalty to something else.
As a matter of fact, it seems more and more difficult these days to distinguish between the Church and the world. Has syncretism taken hold in the Church?
If being cruciformed unto Jesus means being extremely loyal to Him, His teachings, His Church, and His mission...am I being cruciformed? Are we?
Is there a devotion to things of God that trumps everything else in my life?
Am I so committed to the Word of God, the ways of God, and the people of God that my life is governed and shaped by these things?
Are my personal and familial choices and priorities shaped by the fact that Jesus is redeeming the world through His Church?
Is my whole life being cruci-formed?
Or…have I fallen prey to the delusion that Jesus’ sacrifice is a great promise for my future, but has little impact and meaning right now?