Need a Little Jesus in Your Life?January 15, 2013
Recently I’ve heard a number of pastors and Christian leaders and seen a number of churches making statements similar to the following:
“You need Jesus in your life.”
“You’ll find that life is easier when Jesus is a part of it.”
“God wants to be a part of your life.”
I understand the sentiment of these statements and what is motivating them. I fear, however, that statements like these continue to reflect a predominant tendency in evangelical culture to attempt to maintain the status quo of Western materialism and individualism while synergizing this defective worldview with Christianity. It seems what the above statements communicate, whether intended or not, is that a person can continue living “their life” and simply “add God” to it to bring greater happiness, comfort, or personal fulfillment. One would be hard-pressed to find such a notion in the New Testament.
The New Testament picture of faith is not that God somehow becomes “a part” of an individual’s life as a new acquaintance, friend, or divine-helper. In fact, it is drastically different. Two of the predominant pictures are that 1) believers surrender their life to follow the pattern exemplified by Jesus or 2) the life of the believer becomes imbued with the life of God. Though examples are replete throughout the NT, a few will suffice to illustrate the point that faith in the NT is envisioned in terms of “radical” or “total” commitment.
Many of the most striking examples of this expectation are given by Jesus himself. In Matthew’s Beatitudes, it is those who are persecuted for righteousness and insulted who are blessed and will receive a great reward (Matt. 5:1-12/Luke 6:20-23; also 10:21-22; John 17:6-23 expresses a similar sentiment). In Matthew 7, Jesus, after his famous “knock… seek… ask” statement, asserts that the gate that leads to life is narrow, the journey difficult, and only few will find it (Matt. 7:13-14/Luke 13:23-24). In Matthew 8, Jesus asserts that following him even takes priority over ensuring that one’s father has a proper burial (Matt. 8:18-22/Luke 9:57-62). In Mark 8:34-38 (also Matt. 16:24-27/Luke 9:23-26/John 12:25), Jesus states that his followers must deny themselves, take up their cross (embrace death!) and follow him. In Luke 18:18-30 (cf. Luke 14:33; also Matt. 19:16-22/Matt 10:17-22), Jesus commands the rich ruler to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor in order to be his follower. There is no call to make Jesus a part of the disciple’s life, no joint possession of the life of the believer. To be a follower of Jesus, by Jesus’ own description, is to die to the life of the self and embrace the life of the Son of God, a life which was marked by suffering and rejection.
A second image used with some frequency in the New Testament is that of the believer being filled with the life or presence of God. In Gal 2:20, in the midst of Paul’s famous discussion of justification, he states, quite famously, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” Again in 1 Cor. 6:20, Paul relays that the believer’s body is the temple of the Spirit of God, and they are not their own. In 2 Cor. 4:10, echoing Gal. 2:20, Paul, describing the constant persecution that these earliest believers experienced states that their endurance of suffering results in the life of Jesus being “made visible in our mortal body.” Finally, in Col. 3:3, Paul states that the life of the believer “is hidden with Christ in God.” Throughout these examples we see that the life of God, through Christ and the indwelling Spirit of God, is present within the believer. They do not possess their life or body but, having surrendered themselves to God, are filled with God’s presence and “alivened” with the life of Christ.
In both of the above images discussed, the believer does not simply make or invite Jesus to be a part of their life. They, quite differently, give their life over to Jesus that the life of Jesus may be manifest in and through them. The point here goes beyond mere semantics. The life of faith portrayed in the New Testament is one of radical commitment, not half-hearted syncretism. The Christian life is one of self-sacrifice and self-giving, as embodied in the fullest measure possible by the Lord Jesus Christ himself.
- A. Chadwick Thornhill,
Chair of Theological Studies, Instructor of Religion