The Cross Walk: Chapter 1-- Be Happy

    
 

 

    A large fast food outlet would have consumers believe that they just want to see them smile. Their advertising campaign implies they will go the extra mile to make sure that happens. Face it- the only thing that will make them smile is to see you pull a few more bucks out of your wallet. 
    Our culture is based upon happiness and funny little smiley faces.  Other retailers want you to “unwrap a smile” or “just go home happy tonight.”  One fried chicken chain claims their food can make your “mouth feel happy.”  A large car rental company wants its patrons to “drive happy.”  The “happiest place on earth” is commonly thought to exist in Florida at the house of a mouse.  A mega American company which produces, among other things, soft drinks, asserts they are “the joy of cola.”

     Millions of dollars are spent annually upon pleasure and smile makers.   We look for happiness in an annual vacation blowout or a new car or perhaps something as simple as an evening of entertainment and good food.  We sing a light melody—“Don’t worry, be happy!”  Comedy clubs and comics are a multi-million dollar business.  Each evening we set aside a period of time and label it “happy hour.”  Yes, we search for happiness and we are temporarily satisfied; sadly, it only lasts for a little while.  We settle for mere happiness when our Creator wants us to know joy.

     We even casually toss around the word joy.  Head to the nearest book store and find several books, videos, and audio tapes about joy—the joy of cooking, camping, travel, and the joy of sex to name just a few.  For those with interest in a particular hobby or feature, it is quite reasonable to believe there might be some satisfaction and joy found in them.  Sadly enough this joy is just for today and holds no eternal property.  Today is here and then so quickly gone.  It brings to mind the gorgeous long stem roses I bought my wife last week.  She was thrilled and so happy with the gift. Just yesterday I threw out the remains of a once center-of-attention bouquet.  What was yesterday’s highlight is today’s job for the men who work the garbage truck.  All the consuming effort and resources, which went into the gift, is over in a few moments, so too is this life.  But eternity is forever; unending.  Spiritual matters will never lose their value.

     God’s design for each life is capable of providing a complete joy and satisfaction for this life and beyond.  It all begins with the joy of obedience—first of all being submissive to His offer of grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ and then learning to obediently model Him and follow Him.

     Through the ages the gospel of God’s grace has been muddled and confused by the enemy of man’s soul.  The Bible is clear—the gospel message is one centered on God’s grace.  It is not a message of doing.  It is not a call for one to clean up one’s life and somehow try to become pleasing and acceptable to God.  Nor is it a message of man earning or deserving the forgiveness of God.  Most certainly it is not a message of religious and moral acts and ceremonies.  The Bible’s message in Ephesians 2 could not be clearer—“For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no man should boast” (verses 8 and 9).

     In other words there is not a thing any man or woman can or must do to receive eternal life and purpose for here and now—we do not commit or promise anything.  We do not bargain with God.  Often one may hear a witness invite a hearer to commit his life to Christ and be saved.  Man is incapable of committing or promising anything; all the commitment was accomplished by God at Calvary where the sinless, perfect Lord Jesus Christ “became sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

     The resurrected Lord Jesus Christ’s invitation to sinful man is “Come to Me” just the way you are (Matthew 11:28 – 30) because He has the exclusive ability and right to forgive us, change us, and make us His own (John 1:12).  The setting of this Matthew 11 invitation is interesting.  There Jesus is talking to some very religious people who were weighed down with the pressure and burdens of their belief.  He said, “Come because it is only I who is able to forgive and free you.”  Again, the Scripture is quite clear when it proclaims every one, without exception, is sinful—religious or not—and unable to please or appease God (Romans 3:23; 6:23).  We were each born with the want-to to sin.  Left to our own devices we are forever hopelessly and helplessly lost.  Paul explained it by saying we are “without God in this world” (Ephesians 2:12).  Without God man is empty and void.

     Since man is incapable of bridging the gulf between himself and the perfectly righteous God and unable to fix the problem—God in Christ Jesus made the way for life, forgiveness, satisfaction, contentment, and joy.  Sin demanded a sacrifice, it could not go unpunished because “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).  Therefore, at the cross Jesus shed His own innocent, holy blood to atone for man’s guilt.  “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of One the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).  Jesus, who is God and perfectly sinless, paid the price for man’s sinfulness.

     Since man was unable to save himself, God, because of His great love (Jeremiah 31:3) and grace, bought man’s redemption and now offers it as His gift.  This is grace.  There is nothing of self—all is of God.  The living Lord Jesus has brought everything to our relationship with God, man brings nothing because he has nothing to bring, he is spiritually and morally bankrupt.

     Here is where joy and meaning begins.  One must come to the realization of personal sin and guilt, arrive at the point of helplessness, and receive by faith God’s gift of hope, forgiveness and life.  It is that simple.  Accept God’s gift of a changed life and become part of His forever family (John 1:12).

     Both Paul and Peter refer to this in their New Testament writings (Romans 1:5; 16:26; 1 Peter 1:2; 2:8; 4:17) as obedience to the gospel or to the faith.  Only God’s plan of salvation for His creation has the power and authority of bringing to one’s life meaning, satisfaction, and joy—an abundance, a fullness (John 10:10b).  Yes, here is where the joy of obedience begins.

    If you have never settled this issue of sin and separation with God, why not do it now?  Why not by faith come as you are right now to the living Lord Jesus.  He lived, died, and rose again so you too might live.  He alone is able to save you from an eternity of separation from God and judgment, making your life complete and whole.  He is the victor, the conqueror of sin and death.  “He who has the Son, has life and he who does not have the Son of God does not have life but the wrath of God abides on him” (1 John 5:11, 12).

     Receiving Christ by faith is what the Bible identifies as being born again.  John 3 records an interesting conversation Jesus had with a very religious man.  There we learn that trusting the Lord Jesus for salvation is like being born all over again.  Everything is new and fresh, it is a new beginning, a clean slate.  Paul wrote that “old things passed away; [and] new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  In succeeding chapters many of these changes will be discussed

     For now keep in mind this primary idea—from the point of one’s new birth the Heavenly Father looks at His spiritual babes for family resemblance.  Much as a proud new parent looks at his child to discover resemblance, so our Heavenly Father expects to see similarity in His children.  He desires we should look like Him, act, and reason like Him, and possesses the same values He has.  This resemblance deepens and becomes more distinct as we learn more about Him.  The more we understand about the Lord the more our character becomes like Him.  The more we learn about the values of obedience the more joy and satisfaction there will be in this life.


    Granted, there is much to know and learn about our gracious Lord and Master.  The more seasoned and mature believer still has much to understand.  On this side of heaven we can never come to the place of complete knowledge because our God is beyond comprehension.  So how do we start to know and understand God; where do we begin?  The answer may lie in a very simple illustration of a cross and two circles.     
 

     As a young person eager to learn more about Christ and this life He designed for His own, God in His grace crossed my path with a dedicated pastor-teacher (Rich Wager is now with the Lord) who patiently and faithfully taught using this illustration.  Through the years God has enabled me to develop it, finding great insights into this life of obedience and joy.

     This way of life is simple yet profound, it is simple enough to comprehend for humans with limited capacity and resources, yet profound because it is divine and eternal.  Hallelujah!  This is grace.  Divine design calls for trust and obedience.  Jesus taught, “My sheep hear My voice and they follow Me” (John 10:27).  We are to learn about the character of Christ and mimic Him.

     In our culture, obedience has a bad rap—even among born-again believers.  Somehow the enemy has sold us a bill of goods which has convinced us that obedience is nothing less than confinement and burdensome.  Rather, the Bible says when we know and obey the truth it is liberating and brings to our life His joy and completeness.  Obedience to God is the very best way to show the world that we believe.

     Early on Christian parents must begin to teach their children the joy and blessing of obedience.  Too many parents reinforce the enemy’s lie as they exercise their form of “discipline” upon their youngsters attaching it to some plot laced with guilt, treats, and abuse.  It is no wonder many grow up thinking obedience is some necessary negative part of life.  We play the game of life by these kinds of rules.  I’ll obey to get something for myself, or I’ll be obedient to avoid the hurtful consequences.  This is very poor motivation for obedience.

     By our life choices and values we demonstrate that somehow we believe our perfect, loving Heavenly Father enjoys tightening the screws and watching us squirm.  We think we should obey because He is sitting in heaven just waiting to strike us in order to make our life miserable. So we bear up under this kind of pressure and enslavement, never knowing the joy and liberty a life of obedience brings to a believer.

     There are three types or levels of obedience.  First, there is obedience motivated by personal gain—what’s in it for me.  A second level involves obedience so God will not strike me down with some horrible life situation.  These are very miserable excuses for Christian living.  However, there is a third level of obedience, which honors God and brings pure joy to the believer—obedience simply prompted because we love Him and long to please Him.  Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).

     On every front this is superior to all other conduct.  This latter choice encourages a lifestyle of, “Father I will obey You because I love You and I desire to please You more than anything else.”  It does not insist that we understand everything or have mastery over every situation but rather is fostered by our trust in a kind and all wise Father.  Further discussion of the faith life will be handled in chapter nine.

     The first two levels only have the power to produce outward changes—a form of godliness, a counterfeit joy and contentment.  Many believers are satisfied with this because they are personally unaware of a deeper, more intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus.  King Saul of ancient Israel is a perfect example of this.  He felt if he could just somehow do this and do that God would then be pleased.  It did not matter to Saul if he had to cut corners a bit to achieve his end result.  Through His servant Samuel our gracious God explained to Saul, “Look son and please understand that obedience is better than sacrifice.”  More insight about this is found in 1 Samuel 15.  In effect, God is not as concerned with man’s outward form and function as He is with the inner man—the heart condition.  Our obedience to God is more important than our sacrifice.  If, before God, we have an obedient spirit, our sacrifice will be pleasing to Him.  When our heart is right with God it will affect our sacrifice.

     James, one of the New Testament writers, also communicates this truth, “So get rid of all that is wrong in your life, both inside and outside, and humbly be glad for the wonderful message we have received, for it is able to save our souls as it takes hold of our hearts.  And remember it is a message to obey, not just to listen to.  So don’t fool yourselves” (James 1:21, 22 TLB).  Like salvation, God longs to do a work within which will produce outward results.  Man tends to reverse that process, always working on the outward actions hoping to eventually change the heart. This way does not work—it cannot produce lasting change and supply joy, satisfaction, and contentment.

     God deeply desires His children possess a growing knowledge and understanding of His divine design for living.  Unfortunately, too many settle for a mere existence.  Therefore, it is important each born-again person understands by faith how to face each challenge and difficulty and in Christ be the victor and not the victim.  Knowing and applying the doctrines of Scripture to life situations and temptations will facilitate triumph over our enemy who would ravage and devastate us (1 Peter 5:8).  Here therefore, is where the simple illustration of Figure One is very helpful.

     By way of a brief explanation let us lay some important groundwork for the subject of this book.  The cross in Figure One represents the moment when one acknowledges one’s sin and hopeless condition understanding that because of His grace, God alone in Christ Jesus offered an eternal rescue.  At that point one is born again, the start of life abundant and eternal. 

     The two circles teach us about living this life and how to know His victory and joy.  The top circle depicts a born-again believer’s unique position in Christ.  Pauline epistles teach that because of God’s grace and mercy the one who has been born again belongs eternally to God.  From the moment, the very instant of conversion believers are made part of God’s forever family.  “There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  Quite often Paul and other Scripture authors included in their writings the important two-word phrase, “in Christ.”  It is very significant because there is where born-again believers are found (John 10:28, 29).  No matter what may come into a Christian’s life, what they may do or decide, their relationship to God is unchangeable—believers are His forever.

     The bottom circle is an expression of the day by day, moment by moment life race each one is called to run (Hebrews 12:1, 2).  Some have described it as where the rubber meets the road—our daily walk.  The life He calls His children to live is lived in a very real world.  It is a world full of disappointment, danger, and death.  God knows this, for it is the same world, to which Jesus came and was victor over.  In spite of this world, God says that believers can know His truth and be free to live like Him.

     Just as God has a plan and purpose for each one, likewise our enemy too has a plan for each.  He desires God’s people to be defeated and discouraged and will use the things of this life to bring us down.  God has made a way; He calls us to a life of joy through obedience, which is motivated by our love for Him and sustained by the indwelling Holy Spirit.  In the pages ahead we will learn more about this spiritual adventure and the joy God supplies to His obedient ones.

 

Copyright © 2010 by J. Michael Fox

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