*By Dave Zuleger. Dave is the lead pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, south campus and a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary.
A Lie About Our Joy
We live in a culture where one of the chief values woven into our reality is personal autonomy and preference. Ours is an age where we are called to “find our truth” and “live our truth” as the way to personal happiness and true life.
But, what if the truth is objective and is found outside of ourselves. What if the truth is found in following Jesus, who is the “Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). What if true life comes not from being the captain of our own ship – free to set sail wherever we please – but instead comes from being totally dependent and obedient and to follow Jesus wherever he leads (cf. John 12:26)? What if our lives are not mainly about personal fame and glory but instead we’re made to find the most fulfillment and flourishing in lives lived to the fame and glory of Christ?
Not An Us vs. Them Issue
Now, many conservative Christians will read the above paragraphs and point to issues where they see this approach to autonomous living happening in the culture-at-large. To some degree, they’d be right to look “out there” and see the dangers of racial individualism. But, we should also realize that we are inundated with autonomous individualistic approaches to life ourselves. We’re indoctrinated and discipled with this idea every time we want something and can find it with “one-click” buying on Amazon.
We are used to getting what we want without much interruption, patience, or input from others. This is simply how we live, at least here in the West. But Christians should pause and ask, are we submitting our lives – our time, talent, and treasure – to Jesus? Are we following him for his fame and glory, even at the cost of our own desires, dreams, and wants? Are we willing to go wherever he tells us – even if it means some interruption and input from others is needed? What if we weren’t meant to be a bunch of individuals at the church? What if we were created for fellowship with the living God and to be a people who fellowship with him together to love each other and advance his cause? (cf. John 13-17)
If we are created to live in loving and gracious relationships with each other, why is there often so much division in the church? You pick your issue: ethnic harmony, gender roles and practices, political persuasion, etc…the list could go on. The church that is supposed to maintain unity is very often marked by disunity.
How can we realign ourselves with this overarching purpose of following Jesus and abiding together in him? How can we corporately follow Jesus in blood-bought unity in ways that will help each other flourish and bring glory to our King?
Reason from the Scriptures to Follow Jesus
I guess what I’m asking is this: how can we come back together to love the Lord our God with all our heart and love each other so that the world will know we are his disciples? Or, to put it more succinctly, how can we love God and love our neighbors for their good and God’s glory? One answer is to go to the Bible and let it point us to Jesus.
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5:39-40)
God has given us his written word (i.e. Scripture), which points to the Living Word (i.e. Jesus. The written word comes to us via the Holy Spirit, as he carried men along (2 Peter 1:21). And the work of the Spirit, and thus the Spirit-inspired word, is to glorify Jesus (John 16:13–14).
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
So, the words of God that are found in the Bible are breathed out by God. And these God-breathed words do some internal work within God’s people and the world. These words come to us, preserved through ages and used continually by the Spirit, in order to pierce into the depths of our souls (cf. Hebrews 4:11-13). God’s word reveals our sin and then puts us back together so we can keep following Jesus in the freedom of glad obedience. The Scriptures teach us, reprove us, correct us, and train us to love God and each other. The Bible equips us for every good work in order that we might display the love of Christ within the church and the world.
The church is the new temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16-17), the body of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 12), and the blood-bought family of God. (cf. Ephesians 2:11-22) . Christ’s church is a people meant to be guided into truth and freedom of glad obedience together as one by the living and active word. So how can we come back together, how can we maintain our unity so that we love God and love our neighbors together? Well, we go to the Bible and let us point us to Jesus and work miracles within us.
Now, we must admit that we all bring our backgrounds and biases to the Scriptures. But, that does not change the truth of the Scriptures. Our biases and backgrounds simply mean we must ask for humility and illumination from the Holy Spirit. We need the Spirit to help us see what’s really in the text. It also means that we must find “safety in a multitude of counselors,” reading the Bible within the community of saints. We are better together, even when it comes to understanding the Bible. But, so often, in our day and age, because we often disagree over how to understand God’s Word, reading the Bible together simply leads to angry fist-shaking and frustration within the church.
Perhaps there’s a better way?
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)