I was asked to write a piece about my Christian commitment. If any of you have any opinions on content, tone, style, etc., I’d love to hear it. Thanks!
Statement of Christian Commitment
My commitment to Christ would be irrelevant were it not for Christ’s commitment to me. Jesus’ commitment is more than vague feelings of regard for me and my fellow creatures. His commitment of love – to the Father and to us – cost him his life. From before his birth in Bethlehem, from the moment (whether “moment” from the divine perspective represents temporal or merely a logical point) that the Son did not “count equality with God something to be grasped,” he constantly gave himself for us through his years of human growth and maturation.
Jesus was not motivated by our inherent qualities and goodness. He was not attracted by my attempts at commitment. His motivation was love. His love was strong enough to take him through the normal trials of humanity. If I were “in very nature God,” I don’t think I would have done that. Surely there would have been an easier way. But that wasn’t all. His love also took him through rejection by his closest friends at his darkest moment. Because of love he humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. Fortunately for us, what the world and the powers of darkness intended for evil, he overcame in his resurrection. It is in the commitment of his very life to me, that my commitment to Jesus finds its substance and meaning.
The odd thing is that when he came into the world as a human, Jesus was not invading foreign territory. He entered the very world that had been made through him. He came to the very people that that been chosen as God’s instrument of salvation for all peoples. But just as sin and brokenness had come into the world and infiltrated all its dimensions, sin and brokenness also infected his people Israel. Israel was doubly chosen, as it were, to take upon itself as a people the sin of the world, while simultaneously serving as God’s instrument of blessing to the world. Israel broke under the load. Without shock or surprise, Jesus came not merely to Israel but from Israel and, from the larger point of view, as Israel, bearing the sin of the world in a way Israel could not, and fulfilling in his life, death and resurrection, God’s intention to bless all of creation.
While we often consider the salvation Jesus brings merely in terms of its benefit for humans, his intent was to restore all of creation. The brokenness caused by sin consisted not only in my broken relationship with God, but also my broken relationships with others, creation itself – even my relationship with myself. We sinners feel the degrading effects of sin in our own minds and bodies. As God’s appointed stewards over creation, we’ve infected the natural world. Paul describes the world as inarticulately groaning for Jesus to complete his work of salvation.
So let’s see. We’ve messed up ourselves and God’s world. God had to come and fix things himself. Of course that makes a long story short. The bible tells us of God coming to people time and again, and those people, pretty much without exception, going the wrong way. Yet God hasn’t given up on us. Beyond bringing us salvation – a restored relationship with himself, and a restored relationship with people (in the context of the Body of Christ, the church) – God invited us – me! – to be involved in his work of salvation. In fact, it looks like that work can even be seen as part of salvation.
We humans have a saying, “If you want it done right, do it yourself.” The bible is clear that God doesn’t think that way. Paul, who described himself as “chief of sinners,” one saved by grace through faith, spoke of that very grace being what made him the apostle to the Gentiles. Whether this conviction derived from personal revelation, his experience of grace, or his recollection of the word of God through Ananias at his conversion, we know not. But we do know that his apostleship, his “sent-ness,” echoed that of Jesus. Though not present when Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you,” he seems to have heard those words and taken them to heart.
I can imagine the joy Paul felt as he responded to the call of God. Proclaiming the word of God is an essential part of my calling, my commitment to Christ. Like Paul, preaching Jesus is not something I chose for myself. Jesus chose me, no, I have to use a stronger word (like Paul in I Corinthians 9:16), he compelled me to preach.
Paul’s call, however, went beyond preaching, beyond even what we would call evangelization. When Ananias took the message of God’s call to Paul, the commission included, “I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” That’s not what we tell our new converts and church members, is it? “Give your life to Christ and go to heaven when you die! Have inner peace and tranquility! Experience love beyond your highest imagination! Receive the right to serve on church committees!” Do we add, “By the way, the Christian life includes suffering?” Not a good sales pitch is it? Hard to believe it’s in God’s very first message to Paul. Instead of driving him away, I think even at this point in his young life in Christ he’d unwittingly echo Peter, “Lord, where else would I go? You alone have the words of life.”) Paul took the words to heart.
Strangely enough, Paul didn’t think the words were peculiar to him. He told the Philippians later, “It has been granted unto us not only to believe in him but to suffer for him.” “Believe in him,” we’ll take any day. But suffer for him? Why on earth would I want to do that? By Paul’s account, it seems that this isn’t something new, something God has come up with to put us through our motions. Jesus went first. So when we embrace suffering, when we embrace the brokenness and pain of the world, we’re following Jesus (Phil. 2:5-9). Paul certainly sees himself following the pattern of Jesus (Phil. 3).
I’d like to be able to dismiss this as lunatic ravings, saying with Festus, “You are out of your mind, Paul. Too much learning has driven you insane!” But the call to suffering isn’t unique to Paul. We find the same message in I Peter. The call we see to a sedate life of research in apologetics (I Peter 3:15) is really mere a prolegomenon to willing suffering. When you follow Jesus in this broken world, you will suffer. When the world sees you suffering as a Christian, it won’t get it. People will stare, they’ll point. They’ll even ask questions. When they do, be sure you’re prepared to give them a reason for the hope you have. He’s not talking merely about a hope of going to heaven when we die, but a hope that sustains us in the midst of suffering.
But then maybe Peter is just as zany as Paul. Out in the sun too much chasing fish, you know. But neither Paul nor Peter are original here. Both are taking up the message of Jesus, the one who said, “If anyone wants to follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Jesus’ original audience knew what crosses were for. They had no way to hear this except as a call to suffering.
Just how far ought we to take this? Ought we go the way of Ignatius of Antioch and practically throw ourselves at the first person willing to throw us to the ravening beasts? I don’t see that in scripture. What I do see, are people following Jesus in a world unfriendly to him and his ways. I, like Jesus, am called to go to that world and reclaim it and its citizens for the Kingdom of God. Some folks won’t like that. I believe there are non-human powers out there that won’t like it either. Just as there are consequences of sin beyond this world, there are consequences in this world when we join Jesus in his mission of reclamation. Because he went first, blazing the trail, defeating the powers of sin, death and hell, we can follow in his wake and hang on to his coat tails. His promise is that all who believe in him will have life – life beyond measure in this world, and on into eternity. I believe it’s worth my while to entrust my life and livelihood to him.