The human heart is resistant to change. We don’t like surprises. We like to be able to predict outcomes. But God doesn’t operate that way. He doesn’t care for the mentality of control freaks like me.
Yesterday, I heard a great sermon at Core Creek Community Church delivered by pastor John Stange. This month he has been focusing on a series entitled “How Do I…?” which looks at how people can approach common issues from another standpoint. The message this Sunday was about embracing the changes God wants to make in your life.
The Lord did not save you to keep you in the same condition as He found you. The goal here is SANCTIFICATION and spiritual growth. It is through the experiences (sometimes painful) that He has ordained for us that we can achieve this. Stange suggests that if it were up to us to choose our own destinies, to control how our own lives would be orchestrated, we would certainly be less apt to choose the more difficult road. In fact, we’d always choose to live life the easy, more comfortable way. But sometimes the easy way isn’t always the best way. God knows us better than we even know ourselves.
Stop Embracing Complacency
A conversation begins in Luke 18:18-21 between Jesus and a wealthy ruler…
A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”
“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
We are not told much about this ruler, but from the entire passage we can determine that he was very rich and held some level of authority in the community. This ruler was already in good spirits when he met Jesus. He was boasting about his accomplishments and was looking to Jesus to confirm his good deeds here and hopefully in Heaven. He was looking to be honored or patted on the back like the people who honored him already did. So this man was used to being revered, respected and validated in his own life.
Stange offers up a powerful thought—what if you were told you CANNOT keep any of the ten commandments? What if you were guilty of breaking ALL of them in one way or another—whether it was visibly or in your heart? How would that affect you, if you believed that it was through keeping the commandments that you were to get into Heaven?
This is a common misconception of Christianity—that salvation is achieved through keeping all of the ten commandments. But the truth is, we can’t. Our sinful nature gets in the way. We can’t help it. We will fail one way or another. But Jesus kept the commandments for us. And if we believe in Him, then His righteousness is credited towards our account.
This notion reveals something about the true nature of our hearts, which in Ephesians 2:1-3 says that by nature, we are in fact, enemies of God…
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
Going back to the passage in Luke 18, this ruler was in the most dangerous spot of life—complacency. He would’ve been comfortable staying large and living in charge. In his eyes, he had done nothing wrong. He was living a great life with the wealth and power he had accumulated, and all he really wanted here was Jesus to tell him just how awesome he was.
STOP EMBRACING Your Idols
John Calvin once said that the human heart is an idol factory. We embrace everything else but Christ for our contentment—whether it is wealth, prestige, power or relationships to mention a few. In the case of the ruler, he embraced his wealth and Jesus called him out on it in Luke 18:22-25…
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Jesus chose to use the word “lack” because He knew it would resonate with this man. This ruler had never lacked anything in his life before. But what’s up with this “to-do” list? If salvation isn’t achieved by works alone and rather through God’s grace, why is this man being asked to do something first before achieving Heaven?
Jesus is trying to illustrate the lack of belief this man had by attacking his IDOL. And we often react negatively to change, especially if it interferes with our own comfortable world, even if it comes directly from the Word of God Himself. It states in Mark 4:18-19…
Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.
Whatever we refuse to give up in our lives is in effect, our new god. Jesus was asking the ruler to “Get rid of your god and come follow Me, and I ‘your good teacher’ will become your new god.”
If we arrange our schedules around our own comfort level and not where He might be leading us, or we choose to use our time differently than what He might be instructing us to do, then we might be putting more trust and worship in our idols instead of Him.
Start Embracing the Priorities of God’s Kingdom
What is it that God wants you to stop embracing so that you can finally embrace Him? Stange suggests that we need to start actually referring to these things as idols in our lives because that is really what they are. Anything that takes us away from fully worshipping God is an idol. The conversation continues in Luke 18:26-30…
Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”
Oh, Peter. Always the outspoken disciple. Why does the Lord have him quoted all the time? Even though we might laugh at Peter because of the seemingly stupid things he utters, he often says what we are probably thinking in these moments. Peter is patting himself on the back here. In the last two verses, Jesus is conveying the point that “yes Peter, the Lord notices everything, so you don’t have to verbalize it or call attention to it.”
But these last two verses can also be misunderstood, as if Jesus is saying to abandon your family. No, Jesus is inviting us to see things through the lens of the Kingdom, instead of looking at things like they are our possessions, according to Stange.
The things we possess are the Lord’s first and foremost, and He can always use them better than we can. Very frequently, He will ask us to let go of the things we hold on to, so that He can give us something much better in exchange. But often times, we want to hold on to the things we can see—but, faith is the assurance of things unseen. As is confirmed in Hebrews 11:1-2…
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.
So we can choose to fight against the changes He makes in our lives or we can respond in faith and recognize that it will in fact, make us better, even though it may not seem like that in our particular season of change.
Stange suggests that we pray to the Lord to strip away our idols so we can recognize that He is indeed enough to meet our needs. After all, it is through these changes that He is enabling us to be more like Christ, but it will always be in our nature to resist it at first.