Friday, December 09, 2016

Following Jesus #3

Following JesusThis post continues reading through the New Testament devotional book, Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship, by N. T. Wright. The second half of the book deals with important biblical concepts for living the Christian life.  I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. I read this book before, but felt like I needed the encouragement of reading it again. I hope you benefit from it too.

The God Who Raises the Dead

Wright now moves into subject studies based on Romans 12.1-2. In the first one he discusses the implications of the resurrection in terms of a "surprising command", "sudden crisis," and a "surpassing God." The surprising command is impossible to keep, "Do not fear." The way God breaks through our fears is by bringing us through crises where we go beyond our own capacity and we see the surpassing resources, love and mercy of God. This is how he brings us to maturity and prepares us to rule with Him.

The resurrection of Jesus issues the surprising command: don’t be afraid; because the God who made the world is the God who raised Jesus from the dead, and calls you now to follow him...Believing in this God means believing that it is going to be all right; and this belief is, ultimately, incompatible with fear. 1 John 4.18, 58

The message of the gospel, the message that the true God is the God who raises the dead, can and does go that deep; and that wherever you may be, and whenever you may hit that rock-bottom sense of despair, the gospel can reach you there too. Indeed, that is where it specializes in reaching people. 2 Corinthians 1.8-9, 60

The true God gives new life, deeper, richer life, and helps us towards full mature humanness, by prising open the clenched fists of our fears in order to give his own life and love into our empty and waiting hands. Psalm 116.8, 61

The Mind Renewed

In this sermon Wright uses the story of Naaman, Gehazi and Elisha to illustrate the message of Romans 12.1-2. An encounter with God causes Naaman to change his thinking about God and thus, change his thinking about what he is doing with his life. The renewing of the mind is this process of knowing God better, recognizing that one's life does not match what God wants, confessing this and working with God to fix it. This is a normal part of the Christian life. Gehazi is a picture of a man moving the opposite way. God, through Elisha, rewards Naaman, but Gehazi gets the consequences of his choices. The renewal of the mind is a lifelong process of encounter with God, compromise, confession and growth.

Our thinking is to be turned inside out when we realize that the true God raised Jesus from the dead and thereby announced to the whole world that he is the life-giving God, the God of generous love, the God who takes the metaphorical leprosy of the world and deals with it. Let the true God renew your mind as you worship and follow his risen Son. Romans 12.1-2, 2 Kings 5, 67

Did Elisha say to Naaman: ‘You’re a half-hearted compromiser, you want your bread buttered on both sides at once, you’re talking out of both corners of your mouth’? No. He said, ‘Go in peace.’ That is the word of God to those who are starting to bring their thinking about God and the world into the straight line that flows from the revelation of the saving love of God in Christ. It is the word of God to those who are starting to follow Jesus, and want to do so more and more. Romans 12.2, 2 Kings 5, 68

The sign of a Naaman, of a glass half full, of a step towards the light, is the sense that in the resurrection the true God has revealed himself to be your God, and has called you to worship him, to straighten out your thinking with him at the centre, and to follow this Jesus along the way. You may have a long way to go. You will have to live for a while ‘no longer at ease’. The change in your life may not be as dramatic as Naaman’s. But if that’s where you start you can take Elisha’s words to Naaman as God’s words to you: ‘Go in peace.’ And in that peace, with your mind renewed by the risen Jesus, start to think straight as you follow him. Romans 12.2, 2 Kings 5, 70

Temptation

The big point in this chapter on temptation is that temptation uses what is inside you to draw you away from God much more than what is outside you. It will start on the outside, but the flesh, "the human being in rebellion against God, with its pride, self-sufficiency and lies, takes something in God's good world and misuses and abuses it. Even the Satan started out as one of God's servants. The way to beat temptation (a whole life process) is to focus on God's love and sufficiency, and through prayer, fellowship etc, grow into the person God wants you to be.

A serious Christian will realize that sin comes not in the thing itself, but in its wrong use; not in a part of God’s good creation, but in the attempt to use that good creation as though it were our toy, or our trash. 74

The answer to temptation is to find out, perhaps painfully and over a long period, what it is about you that is at the moment out of shape, distorted, in pain. Then one may begin to find out, again often painfully, how it is that God longs to help you to get what is distorted back into focus; to get what is crooked back into shape; to get what is bruised and hurt back into health. 75

To know that I am loved, loved deeply, through and through, gives me the security to reject the ways of pride and fear; to reject the false alternatives of Peter Pan and Eeyore; to choose the way of self-denial which is also the way of self-affirmation, and to reject the way of self-hatred which leads not to holiness but to despair. To know this love, and to act out of answering love, is one of the central features of following Jesus. 76

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