(Read Part 1 & 2 of the article ‘How Then Should We Live? – As Christ Lived’ and ‘Living the Gospel’ below)
3. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus”
“Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus. But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honour”. John 12:20-26.
“Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day.” John 1:35-39.
One wonders what the Greeks saw. We are not told. But let us make that our plea as well – oh, to see Jesus and learn of Him and follow Him as the early disciples did! We also do no know what those early disciples saw when they went to see where He was living. But whatever it is they saw made them to remain with Him. They remained with Him for the rest of their lives.
But if like the Greeks, someone in our day were to ask us the same question, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus?” What do we have to show? A couple of years ago, a young man who was at our fellowship asked a similar question. He was particularly going through a rough patch in his life. He asked, “I wish God was visible. I wish we could see Him, feel Him and talk to Him in real, even today”. I said to him, “God had appeared once in history in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. There were people who saw Him and wrote about Him. There is no need for God to appear again. But more importantly today, God makes Himself visible through His people, the Church. Church is His body and it is through the Church He makes Himself visible to the world today”. If this is so then, what has the Church to offer to the world today? If people were to ask us to show Jesus or God what can we show them? What does Church mean to most people today? Does it mean a person represented in His people, called the Church? Or does it mean buildings and structures, orders and forms, systems and rituals, programmes and projects, politics, groups and denominations?
One of the purposes of the incarnation of Christ are, that He came to reveal man as much as he came to reveal God and to redeem man. He himself taught that no one can see the Father except him, to whom the Son chooses to reveal (Matthew 11:27). And again in His own words He says that he came not to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). But it is equally clear that Jesus came into the world to live as man was meant to live. Often this is not emphasised sufficiently when talking about His incarnation. From Adam till date, no one ever lived the way man was meant to live except the incarnate Son of God. It is imperative that He lived as man was meant to live, so that He could be their representative and substitute. Is it any wonder then, that the Bible mentions that during the course of His life upon earth there were at least two instances when a voice from heaven was heard saying, ‘This is my beloved Son in Him I am pleased’. And John writes “…God the Father has set His seal on Him.” (6:27). The first of those instances was before Jesus uttered even a single word by way of preaching in public nor had performed a single miracle. Obviously the divine approval of the Son came based on His life as a son at His home with his family and as a carpenter, not as a teacher or as miracle worker.
The genius of Jesus
One of the chief quests of man for centuries has been to explore what the good or virtuous life is. Philosophers of all hues have tried to define man and how he should live. But the genius of Jesus Christ demonstrated and taught such a life in a span of about thirty-three years. One need go no further than Jesus of Nazareth if we wished to learn how we should live as women and men. His life was a gracious and mellifluous combination of devotion and dependence upon God, humility and holiness, service and sacrifice for man. One of the first things that strikes you about the life of Jesus, when you read the gospels is that it was so simple, natural and normal. There was a total lack of pomp or show, and no attempt is made neither by Him nor His disciples nor the writers of the gospels to impress anyone. Even the use of His powers to perform the miracles was so natural and matter-of-fact that there was no attempt to dazzle people with spectacular feats. We do not find Him fretting about the daily need of food, clothes nor any of the insecurities that plague most people. He did not have a place of His own to live yet we do not find in Him any sense of insecurity. In fact He challenged with confidence and contentment one who wanted to follow Him saying, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”(Luke 9: 58). He was neither perturbed nor overwhelmed unduly by attention, adulation nor by ridicule and rejection. He lived above all these, on a totally higher plane.
Gordon McDonald writes, “Maybe this is one of the geniuses of Jesus: He knew when to stop, how to refuse the cocktail of privilege, fame, and applause that distorts one’s ability to think wisely and to master self.” It is no wonder then that He challenged people to follow Him. And those who did then and subsequently through history testify about the power of His life. “God became a man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed, and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think of it the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is as fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation” – J. I. Packer (1926 – )
The call to follow Christ is not a call to join a religion, or even to join an institution or an organisation or a movement. It is a call to a lifestyle like that of the Lord Jesus Christ. This the twelve disciples discovered soon. They followed Him hoping that they were joining a movement to restore the Promised Land to Israel. They were hoping to be in the forefront of the movement and even to occupy positions of power along with Christ. Not until the crucifixion and the resurrection of their Master, did it dawn on them that they were called to a totally different kind of Kingdom – one with no crowns or thrones or boundaries. Not until then, did the manner of His birth, the kind of lifestyle or the manner of His death make any sense to them. They discovered that there would be no forms to conform to nor procedures to learn nor any systems or structures to build, but to live a life of utter abandonment and absolute surrender to His authority. That to be part of His kingdom was to live in relationship with Him and under His Lordship. That to be in this kingdom was a matter of a different lifestyle – one that is totally counter cultural and counter to all that the world stands for. That one consigns all considerations of security, status, dignity and even the quest for daily bread to a life of faith and trust upon Him. That to follow Christ was not a matter of seeking the securities of the world or to pursue the power or the glamour the world promises. In the light of this one wonders how anyone who understands Christ and His gospel could think of a crusade to deliver the Holy Land as in the Middle Ages. Or for the followers of Christ to pursue the power structures both in religious hierarchies and political systems of the world, whether in the form of ornate ecclesiastical orders of the Roman Catholic Church and other Protestant denominations or the North American Evangelical alliances with the so-called right-wing politics? To follow Christ is not about lobbying for and gaining political power in order to spread Christ’s kingdom. It is not even about gaining global financial clout to influence and control policies of governments for Christ or to exert political or economic hegemony in the name of Christ. If it were, Christ would not have chosen a bunch of unlettered fisher men from the backwaters of the Sea of Galilee.
What can one say about the rivalries of 1990s in Ireland and the Gulf wars? Or even of the acts of intolerance committed through centuries in the name of spreading the gospel? (Don’t we owe an apology to the world? C. S. Lewis writes, “If ever the book which I am not going to write is written, it must be the full confession of Christendom to Christendom’s specific contribution to the sum of human cruelty. Large areas of the world will not hear us until we have publicly disowned much of our past. Why should they? We have shouted the name of Christ and enacted the service of Molech.”) Or about the unseemly alliance between the church and corporate businesses for the overt purpose of global missions and evangelism, but actually fuelled by the insecurities and claustrophobia of the capitalist minds, in the aftermath of the World wars and propped up by a skewed understanding of eschatology?
To follow Christ is not even about ‘going to church’ or about ‘attending a church service’ or about ‘doing the church’ correctly. Today millions are spent to build ornate buildings and for conducting slick worship services, while billions languish in poverty and hunger worldwide. And many Christian preachers, teachers and leaders sponge upon the insecurities and the need for identity and dignity of many in their churches. And I wonder if Martin Luther and others in the forefront of the Protestant movement had protested sufficiently! I wish they did and abdicated all enslaving forms of religion and taught a lifestyle in the footsteps of their Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. For if they did then, today we would not be witnesses to the extremely reprehensible and the stark obscenity of the preachers of the gospel, promising and playing upon the insecurities of the people; enslaving them to a life-time of worldly pursuits to be sought as a form of blessing from God for their ‘faithfulness and godliness’. It is no wonder then that some detractors of the gospel equated Christianity to a religion and dubbed it the ‘opiate’ or a ‘psychological crutch’ of the masses. For that is what we have made it out to be when we enslaved the people to the pursuit of a comfortable middle-class life-style. And baptised it as a blessing from God! Where is the cross today in the lives of Christians? Where is the self-denial? Where is the lifestyle of Christ among us today?
The crux of the theme of the book of Hebrews is Christ. Christ is portrayed as the full and final revelation from God in the first 4 chapters. He is God’s final word to man, therefore pay careful attention to him (2:1) and that by trusting in Him and obedience to Him one finds the true Sabbath rest. And in the next 6 chapters, He is portrayed as the perfect and complete redemption from God for man. In Him is man’s complete redemption and that there is no need anymore for external, physical and man-made forms of enslaving systems. He now rules not by religious systems or through rules and regulations but by a new covenant mediated through His word and by His Holy Spirit. “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbour, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” (Heb 8:7-12). Therefore, we live by looking to Jesus, the author and the finisher of our faith (Heb 12: 2).
‘Come…learn of me’
Let us look into the gospels and try to draw a sketch of his life on earth, if we may.
Jesus bids us to come unto Him and learn of Him and promises that we would find rest for our souls. If only we would listen to Him. It is not learning about Him in the sense of gathering information about Him as most of us tend to think. It is to ‘learn of me’ which is about imbibing Him by spending time with and allowing Him the freedom to work in us, to put Himself into us. This is the same as seeking His kingdom and His righteousness. To seek His kingdom is about seeking His rule, His authority, and His control over our lives. It is the same as taking His yoke upon us which is to come under His control, as the oxen under a yoke are under the control of the farmer. This is where it all begins. When God’s rule comes into our lives then the first thing we learn is what Jesus answered the devil, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”.
Not by bread alone
One of the sad ironies in the church today is that while claiming to proclaim the gospel, we have settled for something less than what Christ taught and what the early apostles preached and lived for. I refer to the evangelical emphasis on sin and forgiveness from it, as the main focus of the gospel. While this is true, it must also be said that it has led, I believe, to an emphasis on making salvation only a matter of forgiveness of sin and finding a way to heaven. And it ignores totally the aspect of denouncing or denying ourselves of the values and pursuits of the world. This is why we find so many people who claim to be Christian and yet living with the same pursuits and drives as the rest of the world. How can one claim to be a follower of Christ and be comfortable living the way the world does? Nay, in some circles it has been taught to pray and seek security and comfort, power, status and fame as marks of God’s blessing. And that not to possess these was a mark of God’s displeasure. In fact if one were to walk into any church or to a prayer meeting anywhere in the world today, and take a look at the requests for prayer or listen to the prayers offered, most of the prayers revolve around wanting what the Lord categorically rejected in His temptation on the mountain top. I wonder if Matthew and Luke, by recording Jesus’ temptations right at the beginning of their gospels are suggesting that worldliness and the denial of its values and pursuits was a major concern and focus of the gospel of Christ. Ignoring such an emphasis I believe, has spawned several generations of Christians who claim to have the experience of salvation yet without any real change as far as their lifestyles are concerned.
Therefore this is my major concern that we are not only in the world but of it, and also that we pursue every thing in life just as everyone else does. We are driven by the same things that the people of the world are driven with, we live for the same things that the people of the world live for. We are so easily disturbed and are discouraged by the same things that disturb and discourage the world. Unless the followers of Christ demonstrate a different lifestyle, one which is not controlled by the cares and pleasures of life, one which is driven by a totally different value system, we have nothing to offer the world. The gospel we preach would not be gospel at all!
In the temptations Jesus refuses firmly and categorically anything other than God as the source of our strength or the focus of our devotion. He refuses to use God or His gifts for personal gain or to build an identity for Himself. His life was marked by total devotion and dependence upon the Father all through His life. We have discussed this in some detail in my first article. If even Jesus the Son of God needed ‘every word that comes from the mouth of God’, how much more we would? One of the most basic and constant temptations in life, as discussed earlier, is to make something else other than our Creator, the source of our sustenance, security, identity and dignity. The world looks for these in wealth and possessions, status and power, name and recognition. The world runs after these. And they are discouraged when they do not get it. Quite often most of them are willing to go to any extent to get these – resorting to corrupt practices, illegal means, and dubious methods. It is an intoxicating pursuit for many. The history of humankind is the history of such pursuits. Jesus was the first among many who broke their power and attraction with clarity and consummate ease when He faced these in His temptations on the mountain top. There have been many men before Him and after who have tried but most of them in general went to one extreme or the other; the extremes of stoicism or Epicureanism, of monasticism or libertarianism. But mark Jesus’ answer to the devil. He does not say, man shall not live by bread at all or all that man needs is the word of God and nothing else. The sting in the temptation was to make food the primary source of His sustenance, which Jesus refused firmly. Food is needed, yes. But the word of God is needed more; because man is not just a physical being but a spiritual being as well. And he basically derive our existence from Him. The genius of Jesus knew where to draw the line.
How does this work out in practical life? Recently in our Sunday fellowship gathering, one fellow brother asked “how can one who is working and earning a regular salary demonstrate his dependence on God”. We do it not only by expressing and affirming our trust in Him both through prayer and gratitude but also by a life of the discipline of self-denial and giving. There ought to be times in the life of a child of God when he, by deliberate action and regular discipline deprives himself of anything that is becoming a source of one’s life, sustenance, security and identity. John Wesley says, “When I have any money, I get rid of it as quickly as possible, lest it find a way into my heart”. A person, who lives by faith, is willing to share and give away sacrificially because he knows his ultimate source of sustenance and security is not his possessions but the Lord. He learns to live by sharing what he has with others because they need what he has. When followers of Christ live this way, those who have gathered more do not have any excess and those who have gathered less do not have any need. It is only then we have something to tell and offer to the world. Otherwise we would just have a religion called ‘Christianity’ to offer, like any other religion of the world.
‘What sort of a king could he be’
Second His life was marked by contentment, gratitude and simplicity. There was an inner contentment in Jesus which was difficult to understand. His family and friends were worried that He should speed up the process of His life mission by being more proactive than He seemed to be. So they were trying to push Him to do things so that He will be known for who He was. His mother tried at the marriage in Cana of Galilee. His brothers tried to push Him to do something that would propel Him to centre stage and what better time and place than the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. His disciples were restless that time was running out and that He was talking about the cross and not about thrones and crowns. But Jesus was living by a totally different drive or was dancing to a totally different tune which others could not hear. Hence He was unfazed or unperturbed by the clamour around. There was a sense of quiet confidence and of contentment in His demeanour which no one could understand.
A person who knows the Sovereign God and knows that his life is in His hands is not worried or perturbed by anything in life. And when he knows and understands that He did not spare his own son for him, he is not worried what happens. Listen to him sing, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom 8 35-39. This is the stuff of which great missionaries of yore were made. When you think of women and men like Adoniram Judson, John G Paton, Helen Roseveare, to name just a few, you know of what mettle they were made. The kind of life they were called to live and lived with exceptional grace and contentment is nothing short of miraculous. You begin to know that they are like giants and we are like grasshoppers before them.
Think of the simplicity of Jesus, the very manner of his birth and the way He lived and moved among people was so simple and down to earth. A popular song goes, ‘He had no throne or a crown of gold and his palace was only an inn; he worked as a carpenter most of his life; what sort of a king could he be’. How different from the jet-setting, larger-than-life Christian leaders, preachers and the so-called miracle workers of our day. Whatever the justification, it certainly does not fit the Master they proclaim. We have forgotten that God does not bless us with material blessings for us to flaunt nor to hoard. Neither does He bless us in order for us carry them as trophies of our faithfulness and godliness. He blesses us, so that we share with others. The genius of Jesus knew to draw the line between moderation and excess and He knew that He did not derive His identity from any of the external props offered by the world. He said, “…one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15). How can a person live such a life of uncertainty and yet be content? Jesus lived in the shadow of the assurance and approval of His heavenly Father and therefore was not swayed by the vagaries of public opinion nor was driven by the pursuits of worlds values. This brings us to the third aspect of the life of Christ.
His life was of sharing, service and sacrifice. He says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45). Christ’s work was one of natural, normal and spontaneous response to need around Him. It did not matter if it was a large crowd or a single individual nor did it matter how important the person was by world’s standards. So whether it was Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin or the Samaritan woman Jesus served them by speaking and sharing with them His time and teaching. He had time both for the social outcast and the socially high-class, the pauper and the rich ruler. He made no distinction nor counted their worthiness to receive His ministry. His was a spontaneous response of love to need without any consideration of cost or worthiness of an individual. All were worthy to receive His love and service. True love, loves, serves, and gives freely without counting the cost or expecting returns. He was not programme-driven, budget-driven, nor performance-driven unlike most ministries today. He went for one woman, the Samaritan and won the whole village. We today go for the whole village in our penchant for numbers and in the name of stewardship and lose the woman and the village!
Today Christian service is seen and done more as organised or institutionalised work. It must be noted that the success of any organisation depends on its projects and programmes. Programmes and projects are the life of any organisation. And the success of the programmes depends on the budget available and the performance of individuals involved in the programmes. Is it any wonder then that the emphasis in most ministry organisations is to employ slick marketing techniques for raising funds and on charismatic performers with fine social and communication skills to conduct the programmes? While this in itself is not wrong or bad, what is deplorable is that prayer has all but disappeared from our ministry agendas except as a ritual suffix and a prefix for all our activities. And dependence upon the Holy Spirit of God for wisdom and for power is all but gone. Is it any wonder that today’s model of ministry produces fans and not followers, while Jesus made followers who were willing to give themselves away for Him? For Jesus success was not about numbers, budgets and reports. It was about knowing what the Father was doing and doing it upon earth (John 5:19-20). It meant an intimate walk with the Father to know what He was doing at any given moment of time and doing it on earth. So success is not about the quantum of work we do for God. It is about how much God is able to work in us and subdue us unto himself. “…according to the power that works in us,” (Eph 3:20). Ministry is born out of such intimacy with God and is a spontaneous outflow of His working in our lives. I wish to emphasise in this context that ministry is not something that we do for God, but ministry is the fruit of an ongoing walk and intimacy with God, very much like the intimacy between a husband and wife which results in bringing new life into the world. Such ministry cannot be produced by marketing techniques or by management skills. The genius of Jesus knew that being connected to the source of life was the only way to bring forth the fruit of life into the world.
In fact, I must assert that the hierarchical, programme-driven and performance-based organisational models we have adopted to organise our churches and ministries is alien to scripture and borrowed from the world and is an off-shoot of commercialised thinking. This is another aspect of worldliness among us. Let me point out three major scripturally unacceptable practises in our ministries. One, the relationality in these organisations is based on employer-employee, or boss-worker relationality. Most churches and ministries suffer because of such a mindset. Among the people of God relationality ought to be that of a family. A second practise that is unacceptable in this model is that the value of an individual is judged on the basis of one’s performance and the worth she/he generates for the organisation. Among the people of God one’s worth is based on the worth God places upon the individual by virtue of creation and redemption and not on how much wealth she/he can generate nor on any other criteria. A third practise that is unacceptable is the wrong leadership models it has created. Leadership in the church is not about holding positions nor is it about administrative and financial power. Leadership in the church is about the spiritual authority invested in a person by virtue of her/his calling and a personal life of godliness and rectitude. And it is demonstrated in selfless and vulnerable servant hood. Over and above as mentioned in my second article, this model of organising has led to commercialism of the worst kind and much abuse of power.
But apart from the fact that these models of ministry are unscriptural, what needs to be said more than anything is that these structures and systems we have created to do our works, ministry and even to ‘do church’, supplant God from our lives. Whether the administrative structures we create or the physical structures we build, very soon they become the source of our sustenance, security and identity and the focus of our devotion. Thus they not only supplant God from our lives but we begin to live and fight for their perpetuity. I call this the ‘Babel Syndrome’. Alonzo McDonald calls it the ‘idol of immortality’ in his article, ‘The grand inquisitor lives – Idolatry in organisations and management’. He writes, “Whenever immortality becomes the central objective of an organisation, its demise is inevitable. Concern for the self-perpetuation of the institution and the preservation of the status quo is the greatest idol that any institution will face…When continuing existence is sought directly as an end rather than as a by-product of serving wider needs, the dynamics of idolatry lead to deception and disaster for organisation.” (No God But God, Os Guinness and John Seel, 1992). Idolatry of church buildings, its systems and structures and also the different ministry organisations is so widespread among us that we hardly consider it as idolatry. As mentioned, anything that becomes the source of our sustenance, security and identity and the focus of our devotion becomes god in our lives. This is the saddest irony among Christians. In the name of worshipping the true and the living God and of serving Him we have unwittingly become idolatrous. And it must be noted that idols are soon overtaken by enslaving evil powers. And we do not even know that we have been tripped into becoming slaves of the evil one in the name of worshipping and serving God. Is this not what the devil tried to do with Jesus in the third temptation?
Listen to the words of Vinoth Ramachandra in his book. ‘Gods That Fail’, “This is seen in every human project: once a project acquires a certain size and becomes invested with human dreams of ‘progress’ or of ‘liberation’, it attains a life of its own, dragging human beings and societies in its wake. It is also seen in the mega-corporations and bureaucracies of the modern world. No one is any longer in control. There is no one who bears responsibility when things go wrong. Having surrendered our hearts, individually and collectively, to idols, we become enslaved by demons.” This is true both with most governments of the nations of the world, the mega-corporations, of Christian institutions and church structures. Today, how many Christian organisations and churches have become enslaving systems for hordes of Christians worldwide. What a tragedy? What a shame! How scandalous! Do you wonder now, why we talked about the four major scandals of Christianity in my first article?
The genius of Jesus knew how to avoid such idolatry. He knew the sting in the temptation brought by the devil and therefore answered, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.” One wonders at the confidence of Jesus when He said to His disciples to go into the world and preach the gospel. He did not give them a structure or an organisation. They were to trust in Him and go. Their living, security and dignity are all given to them as inheritance in Him. They were to go empowered by the Holy Spirit. The only structure that Paul taught for the churches to have, was the simplest, of elders and deacons with oversight confined to the immediately local and not regional, national or global. The church government was to remain essentially and functionally local and personal. I believe, wherever and whenever the structure exceeds the local, it lapses into an enslaving system of idolatry. And wherever and whenever they lapse into idolatry, the Holy Spirit of God withdraws and their effectiveness for God is lost. The history of the Church is littered with such structures. But sadly, we do neither see nor learn from history and so even the best among us continue to trip and fall into the same lure of bigness, greatness and power offered by the evil one in the name of larger influence and greater effectiveness. And lose all influence and effectiveness in the bargain! I believe this is true with so many great and godly men and women in history. Those who began so well, both in the ministry, the business and governments of the world, men and women who were simple and modest in their beginnings but as they grew they fell into the same lure of getting bigger for the sake of greater effectiveness, influence or power. This is the ‘Babel syndrome’, to make a name and reach the skies. Quite often as Paul writes, “For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus.”(Phil 2: 21). The third temptation of Jesus is about this – greater reach, influence, power, name and glory. God’s pattern is for simple, immediate, personal and relational ways of helping, serving and reaching others. Today in the context of globalisation the temptation is much greater. How many great men and women brought growth, development and comfort to so many yet in the process created structures and systems which later have become enslaving and oppressive. How foolish we are! Oh, that we would sit at the feet of Jesus and learn of Him a little of His genius! Nay, a little of His gentleness and meekness!
Holy God, incarnate Man!
A fourth facet of the life of Christ to look at is His purity of life and righteousness. The purity that Jesus taught can be summarised in two of His statements in His teaching to His disciples. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” and “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:8, 20. The purity taught by Jesus is heart purity and not ritual or external piety; purity of thought, motive, purpose, and action. He had no patience for the Pharisaic righteousness of external, man-pleasing and ritual purity.
But we are running ahead. We must pause and get a right perspective about this whole subject of purity and holiness. If Jesus is who He claimed to be then we must first look at what it means when the Bible talks about God as holy. What is meant by the holiness of God?
The first thing that comes to our mind when we talk about holiness is purity or moral perfection. But it is not the only meaning or the primary meaning of the word. Scholars tell us that it is a difficult word to translate and foreign to most languages. The primary meaning of the word has to do with uniqueness or of being different or separate. R. C Sproul tells us that it comes from an ancient word which meant ‘to cut’ or ‘to separate’ (The Holiness of God, R. C. Sproul, 1985). He suggests that it could be translated as ‘a cut apart’ or ‘a cut above the rest’. So when we talk about God as holy, we are saying that He is a cut above the rest. He is different and separate from everything and anything we know among all creatures. Holiness is what makes God, God. It is what distinguishes Him as God, separate or different from all humans.
When we meet other humans, we are at home with them because we have so many things in common and so many things that we can compare and be comfortable with. But when we come face to face with God, how does it feel? When you find that there is nothing in Him with which we can compare ourselves or nothing common between us, how does it feel? Listen to what Isaiah the prophet says when he came into the presence of the holy God. Before this he had so much to say about the people of Israel, how hypocritical and how sinful they were and he calls down God’s wrath upon them. But now,
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6: 1-5).
“Woe is me, for I am undone!”…what kind of response is this? Till now he had not seen anything like this. All that he has seen so far was what he could relate to and was at home. But the holiness of God, that was something different from all that he knew so far. And now he felt totally devastated, undone or dismantled! This is what happens when the finite, mortal and fallen human comes face to face with a holy God – devastation, dismantlement! When we come face to face with Him, all our patterns of thinking, being and doing are undone! The structures and foundations on which we have built our securities and identities come crashing! The hollowness of our inner being is exposed in all its stark nakedness. Ruth Haley Barton writing about what happens when we spend in silence and solitude in the presence of God says, “Perhaps we glimpse an ego-driven self that is bent on control and image-management. Perhaps we see an empty self that is hungry to fill itself with approval of others. Perhaps we glimpse the broken self desperately seeking to preserve its identity as one who has it all together. Or maybe we see a wounded self that has spent untold energy seeking healing where healing cannot be found”. (Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Ruth Haley Barton, 2010). We stand exposed in his awesome presence and we cry, “Woe is me, for I am undone”.
It is only when our spiritual poverty is exposed and disbanded, when the masks we wear are cracked open and the false props on which we have built our securities and identities are undone then we are ready to be put together by Him in grace. Only then do we really begin to recognise and say in utter helplessness and utmost sincerity, “I am what I am by the grace of God”. A person, who has understood the holiness of God, also understands the grace of God. And such a person knows what it means to live under grace. He learns to live in utter dependence upon God and will be totally devoted to Him and not on anything else or to anyone else. He also lives in that confidence and assurance. Such a person is not swayed by anything or anyone in this world. No cost is too big. No barrier is too strong and no glitter is too attractive to draw him away from his Lord and Master. He does not chase the ephemeral riches, the mirage of success or the sheen of dignity offered by the world. Such a person would be ready to walk the way of his Master. He would be able to live through any uncertainty. Listen to the words of such a man, “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ…Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christwho strengthens me.” (Phil 3: 7, 8; 4:11-13) When was the last you heard such language from our preachers and leaders today or from the rank and file of our churches?
But, if God is holy and His holiness is His infinite superiority, transcendence, above anyone or anything that we know among all created beings then how does it work out in the life of Jesus Christ on earth? How does it show in God incarnate?
In the gospels we read that the lifestyle of Christ unnerved many. It does even today. The sense of purpose He demonstrated at age of twelve must have been as awe-inspiring to His parents as to the religious leaders listening to Him. Those words do not seem to be that of an over-confident immature young boy trying to be a man or of a precocious adolescent. Very few among men can boast of such clarity and confidence even after many years of woeful searching. His sense of contentment and joy was so enviable and contagious that a rich young man ran to Him to learn the secret of His zest and verve for living. By all standards the rich, young ruler as the gospel records tell us, was far ahead of Jesus in all the worldly attainments and in the acquiring of social and economic status symbols. Yet he realised that this Jesus, who had no house to live in or any money even to pay his taxes and surrounded by a few rustic fisher men had something that was missing in his own life. He must have been convinced that the eternal life that Jesus was talking about must be what He possessed and demonstrated so fully, and what he himself was lacking and needed badly.
The scribes, Pharisees and the teachers of the law were left dumbfounded on several occasions by not only the depth of His understanding of the law, of life and righteousness but the ease with which He talked and lived suggested that it was His natural habitat. Many times both the people and the leaders marvelled at His sense of authority and confidence when He spoke and taught about God and the law. You do not find in Him any sense of insecurity either with regard to His physical needs or about life even when He stood before Pilate. He suffered no crisis of identity when He moved with the socially unacceptable or when He bent down to wash the feet of His disciples. He had no throne, no crown no armies yet He ruled in life as a true king. In the demonstration of His love, compassion and service there are few peers in the history of man. He was as involved with life as He was detached from its cares and pleasures. He was as engaged with the needs, the pains and sorrows of others as He was disengaged from their opinions and pursuits. Jesus was hardly concerned about His image or His looks. Isaiah in His prophecy probably gives us a glimpse into His physical appearance, “He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.”(Isaiah 53:2). One wonders where Jesus learnt His homiletics. No one seems to have taught Him the importance of grooming! What can one say about the current rush for image-makeovers and the pre-occupation with the narcissistic? Or of the performance-driven ‘preachers of the gospel’ preening in their cosmetic glory! Surely He lived above the rest around Him then and far above any we know now.
But let us take a look at two areas of His teaching that emphasise His own holiness and His expectation of His followers. The first has been alluded to at the beginning of this section.
Much of the teaching on purity among Christians today revolves around piety or godliness, which are interpreted in very narrow terms of religiosity; of church attendance, regular offering and tithing and in generally being good. I assert that such teaching is superficial and reflects bhakti or religious duty as taught in all religions. What does it mean when Jesus calls for a higher righteousness than that of the Pharisees? He not only meant the higher interpretation of the law which He gave in the Sermon on the Mount but it also means a lifestyle totally different from the way the world lives. Today in many cases among Christians that emphasis is missing. What is totally unacceptable and scandalous is that today even among many so-called Christian circles, dishonesty in relationships, lying, hypocrisy, compromise and plain deception are condoned as unavoidable in a fallen world. Piety has never been so grossly misunderstood in the history of the church. Godliness or piety meant moral purity, personal holiness, sensitivity and compassion towards the needy and the suffering. The pietism of the 17th Century Europe emphasised “Bible-centered moralism that emphasised personal conviction of sin, repentance, conversion and a new existence in Christ. The forgiven Christian would manifest Christ in his or her daily life through personal holiness and sensitivity to the needs of others.”(Two Kingdoms: The Church and Culture through the ages, Robert G. Clouse, Richard V. Pierard, Edwin M. Yamauchi, 1993) But today the emphasis on personal holiness and separation from the world are so widely neglected.
That brings me to the second area of holiness that was taught by the Lord. Holiness is to be separate or to be different from the world. Jesus taught very plainly and categorically that the pursuits of the people of the world cannot be the pursuits of the people of His kingdom. If as Jesus said “…one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” how can His followers be engaged or be immersed in materialistic pursuits of amassing wealth and getting richer and richer in this world? And if “what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” then how can they pursue the identities and the glories of the world? Listen further to His teaching about the Kingdom. He taught that when invited to a party, not to occupy the place of honour but rather to take a lowly place. And when you throw a party do not invite those who can invite you back but the simple the poor and those who cannot invite you back. And further,
“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:27-38.
All this suggests that the holiness and righteousness that Jesus taught and demonstrated was not only moral purity but a lifestyle that was superior and different from any that was known in the world then and since. Such a lifestyle demands that we have no concern for our personal security and identity. Since these are met in Christ and therefore we learn to live above such concerns. But such a life could be lived only in the shadow of the assurance of security and acceptance we have in Christ.
It is not only unfortunate but also scandalous that we have taught and lived such a tame gospel. The lifestyle of the Kingdom of God as taught by Lord Jesus Christ is so much different and superior to anything that we know in this world. This is true holiness.
G. K Chesterton lamented, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” It is no wonder then that Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “In truth there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross.” I think it is because of that reason we fail to see the true difference of the life that Jesus taught and lived. And it is the reason why, I believe, even to write about it is so difficult. As I developed the thoughts in this article that was my experience and challenge; to write about something that we do not see in anyone around nor is it something that is normal for us.
In his second letter to the Corinthian church, apostle Paul warns, “I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” (11:2, 3). For all appearances this warning of Paul seems to have come true today. We are so enamoured by the gifts and blessings of the modern world that we hardly understand the nature of our calling to follow Christ and seem to have given ourselves liberal discounts on discipleship to Him! We are so numbed by the comforts and conveniences of the world and are so drunk on them that we do not even see or understand how far we have drifted from the model that Christ has given us in His own life on earth! We have been deceived and corrupted from the simplicity and the purity in Christ.
So to the question, how then should we live? The answer is simple and clear ‘Live like Jesus, the Man’. But to live as Jesus lived, we must immerse ourselves in the gospels with the plea as that of the Greeks who came to Phillip, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus’ and be willing to ‘learn of Him”, His life of devotion and dependence upon the Father, of contentment, gratitude and simplicity, of sharing, service and sacrifice and of holiness, righteousness and justice.
O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!
My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad
The honours of Thy name.
Jesus! The name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
’Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’Tis life, and health, and peace.
Ecce homo! Behold, the man! Amen.
He lived among us!
The creator of heaven and earth
He whom the heavens cannot contain;
How was he contained in a womb?
Or be laid in a borrowed tomb?
He was born among us, as us!
He lived with the mortals,
The infinite and the immortal;
With man he made his dwelling
For 33 years humbly willing,
He lived among us, for us!
He ate and slept like the rest of us,
Hated and slandered as one with us,
Yet not hating as any among us,
Living as man in order to show us.
He lived among us, as us!
His gentle touch brought great solace
To the broken-hearted, words of grace;
As cool waters to a parched soul,
To the hypocrite, as scorching a hole.
He lived among us, as us!
Where do you live – they wished to know.
Come and see – if you would follow.
Birds and foxes, burrows and nests,
The Maker of heavens has no place to rest.
He lived among us, as us!
To reveal the Father, He did come,
Redeem the lost and take them home;
Stripped and wounded by those he would save,
Nailed to the stake, yet he forgave.
He died for us, as us!
In the garden, fetters lay shattered;
Death and sin forever vanquished;
Men and angels rejoice he is God;
Raised to the heavens, as Lord.
He arose, to live in us!
 Alonzo L. McDonald has several decades of management experience in professional firms, government, media and in large and small businesses. He is a former U.S. ambassador, a former White House staff director, and a former faculty member of the Harvard Business School.