Missing The Point About Missing The Mark!

Yes, the church in particular and the Christian world in general have missed the point about missing the mark! There is no question about it. The tragic irony is that we do not even know that we have missed the point about missing the mark, while all the time we talk about ‘missing the mark’!

Anyone who is familiar with the teaching of the Bible knows, that the word for SIN both in the Old and the New Testaments is translated as failing to ‘hit a target’ or ‘reach a standard’, or ‘missing the mark’.

But the question is, what is the mark we have missed? And what is the point we are missing about ‘missing the mark’?

We have missed the mark of the objective or the purpose of God in creating us as humans in his own image. The purpose of God for us is made clear in the summary of the ten commandments as the greatest of the commandments – to love God with all the powers of our being. To love God, to seek him and to live for him and no one else and nothing else. This is the only thing lawful. Everything else is unlawful. This is the only thing moral. Every other pursuit which does not spring from the pursuit of God and from a life of fellowship with him is illegal, immoral and totally evil. And neither such people nor such lives have any place in the Kingdom of God.

J. I. Packer explains, “Sin is going contrary to God, retreating from God, turning one’s back on God, ignoring God… What, in positive terms, is the essence of sin?… Living not for Him, but for yourself; loving and serving and pleasing yourself without reference to the Creator; trying to be as far as possible independent of him, taking yourself out of his hands, holding him at arms length, keeping the reins of your life in your own hands; acting as if you and your pleasure, were the end to which all things else, God included, must be made to function as a means – that is the attitude in which sin essentially consists.”

He further writes, “Paul tells us that sin began when men who ‘knew God… did not honour him as God, or give thanks to him’(Rom 1:21), and he gives us the most exact analysis of the spirit of sin that the Bible contains when he declares that ‘the mind of the flesh (the mind and heart of unregenerate sinner) is enmity against God’ (Rom 8: 7), disaffection to his rule, resentment of his claims, and hostility to his word, all expressed in a fixed and unalterable determination to pursue one’s own independence in defiance of the Creator.” (God’s Word’s, J. I. Packer, 1981)

Everything man has done since his fall into sin is with this disaffection with God and his word, thus disassociating with him and the life through him. We know that right there in the book of Genesis, apart from a few who lived by faith and in fellowship with God, humans went on a totally different course outside of a relationship with God. And in his attempt to make a living for himself, man had embarked upon a course of total independence of God. Man’s God-defying, his identity and security-seeking attitude outside of a relationship with God is epitomised in the words of the Babelites, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

Of course in carving out a life independent of God, man has gone on to create and develop several systems and structures in every area of life. He has developed ‘quite fine and sophisticated’ religious, philosophical, political, economic, judicial, military, and socio-cultural systems and structures. He has built so-called centres of ‘higher learning’ of schools and universities for the sake of imbibing this knowledge which is independent of the Creator.

As the Preacher in OT cryptically states, “…God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.” Therefore he says, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (Eccl 7:29; 1;2) Everything is vain because they not only lack anything of eternal or spiritual value but they are all under God’s judgement. Neither baptising nor christening them nor any amount of prayer is going to make them acceptable to God. The Bible simply and categorically declares that the world and everything in it is passing away. For everything man has made independent of the Creator is under God’s condemnation.

The words of our Lord Jesus in John 10:10 are very eloquent too, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Jesus was not only implying that there was no life in the world unless he gave it but there is a radical indictment of all other options and solutions offered by the world that they not only rob but kill and destroy! Jesus also pits himself against all other options and solutions on offer.

The very fact that Jesus chose to be born in a cattle shed in a small shanty town outside of Jerusalem, and the kind of life he chose to live tells us about the value he placed on what man has made of the world and its systems and structures. He was born and lived totally out of the world’s systems and the models it offers. If this is not understood then we do not understand anything about Christ and the gospel of the kingdom he preached.

The point missed

The point that is being missed both by the church and the Christian world is that everything that man has made for himself in his brief history on earth is apart from God and in defiance of God and out side of fellowship with God. Therefore everything he has done during his existence on earth howsoever grand, howsoever sophisticated, howsoever beneficial from human perspective, is under the condemnation of God. It is, as Paul writes, under God’s wrath (Rom 1:18) and therefore ‘evil’(Eph 5:16). This is the reason why Bible neither recognises nor acknowledges the wisdom nor the achievements of man in the world, howsoever grand or beneficial to life on earth. These have no eternal nor spiritual value.

Apostle John and Paul are very categorical, “And the world is passing away along with its desires…” and “For the present form of this world is passing away.” (1 Jn 2:17, 1 Cor 7:30).

In the last 2000 years, the church in general and Christians in particular, have lost this understanding regarding the world and its systems and structures. Therefore they have not only cozied up to its ways of life but cavorted and have begun to cohabit with the world. Practically every aspect of our lives both as Christians and the church today is imbued with the world and its ways.

We have tacitly adopted world’s thinking and world’s systems and models – from the way we think about and do worship to our missions and evangelism including the way we teach the Bible both in our churches and seminaries. Our very understanding of church is discoloured with world’s thinking. The organisational models and the lifestyles we have adopted as individuals are all of the world. They are neither of Christ nor of his Apostles in the New Testament.

We have not only pursued but promoted and prospered and have taken pleasure and pride in what the people of the world have carved out for themselves in defiance and independence of God; that which is under God’s judgement and therefore under his wrath. In general many Christians have been in thrall of the knowledge, power and positions that the world offers. We seem to be enchanted by the things that Christ resisted and rejected when tempted. Why is it we are so much enthralled by one’s progress and growth in the world and are least focused on one’s spiritual development and growth? Even our understanding of spiritual growth is understood more in terms of acquiring of social and communication skills and participation in ministry related activities. We seem to have forgotten that spiritual growth is about a life of spiritual intimacy with God such that he or she lives in and by the spirit while living in the body and the world (Rom 8:4-9)

Our very understanding of the ‘will of God’ is so self-centred and world-focused that we do not even think of the will of God as his purpose in creating humankind! And that it is to this purpose Jesus was referring to in Matthew 12:50 and John in 1 John 2:17.

We spend enormous amounts of our time and resources to gaining that which is under God’s wrath – its knowledge systems, its life models and its economic and governing systems. We even encourage our children to pursue the same with panache.

This is totally unacceptable and alien to God and his kingdom. It is not just detestable but abhorring to him. Churches and Christians cannot have anything to do with the world and its ways. It is oxymoronic to call oneself a Christian and to pursue and cherish what the God-defying world has to offer, howsoever grand and useful it might appear to be.

Flee from the wrath to come!

In the Old Testament, the Lord said to his people, Israel not to follow any of the systems and methods of the people around them. They were to be different from the nations among whom they lived. They were to be different as he was different. Right from the building of the ark by Noah to the building of the temple and in all aspects of the people of Israel as a nation they were to follow his statutes and instructions as commanded in his law. They were not to follow the ways of the peoples around them. The church was called out and constituted precisely in the same way. They were called out of the world to be ‘imitators of God’ and not to follow the world and its ways.

Since when have the knowledge and wisdom of the world become acceptable and necessary for the building of the Kingdom of God? When has God said that it was alright to use the power structures and systems of the world to promote his kingdom? Since when has gaining philosophical acumen, political and economic clout become necessary for spreading of the gospel? Who said that gaining positions of power and knowledge in the world were essential to be his witnesses and that these were blessings to be sought after and cherished?

The grotesque irony is that we not only pray for and seek but even conduct thanksgiving services for ‘gaining the world’ which is under God’s wrath, not realising that we might perish with it!! We pray for, seek and gloat over that which Apostle Paul called as ‘dung’. How can any one pursue and gain that which is under God’s judgement and claim that it was a blessing received from God! How can any one claim that they prayed and sought God’s will in seeking the world and what it has to offer! Isn’t it like King Saul claiming that it was God’s will for him to spare the goats and the sheep in order to worship God?! Isn’t it like Achan having a thanksgiving meeting for the things he stole from Jericho?! Oh, the horror of it!

Is it any wonder then that when Christ called people into his kingdom, the conditions he laid were so stringent – deny yourself, leave everything of self, world, and sin in order to be his disciples? And the first requirement was REPENTANCE – to ‘turn one’s back’ upon every thing of sin, self and the world in order to be born of life from above and thus be part of his kingdom. And is it any wonder that when he returns he will say to many even to those who claim that they have done a lot in his name, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matt 7: 23)? This is because all that they did was not with the life that comes from God but with the knowledge and power that springs from self and the world. If you claim to be a child of God and yet if your life and work is by and for the flesh and the world, then your claim to new birth is suspect, my friend!

Everything that man does whether as ministry or in any other area of life if not done with the knowledge and power that springs from a fellowship with God has no eternal value and does not pass muster before God at the final reckoning. How tragic would it be for anyone who relied upon the knowledge, money and strength gained in the world in order to live the life of a Christian or to ‘do ministry’ and have presumed that he or she was serving God!

Our engagement with the world ought to be as little as possible, to the extent necessary as Paul says, “What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Cor 7: 29 – 31)

Our calling to be God’s own people is to ‘go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come’(Heb 13: 13, 14). We are to live as strangers and pilgrims in this world and not to pursue, participate, promote nor take pride in its wealth nor in its glory.

The writer to the Hebrews comments about the life of those who live by faith, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”(Heb 11: 13-16). It is extremely alarming that for the last century or so, Christians both individually and corporately have all but forgotten this teaching. They are recklessly heading like Achan of old, into the abyss of worldly gain and glory not knowing that Achan’s fate could be their lot too!

Or as the Preacher says, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed in to judgement, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Eccl 12: 13,14)

The teaching is simple and straightforward. As God said to Joshua in the context of Achan, “…they have taken some of the devoted things (things on which there was God’s judgement and which were devoted to be destroyed); … Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you…”(Josh 7: 11,12. Italics are mine)

The world and everything in it – with all its systems of religions, philosophies, education, economics, politics, along with all the knowledge, power and positions it can offer with all its development and life models including its philanthropic and humanitarian efforts are under God’s judgement and God’s wrath. Anyone who pursues, promotes, takes pleasure and pride in it will merit the same judgement and wrath of God which is upon the world. And until Christians repudiate and reject all that is of the world they will not only be enslaved to it but would falter and fumble from one defeat to another and will be disowned by God and face the same fate that awaits the world and its systems.

Woe, unto anyone who teaches and preaches anything other than this! Woe unto anyone who has promoted such self-affirming and world-pursuing lifestyles and passed it off as the teaching of our Lord and Savour Jesus Christ! How dare they call themselves as preachers of the gospel! How so ever great, well known and successful a preacher, teacher or leader may have been, if he or she has not taught self-denying, world-forsaking and sin-rejecting life – they have not only miserably failed but have been ‘blind guides of the blind’! By whose measure are they considered great and successful? If their greatness and success is measured by the size of the structures, budgets and numbers they have garnered, they are probably closer to Babel than to Bethlehem! Since when has the truthfulness of the gospel of Christ come to depend upon the greatness or the successfulness of the preacher! I care not if this is an indictment of some of the so-called great leaders…they shall perish with their greatness if they have not taught and fostered lifestyles based on agape and in the footsteps of our Lord and Master!

The call then is for a clear and total separation from the world and all that it has to offer.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:16)

“Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.” (Rev 18: 4,5)

“Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Cor 6: 17, 18)

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight… “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’… Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:4, 7-9)

The good fruit is the fruit of a life lived in and by the Spirit and not in and for and by the world or the flesh. May the Lord give unto us a spirit of wisdom and revelation in understanding this. May the Lord help us to flee from the wrath which is already upon this world and to flee from the wrath to come. Amen.


Knowing God As One

Knowing God as One has been expressed primarily in a negative way by the three monotheistic faiths of the world. The argument goes like this. If God is one then there can be no other God or no one can make any claim to know any other God. Therefore any such claims must be extinguished and all such proponents must be exterminated. I call this as rabid intolerance. But what is the positive way.

The Shema prayer which every devout Jew recites several times every day, teaches that the positive implications of Knowing God as One is to love Him only and no one else and nothing else. This means anyone who believes in One God begins to realise that one cannot live for anything else and anyone else except for Him. He made us and He is the sole owner of everything in the universe. Everything and everyone exist for His pleasure.

Such an understanding takes away all our rights to live for ourselves. We have no right to live even for our welfare, our careers, our pleasure. One’s career is not in pursuing university degrees nor about high profile jobs nor respectability nor even economic security. One cannot seek these even in so-called ministry. Not even in church systems and structures and hierarchies. Our only career is to pursue God. Every other career and concern must be subsumed to this one pursuit in life – the pursuit of God. Our pleasure and welfare, dignity and security are to be found in Him alone. Every other pursuit is tantamount to an idolatry or adultery or prostitution of our self. So any activity we engage in, including pursuing education and jobs or even ministry, must be with the clear leading of the Lord and not for the sake of gaining social respectability nor economic stability nor any other temporal gain.

Such devotedness to God was not only taught but demanded by Jesus Christ in His call to discipleship. The call to love God only, comes to us in the form of the call to discipleship given by Christ, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Apostle Paul stated the same truth as, ‘You are not your own. You were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your bodies’. And, ‘he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised’.

I believe such an understanding leads to 3 basic things in the life of a follower of Christ:

1. It gives us the focus or the objective for living. To love God and to live for Him alone, His glory and His pleasure. Period. We have no right to live for anything else and anyone else. This also means that we as the people of God seek our basic needs in God alone and not from the world. Our basic needs of sustenance, security and identity are to be found in loving and trusting our God.

But unfortunately like the people of Israel we seem to seek these from the world. The people of Israel often left God and sought foreign help and foreign gods. They went to Egypt for food. They went to the Philistines for weapons of war. They sought the help of Syrians and Assyrians often to rescue them from their enemies. But God actually said that He would provide for them and protect them and own them as His people if they trusted Him and sought Him. The persistent dirge of the prophets in the Old Testament was to call the people back to love, serve and trust God alone.

Similarly, the most unambiguous indictment that can be brought against God’s people today, is that they have sought the dignities and identities promised by the world and have found security in its ways of life and in its systems. They have not only sought it, but they flaunt it and take pride in it. They even offer thanksgiving for attaining to and acquiring what the world has to offer. How blind we can be!

Hence God’s word says, “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars.” (NASB)

You see friends, our trials, problems, difficulties and sufferings are not because we follow Christ completely but because we do not follow Him completely! In many contexts God is not on our side!

2. Second, with objective and focus comes discipline of life. The people who love and pursue God alone are those who are disciplined. They know where they are going and what they need to be doing. Anything that is unimportant or not essential to loving God and following Him is spurned and rejected. Anyone who claims to know the God of the Bible cannot be casual and perfunctory with life. In fact I would think that it is totally anachronistic to claim to know God and not be conscious, single-minded and serious. (I do not elaborate much on this here because that is not the basic purpose in this series of articles. I guess I have said enough here for you to explore on your own.)

3. Third, such a person or people maintain a life that is separate and distinct from the rest of the world. They just cannot live the way the people of the world live. They cannot pursue the same things that the people of the world pursue. They do not pray for the same things that the people of the world pray for. They are not discouraged by the same things that the people of the world are discouraged with.

Even a cursory glance at the condition of Christians worldwide suggests that this is not true of them. We have become just like everyone else in the world – self-seeking, individualistic, money-driven, career-driven. Pursuing personal growth has become the chief aim in life for many. This is true of even those who claim to be in so-called full-time ministry. In fact they are worse. Because they take advantage of the insecurities of the people and build their own identity and security. Worldly achievements and attainments have become primary objectives in life for practically everyone, all over the world. We only give the tag that it is God’s blessing and take false comfort in it. Even our preachers, pastors and Christian leaders have proved to be false teachers by egging the people of God to pursue the identities and securities offered by the world. Is it any wonder that we have ceased to be ‘testimonies for Christ’?

We have become so hardened and have lost all sense of propriety as Gods people that we think that learning and displaying proper cultural etiquette and social graces and niceties is enough to be Christian and our godliness is demonstrated in terms of some basic honesty, attendance at church services, regular tithing and contributing to ministry.

True and essential Christianity is not just about these but it is about a life that is totally antithetical to the way the rest of the world lives. And whose dynamic is not in money nor education nor influence gained through connections with the world but of a dynamic that is totally unexplainable by any of the categories of the world. It is lived by the dynamic of the power of resurrection of Christ.

Had the people of Israel loved and pursued the One God with a single-minded commitment and a single-hearted devotion they would have begun to discover that He lives in relationships and that He is Triune. And that therein lies the solution to communication, relationships, organisation and economics and a host of other issues pertaining to life on earth. We do not have to learn our behaviour from the world nor how to manage our life and work nor about how we organise ourselves or transact our relationships. We learn these from the Triune God.

But tragically both Israel and the Christians in the last 2 millennia have gone to the world to learn from it, how to organise and govern themselves and how to conduct economic transactions between themselves and with the world. The result is of a people who are totally undistinguishable from the rest of the world. We were supposed to be ‘a people dwelling alone, and not counting itself among the nations!’ Or as the Lord said through prophet Jeremiah, “I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?

Friends as you can see, we have been hurtling down the wrong track for several centuries now and are in the danger of being ‘spewed out’ by the Lord or hear his fateful words, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ May the Lord help us.

The One, The Three and The Many

Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority

2. God is number one, He won’t be number two

Let us first take up the issue of our discipleship to Christ and how it has been compromised. This has happened precisely because we have not understood the implications of knowing God as One!

The Bible is united in its affirmation of God as One. The Jewish Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 declares, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

What does it mean in practise and what are its implications for life?

We do know that intolerance is born of a monotheistic understanding of God. If God is One and there is no other, then no other god or faith or religion can exist. Generally all who believe in God as monotheistic, express it in the form of intolerance towards all who do not believe in Him. But intolerance is a negative form of expressing the belief and it has no place in Christian faith. The Bible does talk about God as One, but it also teaches that the One God reveals Himself as Three. If three personal beings with free wills of their own co-exist and be so united that they are One then intolerance of the kind that is prevalent in the world today has no room in Christian faith. But what is the right and positive way of expressing our belief in God as One? It is ‘single-hearted devotion’ or as stated in the second part of Jewish Shema and affirmed by Jesus Christ in the words of the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

The first of the ten commandments is, “I am the Lord your God…You shall have no other gods before me.” A popular chorus for children restates it as “God is number one. He won’t be number two”. Jesus stated the same in his call to discipleship, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Os Guinness and John Seel write, “To say that there is one God and no god but God is not the conclusion of a syllogism nor simply an article in a creed. It is an overpowering, brain-hammering, heart-stopping truth that is a command to love the only one worthy of our entire and unswerving allegiance.” (Emphasis mine)

Is this not what is missing among Christians today? The right way of expressing our belief in God as One, is unswerving allegiance to him or in the words of Apostle Paul, ‘single-heartednes’ towards Christ. Instead we have begun to live dual lives – a life of faith in God, of following Christ and of pursuing self and the world!

The words of Paul ‘…simplicity that is in Christ’ can also be translated as ‘sincere devotion to Christ’ or ‘single-heartedness towards Christ’. As I said in my first article on this subject of ‘Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority – Riding Two Horses’, rather than singleness of heart we have begun to ‘ride two horses’. Or as Paul says about Timothy in Philippians 2: 19-20 ‘…all seek their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus’. The modern world has made it both easy and very attractive to ‘follow Christ’ and to pursue self-interest, self-preservation, and personal material affluence. This kind of duality among Christians today is so universal, pervasive and entrenched that we hardly notice it and even if noticed we think it is normal and nothing to worry about nor worthy of paying any attention to. It is appalling to see that many well-meaning Christians are living such dual lives and do not see anything wrong with it!

Quite early in my own personal walk with Christ I came across the statement, “No man or woman amounts to anything in the kingdom, no soul ever touches even the edge of the zone of power, until this lesson is learned that Christ’s business is the supreme concern of life and that all personal considerations, however dear or important, are tributary thereto (Dr. Francis quoted in ‘Streams in the Desert’ – Devotion for December 14) Such thinking clearly indicates one’s theology. Stories of men and women who pursued God and made loving Him their primary pursuit in life testify to it.

If we are created by God and bought with the blood of His own Son then surely we do not belong to ourselves. Therefore “…those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” We just cannot live for anyone else or for anything else. To do so amounts to not only violation of the first commandment but also to violate the terms of discipleship to Christ.

In my first article I had written, “Nothing can be more plain than that. We cannot live for ourselves. Period. Not for our own desires, ambitions, pleasures, aspirations, comforts, security, identity, dignity, glory whatever. We cannot live a life of self-seeking. We live for Christ and His kingdom – his pleasures, his desires, his will, his glory and nothing else. The day you and I decided to follow Christ or the day His choice fell upon us, my friends, we have lost all rights to live for ourselves. If you do not like this then you do not understand the gospel or you are still holding on to your self. There is no choice here. Either we follow Christ and give him our total allegiance or we leave and go our own way.”

Os Guinness and John Seel explain that this kind of unconditional allegiance to Christ means unconditional refusal to give God’s place to anyone and anything else. Such people are uncompromising, unmalleable and therefore unconquerable too. Often they are viewed as intolerant because they are intransigent. Their intransigence is born because of their allegiance to God, the One and only, who has revealed himself in the incarnation of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is not the rabid intolerance of the religious fanatic, who bays for the blood of those who disagree. But these uncompromising people do not engage in coercion nor in the extermination of those who disagree with them. But it is seen in their unswerving allegiance or sincere devotedness to Christ and His kingdom.

Such allegiance or devotedness is what constitutes true worship. Paul calls it ‘reasonable service’ or ‘right kind of worship’. Anything less is not worthy of him. Anything else is not worship but strange fire. Any worship without such unswerving love and devotedness is not worship. There is no religious ritual or custom or tradition that can compensate for this. There is no need for any religious place or sanctuary where this worship can be offered. It is given in the life of the individual in spirit and in truth.

Let me bring in a parallel from the book of Exodus. God sent Moses to Pharoah saying, “Let my people go that they may worship me”. But Pharoah would not let them go. He reasoned that they were not kept busy enough with work and therefore they wanted to go on a day’s journey into the desert to worship. First he said they could worship right where they were. Later he said that only men could go and leave the rest of the family behind. He increased their work so that they would not have time to think about worship. I believe we have a modern-day Pharoah in our work and employment. Our employers and employment keep us occupied with work so that we do not give single-hearted devotion to Christ. Or they would have us treat work as worship! Or even work as mission! Or work-place as fishing pond to fish men for Christ! There are a thousand and odd ways the world and its system would want us to be bound up with, so that we do not give unstinted love for Christ. Our God would have none of it. Either we love Him whole heartedly and follow Christ wholly or serve Mammon and the world!

Anyone who wishes to be faithful to his call to follow Christ can never be totally comfortable in the world. Nor can they be comfortable working in any of the organisations and corporations today including church and ministry related works. Any prayer seeking to be comfortable in the world is a wrong prayer.

Oswald Chambers writes, “Beware of anything that competes with loyalty to Jesus Christ…The greastest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him…The one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for Hm.” Only when our discipleship to Christ is understood this way and we are willing to give such unswerving allegiance to him, can we recover our calling and our witness. Without this our own discipleship to Christ would be suspect.

Do you now see, why I say that our condition today is lamentable?

How Then Should We Live? Part 4

Read Part 1,2 and 3 below…

4. Lifestyle of faith

Most of the God-talk, the talk of ministry and the talk of being Christian around us today, is just that. Just talk and no walk! And I include myself in it. For all practical purposes and practically everywhere, what we all have ultimately settled for, is to pursue our concerns of security and identity even while claiming to be following Christ and ‘doing ministry’. We use God to serve us on the pretext of serving Him! Practically all our problems that we face in our churches and ministries are related to these pursuits. We will serve Him and follow Him, as long as He allows us to build our securities and identities. We rationalise and protest, we fight and quarrel, we victimise and play the victim, and we politicise and divide when our agendas and pursuits are not served. The politics we play, the leadership problems we have, are all to do with the same pursuits, in the final analysis. I am reminded in this context a quote from Os Guinness’s book, ‘The Call’. Thomas Linacre (1460–1524), founder of the Royal College of Physicians and a distinguished Oxford humanist, was so troubled after the reading the four gospels, he said, “Either these are not the gospels or we are not Christians.” I believe what he said is as true today almost six centuries later as it was during the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII in 15th century England albeit, possibly for different reasons.

Let me address two or three objections my readers might bring to what I am saying. The first is that I am making huge generalisation and painting all Christians with the same brush. I must admit that it is true to a large extent. I am making huge generalisations because what I am saying in these articles is generally true of most of us globally, barring a few stray exceptions among us. We have become so much adapted to the modern lifestyles and are so used to the comforts and conveniences of modernity that we hardly understand nor practise our calling to follow Christ, truthfully. Os Guinness writes, “Hardly any Christians are world-denying these days…On every side we see Christians pursuing the rage for relevance, whether seeking the respect of the “cultured despisers’ of the gospel, reaching out to the contemporary “unchurched” with a “user friendly” gospel, or just enjoying the comforts of the age. For many believers the Christian life is now a good life: it simply “goes better with Jesus” even if there is no God and no Resurrection. The result is a series of adaptations of the Christian faith to modern man, that are a capitulation with few rivals in two thousand years.” (The Call, Os Guinness, 2003)

One of the most blatant and universally common adaptations of life to the world, among Christians is the career-driven model of life. This is so common that today even ministry is viewed as a career, as argued in my first article. What is so disquieting is that, it is taught and practised so brazenly even by most pastors and leaders. We spend hours in praying for God’s blessing on our pursuits not realising that we are asking Him what He has so distinctly proscribed(1 John 2: 15-17; James 4: 1-4). The call to follow Christ sounds the death knell to all our ambitions and aspirations for personal or organisational power and glory. It means an end to all kinds of self-aggrandisement and for all prospects for coming up and making it big in life. Don’t we know that anyone who takes up the cross to follow Him must be willing to die on that cross?

The second objection I hear is that I am proposing a perfectionist few of Christian faith. I wonder how anyone can make such an objection. I am not talking about perfectionism. I am talking about obeying Christ and following him whole-heartedly. We do not read anywhere in the gospels, Jesus lowering the terms of His call to follow Him. There are no discounts or rebates offered for discipleship. Instead Jesus challenged people to first count the cost and only then to follow Him (Luke 14: 25-33). Do I hear some say, “What about the thief on the cross?” I hope that it does not reveal the thieving mind to somehow sneak in into heaven at the end, without any cross and cost! The problem with our fallen nature is that when we are bent upon doing what is wrong and evil, “…the mind turns from reason to rationalisation” as Dallas Willard points out. Our heart is desperately wicked as the Bible tells, so when we are cornered, rather than accepting that we could be wrong. It finds ways of explanation, excuse and if possible escape from doing what is right. Or to justify that what we are doing is right.

Take heed, how you build

A third objection could be about my credentials or authority. What authority do I have to question so many and across the board especially when so many well-meaning, godly men and women have done so much for so many centuries? Am I not being arrogant or simply a charlatan? To answer the objection, let me point that we cannot be our own judges. How can the accused be the law-enforcement, the lawyer and the judge? It is no wonder that we justify ourselves! We must all stand before the bar of His Word now (Matt 7: 21-27) and later before His throne. “…But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” 1 Cor 3:10-15). We are called now, to take heed how we build. It will be too late at the final judgment.

I have no doubt that the Lord has used so many women and men of God and the organisations raised by them for the salvation of many and the building of His kingdom. Yet I must point out that the fact that God graciously uses our weak and faltering efforts is no excuse for us to continue to do what others have done all along, without any reflection and introspection. We must constantly reflect and learn from the mistakes of the past and move on towards the model He has Himself set for us in His own life on earth. My only concern and appeal is that we not only focus on the goals and objectives of serving the cause of God’s kingdom, but also to see that the ways and means we employ are also derived from the scripture and are in alignment with the values of His kingdom. Otherwise we would be employing, tools borrowed from the world and designed by the devil to do the work of God. This is precisely what the devil wanted Jesus to do in the temptations on the mountain top, as explained earlier in my articles. Quite early in my life I have learnt that the fact that God uses us is no guarantee that everything is alright with us. He uses and blesses our efforts to get his work done for reasons and purposes only He knows. But we must always be waiting on him to know and see if we are following in His steps and doing as He wants us to do. Finally about my authority and credentials, I have none except what prophet Amos claimed in Amos 7: 14-15: “…I was no prophet, nor was I a son of a prophet…Then the Lord took me as I followed the flock…” That is my only claim to any authority, apart from sincere but faltering efforts at following Him for nearly forty years of my life.

Removing the old, bringing in the new

The letter to Hebrews ends with the statement that God is shaking up everything that can be shaken in order to remove them so that, that which cannot be shaken may remain (12: 26-28). What is it that God is shaking up in order to remove? And what is it that God is brining in which cannot be shaken and which remains?

The drift of the whole letter indicates that God is shaking up the old order of things in order to bring in the new. He is removing the old form of worship, the old covenant, the man-made structures, the external, that which is physical and a shadow of the real. He is bringing in the real, the heavenly, and the spiritual. He is removing the temple worship, the never ending sacrifices which needed to be offered year after year and which never made anyone totally righteous. The priesthood was only a shadow of what Christ was to do upon the cross, a perfect priest of a perfect sacrifice offered in the very presence of God, the Holiest of all. How was all this going to be mediated to the believer? It was through a new covenant. The terms of the new covenant were that God would now work through His Holy Spirit by putting His word into our hearts. And therefore, how are we to live? There are no more animal sacrifices to offer. No more temples to attend. No more any need for priests to mediate for us. In fact there is no need for any ecclesiastical orders or for any kind of standard liturgies to follow, in order for man to approach God to worship Him or to live our lives pleasing to Him. Ecclesiastical orders and liturgies might have been of use to some in the past and they might still be helpful to many. To the extent these do not become enslaving forms they might still be good. No doubt these have been devised as helps with good intentions by godly men and women and are based on the teaching of the scripture. But we are now called upon to live by faith, “The just shall live by faith” (Heb 10:38). It is very unfortunate that the Christian world has reverted back to man-made systems and structures in order to worship God. It is a sad irony that while we talk about being the ‘temple of the Holy Ghost’ we still build sanctuaries and demand attendance at those physical structures as a mark of faithfulness and devotion unto God. This is the reason why I assert that the darkest day in the history of the church was the day when we began to build physical structures and began to call them sanctuaries or places of worship. Is it not true that it was this practise more than any other that has made us more like any other religion of the world? And that it was this more than any other that has brought in all kinds of ills that plague us today – our politics, our divisions, and everything else that we needed to run them. Whether the management systems or the organisational models that we borrowed from the world to run our systems and structures.

How do we live then? The just shall live by faith and not in fear is the answer of the letter to Hebrews.

Most of us live by fear – fear of people, fear of future, fear of disease, fear of death, fear of losing our dignity and name, fear of losing our securities and so on. But in the Bible we are called to live by faith – faith, not just for justification but we must learn to live our whole lives by faith. In chapter 11, the author sets forth for us what it looks like to live by faith. We shall explore three men and their lives of faith mentioned here in Hebrews 11, and draw lessons about them from other parts of the scripture as well. But we must address a few popular teachings on faith before we begin to explore the life of faith of Enoch, Abraham and Moses.

Faith as positive thinking

There are three very popular teachings on faith which need to be clarified in this context. These have become very popular over the last fifty years or so. These are generally known by catchy slogans – The ‘power of positive thinking’, the ‘power of positive confession’ and the ‘seed-faith movement’. The first one came into popularity through the book of the same title and a radio talk hosted by Norman Vincent Peale in 1960s. The teaching views faith as positive thinking. It is what most management students learn about the importance of perspective – the ‘glass is empty or full’ tool. That one should not look at the negative aspect of the situation but to look at the positive. His book became very popular even among those who are not Christians and was read by millions across the world. Later Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral fame, Joyce Meyers and Joel Osteen are among the other most popular televangelists who have successfully used this teaching combining it with scriptures and have built multi-million dollar ministries. There is a lot of simple common sense in what they teach. The subtlety is in the using of biblical texts to buttress what they say. But it does not constitute the gospel of Christ. Their books and talks, in my opinion can be categorised as purely motivational. Schuller and Meyers books are very popular and are read by many people across the world.

Faith as positive confession

The power of positive confession or positive speaking or the Word-Faith movement school, has sprung up as an offshoot of the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements. It combines the positive thinking teaching of Peale with scripture which teach about speaking out what you believe. One such texts is the one Jesus taught, “I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt 17: 20). Positive confession/speaking teach about claiming in prayer and speaking out boldly in faith what you claim. That what you speak out and say out loud will be done because you are speaking out what you believe to be true. The power of positive speaking is about speaking directly to the problem, sickness and need, and not necessarily to God in prayer. The most popular among those with varied shades of the teaching are Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Paul (David) Yongi Cho, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Charles Capps, Morris Cerullo, Andrew Wommack, Joyce Meyers, Joel Osteen, D. G. S. Dinakaran, his son Paul Dinakaran in India and a host of other small time and regional preachers across India. Most of those listed above have gone on to build huge personal empires in the name of ministry. Some of them live very lavish and opulent lifestyles, quite often with the gifts given by many unsuspecting, sincere and simple people. They justify such lifestyles as a blessing from God. The point is you do not see the cross or the lifestyle of Christ in their lives.

Faith as sowing seed

The ‘sow and reap’ or the ‘seed-faith’ teaching also falls into the same category. Seed-faith was first taught by Oral Roberts. Later several picked up on it, teaching people to give or sow in the church or the ministry of the preacher, in order to reap a harvest of blessings. The ‘sow and reap’ or’ seed-faith’ teaching is generally based on 2 Corinthians 9: 6, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” If one reads carefully the context of what Apostle Paul is writing here, it becomes very plain that his emphasis was not on the reaping at all. It was in order to encourage liberal giving to send relief to the needy Christians in Jerusalem; the Apostle is giving the illustration of the farmer who sows liberally. Paul was appealing them to give liberally neither to support the work he was doing nor to maintain a rich lifestyle. If one reads 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 the tenor of Apostle Paul’s appeal makes it plain that, giving should not be encouraged to the point where the giver is put under the stress of poverty nor the recipient under the stress of riches or luxury. Good giving should lead to equality and not to inequality or to uphold the lavish lifestyles of the pastors and leaders.

All these teachings prey upon the fears and the need for security and identity of the people and promises well-being, wealth and prosperity in the name of Christ and His gospel. This encourages and enslaves people to the pursuit of the securities and identities of the world. Exactly what the Lord Jesus said the people of His Kingdom should not be seeking. There is practically very little emphasis on the need for repentance from sin. There is no teaching about the lifestyle of faith, or of the cross which includes self-denial and sacrifice. If self-denial and sacrifice are taught at all, it is taught so that people should deny themselves and give liberally to the ministry of the teacher or the evangelist. Such preaching is not biblical and misleads many from the truth of the gospel. It brings great reproach to the name of Christ.

But the lifestyle of faith looks totally different from any of the above teachings. Let us now turn our attention to Hebrews 11.


He walked and he was not!

In Genesis 5: 24 it is written that Enoch walked with God. And Hebrews 11: 5-6 says, “…he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”

It must be pointed out that when the Bible talks about faith it does not mean the general spiritual or mental ability to believe. When the Bible talks about faith, it means the response of trust and commitment that a person shows towards the revelation of God or to the Word of God. First, the object of faith is in focus. It is faith in what or whom? It is faith in the God who speaks or reveals Himself. Such faith is seen in trusting the person you believe and giving off of yourself to Him at any cost and against all odds. It means relying or leaning upon Him. These are the first steps in the life of faith. This is what marks each person mentioned in Hebrews 11. And this is what draws God’s attention and approval.

Third, the life of faith is demonstrated in diligent seeking or desiring. It is not enough to claim that we believe in God. But it must show in the way we live and the changes we make in order to seek Him and know Him. Diligence is about putting effort into, or bringing in the needed disciplines to know God. To discipline means the willingness to deny ourselves of anything that hinders. It means saying ‘no’ to certain things but saying ‘yes’ to Him, to His claims and to His demands over us. So the life of faith is a life of discipline. It is a life which puts in, regular and honest effort to seek Him and to know Him. It could mean spending in times of silence and solitude with Him. It means setting apart times of prayer and Bible reading. It means making sacrifices and denying ourselves in order to please Him.

“Can two walk together, unless…”

Enoch walked with God – to walk with another involves agreeing with that person as written in Amos 3:3 “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” Walking with another means intimacy, friendship, agreement and pleasing. It is no wonder then that the Bible says that Enoch pleased God. And their intimacy was such that God took him away to be with Him. He is one of the two people in the whole Bible, who did not see physical death as known to us. But, if walking means agreeing together, then in a walk between two unequals who must agree with whom? Obviously the lesser must agree to the greater. In this walk of Enoch and God, Enoch must agree with God. But what is it that we have to agree to, in order to walk with God? I can think of two major areas where we must agree with God, in order to walk in intimacy with Him. The first is His sovereignty and the second is His holiness.

Anyone who wishes to know and walk in intimate relationship with the God of the Bible must at some point come face to face with His sovereignty. Because He is God, His authority and His control over everything is final and supreme. And since He is the One and only, and no one else beside Him, His supreme command in the words of the Lord Jesus is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.” (Matt 22:37-38). This means that we are not our own, we belong to Him. That we have no rights only the responsibility to live for Him and to please Him. Does it sound autocratic? Does it seem enslaving? But that is what we are made for. Living for Him, in love and obedience is our safe haven. As the birds are made to fly and the fish to swim in water, we are made for Him, to live, to move and have our being in Him. As the strings of a guitar find their meaning and music in being tied at both ends, we find our freedom and fulfilment in being bound to Him alone. And everything else and anyone else that tries to take His place must be eschewed.

Os Guinness & John Seel write, “To say that there is one God and no god but God is not the conclusion of a syllogism nor simply an article in a creed. It is an overpowering, brain-hammering, heart-stopping truth that is a command to love the only one worthy of our entire and unswerving allegiance…Unconditional obedience to God therefore means unconditional refusal to give God’s place to anyone and anything else. Thus those who confess one God are those who are ready to criticise everything else – nation, class, race, party, power, wealth, ideology, science, government, and church – whenever it threatens to usurp the place of God. After all, there is no other.” His is a call to absolute submission and obedience. Either He is Lord of all or not lord at all! He brooks no rivals, nor any defiance.

Dismantling and redefining

Second knowing Him in His holiness brings us to a shattering and dismantling discovery of ourselves, that there is nothing in us that can make us acceptable or pleasing to Him. Anyone who has come face to face with the Holy God cannot be the same anymore. The holiness of God shatters all images we have of ourselves. The images that I have of myself, as a good son or daughter, a good spouse, a good preacher or teacher, a good leader or any other role that I play in life – all these, when compared with the Holiness of God, are shattered. I begin to see that I have not been and done what is expected of me and that I have failed to meet His mark. We cast ourselves at His mercy, broken. But He reaches forth in grace to redefine us, to be reconstituted into the image of His Son. Such a person begins to live in the shadow of God’s grace. All his credentials are laid upon the cross and all that he is now is defined by the grace of God. Hence he says, “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14). We learn to live in meekness and gratefulness. When we deserved judgement, He showed mercy. What more can we demand of Him. How foolish we are to complain, to sulk or to demand that God do as we wish? Listen to the words of a man who understood grace, “For all my father’s house were but dead men before my lord the king. Yet you set your servant among those who eat at your own table. Therefore what right have I still to cry out anymore to the king?” (2 Samuel 19: 28). That is why, I wonder if they are talking about the Christ of the New Testament gospels, when people brag and take pride about who they are and boast about what they have and do and still claim to be followers of Christ! And how can anyone who understands the grace of God fight for positions of power in ‘church hierarchies’ as is often the case in our churches and ministries? Anyone who understands the grace of God and lives in the shadow of it, cannot but be meek and grateful for whatever lot he is given in life.

Having been reconstituted and redefined His command now is, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pet 1:16). And we are called to go outside the camp, bearing His reproach (Heb 13: 13). We cannot be comfortable anymore living the way the people of the world live, pursuing the things that the people of the world pursue. As Jesus said, it is the gentiles who run after them, not the citizens of His kingdom (Matt 6: 32). Like the people of Israel about whom prophet Balaam prophesied, “I see a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations.” (Num 23:9 NIV). Listen to Os Guinness & John Seel again, “Or at other times, again, the moral demand makes us uncategorisable. Marching to a divine drummer, we are often out of step with others. Condemned to be seen as outsiders, mad, possessed, odd fellows, dangerous, “we are the imposters who speak the truth…the penniless ones who own the world” (2 Cor 6:8, 10, NEB). But the same absolute demand is also what makes the impossible people unconquerable.” It is no wonder then that God took Enoch away. A man who agrees with God to be able to walk with Him in intimacy cannot be comfortable, living in a world that rejects Him. It is because of this reason I believe, apostle Paul writes that he desires to depart and to be with Christ (Phil 1: 23). How can the followers of Christ, live the way the people of the world live? Is it not disquieting, that God’s people are so comfortable living the way the people of the world are living? Does that not reveal how far removed we are from knowing and walking with Him, as Enoch walked with God?

He went not knowing where!

The record of Abraham’s walk of faith in the book of Genesis is a cornucopia of lessons for the life of faith. He is an epitome of a man of faith. We shall explore three aspects of the life of faith of Abraham.

A brief overview of the life of faith of Abraham reveals that, there is an element of uncertainty built-in, into the life of faith. This is implied in the statement that Abraham went not knowing, where he was going. The call of God to Abraham came with such clarity and authority that there was no room for second guessing or side-stepping it. He was certain about the One who spoke but uncertain about the details and the destination. When God speaks you must obey, you cannot not obey. This is true for every follower of Christ. The summons to follow Him was very clear for the early disciples. They forsook all and followed Him. Os Guinness writes, “As Dietrich Bonhoeffer insisted, ‘The response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus.’ They did not consider his claims, make up their minds, and then decide whether to follow – they simply heard and obeyed. Their response is ‘a testimony to the absolute, direct, and unaccountable authority of Jesus.’ The call is all. Jesus is the reason. The only way to follow is to leave everything and follow him. Here is a call that makes short work of all our questions, objections, and evasions. Disciples are not so much those who follow as those who must follow.” And Eugene Peterson explains, “…”faith” – trusting obediently in what we cannot control, living in obedient relationship to the One we cannot see, venturing obediently into a land that we know nothing about.”(The Jesus Way, Eugene Peterson, 2007). When have we seen anyone following the Lord this way in our times? Our modern lifestyles do not allow for such obedience. We want everything to be reasoned, analysed, planned, budgeted, programmed, and booked in advance. Implicit and unquestioning obedience is hard for us.

But I have known one such man who lived and obeyed implicitly. Bakht Singh(1903-2000), was a man who came to know the Lord personally while studying in Canada in late 1920s. He was known to have lived in such intimacy with God. He would narrate many such experiences in his life when he went according to God’s word, unplanned and unprepared. He would tell of how God took care of every detail as he went in obedience. When he came back to India in obedience to God’s call to preach the gospel in India, he had no place to live in Bombay (now Mumbai) and no money to buy food as his father, a Sikh, refused to entertain the converted son in his home in Lahore. Bakht Singh was forced to live in uncertainty and yet enjoyed the peace and glory of God’s presence with him on the streets of Bombay. His motto in life was to know the will of God and to do it. He was a man who taught the importance of listening to the voice of God. I grew up under his ministry till my mid20s. But unfortunately today we hardly know such intimacy with God nor can live with such tentativeness in life.

God demands and deserves such obedience from us, because of who He is. We let Him control our lives. We let Him make the decisions and move or stay and accept people, circumstances and even possessions in life only as He allows and at His command. After many years of teaching, I have personally learnt to say to God, “Lord, I will take what you give. I don’t want what you do not give – people, possessions, circumstances and even ministry opportunities. I will be content with whatever lot you would allow me in life.” Like the servants of David always ready to obey, “And the king’s servants said to the king, “We are your servants, ready to do whatever my lord the king commands.” (2 Samuel 15:15). Isn’t our Lord, the King greater than David? Does He not deserve such allegiance? If we cannot trust the One who died for us, who else can we trust?

Living as strangers and pilgrims

Second, faith in God leads to a lifestyle of strangers and pilgrims. We are not called to or promised settled lifestyles. This is implied in the call of God to Abraham and the call to discipleship to Christ.

“By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise;  for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Heb 11:9-10).

We are called out of the world to be part of His kingdom. And as long as we live in this world we find it hard to settle down. There is tentativeness in the lifestyle of strangers and pilgrims. They do not live settled lives as far as their professions, residence and the things they acquire are concerned. They do not amass wealth and possessions and become rooted to a place to such an extent that they cannot uproot and move on at the Lord’s command. Friends we are called to be people who ‘Go into the world to preach the good news’. Even if we were to build or own a house for any reasons, we do not allow it to become a hindrance to move on at the Lord’s command. The modern world does not allow us such lives. Although the modern world made lives very mobile and made it easy for people to move across the globe yet the basic human instinct is for security and settled lives. The career-driven model, the security and identity seeking mind prevent us from living the way of strangers and pilgrims. In fact, for many in India settling down in life – finding a well paying, stable and permanent job, being married and owning an own house – is a major pursuit. For the follower of Christ the idea and the practise of settling down in life with a permanent job and a permanent residence ought to be odious. His hold over everything in life has to be tentative. Why such a lifestyle? First we have no ‘continuing city and we wait for one to come, and we are called to ‘Go’ into the world and yet not live the way the people of the world live. How did Abraham handle it? By building altars and making regular sacrifices. There is in him a constant giving up and moving on. Each place he went or each time he strayed, he built an altar, he sacrificed as a mark of giving up and as a mark of rededication and moved on at the Lord’s command. Eugene Peterson writes, “Abraham was a veteran in the sacrifice business…Each altar became a place of prayer: “Is this the way God commanded and promised, or is this a version of the command and promise that I have customised to my convenience?” At each altar he learned a little more, acquired a deeper discernment, a sharper insight into God’s command and promise in contrast to his innate wilfulness and indulgence but also in contrast to the anti-faith world of Ur with its ziggurats. Altars built at many a crossroads, a life of repeated sacrifices, each sacrifice an act of discernment, separating the chaff of illusion from the wheat of promise.”

But many reason, was not Abraham a rich man? Did not God bless him with a rich herd of livestock and a host of slaves? What is wrong about acquiring wealth? Yes, but Abraham also was always ready to sacrifice, give-up, to pull up His roots and move on. How many of us would be ready to disturb our settled lives and move on if God commands us to go to a troublesome spot in the world? How many of our pastors and leaders would? First, as pointed out in my earlier articles, God does not bless us in order for us to flaunt, nor to hoard. He does not bless us in order for us to roll in luxuries while many around languish in destitution and poverty. He blesses us so that we share with those who do not have. We must learn to give sacrificially and bless others with what God has blessed us with. The practise of giving up and sacrificing begins right from the time Abraham left Ur. First he had to give up his homeland, then the family – his father and brothers. He had to let go off his nephew and unselfishly deny himself the choice of a fertile land. And later he firmly rejected the spoils of war in Genesis 14, “But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’”. (v 22, 23). Elisha demonstrated this when Naaman, the Syrian commander offered him gifts in gratitude, “But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive nothing.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. (2 Kings 5:16).

The wisdom of knowing what and when to accept or when to refuse gifts from people, is rare among us. The blight of ill-gotten wealth has ruined many followers of Christ. It is not becoming of the followers of Christ to flash, flaunt or gloat over their wealth or achievements. While being grateful to God for letting us have more than other unfortunate neighbours, let us not use our riches, or our status or anything else as symbols of our greatness. We may use the treasures of ‘Egypt’ but we may not make a ‘golden calf’ of it. Remember Nebuchadnezzar. Despite being warned through a dream he bragged, “Is not this great Babylon that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honour of my majesty?” (Dan 4:30). While the word was still in his mouth, his kingdom was taken away from him and was driven into the forest to live like a beast for seven years until he lifted up his eyes to the heavens, acknowledge and praise God’s authority over him. May it not be that some among are stricken with the insanity of Nebuchadnezzar.

Tyranny of the love of God!

What is the tyranny of the love of God? How can love be terrifying? Does it not say that there is no fear in love? To understand it one must stand with Abraham on Mount Moriah. The son of his love bound to the altar. His trembling hand raised and poised to slay him to be offered as a burnt offering unto God. But before that you must endure the ‘agonising’ journey, trudging along with the son born in his old age. Can you see his heart in painful turmoil that he would soon, part company with his son? With his own hands he must put an end to his life for whom, he waited into his old age? No, you must start even before that. You must start on that fateful night before he began his journey, when the word of the Lord came to Abraham and agonise with him about the kind of God he has followed many decades ago. How many sacrifices he has made? How many things he has left behind? How many years he has waited trusting the God who spoke? We do not know what went through Abraham’s mind that night or through the journey or as he raised his hand to slay his son. He has endured many a test. He would yet endure any other trial sent by God, but this one? How can he kill his own son and offer him as a burnt offering? What kind of a God is He? But the record in Genesis is silent about all that. Abraham knew what the test was about. He did not waver and we do not find any hesitation. He was robust in his faith. He knew the God who he believed, trusted and followed all these years.

The Holy Spirit of God gives us three brief glimpses into the heart of Abraham about the fateful event. One in Genesis 22: 5 – Abraham tells his servants to wait while he and the boy would go and worship God and that they will come back. They will come back? How can they come back if he was going to slay his son? The second glimpse is given to us in his answer to his son. When asked where was the lamb for the burnt offering? Abraham answered, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” The third glimpse into his heart is given to us in Hebrews 11: 17-19 – By faith Abraham concluded that God was able to raise Isaac up even from the dead. What faith and confidence in the God he knew!

The tyranny of the love of God is this, that he brooks no rivals. This was the test for Abraham, a test that was like none other which he had endured thus far. If God alone exists and there is none other beside Him, then no one else or nothing else can be loved, worshipped, sought or pursued except Him. No one else and nothing else can control, guide, lead or drive us except Him. Not careers, not the promise of wealth, not the prospect of settlement nothing can be loved or pursued. No green pasture is green enough to attract us. No glitter is strong enough to draw us. Everything else and anything else must be subservient to our love for God. Even the son of promises must be sacrificed if he comes between us and our love for God. For the follower of Christ, His call is clearer, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.  And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14: 26-27).

God tested Abraham. But Abraham responded with worship. Hence his answer to the servants – we will worship. True worship is an expression of love and obedience to the One who alone is worthy of such love and obedience. And such worship is too sacred for the public eye, hence the servants needed to stay back. They cannot go to the top of the mountain. They cannot assist him in this worship. They cannot see what was going to happen, understand and remain silent. They must remain at the foot of the mountain. It was a matter to be settled between him and his God. It was extravagant worship in response to the extravagant love of God. The world does not understand such love and such a sacrifice. His God had loved him, provided for him, and taken care of him all along his life’s journey. He had kept His promises. And Abraham knew that He will still keep His promise to make a nation for him through Isaac. He concluded that God will raise up Isaac from the dead! So Abraham honoured God by believing and obeying Him. But who can worship God acceptably? What can mortal man offer equal to the honour and the glory of God? Abraham knew, even the offering of his son as a burnt offering was not enough for the honour and the glory of God. Such an offering must come from God, himself! So his answer to his son, “God will provide for himself the lamb.” What a father! And what a son! And much more – what a God! His God did not let him down. He did provide the lamb. Oh, but subsequently in history, He did not spare His own Son for us all! So that, we can worship Him in truth and in spirit. And Paul asks, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom 8: 32).

This brings us full circle back again to the words of our Lord and Master, “… and all these things shall be added to you.” Do not run after ‘all these things’. It is the gentiles who run after them – what shall we eat, what shall we wear, where shall we live? The citizens of God’s kingdom live above all these, for he will ‘freely give us all things’ pertaining to life and godliness (2 Pet 1: 3, 4). Our sustenance, our security, our identity and everything else we need are promised and given to us as inheritance in Christ. When we trust in Him for all these and live in such assurance and joy then we shall have honoured Him truly. This is worship that is worthy of the name, the nature and the glory of God. Such worship delights God and brings down the promise of His covenant blessing, “In blessing I will bless you and in multiplying I will multiply you… In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

Friends, where is such trust and obedience unto God these days? If we claim to be worshipping God and yet are driven by the things that drive the people of the world, I wonder if we understand true worship. Where there is no such trust and obedience as that of Abraham, anything that passes for worship today among us is mere noise! And anything that goes on in the name of missions and evangelism is but lip-service if we do not honour God with an extravagant love as that of Abraham. Becoming a blessing to the world is an outflow of such worship. Any worship that is offered and any ministry that is done, if it lacks the trust, obedience and sacrifice as that of Abraham lacks the presence, the provision, and the pleasure of God.

It was the lack of trust and obedience on the part of the people of Israel during their journey in the wilderness that prompted God’s displeasure and censure. A reading of Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 makes this very plain. Hebrews 3:12 – 4:10 reads,

“Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief… For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it… There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.”

If you notice carefully the unbelief was about their lack of trust that God could provide food and water and about their safety through out their journey. The same issues of sustenance, security and identity of the people of Israel, they always wanted to be like the rest of the nations! Why can’t they be like other nations of the world, was their frequent complaint. This is what led them to murmur against Moses and rebel against God. This is what made them to want idols to worship like all others. And they wanted a king like other nations of the world. They were not satisfied with God as their King.

I wonder if the same displeasure and censure of God is upon us today as well! There are many among us who claim to have salvation but do not have the experience of entering into His rest. My contention is that the lifestyles we have adopted as followers of Christ fall far short of the trust and obedience that it demands. Our career-driven lives, and chasing the securities and identities of the world undermines our trust and obedience to Him. We are woefully like the people of the world. Unless we learn to repent and restore our trust in Him, we will not experience the Sabbath rest promised in Christ. True worship leads to such blessing.

He saw Him who is invisible!

We learn from Moses that the life of faith leads to making choices. In Heb 11:24-28, it is written about Moses, “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.”

It must be noted that this is not blind faith or dumb faith. This faith was based on God’s word or His revelation to them. Words such as, concluding as in case of Abraham, choosing, esteeming, refusing, and enduring in case of Moses suggest that it was not unreasoning or unthinking faith. They had the option of rejecting but their faith lead them to choose correctly and properly according to the revelation and the understanding they had of God. Their faith involved the engagement of the mind to weigh and to make the right judgement.

One question that bothers many is how come people heard the voice of God with such clarity in those days and why don’t we today? I believe they lived in such pristine times and there were so few influences over them that they recognised when God spoke to them. In our day we are bombarded by voices from all around, the voice of family, friends, public opinion, and our own fears and so on. We give ear often, to voices of convenience, expedience, fear, comfort, greed, procrastination, sheer laziness and a host of others. Today we are exposed to so many external influences. We find it hard to hear the voice of God. This is why the diligence of seeking Him and bringing in the needed disciplines of silence and solitude are so very important for us to rediscover and to hear the voice of God.

We learn from Moses, that faith in God and the desire to please Him leads to a refusal of anything, everything and anyone who do not give allegiance to the One and Only God. Faith in the one and Only Holy God chooses affliction, poverty, loneliness, solitude, rejection, and even loss rather than stand on the same side of that which is antithetical to God and His word. It is for this reason Moses refused the identity of being called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and chose to be counted with the people of God. He rejected the treasures of Egypt and chose affliction, rejection and the prospect of becoming the future Pharaoh of Egypt. When you choose to bow down to the One and Only Holy God and His Son, you choose to stand against and in conflict with all other authorities.

This was what made Martin Luther to take a stand against the Papacy. When dissuaded by friends from appearing at Diet at Worms, the simple monk responded, “I am determined to enter the city in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, though as many devils should oppose me as there are tiles upon the houses at Worms”. And later when standing trial and challenged to recant from all that he taught and wrote, he answered, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

These men feared God more than they feared the political or religious authorities of the day. They knew their God and therefore they took a stand and carried out great exploits for Him. When you see today among many followers of Christ, a casualness of faith, the lack of discipline, and the abject surrender of many to the allurements and the seductions of the modern world, you wonder if they understand the call of Christ, or the gospel and the meaning of the cross. Os Guinness writes, “Faith in Christ will regain its decisive authority in the modern world only when we who follow Christ fear God more than we fear the powers and favours of modernity – when we hear God’s call and are so captivated by his summons that we say with Luther, as the earliest printed reports add, “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.” And again he writes, “Clearly God’s impossible people are never troublesome to other authorities unless they are mastered by God’s authority…Thus for followers of Christ who have the consuming passion to be His, entirely His, at all costs and forever His, the present cultural captivity of evangelicalism is a scandal and a sorrow that is also a test of love.”

And finally about the lifestyle of faith in the God of the Bible, the I am who I am God and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ: in the letter to Hebrews we read, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country…And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise” (Heb 11:13-16, 39-40).

The lifestyle of faith leads to the conviction that nothing is final or complete until he comes in all his authority and glory and therefore lives with hope. They wait for the full and final revelation of the kingdom which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. This is their blessed and glorious hope. The certainty of their hope is in the resurrection of Christ, their Lord. And so in that assurance they continue to live and serve Him until He comes. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor 15:58).

O happy bond, that seals my vows

To Him Who merits all my love!

Let cheerful anthems fill His house,

While to that sacred shrine I move.

It’s done: the great transaction’s done!

I am my Lord’s and He is mine;

He drew me and I followed on;

Charmed to confess the voice divine.

Now rest, my long-divided heart,

Fixed on this blissful center, rest;

Nor ever from they Lord depart;

With Him of every good possessed.

High heav’n, that heard that solemn vow,

That vow renewed shall daily hear,

Till in life’s latest hour I bow

And bless in death a bond so dear. Amen.

Does it sound hard? “You shall not say ‘too hard’ of everything that this people call hard; you shall neither dread nor fear that which they fear. It is the Lord of Hosts whom you must count ‘hard.’ He it is you must fear and dread” (Isaiah 8:12-13, NEB).




For further reading:

(Notes and quotations are mostly taken from the following resources)

Guinness, Os, The Last Christian on Earth (Ventura: Regal, 2010) (Formerly published as The Gravedigger File:Papers on the Subversion of the Modern Church, IVP, 1983).

Guinness, Os, The Call (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003)

Guinness, Os and Seel, John, No God but God: Breaking with the idols of our Age (Chicago: Moody, 1992).

Peterson, Eugene, The Jesus Way (London: Hodder, 2007).

Clouse Robert G, Pierard, Richard V and Yamauchi, Edwin M, Two Kingdoms: The Church and Culture through the ages (Chicago: Moody, 1993).

Barton Ruth Haley, Invitation to Solitude and Silence (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010)

Sproul, R. C. The Holiness of God, (New York: Guideposts, 1985).

Ramachandra, Vinoth, Gods That Fail: Modern Idolatry and Christian Mission (Cumbria: Paternoster, 1996).

Willard, Dallas, The Great Omission (Oxford: Monarch Book, 2006).

Philip Doddridge, 1702-1751.



He Who Has Ears to Hear…2

Fig Leaves and Broken Pots

Enoch Era

Broken pots are a poor source to quench anybody’s thirst, fig leaves are a poor means to cover one’s body nor do they provide a sufficient means of protection from the elements. What is common to these is that man has vainly tried both in different forms over the centuries to provide for himself security and satisfaction.

First, let me explain how it has come about that we are so endemically security-seeking and identity-conscious. The most basic, inherent and endemic needs of man are sustenance, security and identity. While sustenance and security are necessary for his living, identity became an issue as a result of his fall into sin. In fact the main issue in the Genesis story about Adam’s disobedience and fall was about identity – ‘you will be like gods’. And when God came seeking, Adam hid himself. Both the man and the woman were trying to hide their bodies from each other as well. Shame, fear, insecurity and identity crisis are some of the effects of the fall. Man was made to live by trust and dependence upon God – his sustenance, his security and identity were to be found through a life of God-oriented and God-dependent living. But with the fall he lost this orientation and began to seek these from sources that can never truly satisfy him. Man became endemically security-conscious and identity seeking. Most of our problems spring from these two areas. Our problems in inter-personal relationships, communication, issues of understanding, our personality strengths and weaknesses are mostly related to issues of security and identity.

Since the fall, all of man’s efforts and pursuits are geared towards seeking and satisfying these basic needs from sources other than God. Just as Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves with fig leaves we seek to find our security and identity in other forms of fig leaves even today. Jeremiah calls them ‘broken cisterns which can hold no water’.

We know that Jesus was on earth not only as God but also as Man. He lived as man was meant to live. As man he demonstrates for us what man’s response ought to be on these issues of sustenance security and identity.

In his temptations on the mountain he points the way for us. His responses give us the clue. When tempted to make bread the primary focus, his response was “Man shall not live by bread alone”. Bread is necessary but bread alone does not satisfy. We are not made for bread, but bread is made for us. Earning a living cannot be the chief focus of man for in the final analysis we are not made for earning a living alone. The same reasoning can be extended to other areas of life. We could say, ‘Man shall not live by jobs and salaries alone’. ‘Man shall not live by marrying alone’ etc. In the second temptation the devil showed him the glory of the nations and promised to give it to him provided he paid obeisance to him (devil). Jesus answered, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only you shall serve”. We cannot find our identity or glory by paying homage to a mere creature. The true and the only focus of our devotion is God and no one else or nothing else. Our glory is in knowing God and relating with him in the right way, not in gaining the riches of the world.

The devil then sought to question his trust in God by tempting him to test God’s faithfulness to care for him and protect him. Would God truly protect him from being hurt even if he jumped from the pinnacle of the temple? What better way to establish his own credentials as God’s anointed? Jesus answered, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God”.  It was not only in the temptations on the mountain but also throughout his life on earth he demonstrated the same trust, dependence and devotion to his Father.

As followers of Christ, we are to live by faith in him – “The just shall live by faith”. We depend upon him for our sustenance, security and identity. We are not to seek these in anything else or anyone else other than our loving heavenly Father as revealed by his Son and mediated to us by his Holy Spirit. Since our basic needs are taken care of by Him and that our eternal security is in Him, we now live with confidence and assurance. It is from this vantage point we live lives of vulnerable and expendable service towards one another and towards the world.

Just as the devil offered alternatives to Jesus on the top of the mountain, we are offered several newer alternatives in every age. These alternatives come to us in the form of philosophies, ideologies, theologies and doctrines, religions, institutions, traditions, rituals, different systems and structures, science and technology etc. These are the broken pots which can hold no water.  When God’s own people, who knew the fountain of living waters left him and made broken pots for themselves, God lamented.

Trojan horse of economics

Friends, my point is this – God’s people, the church today has gone away from him while claiming to worship him and follow him. We are running after the world to seek our living, security and identity. We are doing this precisely by following the capitalist model of life. The capitalist model of life manifests itself in what is commonly known as middle- class lifestyles. Chief characteristics of the middles class life are – career drivenness or what is known as the upwardly mobile, worldly success and material affluence. Is this our Lord’s agenda for us or is it of the world?

We are seeking our security and identity in and through these. Since we were born into it, we do not see it as from the world. We pray and even seek God’s will to pursue these. Our parents, our teachers, our pastors encourage us to do it. We have interpreted and taught the Bible to support such a pursuit. And those who have attained worldly success and material affluence are feted and celebrated as examples of God’s grace and blessing. Such women and men are even raised to the governing counsels of churches and ministries. We find it hard to think that anything could be wrong with it. And some even have ‘great testimonies’ of how God has lead them in pursuing ‘the world’s agenda for living’.

One of the subtler ways in which worldliness manifests itself these days among Christians is in the form of ‘doing ministry’ or being ‘called into full-time ministry’. This is another way by which many believers try to find their security and identity rather than in Christ their Lord. They begin to look for it in ‘ministry’. I believe that actually ‘the call’ they are talking about is the call to radical discipleship. This is the primary call given to every follower of Christ. But it is mistaken for ‘call to full-time ministry’. In fact in the Bible you do not find anything called ‘full-time’ ministry. There is the primary call[1] to belong to God in Christ and then there is the secondary call of a specific task or role that the Lord gives us to fulfil in the church and the world. In the context of institutionalisation of the church and ministry the secondary call began to be viewed as ‘full-time ministry’. But many confuse the primary call to follow Christ totally as the secondary call and therefore talk about ‘being called to do ministry’. So ‘doing ministry’ can become another form of the fig leaf and broken pots of the world. Our satisfaction does not come from the ministry we do but from the Lord. Neither can we find our identity in the fig leaf of ministry but in the Lord. We think anything will do if we can avoid radical discipleship! Church in its present form and Christian organisations do provide plenty of such fig leaves. And many seek their security and identity through ministry and for many it even becomes a matter of pride!

When you are in the business of seeking security and identity from anything or anyone other than God, then anything and everything becomes a source for pride and none of them sufficient enough to satisfy. Even humility becomes a matter of pride! Simplicity becomes a matter of greatness! A little can become a lot to boast about! Any fig leaf is good enough to cover our shame and to drink from a broken pot is not a problem as long as it is a pot! We try to add leaf after leaf and hop from one broken pot to another in the hope of finding satisfaction! But to return to the Lord and take up the call for radical living? Ah, that is for the first century Christians, we think, not for us in the 21st when the whole world is waiting to be feasted upon!

Two questions that need to be answered at this point. Why is the capitalist model of life or middle class dream worldly? And what is Christ’s agenda for living?

History teaches us that since the early part of the previous millennium there have been sweeping changes in the world.  The process of modernisation began with industrialisation and the development of science and technology. This has brought in changes in the way we think about the world and life. Scholars tell us that most of these changes came about as a result of Christian thinking. The precursor to all these was the printing press, which made the Bible available for all to read. But several other scholars believe that Christianity gave rise to modernity and it was modernity that was responsible for subverting Christianity!

One of the major contributions of the modern world is Capitalism. Capitalism has become so pervasive that it has practically seeped into every area of life today and its effects are seen practically in everybody’s life. It has made goods, services and conveniences possible and available to people at a scale never dreamt of before. It has certainly raised the incomes of many and has contributed to overall economic and financial growth and development. This has changed the life of man for good in terms of scientific and technological development and economic well-being.

But it has also changed the way we think about life. It has given rise to what is known as the middle class dream. It has made the pursuit of money, material prosperity attainable, desirable and primary objectives of life. It does provide us some financial security and identity by giving us a social status. Therefore we pursue our careers with religious zeal. Today it is not just the average Christian but many churches and ministries are being run on the capitalist model. Churches have shown servile obeisance to it and has sold its birth right for a broken pot of capitalist broth!

What are the chief ingredients of the capitalist broth? The Concise Encyclopaedia of Economics[2], defines capitalism as economic individualism and that its basic premise is the pursuit of self-interest and the right to own private property. Economic individualism? Pursuit of self-interest? Right to own private property? Are these good and desirable Christian ideals?

Do you now wonder why so many of us who claim to follow Christ and to be part of His body, the church have no qualms whatsoever to be self-seeking, self-preserving and possessive about what belongs to us and about our churches and ministries? Of course we justify it as good stewardship.

Recently a friend’s son got into an IT job in a multi-national company in the US. When he received his pay check at the end of the first month, he was surprised to find that 37% of his income was slashed as tax. In order to avoid the tax, now he has to invest in an insurance and a house eventually. But the job is only a 6 month contract. How does he continue these commitments if his contract is not renewed and does not get another job immediately? Or would it be possible for him to accept the tax deductions and be content with the money he gets into his hand? How would the world look at him if he did that?

Actually this model of life is like an economic Trojan horse – once allowed, it unleashes a hoard of foot soldiers who gradually undermine our commitment to follow Christ!

If you decide to be part of the system then you got to be in the rat race to be upwardly mobile – hard-work, salary increments, incentives, promotions, investments, taxes etc. It gets very difficult to avoid any of these. It is rare for anyone to tell his boss that she or he is happy with the current salary and wishes to forego the annual increments for a time or that one is content with the present position in the company and that they did not wish to be elevated in the present position. Once you are in, you have got to be upwardly mobile or you will not survive in the system or end up being discarded. You are forced to pursue self-interest! Once you are in the race for the middle class dream – you get entrapped and enslaved and the deeper you get into it the harder it gets to get out – an economic and social quagmire indeed! I do know that there are many Christians who endeavour to make a battle of it and try not to be sucked into it. But the question is, is the pursuit of self-interest and the chasing of the middle class dream agendas given to us by the Lord?

The question is, who has set the agenda to pursue the middle class dream? Who has told us to be upwardly mobile in our careers and that worldly success and material prosperity are godly objectives to live for?

The Kingdom model

Read what the Lord says about the agenda for living? What is the teaching of the Bible? What criteria must control the people of God in their decision-making? Should it be money? Three portions of scriptures come to mind at this point:

Matthew 6:

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[e] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also… 24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air…Consider the lilies of the field… O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

2 Corinthians 8:9:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Philippians 2: 4-8:

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

According to the teaching from the Sermon on the Mount, those who worship God do not worry about life’s basic needs. It is the ‘gentiles’, the people who do not know God and do not belong to his kingdom who worry about life’s needs. If as the American Economic Association[3] defines economics as ‘the study of how people choose to use resources’ then capitalism is the choice of people to use their resources in order to make profits. If economics is about how people make choices to invest their resources then the above passages from scripture are classic passages on economics for the people of the kingdom of God.

Our choices and decisions of life cannot be made on the basis of, how much we earn, how safe or secure a job is, what kind of clothes we wear, where we live, how much and what we study and any other aspect of life. Our choices and decisions of life will be made on the basis of our worship of God and not on the basis of security-concerns and identity-consciousness. We are to be led by the Spirit of God and not by financial considerations or any other criteria. In Matthew 6: 24 and 25 we read, “You cannot serve God and money.  “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…” This means that the one who worships God does not worry about the basic needs of life. He knows that the God he worships cares even for birds and grass and He will surely provide for him. He does not worry about these things therefore he does not live for these. His life decisions are not made on the basis of these things in life. He does not allow these to become the basic pursuits of his life. The corollary truth is that if we worry about them and allow these to become the main focus and pursuit of life we are worshipping money and not God. There is no middle ground here and no middle class dream of upward mobility or worldly success.

From the above teaching we can deduce that the capitalist model, the middle class lifestyle, the career-driven life cannot be the cornerstone and driving force for living for the people of God. This is the reason why I say, to live the middle-class dream and the career-driven life is of the world. It is the agenda set by the world and it is not for the people of God.

The passage from the Sermon quoted above also teaches us about providing for the future. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Certainly Jesus is not talking about a literal ‘tomorrow’. If he did, then it would be difficult to provide for clothes that last only for a day! But I believe, he is talking about not hoarding for several years or generations as many have done. He is teaching us a lifestyle of faith in a heavenly Father who cares for us and knows our needs. Such a life does not allow for hoarding money and possessions as future securities. It is completely out of question in a world where there are so many around us who cannot afford a square meal a day. When churches do it, it is scandalous, especially when its own contributing members cannot afford a decent living! I believe often what we hoard rots as the manna rotted when the children of Israel hoarded for the next day. Our wealth rots in the form of court cases over property disputes or spending on issues of ill-health!

Finally if we are not to be upwardly mobile as the others in the world or be driven by our careers and that the middle class life that most of us have adopted is worldly, how must we live then?

A clear and categorical answer to it is, we must live by faith. “The just shall live by faith” as explained above in this article. The lifestyle of faith[4] is for every follower of Christ and not just for pastors, teachers and preachers.

What should be our objective in life? The Lord Jesus said. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” To seek His kingdom is not about ‘doing ministry’ but about seeking His rule and authority in our lives. We must allow his rule to inundate us instead of the world. We must allow Him to subdue us. As the yeast spreads to ferment the whole dough so also must His kingdom spread in us and through us to others. First it must spread in us then to others. When this begins to happen you will live by a totally different economic model and drive, an economic model of the kingdom of God[5].

Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”


I tried the broken cisterns, Lord,

  But, ah, the waters failed!

E’en as I stooped to drink they fled,

  And mocked me as I wailed.

Now none but Christ can satisfy,

  None other name for me;

There’s love and life and lasting joy,

    Lord Jesus, found in Thee[6].



Note: Please look for my next article on Trinitarian Economics.



[1] About the primary and secondary call look for my post “They do not fear in the day of drought” under the main title of “Values for life” on my blog: https://rupanthar.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/values-for-life-4/

[2] http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/Capitalism.html

[3] https://www.aeaweb.org/students/WhatIsEconomics.php

[4] I have explained in detail the ‘Lifestyle of Faith’ in my book “How Then, Should We Live?” You can read the same on my blog. The book is available on request.

[5] Look for my next article ‘Trinitarian Economics’ on the economic model for the people of God.

[6] Emma Frances Shuttleworth Bevan 1827-1909

Values for life – 3

Where is your treasure


What is it?

Friends, we have been numbed by the comforts of modernity to such an extent that we do not even know, how to love God with all our heart, mind and strength and to love our neighbours as ourselves. We justify our materialism as a blessing from God. How can we cope in a world that is so much caught up in the pursuit of pleasure, wealth and consumerism? The consumerism and the materialistic lifestyles of our times seep in into our lives unawares and only when we are in its grips do we realize how far we have strayed or gone into it.  Are there any practical ways or guidelines to help us cope or counter the onslaught of materialism over our lives?

Attitudes to have:

1. Gratefulness – ‘In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you’1 Thessalonians 5:18 (KJV). As the popular Chinese proverb says, ‘I complained I have no shoes until I saw a man without feet’. One of our greatest problems is, we look at those who have more than us and complain how less or underprivileged we are. We must learn to look at those who do not have even what we have so that we can be grateful to God. Gratefulness is a great deterrent to counter the spirit of complaining.

2. Contentment – “Keep your lives free from the love of money (Covetousness), and be content with what you have, for God has said, ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” – Hebrews 13:5. (NIV). Notice that contentment counters covetousness.

3. Responsible stewardship – The principle of stewardship teaches that God is the owner of everything that we posses and that we are just stewards of what he gives us. Hence we are accountable to him. This will help us in being careful about the way we use or abuse the resources given to us.

4. Life of faith and trust – In the Sermon on the Mount, Lord Jesus taught the disciples, not to worry about what we shall eat or put on. It is the people of the world who run after them. But our heavenly Father knows what we need and that he would provide when we seek him and his kingdom. How to handle our futures? (See below)

5. Principle of denial – The principle of denial   helps us to overcome the tyranny of things; of food through fasting, of sex through abstinence, of comforts by a life of simplicity. Abraham expressed this when he was asked to take the riches/plunder of war by the King of Sodom. His response was, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.” Genesis 14:22,23 (NKJV)

6. Control and use – In today’s utilitarian world we have the problem of placing economic value over human value or loving money more than loving people. While we are supposed to use things and love people, increasingly our attitudes suggest we love money and use people. We can see this in the dowry deaths and the property disputes that have become such a commonplace problems these days. This is quite often expressed even toward God. We wish to love and obey him if he provides or gives us what we want. We tend to choose the ‘God’ who helps us or prospers us. And if he doesn’t, who needs him! We make the God of our choices. Such an attitude needs to change. Relationship with God and with people is paramount. We must place a high premium on relationships rather than on property or wealth. What I gain from others or from God is not the issue but that I love them because they are worth loving.

Some simple steps to remember

– Buy things you need and use them carefully not flaunt them. “ Many times we buy things we do not need in order to impress people we do not like’ (Arthur Gish). Remember ‘That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God’ Luke 16:15.

– Refuse to use money as a symbol of strength, influence and power (Richard Foster).

– Inculcate the ‘grace of giving’. 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”. Yes money has a way of finding its way into our heart, so much so that Leonard Ravenhill wryly says that many Christians would rather sing, ‘Land my safe on Canaan’s side’ rather than ‘Land me safe on Canaan’s side’!.

How to give and how long to give? As someone said, ‘Give till the master stops giving to  you”. See how the Macedonian Christians(2 Cor 8: 1-7), ‘excelled in the grace of giving’:

  • They overflowed with joy in the midst of severe trials
  • Their extreme poverty welled up into rich generosity/liberality(haplotes means simplicity or single mindedness by implication it means it is uncalculating giving and free from ulterior motives) 
  • Gave as much as they were able
  • Gave beyond ability
  • On their own/voluntarily
  • Considered it a privilege
  • Considered it a service to saints
  • Pleaded urgently for their gift to be accepted
  • They first gave themselves to the Lord

Listen to two church fathers from the 4th century AD. John Chrysostom (347-407 CE) talking about the true meaning of stewardship argues,  “This is also theft not to share one’s possessions…Just as an official in the imperial treasury, if he neglects to distribute where he is ordered, but spends instead for his own indolence, pays the penalty and is put to death, so also the rich man is a kind of steward of the money which is owed for distribution to the poor. He is directed to distribute it to his fellow servants who are in want. So if he spends more on himself than his needs require, he will pay the harshest penalty hereafter. For his own goods are not his own, but belongs to his own fellow servants…I beg you remember this without fail, that not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth but theirs.”

Basil of Caesarea (329-379 CE) preached, ‘That bread which you keep belongs to the hungry; that coat which you preserve in your wardrobe, to the naked; those shoes which are rotting in your possession, to the shoeless; that gold which you have hidden in the ground, to the needy. Wherefore, as often as you were able to help others, and refused, so often did you do them wrong.’

– Working hard with our own hands to earn a living is a virtue. Do not  hoard or amass wealth which is damaging to the soul.

7. Cultivate a lifestyle of simplicity – Richard Foster talks about the vow of simplicity in his masterly thought provoking book, Money, Sex and Power. He says the great question of our time is how to move from greed to generosity and from vengeance to magnanimity and from violence to shalom. The vow of simplicity points the way. Simplicity gives us the framework to experience generosity, magnanimity, and shalom.

8. Handling the future – First we must remember that faith in the Lord leads to the conviction that nothing in this world is final or complete until he returns. Therefore we live with hope. Hope that, when he comes – he will finish what he has begun. So we commit all our tomorrows into his hands and live in trust. So the people of his kingdom, while they plan and prepare for the future, their hold over everything is tentative trusting in the Lord to take care of it. Hence the words of our Lord in Matthew 6: 34, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Dear Lord, deliver us from the blight of materialism plaguing our culture. Teach us to value our relationship with you and with one another more than riches and property. Teach us to be grateful and be content with what you have given us graciously – break the lust for affluence and pomp. Give us the grace to practice the art of simplicity. Give us grace to give away to those who do not have from what you have given unto us so graciously. Teach us to live with the hope of our calling in you, shining bright before our eyes so that we are not stranded by the glitter of today. Amen

How Then Should We Live? – Part 3

(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.

Ministry…Jesus way

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[1] 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!

(A poem)

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!

[1] 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.