If you’ve been around the church world, you’ve undoubtedly heard this verse. We refer to it as the great commission:
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
It’s one of my favorites.
Jesus has just won everything, literally. And just before he goes back up into heaven, these are his final words. This is the most epic moment in all of church history. This is that rally point that began it all. Like our favorite scenes from our favorite movies, this is the locker room speech that got the church going.
But, we’ve missed it.
We have gotten a lot of it right. But, I think we’ve missed one of the most important aspects of it.
Teach them to obey.
Obey. We don’t like that word do we? Obey. It sounds old school. Don’t tell me to obey anything. I’ll decide what I want to do.
We like the authority part. Jesus has the power!
We like the idea of making disciples, at least we think we do. Most of us aren’t quite sure what it means to be a disciple, let alone make one. But we think we do. And if we don’t, we pretend to.
Baptizing them. Got it.
Teach them. That’s easy. But is it?
It can be easy to give someone information. It’s not that hard to help someone memorize statistics, facts and trivia.
But the real question we need to ask ourselves: Are we teaching people to obey.
This is where I think we’ve lost it. We have gotten caught up in knowing about Jesus, knowing what he taught. We know the most minute details of the greek meaning of the word that Jesus only uses this one time. We know how many times Jesus says this or that. We know which parables are in all of the gospels and which parables are only in one, and we even know how the parables are told differently.
We have wasted countless hours and generations arguing over pointless details. Did Jesus pass the cup before or after the meal? Well it depends on which account you’re reading. Also, who cares.
My point is, we’ve built institutions around the idea of knowing more. How many institutions have we built around the idea of doing more? We expect our pastors to go to Bible College and seminary so they know the truth, but of what use is knowing every “jot and tittle” when it never affects the way you live your life?
I don’t recall anywhere in any gospel, epistle, or any other part of the bible where Jesus/God say “Here’s all the information you need to know intellectually, but feel free to go ahead and live your life however you please.” Maybe I missed that part.
I do remember the places where we are called to a transformed life, where we are called to deny ourselves and take up the cross each day. I do remember that we have to lay our lives down if we’re going to experience true life.
I also remember Jesus really hounding the Pharisees and teachers of the law for ignoring the more important parts of the law.
Why has our focus been only on teaching?
You probably already know the answer.
Teaching is easier. It’s easier to teach someone a fact than to walk with them in relationship that helps them change their behavior.
And we’re selfish too. We don’t want to change anything we don’t want to change. It’s my life, don’t you dare tell me how to live it. You can tell me what you “think” Jesus meant by falling to the ground and dying, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with you.
And even if we do agree, we’re selfish about our time, and we don’t want to take the time necessary help someone apply a truth to their life.
What’s the real issue?
I guess we have to ask ourselves, does the gospel really matter to us? Is it a priority for us? Or is it just something we do when we’re able to find the time?
Because if the gospel matters, then we must incorporate all aspects of it. We must incorporate the teaching and the obeying.
Let me be clear…
I don’t give the tiniest iota about what you know or what you think you know. And I know you feel the same way about me. You don’t care about what I know. You care about what I do. You care about how what I do affects you. If you go to our church, you care about how what I do affects our church. If you’re in my family, you care about how what I do affects our family. It’s one thing to know what it means to be a good neighbor, it’s another thing to be one. My neighbors will never know I’m a good neighbor if my “goodness” toward them only exists in my intellect.
Let me be more clear…
I’m really kind of sick of people who think knowing a lot about God and the Bible makes them spiritual and righteous. I have a feeling you are too. Aren’t you tired of people who know the truth, but don’t live it out?
What do we do about it?
1.) We must start obeying all the Jesus commanded.
It starts with me. I have to be obedient to the call on my life. That means I must know what Jesus has commanded. But, If my knowledge never leads me to action, my knowledge is useless. I must know and do what Jesus has commanded. I must adapt my life to the standards God has created for Christian living. And if I’m not willing to do so, I need to stop calling myself a Christian. Because what does it mean to be a Christian if I am not going to live like Christ?
2.) We must change our teaching to emphasize action over knowledge.
When it comes to discipling, I must change my emphasis from simply passing on interesting information to passing on practical advice for living out the information I am sharing. What are some practical ways I can be a good samaritan? What are some things I can do so that Justice can be done to widows and orphans I know of? What does it mean to be meek? What does it mean to be poor in spirit? How do I live my life in that way?
The choice is clear.
Either we start being and making disciples the way Christ commissioned us to do so. Or we adopt the Thomas Jefferson approach and just start changing the the things we don’t like.
What are you going to do?
We’ve always had compost piles in our family. We dump grass clippings and leaves in a pile. We throw food scraps in there. Corn Stalks and other dead plants from the garden. We never had the fancy tumblers like people use today. Just a pile. And the pile would always decompose. The pile would start out huge, but over time, it would shrink down as the things in it continued to die. They were dead already. They were dead when we put them in the pile. But, as they continued to die, the pile got smaller, slimyer and smellier.
The following spring, it would be used to help the next years plants grow as we would put it on the garden and mix it into the ground where we would soon be planting seeds for another crop.
Can you imagine taking advice from this heap of decomposing death? It sounds ridiculous. I know.
BUT WE DO IT ALL THE TIME!!!
This world we are in is broken. It’s cursed. It’s falling apart, piece by piece. It’s literally decomposing. It is death. And yet, for some unknown reason, we allow this world to have influence in our lives on a daily, hourly, even minute by minute basis.
We surround ourselves with input sources from this decomposing pile and then make decisions based on what we see happening in the pile. Then we are surprised (when really it should come as no surprise at all) when our own lives start falling apart, decomposing.
Not only should you check your input sources, but you should surround yourself with sources that give life instead those that take it.
I talk often about the importance of being rooted in biblical community. It’s very important. I know this as someone who has been without it for a while. I know what happens when we aren’t in community with other believers. I know it can be weird to go back to church after you’ve been gone for a while.
But, I also know the potential of what you can find there if you’ll plug yourself in.
Who cares what the world thinks? It’s death. Why do you care what the world thinks of you as a Christ follower? You’ll never blend in enough with them to win them over. It’s not possible. All they’ll see then is someone who compromises their morals. They’ll see another hypocrite who claims to believe one thing, but lives another.
It’s like the scene from “The Walking Dead” where Rick Grimes covers himself in the decomposed tissue of a zombie so he can walk among them without being detected. Then it starts raining, and the dead around them pick up the scent of life as the rotting flesh gets washed off of Rick. The same will happen to us, if we try to blend in with a dead and decomposing world, eventually we will be exposed for the life we actually are. And, the death around us will just try to consume us.
The lost around us don’t need us to try to be more like them. They need us to be more like Christ in their presence. You’ve been washed clean of death, why would you try to put it on again? You’ve been set free from the power of death, why would you submit yourself to death’s pull and lure?
John 12:24-25: “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
We have passed from death into life. We have been buried with Christ through baptism, and raised to a new life in Christ. If we have been given new life, why would we continue to live in the death we have been resurrected from? Why would we allow that death to have any say so in our lives? Why would we try to be like it? It’s death. It’s decomposing. The only hope for it is that the seed of the gospel be planted in the midst of it so it can produce new life.
What if you’re the one that supposed to plant that seed? How can you plant the seed if you’re trying to blend in?
When the world tells you the bible is outdated, don’t listen to it – that’s just death talking.
When the world tells you that church is old fashioned, don’t listen to it – that’s just death talking.
When the world tells you that you should work hard and ignore your family, don’t listen to it – that’s just death talking.
Easter has just begun. We celebrated the beginning of Easter yesterday. But Easter is a long season. Seriously. According to the Church Calendar, Easter lasts until the season of Pentecost, which is approximately 50 days after Easter. So, from now through May 15, we are in the season of Easter.
So, don’t you go thinking that resurrection thing was just a one day deal. That’s not true. The resurrection changed everything. Yes, the fact that Jesus died on the cross was important, but if Jesus did not conquer the grave, we are crazy to spend our lives following him. In fact, our entire faith is futile. Without the resurrection, we don’t even have victory over our sins.
14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. ( 1 Cor. 15:14-19)
The resurrection changed everything. Easter is not just a day, it’s a season. Resurrection is not just a day, it’s whole new way of thinking. You are no longer dead in your sins, you are alive in Christ. Your savior is not rotting in a borrowed grave, He is alive. He appeared to hundreds of witnesses to prove the fact that he was alive again. And hundreds of witnesses saw him ascend into heaven. And Stephen saw the heavens open to see Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father. Jesus is alive.
Resurrection Sunday is the day we celebrate the event, but resurrected living is an entirely different thing. Once we have put our faith in and belief on Jesus, we are no longer dead, but alive again. We were the walking dead, but Jesus cured us from out death. So now, you are alive. Alive like you’ve never been before. Your life is being transformed. Your mind is being renewed. You are no longer operating under the old system, but are being redeemed and restored into a new world.
Because of the resurrection, you now have victory over sin, victory over death and confidence to approach the throne. The curtain was torn, and you can enter into the holiest place. Actually, you now become the holiest place because God resides in you. You are the dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God dwells in you.
All this is because of the resurrection. You have new life because of Jesus’ new life.
But, just as Easter isn’t over, neither is your responsibility as a follower of Jesus Christ.
Remember, Jesus appeared to hundreds of witnesses after he came back to life. And there were hundreds of witnesses who saw him ascend into heaven. Just before he ascended, he told his followers something:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Jesus’ followers had witnessed Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection and ascension. And he told them, you will now be my witnesses – telling people the story of what they had seen – to Jerusalem (where they were), Judea (the bigger region), Samaria (to the people in surrounding areas, some who had previously been outcasts) and the ends of the earth (everywhere else.)
We are witnesses too. We may not have seen Jesus with our own eyes, (even though we have plenty of evidence for the story of Jesus) but we have witnessed other things. We have witnessed the resurrection power of Jesus in our own lives. We have witnessed the new life we have received because of Jesus. we have witnesses the resurrection power of Jesus in the transformed lives around us. We are witnesses who have a story to tell.
Just like Easter isn’t over, we aren’t done yet either. You might be thinking to yourself:
“I invested time and resources to invite someone to Easter, and they came. So, I did my job, I’m done now. Right?”
WRONG! You have only just begun. “But isn’t it the “church’s” job to make them disciples?” Yes, it is. But, who is the church? The church is not the pastor. The church is not organization. The church, actually ecclesia is the right word (ecclesia means: called out ones)…the church/ecclesia is the community of believers. You and I together are the church. We are the church. We are the body of Christ. Together we make up the body. We cannot be individually the body of Christ, we must be in community.
That means, that you have a role to play in making disciples. Yes, you did a fantastic job investing in someone and inviting them to church. And I applaud you for that. Seriously!! Great job! Bravo! But, don’t let up now.
Don’t miss the opportunity to solidify the commitment of the person you invested in. Don’t miss the opportunity to follow up and give your invitee the opportunity to ask questions. Don’t worry about having all the right answers. If you don’t know, just tell them you don’t know, but you’ll figure it out.
Right now, while they are interested and hopefully excited about Jesus is the best time to solidify them in that commitment. Don’t let that seed go to waste. Don’t let the worries of the world spring up around that seed of the gospel that was planted and choke it out. They need you around them, helping the seed to grow. They need the health of other believers and Christian community to encourage them in this new walk.
Don’t miss the chance that you invested so much time and energy in. They’re worth it. And Christ in them is worth it. Do whatever it takes! Keep going. Keep investing. Keep pursuing them. Keep inviting them to church. Keep up the good work.
You’ve only just begun.
You invested time and resources to invite someone to Easter, and they didn’t come. That’s all I can do right?
WRONG! You’ve only just begun.
“I spent time with them. I tried to meet their needs. I did what I could to invest in them. And I invited them to Easter, but they didn’t come. What else can I do?”
For some, it can take a long time of investing and investing and inviting and investing and investing and inviting before they’ll ever agree to come. And potentially even longer before they are willing to consider Christ. I believe this process of investing is going to be taking longer and longer the more our culture becomes hostile toward Christianity. It’s not like it used to be.
Don’t lose what you’ve invested to this point by avoiding this person or avoiding the issue. They didn’t come to Easter, that doesn’t mean we stop caring about them. It means we keep caring. Perhaps caring more than we did before. Maybe we need to try different things. I don’t know what to tell you because it’s different for every person we’re trying to reach just like it’s different for each of us doing the investing. All I know is that we must continue on.
You’ve only just begun. Don’t stop now. Don’t hesitate to invite again. Don’t lose what you’ve invested.
Jesus is still risen. The resurrection is still the most significant event of all time. God is still drawing people to himself. The gospel is still good news and the Spirit is still active.
Easter isn’t over. Neither are you.
First off, I love you. Seriously. I’ve spent a lot of time studying your way of doing things. I’ve been an Andy Stanley champion for a decade. I’ve bought your books and ready them. Some of them more than once. There is great insight in them for up and coming pastors like myself. I’ve used your podcasts, I’ve bought books you’ve recommended on your leadership podcast. I’ve loved having you as a source of wisdom and input into my ministry since I discovered you in 2005. So, I feel like I’ve known you for over a decade.
Second, I don’t normally write these kinds of posts. I generally try to write posts that will help the people I know and lead be better disciples. Most of them don’t know about Andy’s remarks, and probably never would. But, in this instance I feel compelled to respond. And, I feel like I may have something to offer you for a change. And, I’m hoping you’ll hear me. Chances aren’t great you’ll ever read this letter, but it’s worth a shot. I’m not anti-mega church like so many. We can disagree without hating each other, right? More on that later.
Third, my intent in writing this letter is to share with other pastors of small churches some of the things I’ve learned – which is being pointed out by the response to your comments. I was offended, though I’m trying not to be.
Recently, you preached a sermon at your church, where you spoke ill of small churches. And from the outcry I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter, you’ve had your hands full dealing with the backlash as a result. (The video is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZhhpiU4d0A). I’m sure that’s not been fun. But, I’m also sure you’re learning a lot from it. At least, I hope you are.
Since you were pretty direct and blunt in your remarks, I’ll just go ahead and be blunt and direct in my response as well. You said some pretty stupid things in that sermon. I get where you were coming from, but I think you probably could have been a little more careful. I’ll be honest. I didn’t go watch the whole sermon. I didn’t care to after what I saw and heard. I’ve listened to a lot of your sermons over the years. I’ve shared them with my friends, family and church.
Along with being the pastor of a small church, I’ve worked in several mid-sized to large churches as well. So, in part, I understand both worlds. Not to the level you do, but I get more than many. That said, I’m not one of those “mega churches are evil” people. I see you reach a lot of people for the kingdom. And I thank God for what you and so many other mega churches are able to do.
But there were some words that are going to be hard to get over. And as a result, will change the amount of influence I’ll allow you to have in my life and ministry in the future. I refuse to write you off, but my pursuit of your teaching will be a little more tempered.
These are a few of the quotes from the snipet I saw.
“If you don’t go to a church large enough where you can have enough middle schoolers and high schoolers to separate them so they can have small groups and grow up the local church, you are a selfish adult, get over it. Find yourself a big ‘ol church where your kids can connect with a bunch of people and grow up and love the local church.”
“You drag your kids to a church they hate, and then they grow up and hate the local church.”
“Don’t attend a church that teaches your children to hate church.”
As is so often said nowadays, it’s not just what you said, it’s also how you said it. It wasn’t just a comment that was made in passing. It was a remark that you spent time preparing. I decipher this based on the point you wrote out on your screen. “Don’t attend a church that teaches your children to hate church.” I know you work on your sermons well in advance, you’ve said you work on three sermons at a time at one of your earlier drive conferences. So, You probably worked on this sermon for a few weeks. So, it’s hard for me to imagine this was off the cuff and not well thought out. Because that’s not you. And, the manner with which you made these remarks show that you are very passionate about what you said. And, I guess if that’s your strategy, you should be passionate. But, what if you’re wrong? In fact, you’ve said “Your beliefs shape your attitudes.” Perhaps this is why you spoke with such passion.
Does your, phrase that pays principle apply to your church? If your church is teaching children to hate church, should people choose a different church? Isn’t it also selfish for parents to drag their kids to your church if they hate your church?
You’ve also said, “It is when our hearts are stirred that we become most aware of what they contain.” (Source: It came from within! The The Shocking Truth of What lurks in the Heart). Is that what your heart contains, complete disdain for all us small churches out in the world struggling and wishing we had the resources you have at your disposal?
I don’t pretend to know the pressure and scrutiny you are under as a mega leader in the American Christian church. I can’t imagine having so many people scrutinize my sermons and listen for things that can be taken personally. I’m sure I’ve said similarly offensive things, it’s just that there aren’t tens of thousands of church leaders and Christians listening to me.
As you have said: “We don’t drift in good directions. We discipline and prioritize ourselves there.” (Source: The principle of the path) Somewhere along the way, your priorities seem to have gotten a little out of whack. That is, assuming you believe what you said. And that’s why I’m writing this really long letter. Because, maybe it will serve as a catalyst to help you create some disciplines that correct your path for the future. I know that sounds arrogant, but you’ve also said we’re supposed to learn from everyone. That we should be asking good questions.
From reading your books, I don’t think you’ve had a ton of experience leading a small church. North Point was a plant/split from your dad’s church that started with 1,000 people. You may not understand the challenges we small church pastors face. We work on strategy and systems in the same way you do, but we don’t have a pool of thousands of people to draw from the implement the strategy. Often times, if we think something is extremely important and needs to be done, we are the ones who have to get it done.
You may not understand what it’s like to have a megachurch down the street from you, and have people leave your church to go there. You may not understand what it’s like to have friends leave your church because the mega church offers more than your church can imagine. There may be a lot of things you just don’t understand because you’ve never had to lead a small church. And to be honest, I refuse to judge you or condemn you for your lack of knowledge. Instead, I’m hoping you’ll learn from us small church pastors. Because while you have things to teach us, believe it or not, there may be a thing or two you can learn from us. And, to be honest, if you’re not willing to learn from me/us, it’s foolish for me/us to continue to learn from you.
As far as I’m concerned, you’re forgiven. I probably put too much stock in your words anyway. So, it’s also on me that I put myself in a position to be offended by your words. At the same time, it does me not good to carry a grudge against you or any pastor. We have more to learn from one another. And if we can all walk a little more humbly, the Kingdom of God will advance in a much more biblical and unified fashion than we have seen in the past.
To my fellow small church pastors who may be reading this letter, learn from me. Several years ago I realized I was allowing pastors such as Andy Stanley and Matt Chandler among others to have too much influence in my ministry. Learn what you can from them, but be more concerned about what God wants to do through you in the church he has you in. He put YOU there for a reason. If God wanted Andy or Matt to be pastoring your church, God would move them there. Can we learn from them? Absolutely. In fact, to this day, If Andy or Matt were to offer to mentor me as a young pastor, I would still take them up on their offer. I don’t expect that to happen. (How awesome would it be if each Mega church pastor took some young, small church pastors under their wing for a year or two or three – at no cost! After all, do for one what you wish you could do for all – right Andy?) But, let’s stop elevating one another as idols in ministry and be more focused on being and doing who and what God wants for us. And don’t use this as a tool to talk down about other churches. We all know, if they were to scrutinize us in the same fashion, they’d find something to make us look bad too.
Anyway, Andy. Thanks for your apology. It is accepted. (Of course, I know about your apology because I follow you on Twitter, maybe I’ll get lucky enough for you to follow me back someday.) And my hope and prayer is that God will use this in your life to further the mission of the Kingdom of God in our modern day and age, and that this may become a tool that actually unites us and sharpens our attack.
You’re an awesome guy who just happened to offend thousands of other awesome men and women who used to look up to you. It just shows us you’re as human and flawed as we are. Who knows, maybe that’s why you said what you said. But, you may want to think a little more carefully the next time before you say something to drive off all the leaders you’ve been trying to lead for the last 10-12 years.
Thanks for listening,
Waiting can be hard. I don’t know if you’ve had to wait for something, but I have. It can be challenging, stressful, annoying. The waiting is often the worst part. We get impatient. We want things now. We can’t wait for our birthday. We can’t wait for Christmas. We can’t wait for summer. We can’t wait for our wedding. We just have a hard time waiting.
Today I would like to look at another word: abide.
What is the meaning of this word that Jesus used in a very important teaching? If you want to know the context of this word, go read John 15.
What is the literal definition?
In the english dictionary the word is defined as:
1. to remain; continue; stay: Abide with me.
2. to have one’s abode; dwell; reside: to abide in a small Scottish village.
3. to continue in a particular condition, attitude, relationship, etc.; last.
- to remain, abide
- in reference to place
- to sojourn, tarry
- not to depart 1a
- to continue to be present 1a
- to be held, kept, continually
- in reference to time
- to continue to be, not to perish, to last, endure 1b
- of persons, to survive, live
- in reference to state or condition
- to remain as one, not to become another or different
- to wait for, await one
There is a key verse outside of John 15 that I want to draw your attention to: 1 John 2:28
“And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.”
Let’s Define it:
Abide means to remain, to continue in, to be present in continually. What is the big deal with “abiding in Christ?”
That’s the key question we need to answer. Why do we need to abide? There are a few reasons:
To avoid drifting
The key temptation we face in waiting for someone is that our focus can drift off to something else. It’s like having kids. You may have noticed it can be a challenge sometimes to keep your kids attention for long periods of time. You may be talking to them, but a bird flies by the window and they’re distracted. Maybe the TV is on in the background while you’re talking and a funny commercial comes on and they get distracted. Or one of the siblings comes into the room and they get distracted. Before long, you realize it’s taken you 15 minutes to say something that should have only taken about 15 seconds.
The same is true for us. We need to abide in Christ, remain in him and be present in our relationship with him so that we don’t find ourselves drifting off course when life comes along to distract us. And it always will. There will always be a distraction. There will always be an opportunity to drift. We must abide.
To produce fruit
From the very beginning of the bible to the very end, God has been in the business of gardening to produce fruit. In this key passage in John 15 we discover the key to producing the fruit of the kingdom. Can you guess what it is? The key to producing fruit is remaining in, being present – abiding in Christ. The fruit of the kingdom is contrary to the fruit of the world. (Yes the world produces fruit – and it’s desirable too, just ask Eve.) If we want to produce the fruit of the kingdom of God which is making disciples, spreading the gospel and seeing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in our own lives, we can only do so by remaining in Christ.
To be ready for His return
In this verse in 1 John 2, we also see that abiding in Christ is what makes us ready for His return.
They key to not making mom and dad mad when they get home from a date is to make sure the house is ready for their return before they get home. And I’m not talking about rushing to clean the house in the last few minutes before they arrive. It’s easier to be ready for their return if we have kept the house clean all along. Other wise, we may find ourselves trying to clean up when they get home a few minutes early.
If we want to be ready for Christ’s return, we must abide in him continually. We must be present with him continually. We must remain in him. This means we are actively working on our relationship with him. This means we are presently pursuing him. This means we don’t wait for Sunday to come to hear from his word, but that we are in his word daily. We are devoted to this relationship and we are going to choose to make our relationship with him a priority. We’re not going to make a mess of our lives all week long and then hope it can be fixed up and cleaned up on Sunday. We’re going to continually reorder our lives around the call of the Kingdom. We will use Sundays as earmarks to make sure we are in a state of constant pursuit.
That’s why abiding is such a big deal. We must abide.
Will you abide in Christ today?
It’s a fun word when it comes to writing. It’s fun to take an inanimate object and personify it. Me and my spot on the couch are best buddies. He knows me and I know him. When things are rough, my friend knows just how to comfort me.
What does personify mean?
v. to attribute human nature or character to an inanimate object or an abstraction.
That’s how we generally think of the word. But there’s another way the word is often used.
v. to embody a quality, idea, etc. in a real person or a concrete thing.
to be an embodiment or incarnation of; typify.
To embody a quality. To be an incarnation of something. In other words, we might say that Joe personifies hard work. Or that Jane is the personification of a caring person. When we look at Joe’s life, we see in him the embodiment of hard work. When we look at Jane, we see in her the incarnation of care.
As believers, we are supposed to be the personification…the embodiment…the incarnation of God’s love.
Pause: what does it mean to be a believer?
It’s worth figuring that one out. Because the essence of being a believer is not just someone who believes in the existence of something. People will say all the time that they believe in God. But that does not make that person a believer.
In the book of Acts we see the disciples say “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household.” (By the way, that word for household is the same word we get our idea of 6 to 8 from – there are 6 to 8 people God has put in your life to reach for His Kingdom.) So, if salvation comes from believing in Jesus christ, then it becomes very important that we understand what it means to believe.
So, what does it mean? Believe means to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, to place confidence in the thing to be believed. Here is the distinction. You can say you believe in God and still not be saved. Belief in the existence of someone or something is not the same as placing your belief in it.
Faith is important, but it’s not just faith. It’s a belief that leads us to change our lives completely. A belief that leads us to place our confidence in Christ.
Think about how you act when you really believe in something. When you really believe in a product what do you do? You completely incorporate it into your life and you tell everyone else about it.
Play: Back to personification
The point of being a believer in Jesus is that our lives look more and more like His life and less and less like the life of others who are still completely entangled in this world. We are supposed to look different, sound different, act different.
When it comes to our families, we love them differently. When it comes to our neighbors we love them differently. When it comes to our jobs, we work differently. When it comes to how we spend our time, we invest it wisely. When it comes to how we spend our money, we don’t hold on to as much as we can for ourselves, but we see it as something God has entrusted us with to build His Kingdom on earth.
We aren’t completely wrapped up in this world any more. We are being untangled. And as we are being untangled, we start to stand out. The more we are untangled, the more we will stand out.
The question is: Based on the actions of your life the past few weeks, would people be able to say that you are the personification of God’s love? Are you noticeably different? Do you make decisions that differ from the decisions your non-believer friends and family make? Of equal importance, do you live your life in close enough proximity to them that they are able to see the personification of this change?
I know I have work to do. I’m not there yet. But I’m getting there. It’s not okay to stay the same. I have to make progress. I have to grow in my walk with God. If I’m not growing I’m dying.
Where are you?