“We know we should want God, but we still cling to the things we can manipulate and control, like money or ministry or superficial relationships. In this divided allegiance, we live under the authority of ‘Jesus and…'” (The Economy of the Soul, pg.41)
I heard a song recently from country artist Brad Paisley called “Better Than This.” The song describes a group of guys out camping, sitting by the fire and reveling in the moment. One of the guys makes the obligatory statement, “Boys, it just doesn’t get any better than this,” at which point one of the others speaks up to contest that. The chorus is his response which explores the possibility of a everything from Emeril Lagasse showing up to cook, to Willies Nelson coming in to take requests; they even envision Richard Petty giving rides in his stock car. The picture is pretty outlandish and unrealistic, but the chorus ends with, “Now don’t get me wrong boys, this is pretty good, but it could get better than this.” Indeed, he’s right.
Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10b). Most of us, however settle for less than full, abundant life. Praise songs, private prayer time, Bible studies, and church potlucks have become the extent of our Christian experience. Now, don’t get wrong, this is pretty good, but it gets so much better than this. In fact, if it doesn’t get better than this we might as well keep our old life…and that’s what many of us are actually doing.
God has been asking me some tough questions. I’m talking about those “this or that” questions: “Do you want me, or comfort?” “Am I Lord, or are you making the decisions?” “Are you seeking holiness, or happiness?” “Is it Jesus only, or Jesus and…?” In my flesh I want both. In my spirit I know it must be Jesus only, but do I really want that in my heart? If I really desire God’s best – that full and abundant life that Jesus died to give me – then I will die to myself. The old things from which I derived pleasure and value and identity will pass away and Jesus will take their place. When Jesus was born, he was laid apart from the warmth and fellowship of the community because there was no room for him. All the space in Bethlehem was filled with lesser people, lesser things, and so Jesus was put off to the side in a stable. Bethlehem was a picture of “Jesus and.”
Are you clinging to the old life in the hopes that it can coexist with the new? Are you holding on to lesser things: less fruitful uses of your time, frivolous consumption of your money and resources, shallow investments of your attention and meditation? You cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24), nor can you love the things of the world and experience the love of the Father (1 John 2:15). Your old self and its selfish desires cannot coexist with the new self. Either the old self must die, or the new self cannot be born. It is either “Jesus only,” or no Jesus at all.
When we look at the life explosion that birthed the first century church we see at the front devotion. They were devoted to the apostles teaching, to prayer: to God in Christ. All their effort and energy was committed and it was the old life that suffered and died. New life permeated the church and transformed the world around them. God was experienced and displayed. Their lives resulted in the glory of God’s name and the advancement of his Gospel. If our lives result in anything less, then we are missing something. If we truly live the abundant life Jesus described, how can those around us not want that…and how can we be left still longing?
When we try to preserve our old life, we forfeit the new life. When we embrace dying things, true life eludes us and we wind up with just another form of survival. When we surrender to Jesus we are crucified with him, buried with our Lord and raised with him to live a new life unto God (Romans 6:3-4). Salvation is provided by Christ Jesus and that salvation is applied through the work of the Holy Spirit. As the Spirit convicts you of the idolatry of “Jesus and,” you will be led to let another part of your flesh die. What will be your response? Will you cling to dead things, or will you surrender them – letting them go so you can embrace true life? sometimes our investments are declined because those we try to invest in don’t want Jesus. Other times those investments are declined because it doesn’t really look any different from what they have already. New life in Christ is radically different. Life with the Spirit is completely different that life without. Which life will you determine to live?