Do you understand how to be a Christian, in practice? Sometimes we make this so complicated; at other times we over-simplify it–but at its heart, following Christ means exactly that: following Christ.
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man [how Jesus referred to Himself] is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what they have done.'” (Matthew 16:24-27 NIV)
In our quest to faithfully convey the Biblical truth that forgiveness of our sins because of Christ Jesus and right standing with the Father is by His grace through faith in Him, we sometimes miss the forest for the trees and fail to state what also should be obvious–that the life of a follower of Jesus is to be characterized by increasing degrees of holiness. God instructs us to “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord,” (Hebrews 12:14 NKJV) and He clearly tells us, “…you must be holy because I am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2 NCV)
Of course we do invariably sin, because we are not unfailingly holy as God Himself is, and it is at those times that “…we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2 NIV) Yet the desire of our hearts must be Christ and His holiness; to “gain Christ and be found in Him” (Philippians 3:8-9) when we meet Him at the end of our earthly life. But how do we do this in practice? How do we get closer to Him with so much chatter, and the distractions of the ultra-connected world around us?
As is frequently the case, some of the most profound things in life are also the simplest, and this is certainly the case here, because the way we get closer to Jesus is simply by pulling away from that which is not of Him:
“You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world [the godlessness of that which surrounds us] makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. Do you think the Scriptures [the inspired Old Testament Word of God] have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit He has placed within us should be faithful to Him. And He gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ So humble yourselves before God. Resist the [temptations to sin from the] devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts [and minds], for your loyalty is divided between God and the [sinfulness, the temptations, the distractions of the] world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up in honor.” (James 4:4-10 NLT)
Because He is not a fabrication of mankind or a figment of our imagination, we can approach God only on His terms. We must understand this–we must “Know that the Lord is God. [That] It is He who made us, and [that] we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.” (Psalm 100:3 NIV) He is our Creator, and as such, understands more fully than we ever could the devastation sin wreaks in us. Because of His unfathomable love for us, He has prepared the stage for pulling us out of the contagion that has infected mankind–the effect of sin on us, and our inability to extract ourselves from it. In a way I cannot fully understand, He has come Himself in the person of His Son Jesus Christ, and has already paid the penalty of sin through His death and resurrection. Through the power of His Spirit in us He now gives us the ability to resist sin in our daily lives. Through that same power that raised Christ from the dead He will one day resurrect our own feeble decayed corpses, no longer fleshly and susceptible to death and destruction, and we will be with Him forever!
Yet, in the here and now, we must actually follow Jesus, because that is the essence–the heart–of what is genuine saving faith. We must, as God teaches us through James, humble ourselves before Him. We must resist and back away from all of the temptations of this world Satan and his minions place before us to distract, confuse and entice away from Jesus. We must come close to God, and then–and only then–will He come close to us. When the world–all of the noise and ungodliness that vies for our attention and passions–is pushed out and we come humbly before God, then He will fill us with His presence–with Himself! And that, as Jesus revealed to us, “…is eternal life: that they know You [Heavenly Father], the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” (John 17:3 NIV)
Dear Lord God,
Help me come close to You, that You may come close to me. Help me deny myself and every evil thing that struggles to win my attention away from You, and follow You! Amen.