Step by step to transformation.
A mother was making pancakes for her sons, Kevin (five) and Ryan (three). The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake, so she said, “Now boys, Jesus would let His brother have the first pancake.”
Kevin got the message. He turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan, you be Jesus.”
Grace means sacrifice. Grace is never free; it always costs someone. As humans, we’re far more interested in receiving grace than giving it. “Ryan, you be Jesus” is our nature. But we also understand that we need to extend grace to those who have forgiven us. So we’re willing to give grace to those who deserve it. After all, that’s only fair. We’re giving to those who are giving to us.
The apostle Paul said that a few of us may even be willing to die for a good person, perhaps for someone who would die for us (Romans 5:7). This is conditional love: We love those who love us back. Paul contrasted this with God’s love: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8).
Would you be willing to suffer and die, not for people who would die for you but for people who would abandon you, despise you, spit on you, mock you, and crucify you? That’s who Jesus died for; He died for us: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
Jesus loves us not because we’re good but because He’s good. That’s unconditional love. Human nature loves those who love us, but we have no strength to love those who harm us. But Jesus did: “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6).
Jesus died for us when we wouldn’t die for Him. He provided a way we can follow, despite our weak nature: “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Even if we lack the ability to give grace to those who don’t deserve it, we can see that Jesus is worthy of our love. After all, it’s only right to give our lives to the One who gave His life for us. Jesus led in kindness so that we could follow His kindness in kind. We can live for Him because He died for us.
When we give our lives to Jesus, He gives us His Spirit, including the power of His unconditional love. With this power, we can transcend our own need for what is fair and enter into His sacrificial grace. We can forgive because we’ve been forgiven. His presence in us gives us the power to love even those who hate us. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus described His own good nature, the nature He wants to give us:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?” (Matthew 5:43-46).
I like to go to used book stores. One day the title of an old book caught my attention: Why Does Jesus Make Me Nervous? about the Sermon on the Mount. The author said that we find Jesus’ sacrificial nature so foreign to us that it’s terrifying. We prefer to believe that Jesus isn’t serious when He tells us to love our enemies. Instead, we absolve ourselves with the belief that no one can actually do that. But we’re left with an uneasy feeling that Jesus is serious because He was human and He sacrificed His life for His enemies. In other words, Jesus makes me nervous.
Day to day, we think we’re doing OK because we love those who love us back. Then Jesus comes along and says that even non-Christians do that; it’s just human nature. He tells us that He wants to give us His sacrificial nature. He wants to transform us from mortal humans into immortal children of God. Now what am I supposed to say to that?
A sacrificial nature is willing to give grace to those who don’t deserve it. I don’t want to do that, because that’s not fair. The very idea grates against everything in my nature. But I do want immortality. I want God’s grace, but I also want to keep my rights under the law. Can’t I just get the benefits of Jesus’ sacrifice without letting Him change my nature? Can’t He sacrifice His life for me without me becoming a living sacrifice for Him? Can’t I just accept Him as my Savior without accepting Him as my Lord?
In reality, what I’m saying is, “Jesus, You be Jesus. I want your gift of grace, but I don’t want to be like You.”
Vision for the Church
How does this apply to our church?
The plan to transform our vision of a vibrant 21st century church into our reality (TVR) is a spiritual journey to help us surrender our hearts and allow God’s Spirit to transform us into Christ’s giving nature. TVR follows the pattern of our personal spiritual journey. In the first stage, we give our lives to the One who gave His life for us. We respond to Jesus’ love.
When we give our lives to Jesus, He gives us His Spirit, including the power of His unconditional love. We now have two natures: His sacrificial nature and our old selfish, human nature. Our responsibility is to let go of the old nature so that we can participate in His grace. This process of letting go of our need for justice, our rights under the law, takes time. Each time we give of ourselves to others, Jesus gives more of Himself to us, and we grow in His giving nature. This is stage two.
With His nature, I care about justice for others because His law of love lives within my heart. However, I no longer need justice for myself. Through the power of His unconditional love in me, I can suffer injustice for others, just as Jesus suffered injustice at my hands for me. That’s not human; that’s divine. When others see the power of His love in me, they will say, “I don’t know what you have, but I want that!”
The third and final stage of TVR is Loving Obedience. This is the Great Commission, where we allow Jesus to work through us to rescue the lost world He loves. One day the door of grace will close, all suffering will end, and paradise will begin. The opportunity to be a living sacrifice for Jesus is now, while the door of grace is still open.
Jesus grieves for those in peril, and we have the opportunity today to be His friend. We’ll talk about that next time.