“We ought to always thank God for you, children loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit.” ~2 Thessalonians 2:13
We’ve got a lot of rules. Bunches of rules. And while laws and regulations and commandments and edicts do matter, they’re not the main thing. You can tell people they have to obey the rule to be generous. But if someone gives you a present only because he’s obeying a rule or doing his duty, the glory of gift-giving, the beauty in blessing another person because your life is changed, is lost. God came to us in Christ Jesus, God has poured out his Holy Spirit, not to give us more rules, but to change our lives.
The rich young man runs up to Jesus and asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He was keeping all the rules, right? Jesus starts listing the ten commandments: “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal…” And this guy interrupts Jesus, “Yes, I’m obeying all the rules. I always have. What else do I need to do?”
He’s keeping all the rules. But he senses, “There’s got to be more.”
And Jesus says, “Yeah, there is.”
“‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'” ~Mark 10:21
This young man wants his life to be right. He wants to live correctly now so he can live with God forever in the future. He knows he lacks something. And Jesus says, “Yeah, you need to turn everything inside out.” Your whole life needs to become part of a larger, outward-looking orientation. You need to put God’s Kingdom first. You need to put the needs of your neighbors ahead of your own — especially your poor neighbors. That’s the challenge. It’s not just add a couple more commandments to set the moral bar a little higher, but to become a different kind of person altogether. Jesus says, “You need a transformed life.”
Notice, just a few verses up, in the same chapter, some Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce. And Jesus gives them an answer that goes back to God’s original, divine intention for male-female relationships: “If you’re married, stay together.” Right after the rich young man story, James and John ask Jesus if they can sit by him on his throne in the coming Kingdom. And Jesus gives them an answer that goes right to the heart of God’s original, divine intention for how human power needs to work: “If you want to be great, you need to be a servant. I didn’t come to be served, but to serve and to give my life.”
As N. T. Wright points out, in this one chapter Jesus talks about sex and money and power and reframes all of it, not in terms of rules and regulations, but in terms of character. In terms of a changed life. Jesus calls us to see ourselves as having a role in the Story of God. And that role is to proclaim the reality of his lordship by the kinds of lives we lead.
Well, Allan I have to cheat just a little bit on my taxes this year. Just a little. I’m not doing anything lots of other people don’t do. But I have to. We haven’t made enough money the past three years. I have to either fudge the lines a little bit on my return or overbill my customers for the past six months. I’ve got to do one of the two. I don’t have a choice.
Yes, you have a choice. In God’s name and by the power of the Holy Spirit, you have a choice. How about downsizing your house or skipping the summer vacation? How about canceling the membership or selling a car? You’ve got lots of options that would declare Jesus is Lord over your money, over every dime and penny that goes into and out of your pockets.
My girlfriend and I are having sex. We’re going to get married in a couple of years but, yes, we’re having sex right now. I have to have sex, Allan; we can’t wait that long. I’m a 20-year-old red-blooded American male. What am I supposed to do? If we don’t have sex, I’ll be forced to use pornography to relieve the situation. We either have to have sex or I have to go to pornography. I’ve got to do one of the two. I don’t have a choice.
Yes, you have a choice. In the name of Jesus and by the power of the Spirit, you have lots of choices. How about abstaining? How about bringing your personal urges and personal desires into subjection to the lordship of Jesus? How about you and your girlfriend declaring together that Jesus is Lord over your sexuality, over every square inch of your bodies that he created for his holy purposes?
I’m going to call the police to come run the homeless people away from the park by my house. Either that, or I’m going to start a neighborhood petition to get the ordinance changed. I’ve got to do one of the two. It’s such an eyesore and it’s not safe. I don’t have a choice.
Yes, you have a choice. How about praying with and for those people? How about making them a plate of food or delivering to them a couple of blankets? There are lots of ways to serve instead of be served, lots of ways to give up your rights instead of asserting your rights, lots of ways to proclaim that Jesus is Lord over your power, over all the ways you might use your influence.
God has graciously given us his Holy Spirit to change us so that all of our lives can be brought under the lordship of Jesus.
Proclamation means bearing witness, giving testimony. If you’ve not experienced a changed life, then the Kingdom of God and the lordship of Christ is only a theory for you. You don’t know if it works or not. If you’re not transformed by the Gospel, how do you know it works? If the Gospel’s not transforming you, how do you know it’ll transform anything? How are you going to proclaim?