I recently heard a preacher quote Paul’s injunction to Timothy, “…and what...
How much do I trust Jesus? Well, that depends. When He says things that fit with my views and priorities, I am happy to call Him my Lord and Savior. When He says things that my conscience sides with, even though I don’t want to hear them, I trust that He must be right. But when He says things that would mean radical change for my life and comfort, then I don’t trust Him. Not really. Even though I say I do, and want others to believe that I do, my lifestyle does not greatly reflect Jesus’ teachings. I know I’m not alone.
Recently I attended a Bible study gathering of 14 evangelical Presbyterians (all would be happy in ECO, I’m sure). As a newcomer, I kept my mouth mostly shut and tried to listen carefully. The study covered the two short parables of Jesus found in Matthew13:25-27, The Hidden Treasure and Pearl of Great Price:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
After the leader taught for about 15 minutes, the question was posed, “What stood out most to you in this passage?” Here were the principal answers: “I wondered why the man who found the treasure didn’t just take it rather than going through all the trouble of buying the whole field? He must have been a moral man.” “Moral choices often present us with dilemmas. How do we resolve them when it’s a choice between a hard right and an easy wrong?” “How do we decide what has highest value to us?”
Honestly, I was rather astonished. These parables say nothing about moral choices. They focus on the unsurpassed worth of the Kingdom of God compared to all other “treasures” we might amass, and they assume an exchange — if we want the Kingdom of God we must be willing to release everything else in order to possess it. The man who finds the hidden treasure sells all he has to purchase the field to make the treasure his. The merchant gives up all his other pearls — and apparently everything else as well — to afford this one irreplaceable pearl.
Jesus sees the offer of life in the Kingdom of God as an exchange — to get it, we must give up our former priorities, pursuits and ownerships. It’s an either-or proposition. Either we seize the Kingdom, releasing all that we have been holding onto as treasures instead, or we keep our present treasures and miss out on the Kingdom of God. But when we hear his teaching, we think instead, “It must be a both-and. . . . ” I can put my trust in Jesus so that I enter the Kingdom of God, and I can keep my comfortable, privatized, American lifestyle. One foot in the Kingdom of heaven, and one foot in the kingdom of this world. Unfortunately, the more I’ve tried to do this, the more painful life becomes, because I’m not really at home in either kingdom.
In terms of allegiances, a divided heart is never a good thing, as the lukewarm Laodiceans found out. But I don’t want to believe this. Jesus said no one can serve two masters, but I’m giving it my best shot. “If you want to be my disciples, you must deny yourselves, take up your cross and follow me.” I want to follow Jesus, but I’d rather forget the crucifixion element in the formula.
As long as I try to hold on to my old life, I demonstrate that I have not yet discovered the overwhelming joy of life in God’s Kingdom. These two parables highlight not the sacrifice of giving up my old life, but the joy of discovering this new and incomparable treasure of the Gospel. To be “sold out” for Christ, as the older evangelical lingo put it, is to experience the truth that nothing comes close to matching the treasures that are hidden in Christ, and made copiously available to those who belong to him wholeheartedly.
Why are so many Christians so anemic spiritually? Why are so many denominations losing members? What have so many expressly evangelical churches plateaued in terms of attendance and influence? I have no doubt it has something to do with the false gospel we have swallowed and regurgitated to others: “You can have Jesus and the world together – no problem! Live for your job, for your kids, for your pleasure, for your accolades, for your greed, for your lust. And then come to church and praise Jesus; you can even raise your hands if you’re adventurous; and give some money to help the church be successful. Perhaps host a small group Bible study in your home. Maybe invite your neighbor to church one weekend.” This is the “both-and” gospel.
But with Jesus it’s “either-or.” Until we get that straight in our own lives as disciples and as leaders of disciples, the dream of launching a new movement to plant churches and spread the faith will end up replicating what we already know is spiritually bankrupt.
So, I’m back to my original question: “How much do I trust Jesus?” Enough to give up my self-centered lifestyle, to commit my time, energy and resources unabashedly to Him and His ways, to stop straddling the fence? I know in my head that Jesus’ teaching is right — my heart needs desperately to catch up. And so I’m praying, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. Let me not contribute any longer to anemic Christianity.”