According to scripture the most profound analogy in human experience regarding what following the Lord is all about is marriage. If we therefore understand the marriage relationship, and we can to a significant extent, we will also understand more clearly what we need to know regarding our Christian lives. And I want to home in on what I believe to be the single most important thing that goes wrong for us in both regards.
Because we are sinful everything is skewed, and the work of the Holy Spirit is, in part, to un-twist that twisted-ness and be all the time returning us to the straight and narrow of clear thinking. And one of the ways our thinking is lacking is our tendency to miss the whole by mistaking it merely for the constituent parts. Let me explain.
With marriage comes a great many duties and responsibilities. There are, of course, all the fun bits, the cuddly bits and exciting bits, but there are the less fun, and cuddly and exciting bits too. Marriage takes a lot of hard work and commitment, to say nothing of stuff like bringing home the bacon, raising the kids, painting the house, getting the car serviced, putting the fences back up after a storm, visiting Auntie Flo often enough…and a gazillion other things! Such are the numerous constituent parts of marriage. But none of them, however important, right and necessary they may be, are what a marriage actually is, or about. My marriage is about one thing and one thing only….though of course it’s not a thing at all! It’s a person! My marriage is solely, completely and one hundred per cent about Belinda. It’s about my wife! It’s about the woman I fell ridiculously head over heels in love with and couldn’t imagine ever being without! Everything else, that is, the resultant constituent parts that go to make up that life together as man and wife, are purely secondary! They are merely what loving my wife means in practical terms! My marriage is decidedly not about them! My marriage is about one thing, and one thing only….my wife!
And of course our parenthood is likewise solely, completely and one hundred per cent about our daughter. It’s about Bethany. Raising her has meant, and still means, that there are a gazillion resultant constituent parts involved in the practical outworking of that parenting, but none of those resultant constituent parts comprise what we are actually about as parents. No! Our parenting is about Bethany herself! It’s solely, completely and one hundred per cent about her! I trust you can see where I am going with this!
In the summer of 1971 Jesus revealed Himself to me, and I was utterly undone! In a moment of time I went from not knowing Him to knowing Him as if I had never been without Him. Ever since then my life has been about one thing and one thing only…Him! The relationship we have together results in a great many duties and responsibilities that fall upon me, and I have known much failure over the years in seeking to carry them out. But not one of those duties and responsibilities must ever become what my life is actually about. My life must only ever be about…Him! Following the Lord has many resultant constituent parts, but just as I seek to fulfil my duty as a husband because marriage is all about my wife, so anything that ought to result from following the Lord should do so solely because it’s about Him, and not merely for it’s own sake, or because it’s right or proper in itself.
Possibly the most subtle idolatry of all is when the duties and responsibilities of Christian discipleship actually replace the Lord in our lives, and our focus becomes our discipleship (a subtle manifestation of the very self we need to crucify) as opposed to Jesus Himself! Just as we sometimes need to fall in love with our wives all over again, so do we, as followers of Him, need to return to our first love.
That night I came to know the Lord I started to both believe and do all the right things. Not perfectly, of course, and all these years later I still have a very long way to go. But everything nonetheless changed that night and I began to think, live and behave completely differently. But I did so not because I had embraced some new philosophy, or been persuaded by a doctrinal position or some attractive morality. No, I changed because I had come to know Him, and I have ever since had to battle my tendency to let even the resultant and constituent aspects of following Him usurp His place on the throne of my life. How easily, and how sadly my discipleship becomes about me and what I believe, think and do, rather than solely, completely and one hundred per cent about Him!
As a husband I am faithful not because I want to be a good husband, but because I love my wife! It would be a nonsense, of course, to say it’s therefore OK to be unfaithful, or to be a bad husband. Indeed, such would be a complete and total betrayal of the very thing marriage is: that is, loving your wife! But we must nonetheless be careful lest we mix up the resultant constituent parts of the outworking of married life with marriage itself! Marriage is solely, completely and one hundred per cent about your spouse! Indeed, if you didn’t have one then you wouldn’t be married in the first place, would you?
Should a Christian, then, seek to live a holy life in obedience to the comprehensive teaching of scripture? Of course! But that’s not what being a Christian is about! Being a Christian is about Him! Obedience to scripture and living a holy life is just the result of understanding that and following Him! Should a Christian seek to be a light to the world by way of being a witness to unbelievers? Of course! But that’s not what being a Christian is about! Being a Christian is about Him! Being a witness to unbelievers is just the result of understanding that and following Him! Is it important to be well grounded in the objective doctrinal truths of scripture? Of course! But that’s not what being a Christian is about! Being a Christian is about Jesus! It’s about Him! Being doctrinally or theologically sound, or however you want to put it, is just the result of understanding that and following Him!
So there you have it! Being a Christian isn’t about believing the right things, or doing the right things. Neither is it about not believing and not doing the wrong things! It’s simply about Jesus! It’s about Him! Believing and doing the right things, and not believing and doing the wrong things will follow on as the resultant constituent parts of ongoing discipleship; but none of that is what being a believer, in essence, is actually about. Being a believer is actually about the One in Whom we do believe! It is about Jesus Himself! Just as my marriage is about my wife and my parenthood is about my daughter, being a Christian is about Him!.
When we start to think in terms that following the Lord is about us and what we do, our obedience, works and faithfulness, we have fallen into a trap. We are then, as scripture would put it, walking after the flesh; and to the extent we are ever thinking that it is about us and what we do by way of serving the Lord, then all we can do is perform in our own strength, inevitably experiencing the failure and sin which will always result! But when we are simply looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and realising that it’s all about Him, and not us at all, then that is when the constituent parts naturally fall into place, and His life becomes manifest in us. It is a truth sadly un-comprehended by many believers, but holiness (sanctification) is not something we are meant to produce in or of ourselves. Holiness is Jesus just being Himself in and through us, with us out of the way.
Should there be obedience, good works and faithfulness in our lives? Of course! But not because we think that such things are what being a Christian is about, because they aren’t! No! Being a Christian is the realisation that what it’s all about is Jesus! That it’s solely, completely and one hundred per cent about……Him!!!