I am the Master of My own Future… right?
“Only I can change my life. No one can do it for me.” ~Carol Burnett~
Everyone loves an inspiring quote… well most people do. There’s nothing like reading something that gives you hope, encouragement, and motivation. The problem lies when our reality fails to meet the expectation drummed up by these “hopeful” words. True hope can only be found when it is based on something that is true. I can have all the hope I want, but if it is not grounded in truth, it is not hope. It is false hope. The person who seeks to give this kind of hope is like the clouds in Proverbs.
“Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of a gift he does not give.” Proverbs 25:14
Someone who is experiencing a lack of hope will often cling to whatever is in reach. Picture the wounded soldier on the battle field. He has received injuries that can only end in his death, but his friend kneeling beside him continues to tell him, “You’re gonna make it. You aren’t going to die! Hang in there! I won’t let you die.”. No amount of desire or persuasion will keep that soldier alive. He needs true hope, not false hope. They both need true hope. The problem with Burnett’s quote is that while it sounds inspiring, it isn’t true. Do you know who would love to be in control of their own life and “change” it to fit their own desires and goals? Umm… everyone! I believe William Barclay has a better understanding of how this life works.
“There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why.” ~William Barclay~
There is a section of the Bible, titled Ephesians. This section was actually written as a letter from a guy named Paul who was in military custody at the time. Paul wrote this letter around the middle of the first century AD to people in the area of Asia Minor called Ephesus. While Paul was under something similar to “house arrest” and awaiting his sentencing, he wrote this letter to others who claimed to be followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Paul and these followers shared the belief that this Jesus was the Christ or Messiah, Savior.
“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight,” Ephesians 1:7-9
Paul was able to encourage these “Christians” in Ephesus because what he was saying to them was true. It was not a collection of fancy poetry or “feel good” sayings. He spent the first three chapters pouring out an incredible description of what Jesus, who is deity/God, had already done! He doesn’t even get into behavior or obedience unto chapter 4. The last 3 chapters are simply a response to what God has already done. Paul is clear that the Christian life is not about obedience to be accepted and loved, but about being accepted and loved because of who Jesus is.
“In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.” Ephesians 1:13-14
So what does it mean to be “in Christ”? Well, what it does not mean is that it is like getting in and out of your car. Let’s look. Paul says in chapter 1 verse 13 that when a person hears “the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed (believes) in him (Jesus)” that this same person is “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit”. He also says the Holy Spirit is “the guarantee of our inheritance”. These are incredibly important words! We are “sealed”? It is a “guarantee”? Notice that there is no “strings attached” phrase or contingency plan in case this doesn’t work. There are no conditions placed on the “believer”. Some have said this will let people go around and just sin with no fear. This is non-sense! Think about it.
Let’s imagine your spouse (fiancé, girlfriend/boyfriend) tells you that they love you unconditionally and no matter what you ever do or say, they will NEVER stop loving you. Does this cause you to want to say, “Great! I’m going out and getting drunk and cheating on you!” This is where I am hoping you say in your head… “No! Of course not!”. When we receive that kind of love, that has no conditions, forgives when we are offensive, and is actively chosen by the lover versus felt as a conditional emotion, we WANT to be faithful!
This is why John says, “we love because he first loved us” (I John 4:19). God has chosen to love us “even when we were dead in our trespasses”.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved” Ephesians 2:4-5
So why is it important that we are “in Christ”? This is why God is able to justify us. Some have question why God can’t just choose to forgive us… without someone “paying for sin”. I mean, hey, He is God after all, right?
J.D. Greear once gave a great example for this line of thinking. Suppose someone borrows your car, takes it out and gets into a crash. Your car gets totally destroyed. The person who borrowed the car feels horrible. They want to “make it up to you”, and apologize about a billion times. You have the opportunity to say, “Don’t worry about it friend.” You owe me nothing. I forgive you. This is great right? One problem… your car is still wrecked.
Forgiveness frees someone from the responsibility of the wrong, but it doesn’t repair the damage. Sin has created such destruction in the world, there is not restoration by simply “forgiving” the sinners. God knows this and has gone beyond just legally forgiving us, and has actually justified us through Jesus Christ.
Justify – to declared legally right. Jesus work is actually deposited into our previously bankrupt account. We now have an unlimited source righteousness “in Christ”. He took our sin, and gave us His righteousness.
The fact that Jesus has done this for us is why Paul can say in Ephesians 4:1 “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,”. Paul is not saying that we can somehow be “good enough” or even pretend to be “good enough” to live up to God’s standard. He is saying this after 3 chapters of what Jesus has done for us! The following verses help us to understand:
“…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:2-6
Notice how there is nothing in this section that is possible in isolation. The entire context of Ephesians is being saved for a purpose… and that purpose is not for yourself. Jesus dies for the sins of the world. Jesus loves the church. Jesus even gave the Holy Spirit who gave “grace” and “gifts” to each of us who are in the Church. Why did He do this? Ephesians 4:12-13 says He did this for “building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.”
We live in a society that emphasizes individual rights, being “your own person”, living your own life, making your own choices, and pure autonomy. This thinking has even permeated the church, but ironically this is anti-Christian thinking. Jesus certainly loves individuals, so you don’t have to tell the kids in Sunday school to stop singing, “Jesus love me this I know…”. We simply need to realize that we are not the center of the story. We grow up singing songs like “Jesus loves me”. This is definitely true, but Jesus’ love is often misunderstood. Jesus “loved me”… as in He sacrificed himself to pay something I never could. Jesus doesn’t “love” us, because were are lovable. He actively loves us, because He is God… and God is love. God’s love to people is not simply an emotion, but it is action.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Song, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
So where are you? Are you “in Christ”? Have you “been loved”? It has been said that what you think about God, is the most important thing about you. I would say, whether you are “in Christ” or not, is every bit as important for you to contemplate. My apologies to Carol Burnett, but her theology is mistaken. You cannot change your life, you NEED someone (the Spirit of God) to do if for you. Are you “in Christ”? If not, you are “in trouble”.