Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Missing Foundation

During camp meeting, I was asked to be on a panel of young adults during the adult sabbath school. We were asked several questions that the adults had submitted:
  1. How do you maintain your Christian experience in today's culture?
  2. Why are so many youth who have been brought up in the church leaving?
  3. Why should we turn the church over to the young people?
Overall, I think the panel was able to show the older generation that there is more to young adults than just a quest for worship "entertainment". However, I left feeling unsatisfied with one of the answers given.

The answer for question number one involved the expected items such as Bible study, prayer, and active involvement in service. I wasn't assigned to answer that question so I kept quiet but I went away feeling like there was some key element missing. Not that the answers given were wrong but they just didn't seem complete. All those actions are good and right, but many people, young and old alike, are doing those things yet still coming away dry and empty. Sin still reigns in their lives. Where is the disconnect? Paul asks this question as well: "How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" (Romans 6:2) At the time, I couldn't put my finger on what was missing (Paul goes on to identify it as well). But as I thought about it more, I realized the answer was right under my nose.

The story of the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-30) is a very good illustration of what I feel is the underlying cause of many personal and church-wide problems. Here is a young leader who is doing everything "right". He's keeping the commandments, going to church, and paying his tithe. He probably reads the scriptures, prays every day, and is actively involved in service to others. But yet there is still something holding him back from eternal life. He has not fully surrendered everything to God. There is an area of his life that he is holding back: his wealth. Jesus is asking the man to surrender what has commanded greater loyalty than Christ.

"If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me." - Luke 9:23.

Whenever Jesus talks about the cross before His death, He is referring to the cross of His followers. The cross represents death, but not necessarily a physical death. Rather, it is more of an emotional death, involving the laying aside of opinions, preferences, tastes and will. Crucifixion was usually forced upon the victim but Jesus is asking for a voluntary surrender: "take up his cross".

"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain." - John 12:24

Death to self is a prerequisite to Christian growth and victory. "[Our] growth will be proportionate to [our] dependence on the Spirit's help." -EGW, "Character Building," The Youth's Instructor.

Paul explains: "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. ...Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin."

Notice that Paul doesn't list Bible study, church attendance, or good works as solutions to sin. The cross is the answer. Complete surrender, even unto death. This cross experience is sought for by these other things, but not substituted by them.

"The new birth is a rare experience in this age of the world. This is the reason why there are so many perplexities in the churches. Many, so many, who assume the name of Christ are unsanctified and unholy. They have been baptized, but they were buried alive. Self did not die, and therefore they did not rise to newness of life in Christ." -Ellen G. White, The SDA Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1075

"There is a great deal of modern preaching which presents, as a remedy for sin, love, social regeneration, culture, self-development, etc. According to the Scripture, the only way to deal with sin is to begin with death.... Undoubtedly the great difficulty with the majority of believers is that they are trying to live Christ's life without first having died Christ's death.... It is much more popular these days to talk about life than death, but not more necessary, for death is the way into life. Many have not seen or understood the necessity of this death; and others, having seen it, are afraid or unwilling to die.... It is the daily dying of self that makes room for the living of Christ." - Meade MacGuire, The Life of Victory

As a young adult, it is this daily surrender to God's plan, even when it is not what I would prefer, that keeps my Christian experience alive. It is a deliberate decision each day and one that I put into practice by accepting the circumstances that God leads me into. This submission brings me to a point of complete dependence on Him in whatever area of my life He is working on.

It is for this aim that God allows trials and heavy decisions. He knows that we humans are stubborn and many times have to be let to our own devices until finally we come to the point where the only thing left to do is rely on God alone. That is why so many times, His answer is simply, "Wait."

It is not involvement, Bible study, or other "works" that keeps my relationship with Christ alive, though those are all powerful tools. You see, once I have emptied myself of "self", something has to fill that empty space. That's where those other things come in. Then the Holy Spirit begins the beautiful process of growth and character development. But first, 100% surrender is required. (See also EGW, In Heavenly Places, p. 155)

"No outward observances can take the place of simple faith and entire renunciation of self. But no man can empty himself of self. We can only consent for Christ to accomplish the work. Then the language of the soul will be, Lord, take my heart; for I cannot give it. It is Thy property. Keep it pure, for I cannot keep it for Thee. Save me in spite of myself, my weak, unChristlike self. Mold me, fashion me, raise me into a pure and holy atmosphere, where the rich current of Thy love can flow through my soul." - EGW, Christ's Object Lessons, p. 159

Deciding to surrender everything to God is one of the toughest and most deceivingly enslaving choices one can make but it results in an astonishing freedom. I echo Hudson Taylor's sentiments when He says, "I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest position He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient." -Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret, p. 163

*I have gained great insight on this topic by reading Daniel Augsburger's essay on the topic, "Living a Life of Victory" found in the book "Here We Stand", edited by Samuel Pipim.


barry said...

Absolutly vital point, and very well put. I must say, its application has nearly killed me, thank God. Galatians 2:20 is my battle cry.

Anonymous said...

Christy I am so GLAD you are bumping into Hudson Taylors writings. His tiny but POWERFULLY LOVELY little book called UNION AND COMMUNION ranks right up there with PILGRIMS PROGRESS and STEPS TO CHRIST. It has helped me see how much Jesus loves ME---not you or someone else but --ME !!! It is online--the whole little book and can be printed off from the computer on about 11 pages. It is one of my most valuable treasures. Oh Christy, after reading your blog just now, I know you are in for a WONDERFUL treat and a whole new open door of understandings.

Anonymous said...

Christy, the computer wouldn't let me have enough space to sign my name. It must be rather Scotch for room.
One Keenager (otherwise known as Grammie)

Christy Joy said...

Barry - "It's application has nearly killed me" - Succinct. It took me a few seconds to get it :) I hope to apply it to such an extent as well.

Grammy - Thanks for the book suggestion! I look forward to reading it! Any book that you rate that highly must truly be fabulous! Speaking of which, I received the poem/book you sent with Mom. I enjoyed it a lot. Thank you!

Andrea said...

Thanks for sharing this with me. Well articulated--I think this is a huge missing piece for many (in all generations) who get tired of feeling stuck spiritually. But as we die daily, we discover true adventure! And imagine the adventures we all could share if we all tried this out together--at church! :)

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