Not about Doing Religious Stuff or Living the Victorious Christian Life
AUGUST 5, 2019
I’m reading the novel, Cross Roads, by Paul Young, the same guy who wrote The Shack.
If you didn’t like The Shack, you won’t like this novel either. In his first book, God was an African American woman. In this novel, God is a young, raven-haired, olive-skinned girl; Jesus is a kind and caring man who introduces the main character to C.S. Lewis; and the Holy Spirit is an elderly Lakota woman.
People who didn’t like The Shack really didn’t like it and people who liked The Shack really liked it. In fact, discussions about The Shack (we interviewed Paul Young on our talk show back then) often sounded like a pro/con-Trump conversation…serial killer stuff.
The main character in Cross Roads, Tony Spencer, is a truly despicable man—self-centered, greedy, ruthless, and rich. In fact, not only does he make Scrooge look like a Sunday school teacher, Tony is Scrooge on steroids. For instance, Tony was married and his wife divorced him. So he intentionally woos her, acting like a changed man. She falls in love with him again and they are remarried. On the first night of their new marriage, Tony kicks her out of his house and files for a second divorce, all so he can “win” and get revenge for the first divorce.
Paul Young says that book title, Cross Roads, refers to a time in a man or woman’s life when they “see.” It’s a time—perhaps a death in the family, a major loss, a traumatic accident, bankruptcy, betrayal, a sudden light of truth, etc.—when the Holy Spirit takes the blinders off. The person can now see how truly needy and sinful one is, and the pain one caused others by one’s actions and words. It’s the beginning of transformation…and the ongoing experience of a Christian.
I’ve often said that I’ve never met a Christian man or woman who didn’t want to be better than he or she was. In fact, I believe that’s an accurate definition of what it means to be a Christian (being saved). It’s seeing. A Christian truly sees him or herself and knows that it isn’t a pretty picture. A Christian sees the amazing gift of forgiveness, love, and power from Jesus, and the possibilities that he or she has never seen before. As you know, even the Greek word for “repentance” means a change of mind and that is attitudinal. In other words, it is a form of seeing.
The Apostle Paul writes about that seeing, “not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away…These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:6, 10-12). That’s what Jesus referred to when he talked about sending the “helper” (the Holy Spirit) to be with us forever, “even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:17).
A number of years ago I wrote a book on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, Follow the Wind, and it was the most difficult book I’ve ever written. Do you know why? It is because the very “job description” of the Holy Spirit is to point. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit points to and lifts up the Father and the Son, not himself. So I’m not sure that the Holy Spirit was altogether that happy when I was writing about him and he probably didn’t give me a lot of help.
The Holy Spirit is also into revelation. Do you ever have those “flashes of light” moments when you really see…the blinders come off and you get it? Jesus said, “when he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). Among other things, Jesus is talking about the “seeing” Paul Young wrote about in Cross Roads.
Where are you going with this?
Just be still. I’m getting there.
The Christian faith is almost always more seeing than doing. In other words, being a Christian is more about attitude than about doing religious stuff, obeying the rules, or living the victorious Christian life. It’s more about knowing that you don’t do enough religious stuff to make a difference, and that you fail to obey the rules and in your ability to live the victorious Christian life. But it’s more than that. It’s a knowing that God has made you acceptable and you are welcomed.
Henry Kingsley’s poem, “Magdalen at Michael’s Gate,” is about Mary Magdalene. You will remember that Mary was a woman from whom Jesus cast out seven demons and tradition suggests that she might have been the prostitute that Jesus loved and forgave in Luke 7. In the poem, Mary is standing at the gate of heaven, and the angel Michael doesn’t think she should be let in:
“Hast thou seen the wounds?” said Michael.
“Know’st thou thy sin?”
“It is evening, evening,” sang the blackbird,
“Let her in! Let her in!”…
“Thou bringest no offerings,” said Michael.
“Nought save sin.”
And the blackbird sang, “She is sorry, sorry, sorry.
Let her in! Let her in!”
When he had sung himself to sleep,
And night did begin,
One came and open’d Michael’s gate,
And Magdalen went in.
That, of course, is the Gospel at the heart of the Christian faith. It is the “Amazing Grace” about which we sing and the story in which we live. It’s not about what we do, but what he has done. It’s a revelation of truth that is seen. And perhaps seeing is all that is needed. The Apostle Paul wrote, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). That’s simply removing the blinders and seeing. Paul could have added, “And then, of course, there are some other things about which you should be mindful. There is walking the talk, studying the Word, and learning to love everybody.” He didn’t add that. Thank God he didn’t.
Paul wasn’t encouraging sin. He was encouraging truth, knowing that people generally get better when they see.
I’ve told you before about my late friend, Rusty Anderson, and his granddaughter. He corrected her several times about something she did. Each time she said, “Granddaddy, I’m sorry.” Finally he told her, “Sorry isn’t enough.” Then Rusty said he heard God say, “Funny, it was enough for me.”
We don’t think it’s ever enough, do we? In fact, there are leaders who think their calling is to tell us that we’re not doing enough. I’m a sucker for that sort of teaching because I’m more aware than anybody else of the fact that I’m not doing enough for Jesus. Then I get an attack of sanity and say, “That’s true. And I think I’ll keep on not doing enough for a while longer. Leave me alone. You’re not my mother.”
Shortly after becoming a Christian, C.S. Lewis wrote a biographical book titled, Surprised by Joy. (As an aside, years later he fell in love with and married a woman named “Joy.”) In that book, he describes the Christian faith as a kind of joy. I was interested in Lewis’ testimony and, frankly, I was disappointed when I read it. I was really expecting more bells and whistles. I can’t give you the exact quote, but Lewis wrote something close to, “When I started for Whipsnade Zoo in the morning I didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God. When I got there, I did.”
What? That’s all?
Yeah, that’s all, and that’s enough. Lewis could see without the blinders on and that was enough.
So it’s not what you do; it’s what you see, and seeing is a gift from God via the Holy Spirit. It’s all that matters and the rest will almost take care of itself.
Do you see your sin and want to be better? Do you see the Gospel and want it to be true? Do you reach out to Jesus without making any promises because you know you can’t deliver on them? Have you tried to do religious stuff, yet you’re painfully aware that you’re still not better? Do you sometimes wonder how in the world Jesus could love someone like you?
Jesus says, “That’s good, and it’s enough.”
He told me to remind you!