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 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:10-17). 

If we profess Christ and don’t realize that we are in a battle then there is something frighteningly wrong with our relationship with Jesus. The scripture is abundantly clear that, in this world, we are in a war and this world as we know it will end in war (there are multiple Biblical references including those found Revelation 12, 13, 17, and 19). The difference is that the battle that rages now is a spiritual one. Yet it is a war that demands the same intensity, courage, wisdom, and trust in God as a physical conflict. Do we sense the struggle? Are we aware of our foes? Or are we so spiritually lethargic, self-absorbed, lukewarm, (see Revelation 3:14-22), or lost that the enemy need not worry about us? 

Paul uses numerous military terms and metaphors in writing to the church at Ephesus: armor, stand (as in Custer’s last), struggle, rulers, powers, forces, belt, breastplate, shield, arrows, helmet, and sword. I definitely think he wants us to get the picture that we are in a contest that is a face to face conflict to the finish (which is what the Greek term “struggle” here means). But our adversaries are not what we might think. They are powerful, dark spiritual forces of evil that are charging to crush our faith and conquer our souls. Have you ever experienced the attacks of these enemies in your journey in following Jesus? You can’t see them but their soul-endangering attacks are real! 

But God has given us His strength and mighty power for this battle! And we wield spiritual weapons of righteousness: “…in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left…” (2 Corinthians 6:7). Our arms don’t look like human, conventional weapons of war but are far more powerful: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). God’s armor fortifies us with His strategic armaments against evil: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and His Word. When utilized, no forces of evil can stand against these superior offensive and defensive weapons! 

Beyond this we have a Commander who stands at the vanguard of this hellish fray. Although we still exert godly effort in this battle, the war has already been won. Through Calvary, Jesus has already provided the victory and will, in the end, visibly demonstrate His supremacy for all of His creatures to see. And they will fall down before Him and give Him the honor He so rightly deserves. His enemies will be vanquished and He will be exalted. It is no wonder that John cried out, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20). We who are in His battalion desperately concur. 

And He is coming. His victorious return gets closer every day. In the meantime, let us ask these questions: Are we ready for His triumphant arrival where He will “overthrow [His enemies] with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8)? Are we “fighting the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12)? Are we deploying His entire arsenal for the advance of His kingdom? 

Friends, this is serious business. There is a Heaven and there is a Hell. There is a Savior and there is a Satan. And there is a God who will judge the living and the dead (Acts 10:42) and rule over His entire universe. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that this Lord Jesus is the only true God (Romans 14:11). Let’s make sure that we are among the conquering regiment, and that we are following our almighty King in daily warfare against all the powers that oppose Him, His Kingdom, and us. And may we give Him all the glory as we do: “Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them!”  (Revelation 12:10-12).


**** This is an excerpt from Captivated Anew: Restored to Pursue Him published in 2009.

When I was a very young pastor, the Lord used an unlikely person to teach me a valuable lesson. I pray I never forget it. That Sunday morning I preached the sermon of my life, having prepared and presented a theological treatise that would make John Calvin proud—or so I thought. While I planned diligently, chose a “deep” topic, and even threw in a few Greek and Hebrew terms, I was (in retrospect) a little too pleased with my presentation and myself that morning. I just knew that my wonderful speech would inspire the congregants. 

And I thought they needed inspiration. They were a little too rural for my taste. Although the church of 800 members resided in an upper middle class community in West Knoxville, Tennessee, it remained true to its informal roots. Much to my chagrin, their worship was unordered: hymns were chosen randomly as the names of each were called aloud by the attendees. Testimony time in that church could break out at a moment’s notice and would occasionally serve as the primary focus of the service. Sometimes, in fact, I was unable to deliver my intricately prepared sermon as the service took on a life all its own. Those times left me feeling as if my seminary education was a waste. 

On this particular Sunday, however, things went smoothly; I was brilliant! As I left the dais and moved to the altar area, I just knew that I had “wowed” them. I asked, as was my custom, if anyone had anything else they would like to add to the day’s message. I secretly hoped that there would be silence so that I could move on to the closing prayer and dismissal. Much to my shock, Mrs. Jones raised her hand and began to shuffle to the front of the auditorium. 

Mrs. Jones had been a member of our church for over sixty years. Though widowed, she never missed a worship service and always sat in the same place. Mrs. Jones would say “hi” or “good morning” but little else, and she certainly never testified. I was surprised to find myself gripped with fear and even a little resentment as she slowly made her way down the aisle. She was about to take the focus off of “my” sermon. Could it be that she’d noticed my pride? Was she about to call me out in front of the whole church? 

The usually restless group (who always seemed to run home after church as if they had roasts in the oven) was hushed in silent respect at the sight of Mrs. Jones tottering towards the front. I didn’t breathe as she slowly grabbed the microphone from my hand and paused. Here stood the lady whom everyone turned to for prayer. Here stood a servant who didn’t have to be the center of attention to teach that her faith was genuine and powerful. 

Faintly, her breath stirred through the PA system as she clutched the mike. When she spoke, it was in a whisper: “I love Jesus.” 

That was it. Nothing more. 

I was absolutely stunned and overwhelmed as her shaking hand returned the microphone to mine. As she shuffled back to her pew, tears flowed from every eye in the house—including my own. Thankfully, I was at a complete loss for words. There was nothing of value that I could add. Mrs. Jones’ words were so true that everyone was touched by the divine simplicity of her faith. I was reminded of the marvelous truth that we find in First John 5:10, “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart.” “I love Jesus,” was her testimony. It should be that of every believer. 

Mrs. Jones’ is still the greatest sermon I have heard. I was devastated yet consumed by its profound beauty. No Greek or Hebrew words. No theological jargon. No alliteration or three points and a poem to capture listeners’ attention. Mrs. Jones needed no seminary training. She had all she needed: Jesus and her love for Him. Paul’s words in First Corinthians 1:17-21 ring true: 

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 

I’ll always thank God for the role Mrs. Jones played in my life.  She reminds me that our testimony, no matter how simple, should confirm the indwelling presence of Christ. Her genuine words of faith powerfully reflected a life submitted to her Savior. I especially think of her when I read Paul’s words: “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way–in all your speaking and in all your knowledge– because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you” (1 Corinthians 1:4-6).

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.  Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created” (James 1:12-18). 

A sequential pattern – think, feel, act – defines, in many ways, who we are and what we become. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny”. Based upon James’ words in the first chapter of his letter to the diasporic Jewish church and so many other scriptures, I must heartily agree. Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (KJV). So the process of who we are and what we become begins with our thoughts: what we think about triggers our desires. Our desires then become a reality when there is a volitional act – we make a choice to do something about the desire that was birthed in our thoughts. 

Evelyn Underhill refers to thinking, feeling, and acting as our capacities or faculties by which we can react to other people or things in the natural realm. Additionally she explains how these capacities – she also defined them as our intellect, our desires, and our wills – form the basis for moving from inaction to action, from passivity to reality in obeying or disobeying God. First, we think something. Then we desire to act upon that thought, belief or idea. Finally, based on the previous 2, our volition is engaged to act accordingly. And we can deduce that this process has positive and negative connotations – it can be for good or for bad. 

First, when we dwell on anything outside of God’s revealed will we begin to nurture a desire for those things. When our passion for carnal things is inflamed we, without great discipline, often succumb to those temptations and act out our desires. This leads us to great pain and eventual death and destruction (James 1:15).  The prophet Isaiah describes those who are apart from God: “Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. Their thoughts are evil thoughts; ruin and destruction mark their ways” (Isaiah 59:7). He also tells us there is hope for those who repent (the changing, or turning, of the mind that leads to changed ways) – “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon” (Isaiah 55:7). 

The second, positive application is that our thinking is the root of becoming a true disciple of Christ. This is also true of becoming a Christian to begin with – we must first understand the gospel (thinking), desire Jesus and His forgiveness (feeling), and choose – by the grace and impulse of God – to receive Him with transformational faith and a surrendered heart (act). It is also foundational in following and imitating Him. Paul tells the Philippian church, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” (4:8). 

So thinking on such things is imperative to being an imitator of Christ as it changes our desires and, subsequently, our actions. But his begs the question: What fits the description of true, noble, right, pure, whatever is lovely, admirable excellent, and praiseworthy? Or should I ask, who? The answer I lean toward is Jesus and only Jesus. He, as God, is the only one that embodies these kinds of virtues and attributes. So then we are called to think about Jesus and by doing so our desires and then our actions are transformed. 

This is why the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2-3). Paul confirms this: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:1-3).  

I believe this is really what the Psalmist was getting at when he stated, “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). He wasn’t saying that when we delight in God we get what we want. Instead, we get God’s desires put in us. In other words, He changes our desires into His desires! So delighting (which encompasses both thinking and desiring) in God (Jesus) is what changes our actions and, accordingly, our lives. Paul said, “We now have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) and that is what determines our character and therefore what we become. And this glorifies and exalts Jesus – the one on whom we are called to fix our hearts and minds.

OK, in my last post I put “out” instead of “our” in the title -:). Just checking to see if you are paying attention – ha!

The consumer church today often sends a false but feel-good message that our introspective and negative thoughts about ourselves are all unscriptural and just bad psychology.  The premise is that we’ve been wrongly told that we are bad things (unworthy, liars, arrogant, adulterers, proud, angry murderers, deceivers– this list could go on ad infinitum).  We begin to believe these things and then we become them. In fact, we begin to act them out in the form of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The theme is clear: we are not those things and we need to stop telling ourselves that we are – we have been freed from all of this by the forgiveness found in Christ. In other words, we must stop thinking ourselves to be sinful. I believe this is a subtle and dangerous concept. I believe that we ARE all of those things but Christ isn’t.  And that is the essence of the Gospel and grace.

Let’s look at the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:17-48 Jesus peels back to layers of our wicked hearts. If you are angry at your brother then you are a murderer.  If you lust then you have committed adultery. He is making it clear that if we think that we are not all of these unholy things we are terribly and dangerously wrong. No amount of positive self-talk will change the fact that “our righteousness is as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) and “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.  Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).  And since the committing of one sin (or the omission of doing good) condemns us in all of them (James 2:10) we must acknowledge our total depravity. So, in a practical sense, we must know that in this body we continue to demonstrate the very sin nature that necessitates our salvation.

However, when we are ‘in Christ” we are declared (the word “declared” is pivotal) righteous. We aren’t righteous but He proclaims us to be based upon His own sinlessness.  So, it all comes back to His righteousness and not ours (or our “worth”). No amount of positive self-talk will change our evil hears.  That is the regenerating work of God alone. In Christ we are seen as righteous in God’s eyes only due to the perfect life, sacrifice, and victorious resurrection of Jesus. So, it is about His true worth and not our false worth.  Frankly, any discussion that centers on us convincing ourselves of our own worth and righteousness devalues His. We must look only to Him for any sense of our forgiveness and holiness as His chosen. Anything else is just a deadly combination of the humanism and secular pop-psychology that has infiltrated the contemporary church.

Granted, Christians have the gift of the “Helper”, the Holy Spirit, to aid us in overcoming these sin issues (which presumes that we still have these issues) and the power of God in us can help us deal with our evil nature (along with paralyzing, toxic, Satanic, and unhealthy self-flagellation). Yes, we now have the power to be freed of our bondage to sin. But we still have to deal with indwelling sin. We still do battle with these innate tendencies. Listen to Paul:

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin” (Romans 7:14-25).

Clearly, true Christians WILL battle those propensities – that is why I believe that progressive sanctification in this life is a real process in the true believer’s life.  However, we DO grow into Christ’s image  (Colossians 1:10) and better project His beauty and glory.  But, then again, we are pointed back to Him as the source of both our postitional and (eventual) permanent sanctification. As you have heard, “it’s not who we are but who’s we are”.

So what does that make us when we consider our identity (not in ourselves or our thinking) “in Him”?  Let’s look at 1 Peter 2:9-10:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy”.

Let us see that our identity (who we are in Him) is:

  • Chosen by God
  • Made into a Priest (having direct access to the Farther) by Him
  • Declared holy by His sacrifice
  • Owned by God our Redeemer
  • Created to glorify His excellencies
  • Called to live out the light of His truth
  • An adopted part of His family
  • Receivers of His mercy

In other words, we get our identity from God. In fact, our identity IS our relationship to God. We are chosen by God. We are possessed by Him. We are adopted by Him. We are set apart as holy by our Lord. We are recipients of His mercy. If there is anything good in us it is His gift to us and not of our own. Yes, we are valued.  The list above demonstrates that. But the value imposed upon us is because of Him and His grace toward us.  God forbid that we think that we have these gifts or any goodness because we think ourselves to be better than we actually are. Blessed are those who know that who we are as true Christians is totally about His unmerited favor and not our mental gymnastics.

So, please do not buy into the deception that we are inherently good.  That all we need to do is to think we are OK and therefore we are.  We are not good (Romans 3:10).  That’s why Jesus lived and died – so that we could be declared righteous.  If we are anything good before God it is because He sees the sinlessness of Christ and not our “filthy rags”.  Otherwise, His dying was in vain.  Therefore, we must look to the cross.  That is where we find who we are “in Him”, “by Him” and “through Him”.

**** This is an excerpt from Captivated Anew: Restored to Pursue Him published in 2009.

For Dean Strickland I was the 951st driver with whom he’d hitched a ride in the last four years. I found him at a convenience store as he purchased several large bottles of drinking water. When I first noticed his guitar case and backpack, I imagined him another Nashville music “star” traveling through. Upon closer inspection, however, I saw that Dean’s western belt displayed an image of Calvary and his cowboy hat had a small cross attached to it. Even more telling as to his faith in Jesus was the gentle and courteous manner he used with the clerk who rang up his order. Doing something I had never done before, I asked Dean if he needed a ride. 

“Yes, Sir,” he answered in a respectful but cautious tone. 

As we headed toward my car, I found that Dean has just performed for the Cowboy Church in Nashville. Having no lodging, he had slept in the church’s parking lot the previous night. Surprisingly, he looked refreshed and even invigorated as he shared that he felt the service had been pleasing to God. Now Dean was ready to move on to his next gig; an event 700 miles away in Galveston, Texas. 

On our brief ride together, Dean shared that he felt called—in a unique sense—to travel the country by hitchhiking and singing gospel music. He chronicled his journeys on a website which explains that over the previous four years he had been picked up 950 times and averaged walking four to five miles between rides prior to our meeting. When I dropped Dean off near I-40 on the western side of Nashville, I gave him a few dollars and a copy of one of my books. He gave me his musical CD, a nod, and a smile and gathered his meager belongings to begin the march towards Galveston. “I’ve found,” he stated in his Texas drawl right before the door shut, “that America is not as dangerous as some folks think.” 

Habakkuk 2:4 says, “The righteous will live by his faith.” If I’ve ever met a man who exemplified that truth, Dean Strickland is that man. As I drove away from him that day, the Habakkuk passage rang in my head. I pondered his example of living by that motto and was chagrined to admit that I had never really experienced such a radical trust in God, but I definitely wanted to. The Lord certainly doesn’t expect every believer to follow Him through hitchhiking, but I think He does expect each of us to “go” and “tell” others about Him in our own unique ways. And that “going” and “telling” might be in drastically different ways and places than we allow ourselves to imagine. Luke 10:1 explains that Jesus appointed believers to “go” in a manner that was definitely out of the norm. To them He said, 

 “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few…. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. … When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near’” (Luke 10:2-11). 

The world needs to hear about Jesus, but most of us become so bogged down with life’s busyness and worries that we give little thought to stepping out of our comfort zones so that others may come to know Him. I, like so many other Christians, know the promises of Jesus found in Matthew 6:25-26. “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.” I realize that I’m more valuable than the sparrows (See Matthew 6:26). But what I’ve got to focus on is Christ’s indication that a life of faith is driven by the philosophy, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well.” I must remember that the Lord will provide for my needs as I do His will. 

Jesus’ words and Dean Strickland’s example pierce my heart. What have I done to display a radical faith in my promise-honoring Savior? When was I willing to jump off the cultural carousel to trust in my omnipotent Father? When did I feel such an assurance in my calling to serve for the kingdom that I took God’s Word at face value? Frankly, I sometimes forget that Christ calls me to a journey of radical faith. He promises to provide for me and to produce in me what He has called me to be and do. But will I take Him up on the offer? 

The writer of Hebrews tells us “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). My experience with meeting Dean Strickland taught me that a stranger can rock my spiritual world. I needed a hitchhiking “angel” to remind me that when God is in it and faith is deployed then, “[I] can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for [me]” (Matthew 17:20). I believe that all of us who claim to follow Jesus need similar reminders—for truly “the kingdom of God is near” (Like 10:11).

**** This blog has another chapter. Although I have had no contact with Dean since this providential encounter I recently searched for his website to find out the latest. There I found how God continues to bless his journey of faith. There, much to my amazement, I also found a copy of the story I had written about this experience. I have no idea, other than God’s intervention, how he found this piece of writing.  Go to his site, scroll down (look for this article, please), and saturate yourself in Dean’s example –

I believe that it’s obvious that we see a much more intense pursuit of happiness than holiness today. Harvard University even offers a course on happiness that helps students discover “how to get happy.” As Christians that begs the question, “Should we pursue happiness or holiness”? Secondarily, are the two concepts mutually exclusive? As clear as it is that God’s word puts a premium on holiness as opposed to earthly happiness, much of contemporary Christianity presumes these are diametrically opposed concepts – an either/or proposition. With that line of thinking a dichotomy has been created that suggests we have to prioritize one over the other through an intentional choice.

Generally speaking, the “happiness camp” says that feeling good is the natural by product of a relationship with Jesus. He has come that we might have and abundant life (John 10:10) and that means we are the beneficiaries of emotional “blessings”. We are to pursue these gifts and find our meaning and purpose as we seek after what He has to offer us for our emotional wholeness and prosperity. This is not totally wrong. In fact, the Bible even suggests on several occasions the importance of being happy or joyful. Solomon tells us that God grants happiness to us as a gift (Ecclesiastes 3:12; 7:14; 11:9). Sometimes, though, we take the search for earthly happiness too far. We sometimes see it as the most important pursuit and even believe that our happiness is God’s primary purpose. Much of popular “Christian” psychology is entranced with becoming “self-actualized” by accessing the promises and power of God’s Word. This misguided approach can become self-indulgent and humanistic as personal happiness takes precedence over personal holiness.

The “holiness camp” is in the definite minority. This camp doesn’t attract many adherents due to its austerity. They promote self-mortification, spiritual discipline, and a rabid pursuit of righteousness. Holiness, they contend, is the intentional journey of becoming more Christ-like via a focused plan of “sin reduction”. The ultimate goal for a believer is sanctification. This group is “dying daily” in order to grasp the fullness of their relationship with Christ. In a regimented way they seek to sacrificially eliminate all that would take their focus off of Jesus or replace Him with worldly pleasures. The thrust here is that personal holiness is to take precedence over personal happiness. They would proclaim that God’s Word tells us that true happiness comes by keeping God’s law (Psalm 1:1-2; Proverbs 16:20; 29:18). God demands holiness and has called us to live a holy life – one that exemplifies His moral character (1 Thessalonians 4:7; 2 Peter 3:11). In Peter’s first letter we read, “As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16). As much as I believe this focus is to be preferred over selfish happiness, the danger here is prideful legalism or perfectionism. 

To a certain degree I believe in parts of what both camps suggest. I must agree that humanity is wired for the pursuit of happiness (joy). We all seek satisfaction from something or someone. I also identify with those that emphasize the high calling of imitating Christ and pointing others to His beauty. Also, I do believe that we are to reflect Him through our lifestyles. But do these philosophies really compete? Are they mutually exclusive to one another? I don’t think so. Frankly, I believe they are gloriously intertwined and even synergistic. That is, if we are looking in the right direction. 

My opinion is that our priority should not be the exclusive pursuit of either happiness or holiness. I would contend that we can have a heightened experience of both by an exclusive spiritual pursuit of Jesus Himself. Actually, I see Him as the only conduit to holiness and happiness. I see satisfaction and sanctification as the byproducts of pursuing Him instead of the vehicles for finding Him. 

Let me frame it this way: when we are adoring, praising, worshipping, savoring, resting in, and glorifying Him then our holiness and happiness is most real. The end result is a type of holy happiness. Pursuing God in this way combines satisfaction with sanctification. How is that? When we delight in Him as our greatest treasure the satisfaction is supernatural and unsurpassed by anything else. When we love Him in this way our lives reflect Him more – and that is a vital part of sanctification. Both our happiness and holiness are elevated as we prize Him for all that He is.

So, the equation would look like this: there is no true happiness apart from holiness and no holiness apart from Christ. Therefore, pursuing a righteousness-giving Jesus empowers us to live the holy lives that reflect the joy that we find in Him. In Christ we find the consummation of both our holiness and our happiness. That is why Paul can say that “in Christ” we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3).

“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”  They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen…” (Luke 24:30-35).

Only Dr. Luke records this post-resurrection event. Two downcast disciples of Jesus are leaving Jerusalem and returning to their home in Emmaus. They share with their unrecognized Lord how great their crucified Master was. Yet they could not veil the disappointment that their hopes that He was “the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21) had vaporized. “After all,” they said, “it has been 3 days since His death.” Jesus’ response was a loving but stern: “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26). Then He patiently explained these events were the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and that scripture had pointed to Him from the beginning (v. 27). And when they understood, they rushed back to Jerusalem with a renewed sense of enablement.

These followers of Christ were still living in the past, choosing to dwell upon Friday’s seemingly tragic events. They had been told that he was alive (v. 22-24) but, with their faith shattered and their heads staring down at the dirt road, they solemnly trudged home to their former life back in Emmaus. But they weren’t alone. Peter, along with some of the other disciples, had essentially done the same thing. Jesus had called them to be “fisher’s of men” but where did He find them after He had come victoriously from the grave? Fishing! For fish (see John 21:1-14)! Defeated by their failure to be faithful during Christ’s suffering and hopeless and helpless without the leadership of their Captain, they had returned to the same purposeless way of life they knew before they met Jesus. But upon seeing their risen Lord they made a mad dash to greet Him (John 21:7-8).

This season we celebrate Easter and Jesus’ expression of His continued presence with us, power in us, peace for us, and purpose through us that is clearly demonstrated by His resurrection. In the 40 days (Acts 1:3) before He ascended to the right hand of the Father He continually reminded His followers of those 4 things and made clear statements regarding each (see Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:36-49; John 21:15-19; Acts 1:1-11). All of this became a reality for His disciples as they waited in Jerusalem (the very place many had left following His crucifixion) for these promises to be fulfilled by the manifestation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In other words, it was after Easter that the full impact of His resurrection was most realized in His followers and they, moving forward, lead lives that demonstrated His continued presence, power, peace, and purpose. Just read the book of Acts for the dramatic aftermath.

My point? Let us not lose the inertia of our Easter worship and festivities. Many of us will be stirred by exhilarating music, emotional “Passion Plays”, and motivating sermons. But our experience of the profundity of His resurrection is not meant to end there. The influence of His resurrection is to be something that propels us all year around, day by day, moment by moment. Let us not, like these disciples, return to the routine of a former, spiritually trivial life but let us be continually transformed by the “fellowship of His sufferings and the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). May His presence, power, peace and purpose in and through us not fade after the invigorating crescendo of our Easter activities and focus. Instead, may our hearts continue to “burn within us” with an all-consuming passion that can only come from the on-going sufficiency that His resurrection guarantees.

Let Jesus’ truth resonate with us: “I am the resurrection and the life.He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;  and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). Do we? Then let us be transported by the truth that His resurrection is to be experienced not just on a holiday but every day before and after. Let us not live like He is still dead. Let us not revert to the old passionless, mundane ways that we rose above during this sacred season. Let us magnify Him through His presence, power, peace, and purpose even after Easter!


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