Annually, on December 25th, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Nobody else’s birthday garners worldwide attention because nobody else comes close to having the impact on civilization Christ did and continues to have. His miraculous incarnation as a human being on this planet changed everything. He came for many reasons, one of which was to inform us the old way of living had served its purpose and was now officially terminated. The long-prophesized Messiah brought with Him the good news of a new way to live. Alas, not everyone was thrilled. The Jewish leaders certainly didn’t welcome it because it was a direct affront to the “establishment” they’d worked so diligently to maintain. The occupying Romans didn’t like it because they were paranoid about anything that threatened their dynasty. Satan didn’t like the messenger or His message because the power they wielded was something he couldn’t match. All three of those entities devoted their energy and resources to combating the Son of God by attempting to render Him and His new way impotent. History shows they failed miserably.
For the average Joe or Jane on the street, however, Jesus’ announcement of a new way to live was nothing less than scandalous. They’d been brought up to rigidly believe what the Jewish priests and scholars had hammered into their heads from when they were babies – obey every single one of their hundreds of laws (the ten God gave to Moses plus the boatload they’d added) and the great I AM will bless you. Break just one and He won’t. They’d preach, “Y’all want hope? Here’s a tip. Be as holy and righteous as we are and maybe you’ll get a fancy robe to wear and a cool title. Do A, get B. Guaranteed. Trust in us, not the God of Abraham. He’s the one who put us in charge and then skedaddled for parts unknown.” So here comes Jesus strolling into their towns dressed like a commoner, eating the same bland food and drinking the same weak wine they were yet able to perform miracles none of the big wigs could pull off on their best day. On top of that He taught with authority, telling them the stress-creating “pressure to perform” that had so dominated their existence was no longer necessary because The Messiah they’d been anticipating was the one speaking to them. He wasn’t into anarchy or instigating a riotous rebellion. Not at all. Jesus said to them, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). Things were going to be different from now on because of Him. Why? Because He and God were the same! Wow!
That was then, this is now. Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father where He remains today. He sent the Holy Spirit to continue introducing Christians to the new way. How does a follower of Jesus know if they’re living the new way? We know by what we produce. “…The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-25). If you’ve been living the old way but ready to embrace the new way don’t put it off another minute. Larry Crabb wrote, “It begins with thinking. We’re transformed by renewing our minds, not our circumstances; we’re changed not by rearranging blessings in our lives or strategizing to make life work a little better or overcoming our low self-esteem and troubling emotions, but by renewing the way we think about this life. How we come to God doesn’t guarantee how God will come to us or when He’ll let us feel His presence with us. Nothing we do makes anything happen. But since the New Covenant is now in place, drawing near to God does guarantee that He’ll draw near to us, in His own time and in His own way, not because of the merit of our coming, but because of His gracious promise to draw near to us if we draw near to Him.” Knowing the Father is the new way Jesus introduced to the world 20 centuries ago. The Scriptures confirm it. “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8). Forget about earning blessings already. Focus on leaning on, trusting in and knowing God better every day.
Because I’m a leader in my local Celebrate Recovery ministry I eagerly recommend it to everyone without hesitation. The 12 steps and 8 principles it promotes helps folks of all races and ages live the new way. But perhaps there’s not a CR near you or your work schedule prevents you from attending the weekly meetings. There are things you can do to adhere to the new way of thinking. I’m assuming you read your Bible daily, you’re an active member of a church and you pray for divine guidance, strength and courage as often as you can. Otherwise you first need to establish those vital things as the foundation of your faith before any serious changes can occur. If they’re in place then the next thing to do is to figure out exactly where you are. In CR it’s step #4: “We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” It’s backed by Lamentations 3:40, “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD.” (The great advantage CR offers is having a sworn-to-secrecy sponsor who’ll help you along as you write out your inventory.) It’s also the step where a lotta folks drop out of the program because it involves coming to grips with how selfish and sinful we can be. Taking an honest look at our past actions, attitudes and thoughts is not a particularly pleasant exercise but it’s a necessary one, nonetheless. We can’t know where we are unless we acknowledge where we’ve been. Crabb wrote, “It’s the failure to discover where we are at any moment that keeps us from realizing where we most want to go. Until we face an inner brokenness that no blessing in this life can mend, we’ll be drawn irresistibly to the old way.” The irony is that what we find most evident in our moral inventory is a glaring lack of effort in seeking God. We find we’ve struggled through rough phases in our life that made us feel unhappy, unfulfilled and incomplete because we were yearning for God’s blessings instead of God Himself. It was all about us.
That’s where the Israelites were at in Isaiah’s time. They’d all gravitated towards living their lives by the method that made the most sense to them. They figured if they did the best they could God would surely reward them with the “good life.” It didn’t work because they couldn’t obey God’s laws. Their best wasn’t near good enough. Isaiah described the mess they’d gotten themselves into. “From the soles of your feet to your head, there is no spot that is unharmed. There are only bruises, cuts and open wounds” (Isaiah 1:6). Where the Israelites were back then is where a lot of modern Christians are now. God’s offering His adopted sons and daughters everything they need to have abundant joy, contentment and peace in their hearts but too many just don’t get the gist. All too frequently we’re like toddlers who turn down a thousand-dollar bill in favor of a shiny dime. It’s not enough that our sins are forgiven and heaven awaits, we want God to bless us with a better car, a bigger house or a more prestigious career. That’s the old way beckoning us. The reality is that to live the new way is to essentially buck the system. When we make knowing God our primary goal 24/7 we open ourselves up to ridicule and derision. Even some fellow believers will think we’ve “gone mental”. That’s the kind of sway the old way has on this world. Contentment can look like stupidity. Remember, many thought Jesus was off His rocker, too.
I like what Dallas Willard said about Christ’s new way message. He wrote, “Jesus’ good news about the kingdom can be an effective guide for our lives only if we share His view of the world in which we live. To His eyes this is a God-bathed and God-permeated world. It’s a world filled with a glorious reality, where every component is within the range of God’s direct knowledge and control – though He obviously permits some of it, for good reasons, to be for a while otherwise than as He wishes. It’s a world that’s inconceivably beautiful and good because of God and because God is always in it. It’s a world in which God is continually at play and over which He constantly rejoices. Until our thoughts of God have found every visible thing and event glorious with his presence, the word of Jesus has not yet fully seized us.” Can you imagine the astounding difference the Christian community could make across the entire globe if we were to live the new way of the Spirit and let the life-enhancing instructions of our Lord “fully seize us”? We could literally move mountains. True dat.
Another adjustment one can make to get on and stay on the road of the new way is to be aware that we stand at a crossroads every day. We talk a lot about that in Celebrate Recovery. A whole lesson is devoted to it because there are several aspects to consider. In the context of the new way of living Christ made possible it’s choosing to continue forward or to take a right or left turn that leads to the “tried but never true” old way mindset. Crabb used an illustration. He wrote, “How do parents of a suffering daughter cope? Every day they’re faced with her condition, knowing it will not change. There’s no cure. Nothing would be more cruel than to suggest that if they only believed, she would be healed. That is linear thinking at its most evil. To believe she could be healed and to pray for it, fervently, is Christian; to believe she would be healed if enough people with enough faith prayed is anti-Christian. It’s the old way. It’s demonic. It elevates our blessings above God’s glory.” Please understand what Crabb is conveying. Jesus wants us to trust in the Heavenly Father’s perfect will as much as He Himself did. Recall Thomas’ stubborn doubt. He didn’t give a flip the other disciples were so adamant they’d seen, hugged and visited with their risen Master. He demanded proof he could physically touch. Eight days later Christ showed up again. This time Thomas was in the room. Jesus went out of His way to assure His skeptical friend that the others hadn’t been lying, exaggerating or hallucinating. “…He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and examine my hands. Extend your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe.’ Thomas replied to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are the people who have not seen and yet have believed’” (John 20:27-29). I imagine Thomas was more than a tad humbled. He probably wanted to go hide in a closet. The new way is believing when it’s the most difficult thing to do.
The new way is also radical. It takes guts to live our life as Jesus lived His but in time we’ll discover it’s the most rewarding way to live. Previously we used God in hopes He’d make our life run smoother. In so doing we were placing our will above His. We insisted we be blessed in proportion to our “admirable devotion.” We weren’t hoping for blessings, we were expecting them as if they were some kind of divine Christmas bonus. We were depending on God’s generosity to elevate our happiness level. God wasn’t our ultimate treasure, His favors were. As for His only begotten Son we’d conveniently demoted Him to just being the ticket-collector on the glory train we’ll ride into paradise someday. We’d forgotten He was the smartest, wisest and most well-informed human being ever to trod terra firma. Willard commented, “Far too often He is regarded as hardly conscious. He’s looked on as a mere icon, a wraithlike semblance of a man, fit for the role of sacrificial lamb or alienated social critic, but little more.” And the indwelling Holy Spirit? Fuggitaboudit. We’d stopped counting on His counsel to be of any practical value long ago. We weren’t listening anymore. That is until some unexpected cataclysmic or heartbreaking event happened that made us realize our intricate, self-designed plans had shattered like cheap glass and God was all we had left. In our devastated state we finally heard the Spirit whispering, “There’s a better way to live. The 2,000 year-old new way. Let Christ lead you out of this darkness. Draw closer to the Father and He’ll draw closer to you. That’s a promise that, unlike your dreams of God’s bestowing the ‘good life’ upon you, will never be broken.”
All Christians arrive at a crossroads when we rise from our bed to kick off another day of life on earth. We have an important decision to make daily. Are we going to ask God to kindly remove all obstacles and clear the road so we won’t have to deal with any troubles, be they minor or major? Or are we going to welcome whatever God has in store for us, for better or for worse, so we’ll have been even more dependent on Him when we lay our head down on the pillow again? That’s the challenge to each of us who follow Jesus. Do we go the old way or the new way? The former is, in a manner of speaking, safer. Less risky. The latter involves vulnerability, something we try to avoid like the flu bug. It requires we own up to our weaknesses and that’s always a serious blow to our pride. But once we come clean the Holy Spirit will lead us to repent. He’ll encourage us to do what Christ told the adulteress whom He mercifully spared from a vicious stoning to do, “Go, and from now on do not sin any more” (John 8:11). When we sincerely repent it’ll become crystal clear we need to discard all our misguided notions of being entitled to receive blessings. We’ll surrender our ego and put all our trust in God’s perfect will. Surprisingly, we’ll be rewarded with an inner confidence that He, indeed, is working all things together for good and that we’ll never have to spend a single second without God having our back. At that juncture we’ll experience the freedom the Lord has graced us with to unhesitatingly release the love in our heart and give it away to everyone we encounter. People will not only notice but be influenced by our display of unabashed faith in Christ. That’s when we’ll know we’re living the new way.
This doesn’t mean God’s Law is no longer our rock-solid standard for living righteously. Willard wrote, “…Confidence in the Christ is, correctly understood, inseparable from the fulfilling of the law.” Note that in Mark 10 when the wealthy young man asked Jesus what he had to do to gain eternal life, our Lord listed the “don’ts” of the Ten Commandments and said, essentially, “obey those laws.” With that in mind Willard opined, “What we’re looking at in the contemporary Western world is precisely what He [Jesus] himself foretold. We have heard Him. For almost two millennia we’ve heard Him. But we have chosen to not do what He said. …How to combine faith with obedience is surely the essential task of the church [in] the twenty-first century.” Christians must never think that if it’s our aim to obey the commandments God gave to Moses we’re living the old way. There’s still no better blueprint for living as our Creator intended us to. What we have to avoid, though, is thinking if we’re at least somewhat obedient, God is (for some imagined reason) obliged to bless us with what we want. Look, Jesus lived a pristine life yet He ended up being tortured to death. The new way our Savior introduced to the world is accepting whatever comes our way without fear or trepidation because, through constantly striving to draw closer to God, He’s drawn closer to us. Thus, we have God. We need nothing more.