From time to time, it’s a good thing to pause and to remember where we’re going and how we’re getting there. In other words, if we’re supposed to “press on toward the goal for the prize,” what is our goal (Phil 3:14)? And once we’ve articulated our destination, by what means to we arrive? Or to put it differently, what are the “ends” and “means” of the Christian life?
The “ends” – God’s work of salvation. And by the word salvation I’m referring to the Kingdom of God in all its fullness – a reality that is comprehensive, holistic, personal, social, and political. Salvation is God’s work of restoring the world (Rom 8:19) and us (1 Cor 15:2) to wholeness; to shalom.
The “means” – Jesus. He’s “the way” (Jn 14:6).
So far, so good. The “end” is salvation, and Jesus is the “means.” It all sounds so simple, and maybe it is. But, the point of today’s entry is to remind us of this: it matters how we follow Jesus, how we press on toward our goal. We cannot just follow Jesus in a way that suits our wishes or in a way dictated by our culture. Our following must be consonant with Jesus' leading.
I apologize if it sounds like I’m writing to “kindergarten Christians.” I assure you, I only write things in this blog that I need to hear. And I need to be reminded that it matters how I follow Jesus because it’s tempting to embrace “the ways and the means” of the world and to do it in the name of Christ. It’s easy for us to embrace what the culture decides is influential, successful, and charismatic. It’s easy for us to embrace what the culture tells us will “get things done” or “gather a crowd.” It’s easy for us to embrace the ways and means of “successful” people who show us how to make money, sell products, and win wars. In Jesus’ name. For the right end. Through Jesus, the right means. But most definitely in the wrong way.
I’d encourage you to reread the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Notice, the devil never tries to convince Jesus that he’s misguided. He doesn’t say, “You’re not the Messiah.” What the devil does is much more poisonous. The devil tries to convince Jesus to “save” humanity a different way. “Turn stones into bread.” Satisfy the hunger of the crowds. Meet their immediate needs, Jesus. “Jump off the roof of the Temple.” Dazzle the crowds, Jesus. Embark on a circus career of miracles. “Fall down and worship me.” You want to rule the world? Worship me and you can, Jesus.
We’ve all seen the WWJD bracelet. “What would Jesus do?” But here’s a better question. How would Jesus do it? Remember, God loves adverbs. Adverbs modify verbs. Jesus is the “means,” which is why we follow him in the first place. Adverbs give clarity to “how” we follow.
It’s not enough to be moving towards the right end. Nor is it enough to know the correct means to that end. What matters is how we follow. The ways and the means of the world always substitute human sovereignty for God’s rule. The world has little interest in a Crucified King.
So beware. There’s a lot of lip service. A lot of us talk about the right end and the right means. But when it gets down to the nitty-gritty, a lot of us do it the wrong way.
Just something to chew on.