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Answer #3 – His Priority Exposes Our Misunderstood Priorities  

 A third primary answer about why Jesus came is found in 1 John 2:4-6. “The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did (1 John 2:4-6).” He came to show us the path, how to live our lives on this earth.

This passage introduces at least two other questions. What does it mean to walk as Jesus did? Why is this important enough to be given to us as an absolute command? To walk as he did obviously goes far beyond simply believing in him. Because the word “faith” or “believe” is used in a number of different ways in the Bible, we can misunderstand passages like John 3:16 and think that simply believing the basics about Jesus will get us to heaven. Quite a number of passages show that this very popular view of salvation being a matter of merely believing those basics (such as the virgin birth, Jesus’ death for our sins and his resurrection from the dead) simply cannot be accurate. Read the following passages carefully and you will see what I mean.

John 12:42 – “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue.”

Luke 9:23-24 – “Then he said to them all: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.’”

Luke 14:26-27, 33
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 33 In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

Matthew 7:13-14, 21 – “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it… 21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

From the Gospel accounts, we know how Jesus lived in a physical body. From Paul’s inspired writing, we can also know how Jesus intends to live through us in his spiritual body, the church. Just as Jesus was the fullness of God in the flesh, demonstrating to the world what God was truly like, we as Christ’s family are to demonstrate what he is truly like. “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way (Ephesians 1:22-23).” What God is asking of us is that we represent Jesus to the world, to do what he would do if he were here in a physical body again. This truth helps us understand why the religious world’s watered-down version of what it means to be a Christian cannot possibly be acceptable. As the old saying goes, Jesus is either Lord of all in our lives, or Lord not at all.

Imitating Jesus’ Priority

If the nature of God can be defined simply as love (1 John 4:8), then we know that Jesus lived a life of love – which we are specifically called to imitate. “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” How was Jesus’ life of love demonstrated in his ministry? He loved every person, and he loved the whole person – physically, emotionally and spiritually. Spiritually, we’ve already considered somewhat in depth his death for the sins of the world. It is only logical that his life on earth was focused on helping prepare people to accept his offering and receive salvation. We are not surprised to read in Luke 19:10 that he came to seek and save the lost. If that is what he did, that is what he expects his followers to do also.

Physically, we see him healing all types of illnesses and maladies, including raising the dead on several occasions. Emotionally, he wept when others wept, he was carried away with compassion for those who were hurting in any way. A great passage to sum up his love for people is Matthew 9:35-36: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

The word found here for compassion is a long Greek word (splagchnizomai). It is never used of a human in the Bible, but only of God and Christ. We use the phrase about having our hearts go out to someone, and if you multiply this by 100, you come pretty close to the literal meaning of the word. Jesus felt deeply for people, more deeply than we have ever felt. But he is calling us to develop more and more of this divine compassion for those who are hurting, spiritually, physically or emotionally. The passage in Matthew 9 is also found in Matthew 4:23, and both passages describe what I call the gospel triad – teaching, preaching and healing.

What Was His Priority?

Which do you think was the most important – loving people emotionally, physically or spiritually? In order to answer that question, we must understand the top priority of Jesus’ ministry. It is easy to say all three areas are equally important, which would seem to allow us to choose which we find most appealing to us and focus on that one area. However, is that really what Jesus did and now calls us to do?

Seeing the physical and emotional needs of others is far easier than grasping their spiritual needs. The latter is not simply a matter of observation, but a matter of revelation – believing what we have already read about the lostness of people. We have more ways to minister to people emotionally and physically than ever before. HOPE Worldwide has been a great channel through which to serve the poor and needy, both locally and globally. We have more Christian-oriented counselors among us than ever before, and that number continues to grow substantially. I’m grateful for all that we are doing collectively in these areas, and I’m trying to do my part individually. It is important to love the whole person.

Having said that, let’s reason together a bit. In Jesus’ ministry, what happened to those whom he healed and raised from the dead? They died or died again. I find it immensely interesting that in our current society that we are obsessed with health issues, while Jesus never said anything about how to be physically healthy and live as long as possible. Most of us moderns want to live to reach our 100th birthday. The life spans in most developed countries has continued to lengthen. At what price? More and more developing all sorts of dementia, and more and more spending their latter years drooling and in diapers. Why are we so obsessed with life on this earth if we believe in heaven? Something is surely amiss here in our value system and in our view of time and eternity. I suggest you read and meditate on passages like the following:

Hebrews 11:13-16
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Evangelism Must Be Our Bottom Line Focus

I’ve recently been speaking a lot about what drew me into the churches of which I am now a part, and the main drawing card was what could be called the practice of “One Another” Christianity. The New Testament has over 60 passages which use the phrases “one another” or “each other,” and many more that describe how God’s family should be loving each other through genuine spiritual relationships. God’s religion is decidedly not a private matter! To put it gently, we are not nearly as committed to helping each other grow spiritually after conversion as we once were.

The same can be said of us regarding our evangelistic zeal to seek and save the lost – why are we not as motivated to help people spiritually as we are physically and emotionally? When I first became a part of my present church movement, it was a fast-growing movement. That was also a strong drawing card for me, because in combination with the one another relationships, both parts of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) were being obeyed in earnestness. Prior to joining the movement, others asked me how these churches were converting so many. My answer was that pretty much all of the members had a constant focus on seeking and saving the lost, and their relationships helped them stay accountable to keep imitating Jesus by so doing.

Sadly, I see a serious deceleration in carrying out both parts of that Great Commission among us. It is commendable that we have planted churches in at least 150 different nations. But 70% of our churches have under 100 members. It now takes 85 members to baptize 1 person in a year’s time, something unthinkable back when I first became a part of things. Over half of our churches baptized 10 or less people in 2016. 111 of our churches had ZERO baptisms in 2016. Our growth rate as a movement continues to decrease – from 1.9% in 2015 to 1.2% in 2016 (about a 60% decrease if my math is correct). The number of baptisms and restorations has declined for the last four years. We cannot spin those facts in a way that makes them sound encouraging. Something is obviously missing!

What are we missing? Obviously, we are missing an understanding of the priority in Jesus’ ministry and our imitation of it. True enough, he helped people emotionally and physically, but it had as its ultimate aim the helping of them spiritually to get right with God. The help they received emotionally and physically was temporal in nature. But people were lost – and people are lost now – and this is an eternal issue.

It is Time to Get Real – and Get Serious!

All spiritual roads don’t lead to heaven – and we can include every religion in the world outside Christianity. All approaches to Christianity don’t lead to heaven – we have the spiritual partner of the American Dream, called the American Church Dream, which means that we pursue this world’s values with a dab of religion thrown in as fire insurance! But as popular as this viewpoint is, we cannot be saved simply by claiming to be Christians! The very first step of Christianity is to deny self, take up our crosses and follow Jesus! That is the essence of imitating him. Read these passages and let them cut your heart. If Jesus and his apostles cannot be believed on these sobering points, how can we believe anything else that they said?

Matthew 7:13-14, 21 – “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it… 21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

John 14:6 – “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

Acts 4:12 – “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

I want to love people as Jesus loved people – physically, emotionally and spiritually.

But I cannot love as he did without having the same priority that he had, and that was clearly helping people to get right with God – above all else. And we will not do that unless we believe what he did about heaven and hell and salvation! This life goes by fast, faster than we could have imagined as young people. My 75 years have been just what the Bible said that they would be: a breath, a shadow, a flower that withers away, a passing breeze, fleeting, a vapor. Death is real; the Judgement Day is real; Heaven and Hell are real! And God is serious! It is indeed time for us to get real and get serious!

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