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1. The Spiritual Direction of Life

The Spiritual Direction of Life

1st in a series of synoptic sermons on “Spiritual Direction” by Pastor Eric H. H. Chang. This message was delivered at Chinese Gospel Church in Montreal, PQ, Canada, on December 27, 1981.

“When Jesus had finished all these sayings, He said to His disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” Matt 26:1,2

What the Lord has laid on my heart to expound today concerns the spiritual direction of life. In this context, let us survey the Lord’s own life and teaching, and ask ourselves, “What is the whole direction of our life?”

Such a question presumes our lives have some direction. Do we have such a direction, or are we rather like a ship tossed in the storm without a compass? Which way are we heading? As I pondered this matter before the Lord, I felt burdened that even among many Christians, there does not seem to be any clear sense of direction. They don’t seem to know where they are going.

Of course, if you don’t move at all, there is no question of direction. However, if you are moving, you must have a sense of what your whole life is headed for. Many people bungle their way through life, groping in darkness, somehow expecting that by some miracle of chance or by some piece of good fortune, they might end up in the right direction. That is, at best, a very risky way to go. Imagine a ship setting out without a clue as to where it is going. Yet when you speak to many Christians, who seem to have submitted their life to the Lord, it becomes very distressing to see that they too are without direction.

When the question is asked, we often hear the very spiritual reply, “I’m just waiting on the Lord.” That we need to wait on the Lord for details is indeed true, but what is the general direction of our life? What are we waiting on the Lord for? If our ultimate goal is not clear, we should not be surprised to find that often the Christian has the same objectives as the non-Christian, and is caught up in the affairs of daily life - not realizing that the pleasures of the world cannot satisfy. No wonder the world is not impressed with the Gospel when all it sees are Christians pursuing money, status; in a word - materialism.

The Direction of Matthew’s Gospel

“When Jesus had finished all these sayings” - this is a standard formula in which Matthew closes a main section of the Lord’s teaching. In Matthew, there is a special structure and order. In writing his gospel, Matthew knew exactly the direction he was going to take. What we have, if we have the eyes to see, is not a random composition but a specific structure consisting of five main sections, each section ending with this phrase. Our present context is the fifth usage of this construction. Prior occurrence are in Matt. 7:28, 11:1, 13:53, and 19:1.

Many scholars have observed Matthew’s intentional design and compared its pattern with the five books of Moses, that is, Genesis to Deuteronomy. As these five books (hence the term “Pentateuch”) reveal the law of the old covenant, so too Matthew desires to show that these five sections of his gospel reveal the law of Christ, the foundation of the new covenant. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Matthew already had a plan and a design given to him from the Lord.

Christ’s Direction of Life

The Lord says, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of man will be delivered up to be crucified.”

How did the disciples know this? The Lord had already told them He was going to be crucified in Matt, 17:22 and 20:18,19. So this is the third time - only two days before the crucial events. All the time, Christ had this clear goal and direction before Him - the cross set before him. His whole life moved steadily towards that cross -the redemption of mankind.

That the cross was before Him was not just an afterthought, for we note that from the very beginning, Christ had this sense of purpose. At the age of twelve, we read in Luke 2:49, “Did you not know I must be about the things of My Father?” Can we see His preoccupation with the things of God? Even at the age of eleven or twelve, you are not too young to fix your vision and let your mind dwell on the eternal things.

In His last recorded statement before His death, we see the persistency of Christ’s thinking. In John 19:30, the Lord utters the famous last words, “It is finished”. The “it” is His mission, His task which He had steadfastly pursued all His life. In our present passage, we find the Lord speaking these words with decision and determination. There is no sudden panic, that two days hence He will be crucified - a terrible death reserved for criminals. There is no melodrama. In the person of Jesus, we see a dignified calm: a person who knows where He is going.

Paul’s Direction

As we examine the life of the apostle Paul, we are immediately struck with this same impression. Paul “presses toward the mark” (Phil. 3:14). How strange it is that this expression has gained a certain respectability in some Christian circles, yet when I question closer, what is “the mark”? I wonder which of them could answer. How can we move forward if we do not know what the mark is?

Are we following the example of Christ? By definition, a disciple goes where his Master goes. Our Master knew where he was going. The question is, “Do we know where we are going?” Before we can echo with the Lord - “It is finished” - we must first begin. Before we can begin, we must have some general sense of our aim in life.

The apostle Paul could say at the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7). Paul could only finish his course because he knew what the task God entrusted to him was. Paul does not say “I have finished my life” but “I have finished my course”. To the end Paul carried out the works the Lord called him to do. To finish your course and to finish your life are not the same. How tragic that for many it is only on their deathbed that there comes the realization: I have finished my life but what was my course?

The Christian Life - To Glorify God

Everywhere in the Lord’s life, we see this quality of persistence. In John 17:4, the Lord prays His high priestly prayer, “I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work which You gave me to do.” How did Christ glorify the Father? By finishing the work entrusted to His hands. By this time, the Lord had finished the task of laying the foundation for His church. He had equipped His disciples. Will we be able to say this prayer at the end of our lives? As His disciples, our lives are to give glory to God (Matt. 5:16). Continually we read that Christ was well pleasing in the sight of the Father. Live so as to be pleasing before Almighty God: to be holy and blameless in His sight.

His goal was constantly before Him. This aim permeates the entire life of Christ. In John 8:14, Jesus answered, “... for I know whence I have come, and wither I am going ...” This same mission emerges in John 12:27. In John 12:23, “The hour has come”. In John’s gospel, sacrificial death is called “glorification”. Christ was glorified in the sacrifice of Himself. In v.32, “lifted up” has a beautiful way of revealing that the manner in which Christ’s glorification is to be accomplished is by His death on the cross. To hang on to our life is to lose it. If we are to enter into life, we must share His suffering and take up our cross daily (cf. also Phil. 1:29, 2 Tim 2:11, 12). In doing so, the Father is glorified. So this element of the Christian’s life emerges - His direction is to bring glory to God through obedience to the working of the Spirit in His life. In all that we would do it behoves us to ask ourselves, “How is God glorified by what I am doing?”

The Christian Life - Complete Self Giving

Now this passage in John 12 is very precious. From verse 23 onwards, we can trace the progression in the Lord’s utterance. V. 24 is a transition verse. It connects to the Lord Jesus in v. 23. It connects with our life in v. 25. What is true for the Christ is true for us. He is the seed. To thrive and bear fruit, the seed must take full possession of the soil. The Word of God must take full possession of our heart in order to transform our life. The faith which saves involves totality, openness and suffering. “... unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (v24)

Think carefully on this. The Lord Jesus was that one lonely seed that fell into the ground. What came forth was a small handful of regenerate disciples. One new ear of wheat may have thirty or forty other grains. So the next generation of disciples shows the geometric progression. From a patch of wheat, we now have a whole field. But always the principle is this: complete self-giving.

So as the Lord ponders the way of the cross we read in v. 27, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.” The thought of being crucified troubled Christ, but He would not turn away from his goal. Truly He was the “Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20b)

The Christian Life - Walking in Light

Coming to v. 35 of this same chapter, Christ speaks not only of the sense of direction but also the clarity of direction. Is our vision clear? “Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he goes.”

The one who walks in darkness has no sense of direction. Are we in light or darkness? If there is no sense of direction, it may be that we are yet in darkness and have not been freed from the bondage of sin. Can it be that there is no sense of purpose because we have not as yet entered the newness of life? In case we had missed this point. The emphasis on the Christian walk or conduct of life was also developed clearly in John 8:12 - “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

The Christian Life - Building a Tower

The pattern of the Lord’s life manifests His sense of value. Let us look now at the Lord’s teaching on the Christian life. Let us search out how the Lord and Savior describes this life.

“For which of you, wanting to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it. Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him saying, This man began to build and was not able to finish.” Luke 14: 28-30

In building a structure such as a tower you need to count the cost. In order to count the cost, you must have a clear sense of the building you wish to erect. This project involves a complex process of planning.

Throwing stones together does not make a tower. In our life, is there a tower emerging? Or will we, in the end, just have a heap of stones?

The Christian Life - Warfare

Secondly the Lord likens our life to a warfare in Luke 14:31. “Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand”. With these odds (2 to 1), you must plan your campaign carefully. The Lord Jesus deliberately tells us the spiritual fact of life: In this warfare, we are outnumbered by the fact of the enemy within and the enemy without. Within ourselves, we must reckon with the weakness of the flesh, exploited by temptations from the world. Outside, there are the daily pressures of life, family and friends. In this light, the campaign plan must be executed with the precision of a general carrying out his military plans. What so terrifies me is the fact that so many Christians fumble around in life and yet hope to emerge victorious in this warfare. Is it any wonder we have a generation of defeated believers? We have no plan or campaign or discipline in our lives. Mark this well. The Christian life is continual warfare.

The Christian Life - Discipline

Have you seen an army that can win a battle without discipline? Yet I see Christians live without self control and [are] undisciplined. When Paul writes to his fellow-soldier Timothy, he says, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7) Paul puts himself under discipline (1 Cor. 9:24-27) because like a soldier, you cannot win any battle with an unruly mob. Today churches complain that exercise of discipline is too harsh. How can the church of God win any battles if we are all foolish and sentimental?

The Spiritual Direction of the Church

So let us carry this point further. If the individual has no sense of direction, how is the Church going to have any direction? Today let us honestly confess, the Church is largely a bunch of individuals who come together for a social gathering rather than a mighty army under the Lord’s supreme command. We are a disoriented mob who have come out to shout some slogans. Today we see all around us, churches in which there is a great flurry of activity - organizing events, building buildings, etc. Let us ask amid all this activity, “What is the goal of the church spiritually in this world?”

The answer which comes to most people’s lips is “We evangelize.” What is the nature and outcome of this evangelism? Trace the life of those who come to the Lord. They make a profession they believe in Jesus. They receive baptism. And then? Let me press this question. Then what? This fellow who is baptized, does he know what he is supposed to do? After baptism, most have no sense of where to go, and consequently they go downhill. All too often we see this happen. Lest we embrace such a view of evangelism, let us take heed to the words of the Lord as He concludes this passage, “Go therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33) Recall v. 26 and v. 27 “Whoever does not bear his own cross, and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” (v27) To a disciple demands nothing less than total commitment.

The Christian Life - Total Commitment

Why does the Lord demand this total commitment, this faithfulness and endurance to the very end? We see the context is spiritual warfare. What soldier would be a good soldier if he were entangled in civilian pursuits and not prepared to die for his cause? (cf. “ Tim. 2:3,4). Likewise, in the case of the tower, you cannot finish unless you are prepared to commit all your resources to accomplishing the task. The Lord Jesus says, “You have to renounce all”. Today’s peddlers of the gospel say, “You don’t have, to renounce anything ! Just accept the free gift.” That salvation is the free gift of God, provided we meet His conditions for receiving it. It is assuredly true. But to teach salvation in this way is not to teach as the Lord taught. The Lord has underscored the fact that the direction for every disciple who receives God’s gift is to take up our cross and follow Him (Luke 14:27).

The Christian Life - A Corporate Salvation

Jesus’ goal was to live and to die for the redemption of mankind. Without this goal, we cannot be His disciples. To be Christ-like means we share His sense of values.

You and I are called not only to be saved for ourselves but that we ourselves henceforth live for the salvation of others. This goal is not optional. Our whole life is living for others. If we find such words unpalatable, then forget about living the Christian life. Is this not what Jesus said, “Whoever does not bear his own cross, and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:27)

Throughout the Bible, Christians and disciples are one and the same thing. The disciples were called Christians (Acts 11:26). These are not two stages. If we have not fulfilled His requirement as a disciple, let us plead that the Lord first change the direction of our life - to be conformed to the image of His Son. What is our direction? The mark which Paul presses towards is to lay down one’s life for the others. What else does “share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death” (Phil 3:10) mean? (cf. 1 John 3:16) If we call ourselves ‘Christians’, let us realize that we may only do so on condition that we share the direction of life the Lord had. Paul, in writing to Timothy, shares with us that “I suffer everything for the sake of the elect” (2 Tim. 2:10). Paul lives for the elect. He dies for the elect. Following in the steps of Jesus, Paul is willing to be poured out as a sacrifice for the others. So the apostle exhorts us, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1)

Every true Christian has this one goal in mind - to build up the Church of Christ. To build the Church as the means which God has ordained to save mankind. If we are to live and die for others, we must begin where God begins - with His church. Is our life only for Him?

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church