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19. Perfection as an Attitude of Giving

Chapter 19

Perfection as an Attitude of Giving

A Brief Introduction

(1) The New Birth

Regeneration takes place when we yield ourselves to Christ and become true Christians. I stress “true” because more than one third of the human population claim to be Christ­ians of one kind or another. The true Christian is one who has been regenerated or born anew.

Before the new birth, we were living a life of sin that separated us from God. It was a self-centered life governed by selfishness, the flesh, and the lusts that emanate from self-centeredness. But when we are “born again,” we become true Christians. As newborn infants, we enter a new life that is sustained by God’s power. Our lives are completely reoriented and given a new center. Yahweh our God, rather than the self, becomes the center. Since God’s character is self-giving love, this new life in us radiates outward, like the light radiating from the sun, carrying God’s light and life to everyone around us.

(2) Renewed into the Beauty of Christ

After regeneration is renewal. Today it is urgent for us to understand the importance of renewal because many people think that becoming a Christian is the end of the matter and now you can twiddle your thumbs until you get to heaven.

But God has a wonderful plan for our lives here and now, and it is summed up in the Biblical teaching on renewal. In this plan God transforms us progressively into the kind of person He wants us to be. The potential beauty of a renewed person is something wonder­ful to think about. Becoming a Christian is not the end but the beginning of God’s plan for us.

In the process of renewal, God will keep on molding us and trans­forming us into the beauty of Christ which far exceeds the beauty crafted by a plastic surgeon, even if he gives you a movie star look. God does not concern Himself with superficial appearance; He changes us inwardly until the beauty of Christ radiates from us.

And what is renewal but God’s transforming and beautifying work in us? After we are born anew, God renews us progressively until finally the full perfection of Christ is seen in us—on that Day when we stand in his presence. On that day, what a community of beau­tiful people we will be!

Physical beauty fades and withers like a flower. With the passage of time, the physical vitality and exuberance of youth declines; white hairs begin to emerge and wrinkles etch themselves across the face. But when God adorns us with spiritual beauty, it gets better with time. Has it ever been possible for a person to get more and more beautiful right up to the end? That is entirely possible, if we let God get on with His work of renewing and beautifying us.

Seeing a person in the first year of his Christian life, and then later in the fifth year, we often say to ourselves, “That’s quite an impressive transformation over five years.” The person becomes more beautiful as he walks with Yahweh God. When God beautifies a person, He does something no plastic surgeon can do. The plastic surgeon’s handiwork will deteriorate within a short time, but God’s masterpiece will shine brighter and brighter until that perfect day.

(3) Justification, Sanctification, Glorification

In summary, regeneration is the starting point of the Christian life. This sets in motion the process of renewal, which is God’s work of beautifying us by making us ever more like Christ, conforming us to his perfect image and beauty. When that beauty reaches its final perfection, we will have arrived at glorification. For those who prefer theological terms, there is a three-fold equivalence:

Regeneration = Justification

Renewal = Sanctification

Perfection = Glorification

There you have it: justification, sanctification, and glorification—the three stages of salvation. Though this kind of theological categ­orization has its limitations and dangers, as was mentioned in a previous chapter, there is still some didactic value to it if used carefully. In this way of describing the new life, the first stage is regeneration or justification, by which we become Christians. But it does not stop there; it is just the beginning. The second stage is renewal, a program of sanctification and beautification. The third stage is final perfection or glorification, to which we are heading.

(4) Die with Christ, Live In Christ, Reign with Christ

Equivalently, Scripture describes the three stages (past, present, and future) in the following terms: we died with Christ, we live with Christ, we will reign with Christ: [63]

Here is a trustworthy saying, “If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2Tim.2.11,12).

All three stages are concisely summarized in this important verse. Notice, too, the threefold “with Christ,” which we discussed at the end of the last chapter.

When we enter into bap­tism, we die with Christ. If we have died with Christ, we are now in him and live with him. This second stage—living in him and with him—is renewal.

In the third stage—final perfection or glorification—we reign with him. We must reach perfection before we can reign with Christ, because the Lord won’t allow anyone to reign with him who is not like him. If we reign on his behalf but without his mind and character, we will misrepresent him; we will become petty dict­ators who presume to rule in God’s name. Some church leaders feel self-important when their churches get bigger, and begin to throw their weight around. No one should assume authority in the church of God who is not Christ-like or who is unwilling to be a servant. “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10.45).

(5) The Three Interrelated Aspects of Salvation

Regen­eration, renewal and perfection are the three interrelated aspects of salvation. That is why we cannot be perfect (Christ-like) unless we are being renewed; and we cannot be renewed unless we have been regenerated. These three form a succession in the process of salvation.

Regeneration (the new birth) is the first step to perfection. Per­fection is not something so remote that it can only be reached by the imagin­ation. As soon as we are regenerate, we have taken the first step towards perfection. Perfection starts from the first minute of our new life.

Whereas regeneration is the first step towards perfection, renew­al is the process that spans beginning to end. Perfection, the process in which our being is conformed by the Holy Spirit to the image of Christ, is not an abstract concept but something that is already in progress in us.

Every Christian who is being renewed will model his life on Christ’s. If that is not happening in your life, then you are hardly a true Christian.

It is possible to “believe” in Christ in some vague sense without following him, but the reverse is impossible, that is, we cannot possibly follow Christ unless we have true faith in him. Mere believ­ing, however, does not make us disciples. The demons believe yet tremble (James 2.19). Likewise, it is possible to “believe” without obeying the call to follow Christ.

The reverse is not possible, however, because you cannot follow Christ without true faith. The inner imitation of Christ is possible only by faith in the Lord because it is impossible by human strength. We need faith to imitate Christ and to follow him where­ver he goes. Hence salvation is by faith, a practical faith that draws us into communion with Yahweh God.

Since regeneration is the first stage of the three interrelated aspects of salvation, it is essential that we have some degree of certainty that we have indeed entered into the first stage, without which neither of the other stages can follow. Let us, therefore, consider the main evidences for regeneration as taught in Scripture, with specific reference to God’s self-giving character.

Evidences of Regeneration:

(1) Freed from the Power of Sin

How do we tell that we are regenerate? Even after listening to the messages on regeneration and renewal, some people still don’t know if they are true Christians or not. In the remainder of this chapter, we will discuss the evidence by which we can be sure we are true Christians.

How can we be assured that we are regen­erate? There is false assurance and there is true assurance. Sadly, many Christians base their hopes on a false assurance. It is essential that we have true assurance. There are also many who remain uncertain and say, “I don’t know if I am regenerate or not. Am I born again? Am I a true Christian?” How long can you continue without knowing the answers to these questions? It is vital that you settle this once and for all.

Let us start with the non-Christian’s situation because we all know what it is like to be a non-Christian. The non-Christian life is well described by Paul in Romans 7.19ff: In his non-Christian days, Paul couldn’t do the good he wanted to do, but did the evil he didn’t want to do.

We are all too familiar with the making of New Year’s resol­utions. You aim to accomplish certain things and to refrain from other things. But before long and to your great disap­point­ment, you find that you cannot fulfill your own resolutions. The problem is not with your intentions. You sincerely want to fulfill your resolutions, but you are unable to. How true to life!

As a non-Christian, you couldn’t have seriously tried to live right­eously without realizing that you were powerless to do so. The only solution was to lower the moral standard to such an extent that anyone can fulfill it. But even with the lower standard, you are amazed at how hard it is to do a few good deeds. Your sinful inclin­ation is so strong that you cannot break its grip. It controls you so firmly that you cry out, “Why can’t I do the good that I want to do?”

The first evidence of regeneration is this: You have been freed from the grip and the control of sin. Whether you are born again can be seen by whether you can do the good you want to do. And thanks be to God, when you died with Christ at your regen­eration, you were freed from sin. Romans 6.7 says, “He who has died is freed from sin.” This principle permeates all of Romans 6, which teaches that we are no longer under the dominion of sin. Slaves of sin no longer, we are now free to do what is good.

If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8.36). Have you experienced that? Do you have the power to live right­eously? If your answer is “no,” then you haven’t been born anew or freed from sin; Romans 6 is not part of your experience. Christians of this type won’t survive for long because sooner or later they will say that Christianity doesn’t work. In a sense they are right, because you cannot live the true Christian life simply by getting baptized or accepting certain doctrines—but without forsaking the old way of life. You have not yielded your life to Christ, nor accepted his absolute lordship in your life. For if he were Lord of our lives, he would empower us to do what we cannot do by our own strength, that is, to live a life that is beautiful with his beauty.

Spiritually and morally, a life of sin is a very ugly kind of life. When has a selfish person ever been beautiful? “I want this, I want that!” But a person becomes beautiful when God so changes him that his life goes out to others. If your life has been freed from self-centeredness, then you are born anew—a new person in Christ. That is sure evidence of regeneration.

(2) Aiming for Practical Perfection

We now return to Matthew 5.48, which we have already studied but now approach from a practical angle, for it is vital for our spiritual growth to see that Biblical perfection is not an airy-fairy ideal but something that has to do with the way we live.

We remember that Jesus commands us to be perfect, to imitate God in His perfection. And what does “perfect” mean here? A basic principle of biblical interpretation is to study a passage in its context. Jesus introduces his call to perfection with the word “therefore,” which is a link to the preceding verses. Let us therefore read the section immediately preceding it, namely, verses 43‑47:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Indeed our heavenly Father is gen­erous to all human­kind, and this gives us a clue as to the nature of God’s perfection. Let us now read the other side of the context, namely, the verses that immed­iately follow Matthew 5.48:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before men in order to be noticed by them; otherwise you will have no re­ward with your Father who is in heaven. When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (Matthew 6.1-4)

The whole context, whether the preceding context or the succeeding context, speaks about gracious giving without desiring earthly reward or recognition. This is important for understand­ing the statement, “You, therefore, must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (v.48).

(3) Give Expecting Nothing in Return

To further understand Jesus’ statement, let us look at another passage, Luke 14.12-14, which teaches the same principle. Here Jesus tells a man who had invited him for a meal not to look for earthly repayments, but for those with eternal value:

And he also went on to say to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neigh­bors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Note the words, “they do not have the means to repay you,” and “you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” What is the Lord saying? He is telling us to give, seeking nothing in return. Don’t invite your rich friends because if you do, they will invite you in return with an even more sumptuous meal than the one you gave them. Not only will you get back what you gave, you will receive more than you gave. Not only will there be no eternal reward in this case, you will be in their debt. For a $10 lunch you get a $100 dinner in return—that makes good business sense; it is a good return on investment. In this world you do not invest in order to get a meager return.

If we remain in the flesh, our thinking will con­form to worldly logic and business mentality. In the world we make friends with those who will give us a good return on our investment. We make friends in the right places and pull the right strings.

But the Lord’s teaching is contrary to worldly logic: When you make an investment, seek no material return from it. Try telling that to the businessmen’s club or an MBA class! When you make an investment, make sure no one repays you—that is foolishness, is it not? No wonder we find so few true Christians nowadays.

It makes business sense to invite the bank man­ager, the airline executive or the vice-president of some company. You invite them to a banquet and lavish your generosity on them, and in due course they will return it to you with interest. Worldly logic makes perfect business sense.

But who does the Lord tell you to invite? The poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind! Your nice house will be crowded with people who will bring fleas to your carpets and filth to your sofas. These “uncultured” people will stain your furniture with their dirty hands. “Lord, don’t you know how much it costs to clean the carpets and the furniture? Why are you asking me to invite a bunch of down-and-outs?”

But Jesus says, “You will be blessed.” Yeah, blessed with dirty walls and stained carpets! And after they leave, I’ll have to spray my house with so much disinfectant that I won’t be able to breathe for days after that. Lord, you can’t be serious!

Do we think the Lord is jesting? He is laying down a vital principle for us: The true Christian life is marked by a constant giving that seeks nothing in return. Isn’t that remarkable? Have you ever heard a sermon on this topic? Someone may even warn us: “Let’s not talk about this, because we may end up bankrupt and, on top of that, be accused of teaching salvation by works!”

But the contrary is true: this is salvation by grace. First, because it is the Lord’s teaching (not ours) and the opposite of how the natural man thinks; secondly because without God’s grace, how can we ever fulfill this teaching? Would you allow your house to be filled with smelly people who, for lack of shower facil­ities, want to dive into your bathtub? Can you endure seeing your bathroom soiled beyond recognition, your clean towels reduced to filthy rags?

We don’t need to worry about this kind of scenario in Canada. This is a rich country in which the blind and the lame are few, and are generally taken care of through government assistance. But wait till you go to the third-world countries. Then you will say, “Lord, your teaching seems unreasonable. It must be parabolic and hyperbolic!”

(4) Imitating the Lord who Gave “Freely,” Seeking Nothing in Return

What is Jesus telling us about inviting the poor and the blind? Do we have ears to hear and to understand his message? Nothing he says is trivial, much less meant as a joke. Can we see that he is delineating a vital principle of the new life from God which we received at the time of the new birth? This principle is a central element in God’s own character.

And what is that principle? It is that God is always giving, even to the extent of giving His only begotten Son. And God’s children, because they bear His likeness as children, will imitate their Father.

The other part of this vital principle is that God gives freely and generously, but not because He wants to get something back from us. We human beings are so used to thinking carnally that we assume God thinks in the way we think. We assume that He gives generously because He wants a substantial return on investment. But God is all-sufficient and needs nothing that we could supply. And because He is our God, He is our sufficiency, so we need nothing that He cannot supply.

If in giving we seek something in return, it is evident that the giving is not motivated by pure unselfish love, but that a self-seeking element is present in the giving. Therefore any self-serving element in love devalues it. Any trace of self-seeking in love means that it is not true or pure love; it is not wholly self-giving love. It is not true love at all as far as God and His Word are concerned.

Yet in our habitually self-centered thinking, we project this kind of devalued love onto God. Little wonder we think we are justified in our self-seeking attitude when doing our little acts of “love”.

But in self-justification someone might argue, “It is true that Jesus gave himself for us on the cross, but doesn’t he also demand that we give ourselves to him by taking up our cross? He gives everything but also wants everything!” That surely is a crushing argument! But on further thought, perhaps not.

To dismantle this argument we need only ask a few questions: What do we gain from Jesus’ giving himself up for us on the cross? The answer is everything, including eternal life. And what does Jesus gain from our taking up our cross? Is the correct answer that he gains us as his disciples (provided that we remain faithful to the end; but sadly, many disciples don’t remain faithful)? And do we think that our giving “everything” (whatever it may be) is really equivalent to his everything?

Does our becoming his disciples benefit him or ourselves? Every­thing Jesus did for us and gave to us was, and is, for our benefit. It was never in his mind to benefit himself. And the same with the Father. Jesus expressed this succinctly in the words, “Freely you received” (Mt.10.8). Jesus gave “freely,” that is, without any thought of getting something in return; he sought neither payment nor repayment. That is why he expects his disciples to do the same, “Freely give” (10.8).

(5) The Regenerate Gives, the Unregenerate Takes

It is this vital truth, “Freely you received, freely give,” which he elaborates in Luke 14.12-14. The enormous significance of this truth is, hopefully, beginning to dawn on us. We can use it to assess whether we are regenerate or not, and how far we have progressed in the new life, by observing whether our attitude is gov­erned by the desire to receive or to give. The natural man (the unregenerate person) finds Jesus’ teaching to be completely contrary to his nature; it grates on him, making him uncom­fortable and even hostile.

What makes Jesus’ teaching unpal­atable to us? His teaching is hard to swallow because our self-seeking nature simply cannot cope with the “all give, no take” way of life. Give and seek nothing in return: our human nature cries out against this “impractical nonsense”. Only when we are born anew and see God’s kingdom and kingship, do we begin to see that “our sufficiency is of God” (2Cor.3.5), for He abundantly provides for our every need. As we freely receive, we freely give. And the more we give, the more we receive (Lk.6.38). This is a new lifestyle that comes with the new life!

But if “Christians” reject Jesus’ teaching as impractical, which is so to the carnal mind, what then is the inescapable result? The result is that Christians will think just like non-Christians; they are just as greedy, just as self-centered, and just as keen in making friends in high places for personal gain. The difference be­tween a Christian and a non-Christian is thus practically non-existent.

Haven’t we heard unbelievers say, “I’m just as good as Christians, maybe better”? Many non-Christians are indeed bet­ter than “Christians”. The churches are full of so-called Christians whom the Lord will not recognize on that Day, because they have rejected his clear teaching. In Luke 6.46 Jesus says, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do what I say?” He is telling us, “You reject or explain away my teaching and relegate it to the garbage bin, yet you expect to be saved. You claim to have faith and address me as ‘Lord’, but you do not obey me.”

Another Objection: Do not the Commandments Show That God Wants Something from Us for Himself?

Referring to Jesus’ words in Luke 6.46, someone may again argue, “Doesn’t the fact that the Lord demands obedience shows that he wants something from us? His commands show that his love is not selfless. He wants something.” This argument is forceful, but its force depends on the human presupposition on which it is based, namely, that when men issue commands these usually serve the interests of those who issue them. The presupposition is, as usual, that God thinks and does things for the same reasons as we do them.

It shows we simply don’t understand God’s nature. Take for example the two great commands, to love God and to love the neighbor. Have we ever wondered why the second commandment is attached inseparably to the first? Why didn’t God say, “You must love Me and absolutely no one else”? Since He alone is God, we might have expected that the command to love Him would have to be uncom­promisingly exclusive of everyone else. But what does God of heaven and earth say? Contrary to our expectations, He says in effect, “If you love Me with all your heart, then you must (and this reflects the second commandment) love everyone else too”! Thus the command­ment, far from proving any selfishness in God, proves exactly the opposite!

Even among human beings the giving of commands does not always express self-interest. For example, the commands and in­structions of a rescuer given to the person he is trying to rescue is hardly given out of any self-interest, but only for the good of the person he is trying to save (whether from drowning or from fire, etc). A guide who is leading people out of a jungle or over a mountain pass must demand that those he is helping stick close to him and follow his every instruction. An army commander on the battlefield issues orders in order to gain a victorious outcome for the battle, which he may not live to see. Even among men, not all commands are given for self-serving reasons.

The union of our will with God’s will

There is another important reason why obeying the commands is necess­ary for our own eternal benefit: God’s commands are the concrete expression of His character and His will; therefore in the act of obeying God’s command from the heart, our will becomes united with His. There is a union of wills. The union of wills is a union of persons. That means that in obeying Him we become one with Him (1Cor.6.17). It is through our union with Him (from baptism onwards) that we are saved.

In this oneness, communion with God is established; in the process of communion we are transformed into the image of His Son. It is precisely in this union, communion, and transformation that our eternal salvation consists. And do we notice that these three things—union, communion, and transformation into Christ’s image—correspond to regeneration, renewal, and perfection in terms of our relationship with God?

When we finally realize God’s selfless character reflected in everything He does, does it not draw forth from our hearts a deep sense of adoration and praise for a God such as He, wonderful beyond anything or anyone we can imagine? He is truly worthy of our love and devotion.

(6) Transformation of Heart and Attitude, Not Superficial Obedience

Returning for a moment to Jesus’ teaching in Luke 14.12-14, the point is not whether we invite the poor for dinner once in a while, and thereby think we have fulfilled his teaching; it is certainly not something so super­ficial. You and I might invite a few poor people to dinner, and then say to our­selves, “Good, we have fulfilled Jesus’ teaching. Now let’s clean up the place!”

We can do this occasionally and think we have fulfilled his teaching. The Lord goes much deeper than that. As I have mentioned, the plastic surgeon deals with outward appearance, but God deals with the heart. God is not mainly interested in whether we have invited a few people for dinner. That we can do from time to time. God is inter­ested in the transformation of our hearts and in a lasting change in our attitudes. He doesn’t want us to deceive ourselves by covering our carnality with a few good deeds. He looks into the heart to see if there is an inner attitude of giving without expecting anything in return. This further elucidates the meaning and content of Jesus’ call to perfection, which is to become like God his Father.

God’s Generous Nature

And what is God like? He gives unceasingly, and what does He get in return? What have we given Him today? Five dollars in the offering box? Even if we put in a hundred dollars, does God derive any benefit from it Himself? God doesn’t need our money, does He?

Similarly we can ask, What does God gain when we acknowledge His kindness? A sense of satisfaction? Do we think that He gives to us with the hope of getting some satisfaction from our paltry thanks­giving? There is, of course, no reason to doubt that our thanksgiving, feeble though it may be, is pleasing to Him. But we must not turn the matter upside down, and presume that He gave us His saving mercies in order to obtain our thanksgiving!

And how often have we remembered to thank Him at all? Though it is better than nothing, is a “thank you” sufficient recompense to God? Its evident inadequacy finds express­ion in Charles Wesley’s exclamation, “Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise!”

Yet God continues to give freely. He causes rain to fall on the good and the evil (Mt.5.45). While the good scarcely remember to offer their inadequate thanks, the evil do not thank Him at all. Yet God gives them rain and sunshine for their crops, sustaining their lives. He is generous all the time, but receives almost nothing in return. If He gave to us with the intention of receiving an adequate return, it would have to be said that He had seriously miscalculated the situation. But God makes no mis­takes. It is because of His marvelous love that He always gives without any self-serving motive. That is His character.

That is not to say that expressing our gratitude to Him is unnecessary just because He didn’t give in order to get our thanks. To think in this way would be perverse indeed. We already have the natural and perverse tendency to project our human self-serving motives onto God. It negatively affects the way we think about God and the way we relate to Him. It is essential that we get it firmly established in our hearts and minds, even if we have to belabor the point, that God was not motivated by any desire to get something for Himself when He paid the huge price of saving us from eternal condemnation. His love is absolutely pure.

The Selfless Character of God, Lord of All

On a slightly different but related note, someone may ask, “Doesn’t Scripture say that God redeemed us, bought us with a price, and so we are no longer our own but belong to Him as His possession. By redeem­ing us didn’t He gain something—us!—for Himself?” That is partly correct. But what does the questioner wish to imply? That God redeemed us for His own benefit? Or, partly for His benefit and partly for ours?

As for God’s gaining us as His possession, have we forgotten that humankind was God’s possession in the first place? We are His by reason of being His creatures, by reason of owing our existence to Him. With the blood of His Son, he purchased back from the grip of sin what was His own, for man had taken the liberty to sell himself into bondage to sin. In short, God got back by redemption what was His by creation. Our sins made Him pay for what was His in the first place! He did not gain, but regained what rightfully belonged to Him from the beginning.

When talking about what belongs to God and about His possessions, we must not again pollute the subject by reading our carnal way of thinking into God’s way of thinking. With God there is none of the selfish possessiveness that characterizes the way we exercise authority over others. Self-assertiveness often characterizes how we human beings relate to those under our auth­ority.

So different is the way God exercises His lordship over His people that it is difficult for us even to comprehend it. To demonstrate this fundamental difference between God’s way and man’s way, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples (Jo.13.1-17). When Christian explain this event recorded in John 13, too often the focus is on the act of feet-washing as an example of serving one another.

This understanding is correct but the truth goes deeper. The emphasis is not mainly on serving, but on the attitude of serving. It is an attitude of self-forgetful serving, where the focus is entirely on caring for the other person, not on oneself. Jesus as the Master need not wash his disciples’ feet; but he cares that they remain clean (here the physical symbolizes the spiritual), so he selflessly stoops to serve them. In other words, his lordship is one of self-forgetful care for his people[64]. It is a reflection of his Father’s character, for God’s sovereignty is devoid of self-interest; on the contrary, it is character­ized by His self-giving love for His people.

God’s selflessness defines His nature; His love is expressed in selfless care and giving. In sharp contrast, our nature is innately selfish. Our character is utterly incompatible with His, and indeed repugnant to Him in its present state. There is therefore no way for God to fellowship with us until our sins (our past selfish life and its deeds) are cleansed, and we are fash­ioned into His likeness.

Without this purification and transformation which He works in us out of His love for us, it would be impossible to enjoy harmony and communion with Him. It then follows that the more we are conformed to His selfless nature, the closer will be our communion with Him and our experience of Him.

(7) Learning to Give as He gives in Practical Ways

For our part, when we give to others, especially the needy, have we really done anything meritorious? Are we not merely giving what God had given us in the first place? If He takes away our money or our health or even our lives, we would nothing left to give. Therefore, when we give, do not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing; give and forget, ex­pecting nothing in return. That is God’s attitude; that is learning to be like Him. But let it be emphasized again: No one can do this consist­ently who has not been born anew. To discern whether we are born anew, we need only to check whether we are giving without receiving in return. This is another sure evidence of our regene­ration.

The fact that what we are talking about is practical and down to earth, and not something airy-fairy, can be seen from a few examples drawn from daily life: You cook up a nice meal for your roommate, and he gobbles it down without noticing that you have labored an hour in the kitchen. Then he walks away, forgetting even to utter a word of thanks. Are you resentful? “How insensitive is this guy! He could have at least said a word of appreciation. With my qualifi­cations, an hour is worth a hundred dollars! I’m not asking for much, just a word of appreciation.”

We want something in return. If we post a letter for someone, there ought to be some reward. Even small favors deserve a small recompense, right? We are indignant when we receive nothing in return.

Is it not the same in marriage? The wife toils all afternoon in the kitchen to cook up a nice meal. The husband comes back home ex­hausted. He buries his face in the newspapers, gobbles up the food, and walks away. The wife says to herself, “I could have given him pig feed and he wouldn’t have noticed the difference. I worked all day for this meal, yet he doesn’t say a word of thanks!”

Her point is valid. Her husband ought to have expressed his appre­ciation. I am not justifying ingrati­tude. What we are talking about is our own inner attitude in doing things.

If we had, in the first place, cooked the meal as a service to the Lord, seeking no reward from man, then any thank-you would have been a bonus. Even if no one thanks you, God Himself will reward you. In fact, receiving a thank-you may work to your disad­vantage. If someone acknowledges your labor and generosity, you have already received your reward, and no further reward will be expected from God. If someone is about to say thank-you at the dinner table, it may be better to cry out, “Stop! Don’t say that word! I’m going to lose my reward! My hard work will go down the drain if God doesn’t reward me.” This is, of course, being humorous.

But this takes us to the heart of why Jesus teaches us not to look for any earthly reward: He teaches us to look for that which is eternal, a reward from God that endures forever. He is teaching us to think spiritually: to forfeit the earthly for the heavenly, to give away transient things to obtain eternal things. Paul understood this teaching per­fectly, and lived according to its spiritual principle. With regard to earthly values and transient gain he said, “I … count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil.3.8).

(8) Does the Lord alone Govern our Life or is Our Life Governed by Others?

Our natural tendency is to feel insulted when our hard work is not appreciated by others. It shows us why we need to be renewed. We cannot remain at the stage of having been born again; our mind has to be renewed. Renewal is a new way of thinking that focuses on God and follows His way of thinking. This new God-centered way of thinking sets us free from being governed or affected by other people’s attitudes or by our circumstances.

“If the Son sets you free, you will be free in­deed.” If everything we do is really for the Lord, even things like cooking or washing, would we feel upset if people don’t remember to thank us for it? If I feel hurt when others fail to thank me and happy when they do, then my life is being controlled by them. I am allowing them to determine whether I am happy or sad.

If our minds are not focused on God, if our lives are not God-centered, if our actions are not done for Him, one consequence is this: Our lives will be effectively determined by other people. It is they who will make us happy or sad, joyful or mise­rable. They will control our feelings and our lives, and we are left miserable most of the time.

Where is the freedom that God has called us to? If I truly live for God, I won’t be affected by what others say or do. If they praise me, I will praise God who gave me everything that is praiseworthy. If they don’t praise me, I will praise Him just the same because I seek only His praise. Isn’t it wonderful to be free?

If we love our enemy, he wouldn’t be able to govern our lives and our feelings. If he slaps you on the face, will you be miserable for many years, unable to forget the hurt? Are you allowing your enemy to govern your life by letting him govern your emotions? This way he is your boss and lord, because he is making you miserable even long after the event.

But if you are a victorious follower of Jesus, the enemy cannot control you. When he slaps you on the face, you continue to show him God’s love. He slaps you more, and you love him even more. You love your enemy until he goes down on his knees and surrenders to God’s love. He doesn’t determine your life, you determine his. That is the power of Christ-likeness and freedom from the self, for no one but God governs your life. People may hit you or kill you (Mt.10.28) but they cannot do anything about the quality of your life. You are free to live before your God.

That is not to say that this freedom means we become totally insen­sitive to other people’s actions. Out of our love and concern for others we do feel for them, both their joys and their grief. Rather, it is to say that we are free in the sense that our lives are not governed or controlled by what people do or say to us. Only then will it be evident that God alone governs our lives.

True Freedom

No one determines God. If anyone blasphemes God, it is that person who will suffer in the end, not God. If we refuse to believe in God, He loses nothing. We are the ones who will end up losing eternal life. Whether we believe that God is real or not does not change the fact of His reality. The moon doesn’t disappear just because a certain blind man refuses to believe in its existence. How you treat God affects your own life, not His.

Similarly, because a true Christian lives wholly under God’s authority and in His power, the way you treat that Christian will only affect yourself and not him. By God’s power working in his life, the Christian remains free in every situation. He is the truly free man. Have you experienced the freedom of regeneration, renewal, and Christ-likeness? If we give without seeking anything in return, we are truly free, and God will be glorified in us.

 


[63] See Appended Note at the end of the last chapter.

[64] It is in this light that Matthew 20:27 (“whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave”) is properly understood, while also providing a comment on John 13:1-17.

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church