In his book The Spirit of the Disciplines author Dallas Willard writes; “Jesus’ teaching does not lay out safe generalizations by which we can engineer a happy life. Instead, it is designed to startle us out of our prejudices and direct us into a new way of thinking and acting.” (p. 205) Jesus didn’t come to live and to die so we could have the life that we always wanted. Instead, Jesus came to give us the life that we truly needed, and that should look radically different from the sort comfortable life we imagined ourselves living.
I think most of us recognize that our lives are a mess. Certainly some of us have more of a mess than others, but none of us have been able to escape the hurt, the addictions, the guilt, the shame, or any of the other consequences of living in a world dominated by sin. Not only do we need someone to come and clean the mess up for us, but we also need to be taught how to avoid making messes in the future. The life that is available in Christ Jesus isn’t just a life that is cleansed of sin by the atonement, but it is also a life that is guided by the Spirit into good works. In other words we don’t just add Jesus to our lives to escape the consequences of sin, but we surrender our lives to His guidance so we can live the life that He created us to live.
Think on what the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20; I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (ESV) Is that the way you would describe your life? The Christian is to live his or her life the way Christ would have them live.
How is that possible? It is possible when we familiarize ourselves with Jesus’ teachings. This requires us to spend time in the Bible reading and studying what it contains, especially the New Testament, which contains Jesus’ teachings and the teachings of His earliest disciples. So many people are led astray because they think they have a general understanding of what Jesus said, but they have never truly taken to heart His teachings.
We can live our lives as Jesus would live them when we follow the example of Jesus. Again this requires us to be familiar with what the New Testament says, particularly the Gospels which tell us about Jesus’ life. In the Gospels we read that Jesus took time to pray, to fast, to serve, to study Scripture, and to seek times of solitude. These were disciplines Jesus did in order to maintain a connection with His Father in Heaven. It was through this connection with the Father that guided Jesus in His ministry (John 17:4). If Jesus found that these disciplines were necessary for maintaining His connection with the Father, then it would seem to me that these disciplines would be essential for us to live the life we were created to live. Spiritual disciplines are not about earning God’s favor or earning salvation, but rather they are about learning to live a life that is guided by the Spirit.
There is more to Jesus’ example. His example shows us that we are to love all people, not just those who are easy to love. While the world pulls us towards the rich and famous, the way of Jesus pulls us towards the down and out. Instead of using people in ways that benefit us, the way of Jesus tells us to find people we can serve who will not be able to pay us back in kind.
Last of all, if we are going to allow Jesus to live our lives we need to check the motivation of our hearts. Much of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) deals with the reality that the heart of the matter is the heart. It isn’t enough not to do evil, but we have to understand the motivation of our hearts. When the heart isn’t right then it really doesn’t matter what we do. How can we fix our heart? The only way I know of dealing with a heart problem is through prayer. We need to ask God to bind up our broken hearts and to restore our souls. As our hearts are healed and we are restored to wholeness we are better able to live life in a brand new way.
We must never leave what Christ has done for us at forgiveness of our sins. That is a great and wonderful gift, but His death and resurrection is a promise of so much more. Through Jesus Christ we are able to finally live life; life the way it was originally designed to be lived.