How Jesus Restores Mankind Part 3, on Lust and Sexuality

Yesterday we took a look at how Jesus redefines the severity of the anger problem, tying it to the heart behind hatred and murder. After his discourse on anger, Jesus moves to the topic of lust with an equally devastating redefinition.  

27 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Mt 5:27-28). 

For obvious reasons, this is devastating to those who, while they haven’t acted on their desires, have entertained thoughts and fantasies.  But why?  Doesn’t it mean something that we control our impulses to act, and relegate lust to feelings and thoughts? Perhaps, but again, let’s not assume that Jesus is only saying this in order to make us see how bad we are and drive us to the cross and our need for a savior.  Let’s assume that he wants us to have total freedom in this area.  

Why does it matter to God what we do with our minds and hearts?  The answer is that God doesn’t just care what we look like. He cares about who we are. He made us in his image to show the world what he is like, especially those of us who he has saved and filled with his Holy Spirit.  To entertain lustful thoughts, we must forget all that.  We must be like animals who don’t think, just move by instinct.  We must suspend our God-given abilities to step back and consider what is best. Not what is easy, fun, or what would satisfy our momentary craving, but what is best.  Is it good for us to forsake in our minds God’s desire for us to be pure?  Should we rebel against God by ignoring his instruction on sexual purity?

God created sex, and he designed the idea of romantic relationships.  How happy Adam must have been when God woke him up and presented him with the wife that he created from Adam’s own body.  “This is now flesh of my flesh, and bone of my bone” (Gen 2:23). I can’t even imagine the joy of discovery that ensued.  This is God’s desire for all of us unless he specifically calls us to singleness (Mt 19:12).  It is a gift, a mind blowing gift.  There is no reason whatsoever to pervert that gift by using it in a lesser, cheaper way than how he intended it. Pornography is cheap. It does damage to us in so many ways, not to mention exploiting the brokenness of some young woman who doesn’t know God and has sold herself cheap.  Prostitution is even worse.  But even just plain old fashioned premarital sex doesn’t come close to the good design God has for love and relationship in a marriage.  It is a pathway to destruction of a relationship, to mistrust, to conflict. If you get married to the person you are crossing those lines with, there will be years of pain and mistrust to overcome together. Nothing is impossible with God, but it is usually very difficult to overcome. 

Jesus doubles down on this point and says that to look “at a woman with lustful intent” is to already commit adultery with her.  The same goes for women looking at men with lustful intent.  When you do that, man or woman, what does that say about the position of your heart?  What does that say about the belief that God is in your mind and sees what you see, hears what you think, and knows what you are?  If you can know Jesus’s words and ignore them, then I have to assume there is a good chance you don’t actually believe any of it.  God is watching. Always. To fear God is to believe that is true. To love God is to care what he thinks and love to please him.  But there is more to it than the fact that perversion dishonors the God who watches.  

Jesus is showing us the way to freedom.  

Do you want sexual freedom in the area of your actions?  Then get sexual freedom in the area of your thoughts.  The good news is not that God doesn’t want you to think about those things, perverting your spirit and dishonoring his, but that God has actually set you free from the compulsion to do those things, to think those things. Furthermore, he has something much, much better for you if you are married, especially if both of you are believers.  Do it right, and learn this.  

But maybe you aren’t married. Maybe you have no spiritually viable outlets for sexuality. Neither did Jesus. He was a single guy. Do you think he kept himself in check by repression? I don’t think so. I think Jesus understood reality well enough to know that even sex that is within the confines of holy matrimony is not the end all be all of abundant life. He knew that the love of a woman is not the greatest love of all; it is not the key to happiness and joy that our current culture believes that it is. This is one of Satan’s greatest lies. From what the Bible says, there will be no sex in heaven. No marriage (Mt 22:30). So, that tells me that what there is in terms of love and fulfillment is much, much greater. Jesus would have us see that now, take sex off of its current pedestal and start living. Romantic love pales in comparison to agape the love of the Father, the love for God with all our heart, soul, and strength, and the love for our neighbor as our self. It is the love that we must subordinate even the romantic love of our spouses to, if we are to have a godly, and healthy, even a romantically fulfilling marriage.

If all this sounds difficult and sacrificial, remember that Jesus is talking about freedom. What’s not to love about freedom? He came, lived, and died to set you free from sexual sin. Believe, and go free. Let’s talk more tomorrow about the sermon on the mount and what Jesus had to say about giving, praying, and fasting in secret

How Jesus Restores Mankind Pt. 2 The Sermon on the Mount – Anger

To hear Jesus talk about the ways of the kingdom of God must have been frustrating to the unsaved, as it is today.  But having accepted salvation and received the Holy Spirit, we can see Jesus’s teaching as more than just the proof that we need a savior.  We can see it as the ways and laws of living the abundant life of Christ.  Let’s look at some of the key themes of Jesus’ teaching on how to live life.  We’ll take a look at the sermon on the mount. The scope of these articles won’t allow us to hit every part of it, but just a look at a few key points will tell us a lot. Today, we’ll look at the way Jesus addresses anger, lust, and practicing religion.  

The Sermon on the Mount

Matthew 5-7

After the Beatitudes, which turn the normal assumptions about being blessed or happy upside down, Jesus takes his listeners through a profound set of “rules” designed to do two basic things. The first is to change their thinking from managing their outward behavior, to managing their inward orientation. And the second, which is related, is to get them to see how much of their life, even their religious and moral life, is spent on trying to impress other people. Jesus says in Matthew 5:14-16 that his disciples are to be the light of the world, so that others can see them, and see the way to God.  But at the same time, you’ll see in a minute that we are not supposed to do things to be seen.  Which is it?  We’ll come back to this question.

Anger 

Jesus really gets going about heart and behavior when he addresses anger in the next section.  

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Mt 5:21-22).

All the Jews, like most people, know that it is wrong to kill people. It was part of their ten most important and fundamental commandments.  But Jesus is much more radical than everyone else.  He says effectively, “If you are angry, it is the same thing as murder.” Why? Because it comes from the same place.  How am I never supposed to get angry?  You can explain this in a lot of ways, and people have. “Jesus got angry in the temple at the money changers”. Or, “The Bible says be angry and do not sin” (Eph 4:26).  But all of this is an attempt to avoid the plain instruction here.  If Jesus is saying this, then there must be some way in which we can obey this teaching.  More importantly, there must be something about obedience to Jesus on this issue that is good for us. There must be something about it that relates to the kind of life that Jesus refers to when he promises that he came so that we could have life, and have it abundantly (Jn 10:10).  

Most people see the sermon on the mount as an unattainable set of laws that Jesus gives us so that we will know we need him to save us. They say that he is trying to show people that, not only are they not righteous, but that they cannot be.  But what if that isn’t true?  The authors of Scripture tell us again and again that we should be righteous. Jesus said that unless we are more righteous than the Pharisees, we won’t enter the kingdom (Mt 5:20).  He said we must be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48).  So could it be true that we could look at the commands like this one to not be angry as some part of the good news?  Can you imagine not becoming angry?  Does anger ever feel good?  

To be clear, Jesus, who was perfect, did sometimes get indignant. It is true that he got fired up when the money changers were misusing his father’s house and exploiting guilt of the people who came to the temple to worship.  He got indignant when the disciples wouldn’t allow people to bring to him their children for blessing.  I don’t think that is what Jesus is talking about here.  He’s talking about taking things personally and getting angry because of it.  How in the world does one manage to avoid taking things personally?  It’s about the worldview, which comes with a right view of yourself.  

Picture this.  There is a guy at work who is mean. He is rude to everyone and one day, he turns his rudeness toward you, in front of everyone.  He makes some comment that is meant to be a put down about some project that you worked hard on and did your best.  You get angry about it. What does it mean that he said that?  Does it meant that you did a poor job?  Consider that.  Maybe you did. Did you do your best?  Yes.  Was it good enough?  Maybe not in this case.  Why? Maybe you need more training.  Are you willing to correct it?  Yes.  In this case then, he may have been right in his criticism, but he was a jerk about how he said it.  Furthermore, he said it in front of the rest of the team, which made it much, much worse.  This is understandable, but it is important to figure out why that made it worse.  

First of all, he disrespected you.  So what?  That is his problem. You may need to call him on it, you may need to ignore it, but you absolutely must understand it.  Why does someone act that way?  It is because of his own feelings of insecurity that someone would look for someone else to put down, especially in front of others.  So what do we know?  You could have done a better job, but you still did your best.  You’ll need to address that.  But we also know that this man is insecure and he covers it up by talking down to coworkers.  If he can get an audience, even better, because other people are his means of self-evaluation and self-esteem.  Here is the secret: that’s got nothing to do with you. 

Yeah, but how on earth will you manage to control anger in the situation? But I didn’t say “control anger” and neither does Jesus. I’m talking about freedom.

As a follower of Christ, you and I can learn to see the world as Christ sees it, for what it is.  Reality.  Your feelings don’t tell you what reality is. They only tell you what you think deep down that reality is.  If you understand that, your feelings will become useful.  As soon as you fish out some lie you’ve believed by following a sinful feeling back to its source, you can develop a concept of the world that is true, and begin to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Ro 12:2).  This takes work. It takes time with God in the Word, and a courage to face reality about the way things truly are, and the way you still misunderstand that.  

In this situation you got angry. But you know from the Bible that this is a problem with the other guy and his own insecurities.  But because of your insecurities, the disrespect has got you ready to blow.  Maybe you also have a worldview of nonconfrontation and you aren’t going to blow up on him. Rather, you are going to go home and call your mom, or complain to your wife (just as bad), perhaps to all the coworkers when he’s not around, and maybe up the chain.  

You are going to do this because you think it will take away the hatred you have for yourself.  But it won’t. It’ll actually make it worse because you know this is a cowardly way of dealing with things.  

Step back and ask, “Why am I getting angry?”  You’ll find that this guy is pushing some very specific buttons.  He is reinforcing a false belief in you that you are no good.  Why do you think that?  Is it because you didn’t do as well on this project as you wanted?  Not fundamentally.  Fundamentally, you think, “Of course I didn’t do well. I’m no good.”  I don’t know why you think you’re no good, but I’d bet serious money that you learned that from a caretaker, and it really doesn’t matter who it was.  

When Jesus says, “Don’t be angry at your brother, because that’s how people get murdered,” he isn’t trying to give you another rule you can’t follow in order to confirm your suspicion that you’re no good. He’s trying to set you free. 

Anyone can go through life and manage to avoid murdering someone. Most people don’t want to go to jail.  But imagine that you did this hard work of following feelings back to the source, the lie.  When you see that you have a fundamental belief that you are no good, and you see that you got that belief from a specific source, deal with it. Spend as long as it takes, and do whatever it takes, but deal with it.  Start out by forgiving the caretaker. In fact, I’d recommend confronting them.  Say something like: “I know you were only doing what you thought was best when you loved me less than you should have because you were trying to control my behavior, but I have resented you for a long time, and I have suffered self-doubt and self-hatred because of it. It was wrong of you. But I forgive you.”  This is the most powerful thing you can do.  Jesus actually commands that we forgive others and says that we won’t be forgiven by God if we don’t (Mt 6:15). This is because if we are unwilling to forgive others, we have yet to believe God as needed to forgive us and has indeed forgiven us.  

Next, learn to abide in the presence of God by prayer, time in Scripture, mindfulness on God, and mindfulness on his ways and worldview.  Train your mind. 

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8).

Counter lies with the truth.  When the coworker is rude, and a voice in your head says, “You’re a loser.” Ask yourself, “Is that rational? Is it biblical? Is it true?”  No? Then don’t believe it. One day it will happen. Something that usually would make you angry has zero effect on you.  

Besides rooting out your beliefs by following your feelings to their source, and besides forgiving the one who originally caused the source lie to root in, you also must learn to respond appropriately. Jesus’s command in the sermon on the mount mostly relates to how we view other people. God calls us to love others; our brothers, our neighbors, and our enemies.

How would you love this guy? Well, now you dont take things like this personally, so you can evaluate his words. Are they true? Yes? Listen then, and adjust for next time. Thank him for his feedback. Also, without anger, in love, speak the truth to him about how you’d like him to address you in the future. To be an image-bearer of God, you must be just. He should not necessarily be allowed to get away with this behavior, not because you are angry, but because it is wrong. It may be even better to do it when you witness him doing it to someone else. In that case, it won’t be tempting to take it personally. You are only righting a wrong.

Jesus said if your brother sins against you, tell him (Mt 18:15).  He also said to go to him alone first.  This means you don’t need to talk to the whole office, or the whole family about it first.  That is a cheap way to draw strength from others. But it’s a lie. You don’t gain strength of character by doing that. You avoid gaining strength of character.  You will grow exponentially when you begin to deal with your problems in a direct manner.  Getting into these habits will change you at the core. You are dying to yourself so that you can find your Self (Lk 9:24-25). You are losing your life to save your Life, that is your “abundant life” (Jn 10:10). You are becoming what you are in Christ, walking in the “newness of life” (Ro 6:4).  

If you will follow Jesus in this, then one day, you will find yourself unflappable. You will be able to become indignant at certain things, but they won’t undo you the way they used to. You won’t be angry in the sense that Jesus is talking about when he says it is the same as murder. Your view of God will be set in. Your view of the world will be set in, and your view of yourself will be proper. Tomorrow, we’ll look at Jesus’ teaching on lust

Pride: Two Kinds

There are two kinds of pride. A good kind and a bad kind.  

What is the difference?  Indeed, what is the difference?  

The Good Kind

God created man in his image.  He delegated him to rule the earth in his name, to subdue it. To make things of it. To steward it.  He gives him gifts and talents to steward for his glory. Man should delight to function in these, to push himself to the limits of these for their own sake, for the Lord’s sake, because of the joy it brings.  

Isn’t that the way we were made to function? Would there be an exaltation in being man that would not rob glory from the Creator?  Could we not exult and still honor the one who is greater still than we could ever be?  

Could we not glory in Being itself?  Could we not take great joy in breaking out, and out, and out still further?  Could we not glory in doing a job well done, in bringing order to chaos, or chaos to totalitarianism?  

Could we view other men as intrinsic equals who are free to pursue the end of their own merits and potential?  Could we judge them, but not impartially, and not from a desire to defeat them, or to dominate them, or to take pride over them?  Could we love them and love their achievements as much as our own? Could we not give glory to God who made them as well as us?  Could we not join together in a “wise crowd,” and pool our talents, and energy?  Could we not glorify God in this pursuit?  

Could we not speak the truth to one another unashamedly?  Fearlessly? Lovingly, without fear of rejection? Rejection is a sign that someone is unworthy of us because they are not bearing God’s image properly. We can love them and move on. 

The good kind of pride loves life, affirms it.  The good kind of pride loves the Great God who made us, and Jesus Christ, the best of us. The good kind of pride loves its fellow man and expects the best of them, won’t settle for less. Won’t settle for less than total truth, total effort, total godliness, total righteousness. 

The Bad Kind

The bad kind of pride is envious of others.  The bad kind of pride seeks the recognition of men and puffs up when it gets it. The bad kind of pride gets mad at God for not making me better that I am, which means better than the men around me.  The bad kind of pride seeks the worship of others. The bad kind of pride hates. Hating one is hating all. Hating anyone is hating myself. Hating myself is hating God. 

The bad pride is suspicious of everyone and keeps score of status.  The bad kind of pride revels in dominating others because of our deep fear that we are nothing.  There is no joy in the bad pride.  There’s only suffering, arrogance, depression, anger, and fear.  The bad pride is hell. 

Cultivating the Good Pride

  1. Know God.
  2. Abide in God.
  3. Do right.
  4. Abide in God.
  5. When you have a chance to be courageous or cowardly, be courageous.
  6. Abide in God.
  7. When you have the chance to lie or tell the truth, tell the truth.
  8. Abide in God.
  9. When you have the chance to be responsible, or irresponsible with what God has assigned you (brushing your teeth, starting a company, raising a child), be responsible.
  10. Abide in God.
  11. When you see that you are holding a contradiction that to let go of will cause pain, choose to let go and go through pain. Wholeness and integrity is worth it. 
  12. Abide in God.

The good pride comes from knowing who God is, who you are in light of that, and walking according to what that means. It feels like being solid, settled in soul, happy, strong in spirit, and loving towards all. It feels like perfect peace. Don’t settle for less, and don’t go for the satanic bad pride. It’s hell.

The Unworthy Servant and Non-Contradiction

Christians are not as happy as they should be, given reality.

For a while I wrestled with some nagging thoughts that were far enough in the back of my mind that I could not quite articulate them. They would wake me up in the middle of the night and rob me of rest, but they would never show themselves. What I know now is that I was living in some contradictions with which I had not come to terms. The reason Christians (and nonChristians) are not happy is that we have contradictions that must be worked out.

I believe that the vast majority, perhaps 98% of all people I have met, are living this way.  They just don’t realize it.  They know they have some problem, but to diagnose it would require some sacrifice. First of all, thinking is hard, so most people do not do it.  They medicate. They search for fulfillment. They envy. They boast. They yearn for “likes” on social media.  They worship all manner of idols in order to get around that feeling of nagging contradictions.  Or, they try to be religious and please God, which doesn’t work for reasons I’ll explain later. But one thing they will not do is truly think about the problem of life, and why, if they know what they say they know, are they so bleh about life, or even downright sad about it.

But that just isn’t me. I have to think. The less peace I have, the more I feel compelled to do it,

because the contradictions and the unrest that goes with those contradictions are unbearable for me.

They were unbearable for me before, but now that I understand what they mean, they are excruciating. I believe that a contradiction is some sort of lie, an evasion of the truth, that causes us to be fragmented, disintegrated, not whole, not confident, not peaceful. Christians live this way all the time.

And because Christians live this way all the time, they are not living the abundant life.

They know that Jesus said that he came that we would have life and have it abundantly, but they have no idea what it means, and they feel a nagging guilt about it, and a nagging fear that they might not be the real deal.

They gravitate to teaching from those who say life is awful, and the more awful it feels, the greater your chances of getting to heaven.  They gravitate to teaching that says life is only suffering.  To suffer is to be like Jesus. The more you suffer, the more you can hope that you might be saved.  This is nefarious, because it is a half truth, which is the hardest kind of lie, because it is so tempting to swallow whole. It feels good, because it validates your experience with a kernel of a true sounding explanation.  In this case the half truth it is that suffering is indeed a part of a good life.  Our hope is that even though we suffer, and sometimes even as a result of it, ultimately it is supposed to feel amazing to be alive.  Sometimes it is amazing because things are good. We are winning, happy, and blessed with abundant provision, health, and good relationships. God in fact gives us the tools to achieve those things. 

But at other inevitable times, we are not experiencing those things. Rather, we are experiencing the fact that the world is fallen. We might be sick, broken, broke, suffering loss, losing at the game we’re playing, a victim of some evil or disaster.  The secret is that even in those times we can feel that we are living the abundant life that Jesus promised. How?  By truly understanding how God has created the world and how he has created us to operate in it.  

We can actually be…happy. No matter what. If you are uncomfortable with that word, then use “Joy.” It’s more biblical sounding.  The secret lies in a parable that I’m sure is often misunderstood and applied in the opposite way from which it is supposed to be.  The Parable of the Unworthy Servant.

Jesus said, 

7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Lk 17:7-10).

You’re thinking, “I don’t get it. What is in that that would make me happy?”  I’m glad you asked. 

I have said already that Christians suffer because they have not realized that they are holding various contradictions as beliefs. One of those contradictions is that they think that life for the Christian is that we live our lives trying to please God, and then he will owe us some kind of thanks.  The unworthy servant in the parable needs to understand that nothing is owed him. He is just doing his duty.  

“OK,” you might be saying, “But so what? Why should that make me happy?”  I know it’s difficult, but for now, just imagine the unhappiness of someone who expects to be constantly rewarded, thanked, praised for his or her work for someone.  When they don’t get it, they will generally have to think one of two ways: 1) “How dare they not thank me, or reward me. Here I have been bending over backwards to serve them, and this is the thanks I get? Thanks for nothing!”

This is not a good way to think about God.  It is called self-righteousness, or pride (The bad kind of pride. There is a good kind, but it is tricky and we’ll talk about it another time). But self-righteous people are not the unhappiest Christians, if they are Christians at all. The unhappiest Christians are those that think in the second way: 2) “God says he’ll reward me if I live right, pray enough, give enough, help enough, worship enough, serve enough, and, most of all, love enough.  But since I don’t seem to be getting any reward or praise from God or even man, I must not be doing anything enough! Ugh! Life is so hard.  At least I can say that my life is hard. Maybe that will earn me something. At least if my life is hard enough, if I am sad enough, I can probably, maybe, get to heaven someday.”  

These people make up the majority of the church, especially pastors.  I know very few of us pastors that do not look at the paltry fruit of our ministry as a sign that we are not doing enough for God.  Well, at least we can be messed up and depressed about it. Maybe that will make up for the fact. This is all a contradiction because we never say these words consciously.  What we say is what the Bible says, Jesus came that we “would have life, abundantly” (Jn 10:10).  “Rejoice always” (1 Thes 5:16).  But we know deep down that we don’t believe this.  Our emotions betray us.  

But look again at the parable.  Why would Jesus tell us that it is good to say, “We are unworthy servants, we have only done what is our duty”?  If I’m unworthy of reward, then I am less apt to be looking for one.  But there is another tricky spot. His words don’t sound very nice. We hear it as, “You despicable, unworthy, waste of space. How dare you think you deserve anything from God. You make me sick.” But that isn’t what he is saying. Try this instead:  “God has made you for a purpose. Following God and serving him is its own reward.  Stop looking for some other evidence that you’re ok. Stop listening to the evil one telling you you’re no good. Instead, do what you were put on this earth to do. Yes there is a heavenly reward, but worry about that later.” 

You might be thinking I’m stretching.  That’s because you are messed up.  I’ll prove it by showing you something from a much nicer parable, the Prodigal Son. Luke 15:11-32 says, 

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

Now, look past the nice part about the younger son that goes out and has all his fun after telling his dad he wishes he would hurry up and die, then gets accepted back into the family by a super loving and gracious father who’s been watching for him the whole time.  Skip that part.  Look again at 25-32 at the part about the older brother.  

He comes in from the field and hears the music. He’s upset to find out that his younger brother came home, and his father had killed the fattened calf to throw a party in his honor because he is so glad that he is back. This really ticks off the older brother. Why? Because he struggles with the same contradictions as you and I do. Look at what his father says, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” Read that again.

“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”

What is the older brother missing?  He doesn’t realize several things. He always has the father. He is always with him.  He owns everything that the father has.  All the young goats belong to the older brother and if he wanted to, he could kill one at any time and have a party. Why doesn’t he?  

And what the father does not say, we can figure out if we think hard enough about it. It is no fun to be the prodigal. We mistakenly see this as: younger brother gets to go have fun while older brother stays home and works. But is it really fun to live a bankrupt life of following your bodily desires and impulses until you are destitute, far away from the Creator that made you and loves you? I have lived that way. It is not fun. It is scary. Sad. Bankrupt. I’d rather have the life of the older brother. That is the good life. The life of the older brother is its own reward.

Just like the unworthy servant, the problem is not that the older brother doesn’t have an awesome life. It is that he doesn’t know it. He does not see it that way. He is holding unbiblical contradictions in his mind and hasn’t worked them out. So he’s self-righteous, mad at his father, hates his brother, and unwilling to party. Grumpiness is a badge of honor to him.  Furthermore, the older brother suffers from a syndrome that most of us at some time or other, and in some form another, suffer from: a desire to feel important.  Just like the unworthy servant, the older brother has no actual need to be important, but since he doesn’t know that, he can only see the party thrown for his brother as proof of his own unimportance.  This is no way to live, and it is thoroughly unbliblical.

Let’s root out the contradictions keeping us up at night and figure out the joy of being an older brother, the unworthy servant, a joyful Christian.

I Am

God is I Am and so am I. So are you; an image bearer with an assignment to produce. Life is the standard. Existence exists, so accept that and get after it. 

In the beginning, God created (Gen 1:1).   There was only one God in three persons, and then he created everything that exists.  In him, before the creation, were certain principles of Logos: logic, reason, math, objective truth, etc.  This is too mysterious for me to ponder too much, except to say that there is something fundamentally important about this fact.  Existence exists, along with objective truth of which God is the source.  

In Exodus 3:14 God revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush. When Moses asked him who he was so that he could tell the people who it was who had sent him, God said to call him, “I Am.” God is saying, basically, that he exists. He is the essence of all existence. I hope that you are smarter and deeper than I and can get everything out of that fact that can be gotten, but I can at least tell you where my brain has gone. Stay with me a little longer.

God exists. Existence exists.

Also, I exist.  You exist. God made us, and so we are.  You can say of yourself “I Am.”  Why? Because you are. But isn’t that blasphemous? I mean, that’s how God defines himself.  No.  You and I are made in his image: 

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Gen 1:26-27).

Therefore, you are an image bearer of the I AM. You are at least a little “i am,” just like you are a little Christ if you are a Christian. Christian means little Christ. We are not to make graven images of the Father, first, because he said so, and second, because he already made one. Adam. You. Man is the image of God and that means something.

What does it mean that “i am?”

If that is true, what does it matter? Let’s start with God. He does everything because of his existence, because of the nature of his existence. What he says about it is that everything he does, he does for his glory (Isa 43:7). Why? Because it is glorious to exist. The phrase, “God does everything for his own glory,” starts with “God does.” To be God, is to do. God’s being requires, and has the effect of God’s doing. To be is to do. God does, because God is.

Before we keep going with God’s doing, let’s look at Adam’s doing.  Adam is.  Adam exists.  Adam’s existence means that Adam does things. And what things does Adam (and Eve, and you, and me) do?  It says in Genesis 1:28-29:

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.

So that is what man was created to do.  In effect, he is to create. Who does that sound like?  God!  So part of being in the image of God is being a creator.  If God is the Creator with a capital C, then we are creators with a lowercase c.  Why would God create one of his creations to be creators?  So that we could continue to create on his behalf. He would effectually continue creating through his creators.  Man is “i am” like the great “I AM,” and to be “i am” is to be a creator. If we are not creating, then we are not being like God.  Right there is a clue as to what it means to live for the glory of God, or to do everything for God’s glory.  

Being uniquely human, is being a creator, a producer, a multiplier, a subduer of the earth (to create stuff out of it, like iron, fire, wheels, oil refineries, and solar panels, iPhones, and blog posts). Let me go out on a limb here and say that to be human is a potentially glorious thing, depending on the extent to which one lives out their calling as a bearer of the image of the glorious Creator who made them for that purpose.

Let me go out on a thinner, shakier limb and say that if God does everything for his own glory, and we are his image bearers continuing his work of creation, then we, too, might need to understand a sense in which we do everything we do for our own glory which is ultimately for his own glory.

Doesn’t Paul say in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God? Why would it be sin to fall short of glory? Because we were created for glory. This is confusing because we only think of glory as coming from other men, but that is false glory. The glory God wants for us is the glory we receive at the judgment, at our glorification (Ro 8:30). Having been restored in Christ by his blood and sacrifice, we should start living a glorious life now. This means we start behaving like our maker, making, being, doing, according to his kingdom and his righteousness. The glory is not from men, it just is, and it is from God.

Please understand me. Everything we do is meant to be for the glory of God, but I think it is possible that because we don’t understand the honor that he has bestowed on us as his divine image-bearers, we can let our own self-doubt and self-loathing get in the way of what we could be doing for him.

This all speaks to purpose, and it flows from the basic fact of our existence. God has given us life. That means in part that “life” is the point of all this existing. He has called man to go and “live.” The purpose of man is to live. Jesus said he came to give us “life and life abundant” or “to the full” (Jn 10:10). There is something about that word “life” that goes with “creation” that goes with “glory”. We are destined as Christians to be “glorified” with him in heaven. If we are supposed to be living a restored life in Christ Jesus, then we are, in some way, supposed to be living a “glorified” life now, at least in part.

Here’s an example in Scripture of what it looks like to get a good and humble kind of glory here in this life: Proverbs 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”  The writer is saying that if one is slow to anger and can overlook an offense, it shows that he has good sense, and good sense is glorious.  It is to his glory that he does this. In what way is it glorious?  It is glorious In the fact that it is an imitation of God to be slow to anger.  To the extent that we are imitation the One who is and always will be most glorious, we are glorious.  

Most Christians seem to think that glorifying God in this life means going to church as much as possible and worshiping. Also worshiping at home, and in the car. This is true, but not the whole truth. If it were the whole truth then we’d be right to hate ourselves, because we don’t spend twenty-four seven singing songs about God and to God (which I love to do). But I say that our whole life, whatever we do, whether we eat or drink, do it all for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). How? By pursuing life as a creator because you are created by the Creator for that very purpose, and by doing this creating in the way that God would have us do, by displaying his character and nature in the process. Take your place as “i am” because he is the ultimate “I AM” and you bear his image.