by Linda Rex
So it seems that we have lost yet another youth to the decadence of fame and fortune. The longing for significance, value and meaning has once again set a young person on the road to stardom, only to bring her to the place of sacrificing herself to the god of media success. Upheld by her fans, condemned by her critics, she is selling herself, and millions are buying. I don’t know whether to be angry or sad. Maybe both.
The problem is, she is not alone. Her performances are only symptomatic of the loss of identity so many are struggling with today. We are all guilty at some time or another of basing our identity on what others say about us, who they want us to be, how they want us to dress and act, what fashion, media and peers define us to be. We look to magazines, movies, music—you name it—to help us to understand ourselves and to figure out exactly who we should be. Self-help books and shows tell us to look inside—that we will find our real self within. But what if we don’t like what we find there?
If these things are where we need to go to find our identity, our value and our worth, then it is no wonder that many are struggling with depression and other emotional/mental issues. With so many choices and unstable means of self-definition, how can anyone have any peace of mind? No wonder suicide is so common among teens today—teens who are seeking to find their sense of identity, worth and value in this transient, media-driven world. In my view, it is tragic. This was never meant to be.
The truth is, we become like the gods we worship. When we define ourselves by ourselves and by one another, we become less than we were ever meant to be. When we are not compelled to something better, we often give ourselves over to our basest passions and desires. And we influence everyone around us to do the same or worse. We close ourselves off to the finer, nobler aspects of humanity such as character, honor, fidelity, compassion, and self-control.
All the legislation and government in the world cannot change the human heart or transform it. Nor can it create a society of unified, caring and loving people. It just won’t happen—because it is not natural for us to be this way. We need to be awakened to the truth that God has given us a better way and this better way is not us, nor does the capacity lie within us to create it ourselves.
You see, God knew beforehand that this is the way we are. He made us in his image, to reflect his likeness—the image of ever-living, self-emptying, mutually submissive serving love. And he knew that by giving us the freedom to choose whether to know and love him or to deny his very existence and choose to live apart from him, we might very well turn our back on him. It has not surprised God at all that we continue to reject him and today choose to live as though he didn’t exist. This is nothing new. Our decision to define for ourselves what is good and what is evil has existed since the time of man’s initial existence.
Keeping all this in mind from the beginning, God planned from before time to make a way for human hearts and minds to contain his glory, to truly reflect his likeness. It involved God himself entering into human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ—this man who was testified to by so many, that he was and is the Son of God and the Son of man, fully God and fully human. This Person lived the perfect life we all long to live, died an excruciating, unjust death by crucifixion, and after three days, rose from the grave and was encountered in a real, personal way by hundreds. The testimony of the early church was that Jesus died for us, rose from the grave and ascended to his Father’s right hand in glory, bearing forever the human glory meant for you and me—the glory that is ours to have when we die and live again in Christ.
This is the glory God created us for. And not only did God give us himself in Jesus Christ—his life, death and resurrection for our life, death and resurrection. The Father and Jesus Christ sent the other Helper, the Holy Spirit, to live in human hearts as we open up ourselves to him to embrace him. This means that you and I were created to be the place where God himself would come to live, to be with us forever. So not only did God create us to be a reflection of his glory, but he also intended us to be the containers of his glory. This is who we are and who we were meant to be. This is the meaning, value and worth of our life. Everything else is transient and passing. This is meant to be ours forever.
But God’s not going to shove it down our throat. We can turn and walk away if we wish. It will break his heart—it already has broken his heart, his very being, in the crucifixion of Jesus. But God will always maintain and protect our freedom to choose out of his love for us. We can choose to live apart from him forever, denying his existence and rejecting his deep, endless love for us. Or we can surrender to his passionate love and give ourselves fully to embracing the identity he has given to us and renewed for us in Jesus Christ. It is our choice. Will we trust God completely and believe his heart toward us is fully good and loving? Will we embrace all that God meant for us to be in Jesus Christ? Will we give ourselves fully to God and trust him to transform us from the inside out by his Holy Spirit and to make us into all he meant for us to be? Will we believe?
Dear God, I confess that I have spent too much of my life deciding for myself what is good and what is evil. Please forgive me. And forgive me that I have not trusted you. I have not trusted that you are real and that your heart for me is always good and loving. Lord, grant me the faith to believe and to fully trust in you. I surrender my life and will to you—it is yours. Thank you for giving me the privilege of reflecting and bearing your glory. Grant me the grace to faithfully live and walk in Christ each day. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“‘Has a nation changed gods when they were not gods? But My people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this, and shudder, be very desolate,’ declares the LORD. ‘For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.’” Jer. 2:11–13 (NASB)
“They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a molten image. Thus they exchanged their glory for the image of an ox that eats grass. They forgot God their Savior, …” Psa. 106:19-21 (NASB)
By Linda Rex
I was wandering through the woods with family at a state park recently. The trail we were on was an arboretum walk, so there were signs telling us facts about the forest. And periodically on one of the trees we would find a small sign indicating the common and Latin name for that particular tree. We would pause to look at the tree and wonder why that particular tree received that particular name. This was cause for discussion as we had a farmer, a budding scientist and a student among the group, and common names often vary depending upon where a person lives.
The student had been studying taxonomy recently. Taxonomy or the classification of living things has been going on since the beginning of time. It seems that we as humans are always looking for ways to organize things according to their characteristics, and in the process, we give them names. One of the first things we do when we have a newborn in the family is to give the child a name. We do not want our little one to be nameless, because names are essential to someone’s identity and designate the particular family the child belongs to.
Belonging and identity are things that are very important to us as humans. It seems as though we spend much of our lives seeking to answer the question, “Who am I?” We pay attention to other people’s views of who we are and we allow friends, the media, school and even church to define us. We look within ourselves to find the answer as well. Sometimes this pursuit of self-definition becomes an obsession. Or we find late in life that we were not all that we thought we were and so we start the process of “finding ourselves” all over again. It can be a difficult and painful process.
One of the advantages of holding a Christian worldview is seeing ourselves as having our identity and sense of belonging based in the One who made us. Having made us in his image, the God who is and lives in love as Father, Son and Spirit, defined us as humans at the beginning as being made in his image and created to love and be loved by him and by one another. Not only that, but he ensured that whatever we may come across in our lives or may say or do to mar or disfigure that identity would be powerless to ultimately alienate us from his will and purpose for us. He did that by taking human flesh himself in Jesus Christ and fully living out all he meant us to be as human beings. He has given us a new self “which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Eph. 4:24 NASB)
The beginning of any search for identity, belonging, worth and value should begin with Jesus Christ, and with the God who made us all in his image. And we have no reason to fear whatever we may find along the way that may be unpleasant about ourselves, because it is already held up, forgiven and embraced in the person of Jesus Christ and the grace we have in him. God meets us where we are to bring us to himself in Jesus Christ. As we grow in our relationship with God through Christ in the Spirit, we are slowly transformed into the image of God we were meant to be and are in Jesus Christ. If we keep our focus on Jesus Christ, we will find ourselves becoming more fully and completely the people we were created to be. We will begin to reflect our true identity. And that is definitely worth finding.
Lord, thank you for creating us in our image to reflect you and for giving us yourself in Jesus Christ to ensure that we may fully reflect you in spite of our human limitations and flaws. We trust you, Lord, to finish what you have begun in us. Grant us the grace to find our worth, our value, identity and meaning solely in you. In your name, Jesus, we pray. Amen.
“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” –Genesis 1:27 (NASB)
By Linda Rex
This morning I was reading about an enormous fire in the state of Idaho at Sun Valley. This wildfire is threatening many homes in the mountain resort community, causing many to flee as firefighters attempt to contain the massive blaze.
I was reminded that as a child I used to have nightmares about being caught in one of the wildfires that often frequented the southern California foothills near where I grew up. A fire such as this would burn through the hills above us at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, often burning homes that were in its path. Sometimes the Santa Anita Winds would feed the fire, multiplying the damage it created to catastrophic proportions.
As a child, the loss to fire of all that I knew—home, family, belongings—was a frightening prospect. The only thing that eased the horror of such a prospect was my fledgling faith in a God who would take care of us. Otherwise, it was a concept that for me meant the end of the world as we know it. Having heard that one day the world would end in conflagration, I was rather frightened by the prospect of such a terrifying end.
So why did Jesus say that he came “to set fire to the world, and I wish it were already burning?” God himself is described as a consuming fire. Many scriptures point to the day when all that is evil will be consumed in the fire of God’s wrath. Is God such a wrathful, angry God that he looks forward to burning everything and everyone up?
Not only did Jesus say that he came to set the world on fire. He also said that he had a baptism he had to undergo and he was constrained or bound to complete it before the world could be set ablaze. The baptism he was facing was his own baptism by fire, the crucifixion. Jesus knew that when the time was right he would be unjustly accused and executed like a criminal by the leaders of his own people. In this event, as the One who is fully God and fully man, he would take upon himself all that every human being had ever done or would do that was deserving of death and bear our punishment in our place. He was working diligently every moment toward that end, to complete his commitment to all of humanity to save them from their sins. What drove Jesus to do this was the love of God for all the people he had created to bear his image. God’s great love bore the full extent of God’s wrath upon himself in our place. In Christ, God burned away all our sin, self and evil, not only by his sinless life, but also by his suffering, death and resurrection.
Sometimes a fire reaches a point of such intensity that it cannot be put out, but must be left to burn itself out. A firestorm is a fire out of control. We know that fire consumes all that is burnable in its path. It requires both flammable substances and oxygen in order to burn. Water or other substances that cut off its access to oxygen will snuff a fire out. The fire of God’s love is like a firestorm. It cannot be quenched—it is an unquenchable fire. We may do our best to attempt to quench the fire of God’s love. We may even turn away from and reject his love. But God’s fire will have its way, and will burn away all that mars the perfect image of him in each and every one of us.
After Jesus’ supreme sacrifice, the disciples gathered together to pray. They anticipated Jesus keeping a promise he had made to them—that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist had pointed his followers to Jesus, who would baptize with “the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Now Christ’s followers looked forward to Jesus doing exactly that. The Spirit, when given, was manifested as flames of fire, lighting on each of the believers. Through each of these people who received the Holy Spirit, God set the world ablaze with the fire of his love. And he still does this today.
As a person opens him or herself up to Jesus Christ and his Spirit, God goes to work in that person’s heart and life, and he begins to burn away all that is not in agreement with God’s nature, heart and life. As the flames of God’s love consume all that is not godly, a believer begins to change, from the inside out. It is a process, a journey that is life-long. No matter the ups and downs of life, God never stops working. The fire of his love never changes, though we may live and act in ways that attempt to quench it. When we trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ, when we keep our focus on him, each day sharing in his death and resurrection, dying to self and living to God, we are transformed from our natural glory into ever-increasing glory that reflects our divine Origin.
As believers grow up into Christ, they will begin to change. They will not think the way they used to. What interested them before will not always interest them, because their interests and thoughts will be governed by the Spirit of the God who made them, rather than by what their carnal nature may desire. They will grow up into the image of God they were created to be—they will begin to take on their true identity, being as they were meant to be. They will come fully alive. And the fire lit in their hearts and lives will begin to spread to those around them.
So we see in the book of Acts how the fire Jesus lit in the hearts of his followers began to spread throughout Judea, Samaria and then on into the areas beyond. And followers of Jesus can be found today in many nations throughout the world. Where his people have gone, the fire of God’s love has spread, and will continue to spread as they continue to participate in the life and love of Father, Son and Spirit they were created to share in.
The Love of God is an unquenchable love, an all-consuming fire, and will not cease to work to conform all humanity into the image of God in Christ. In the end, God’s love will destroy anything and everything that stands in opposition to him and that will bring harm to his children or destroy the image of himself his children were created to manifest. This is a conflagration we do not need to fear, as we are united to the God of Love in Christ by the Spirit. This firestorm is our salvation, hope and joy. Praise God!
We praise you, God, that you are an all-consuming Fire, a Fire of Love and Life. Thank you for uniting yourself with us in Jesus so that we need not fear the fire of your wrath, but rather can enjoy the heat and cleansing power of your love. We trust you to finish what you have begun in us to bring us to wholeness in Christ. We pray in his name. Amen.
“I came to set fire to the world, and I wish it were already burning!” Luke 12:49 (NCV)
by Linda Rex
When my children were very little, I was often called upon as their mom to rescue them from a serious dilemma such as fixing their tricycle, putting the head or arm back on their doll, or saving them from the scary neighbor’s dog. All these issues were well within my ability as their mother to resolve. But on occasion they asked me to do something that was beyond my capacity as a human being such as bringing their deceased pet fish back to life. In these cases, I found myself having to explain to them that I just could not do it. This they could not understand, because in their eyes, Mom could do anything!
Ah, the disillusionment of youth when they find out mom or dad is just like themselves—imperfect and insufficient to meet their every need! But this is a life lesson we are all faced with at some point or another. To promote another human being to the place God reserves for himself alone is risky business indeed. And it often can be destructive to the one who is placed on a pedestal. It is essential to our mental, emotional, spiritual and even physical health, to recognize and admit that we are incapable of perfection, of sustaining ourselves or others, or of creating something out of nothing. Only one Being has that ability and prerogative.
The testimony of the Christian Scriptures is that God, who existed apart from and before time as Father, Son and Spirit, created all that we know today out of nothing. He did this to share with created others unlike himself yet like himself, all the blessings of the love and life of his Being. Since the beginning of time, we as human beings have questioned God’s love and good will toward us, and so have found so many ways to put barriers between us and the God who made us. We have attempted to play his role in the universe as well as our own. The results continue to be tragic.
But God said no to all that we have done in this regard and has affirmed his intention that we all share in the life and love of Father, Son and Spirit as he ordained in the beginning. So he came himself as the Word into time in the person of Jesus Christ—fully human, fully God—so that he might demonstrate his love toward us. God is making something out of nothing, and he will finish what he has begun. The proof of this lies in the glorified human form of Jesus Christ who lived, died and rose again to live forever at God’s right hand in glory.
So when we get discouraged by life and our inadequacies, when we see the impossibilities of life, when we can only see evil and destruction and despair—this is the time to remember the God who made all things out of nothing. He is not done yet. He will finish what he has begun. He will bring perfection out of our imperfection, wholeness out of our brokenness. He is our Redeemer and will redeem all things.
As we daily surrender our inadequacies, failures, sorrows and weaknesses to him and embrace the risen Christ in their stead, we will experience the transformation of our deadness into life in him. This is the promise we have in Jesus—to share in, participate in his perfected human life both now and forever. It doesn’t depend on us—it depends completely on him. We are reminded of this as we participate in communion, eating the bread and drinking the wine in remembrance of him. God knows the end from the beginning, and he has declared our salvation in Jesus Christ. And he will not fail us in this. Believe it or not.
Dear God, thank you so much for your perfect gift in Jesus Christ and the precious Spirit, who lives in us to bring to completion the perfected life of your Son in each of us. We trust you to finish what you have started in us. Our hope and our faith are fully in you and not in ourselves. Open our eyes to see you and know you for the loving, faithful, gracious God you truly are. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“…God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.” Romans 4:17b (NASB)
“By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” Hebrews 11:3 (NASB)
by Linda Rex
Nothing can bring me to tears faster than to hear the story of a broken life. Growing up as I did in a church that was once insular and self-protective, I did not hear such stories very often. As I child I knew that evil and heartache were “out there” but I did not experience it in a real way as part of the life of someone I knew personally.
But no household, not even that of my family, is safe from the hardships and griefs of life. In time my family also experienced the reality of brokenness and the pain that comes from living life in a way that contradicts that which God ordained from the beginning. No one is immune from brokenness or pain or suffering. It is a part of the human condition. Our best efforts cannot protect us from experiencing the fallout from living out of ourselves, our self-determination, and our self-will.
In a culture where self is worshiped and served in every imaginable way, and people are told right and left to “have it your way,” it is no wonder so many are suffering from the tragic results of self-centered living. Freedom, when ungoverned by love (unconditional, out-going concern for others), is destructive and creates chaos and brokenness.
So, what hope do we have?
For many, the solution is found in the establishment of rules for living. They say that if you follow a particular set of rules, of principles for living, that you will never experience broken lives or families. If you keep the Ten Commandments, obey the 5 Principles, or the 7 Keys to Effective Living, that your life will be hunky-dory, full of happiness and joy.
I will not debate the value of these rules to live by here, for they serve a purpose, but I would like to point out the reality that the success of such a venture is fully dependent upon the self-discipline and self-will of the person attempting to follow them. And since the human self cannot be depended upon to do what is right and best and truly loving in every situation, the attempt is doomed from the outset. Some progress may be made and a person’s life may be significantly improved by the attempt, but the person’s inner being most likely will not be transformed in the process. Something else is needed.
If a person does not believe in a divine One who loves and cares for him or her personally, he or she will reach an impasse here. For the person’s only hope will be in a human’s ability to change or control him or herself and/or other people and circumstances. There will be a constant struggle for, or persistent denial of the need for, self-control and true compassion for others. Perhaps the person is strong of will and purpose—he or she can go on indefinitely in this condition. The person has the freedom to do so, if she or he wishes.
If a person does believe in God, then he or she is also faced with a choice. Will she or he receive the gift of the One who saved her or him, or continue in her or his own frantic efforts to handle everything by her or himself? I believe Christianity has received a black name in so many ways because Christians are frantically attempting to live a perfect, sinless life out of their own selves, on their own strength, and in their own way. It was never God’s intention for us to do this. Otherwise he would not have come in the person of Jesus Christ. He would have let the Old Testament laws stand for themselves. He would not have taken on human form. What would be the point?
But the eyewitnesses of the New Testament record tell us that Jesus Christ was a man in which the fullness of Deity lived: all of God as a human being. And in this Being, this God/man, we are made complete. God did not leave it up to us to save ourselves, to be perfect ourselves, to do what is loving and right and best on our own. He did it himself, and then offered us the opportunity to share in what he had done and is doing in Jesus Christ.
This is why the Scriptures, especially here in Colossians 2, use the expression “in Him” or “in Christ” over and over. We are to “put on Christ” or “abide in Christ.” These are all ways of saying that we share in Christ, in his perfect work which he performed in his life, his crucifixion and death, and his resurrection and ascension. It is in this relationship with God in Christ that we experience transformation and salvation, not in our human efforts to abide by a bunch of rules.
As we share in his death, we die to what we once were—our self-centered, selfish way of living and being. As we share in his resurrection, we find new life—that we are a new creation in him. This is not just a one-time event expressed through the Christian rite of baptism. It is an ongoing daily event—daily dying to self and living to Christ. Christ’s faith for our lack of faith. Christ’s love for our lovelessness. Christ’s obedience for our disobedience. This is how we put on Christ.
We share in Christ’s ascension through the gift of the Holy Spirit through whom we receive the power and the love of God, the personal presence of God within. We receive Christ’s moment-by-moment intercession for us in the presence of the Father, where he enables us to hear and receive the Word of God, and he presents our requests, our needs to God, interceding for us so we may continuously be forgiven and reconciled to God. We are given a relationship with God, not through our own efforts, but through the efforts of God, who reached down to us and brought us to himself, wiping away anything that once stood between us.
How refreshing is the wonder of grace! This is such good news that we don’t want to hear it. We prefer to continue our own efforts at self-preservation and self-glorification, even after we believe. For in receiving Christ as being all that we need, admitting we are complete in him and him alone, we have to give up all the glory to God for our wholeness and transformation. It begins with him, and is completed in him. To him be the glory! Amen.
Thank you, Father, for your great love, which you have lavished on us in your Son, Jesus Christ, and in your precious Spirit through whom you have come to dwell in human hearts. We praise you for your precious gift of a personal relationship with you, of life in you and with you, forever. To you be the glory and honor forever and ever. Amen.
“For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete…” Colossians 2:9-10a (NASB)
by Linda Rex
I’ve often thought about the story of Mary and Martha, wondering what their relationship must have been like when Jesus wasn’t around. Was Martha one of those “managing females” who was forever telling everyone else in the house what to do, and when and how to do it? Was she like some of us who are incorrigible perfectionists who never have any peace unless everything is absolutely perfect? It’s not very hard to picture her in those roles.
Mary comes across as the quiet timid soul, who finds a deep well in Jesus and lingers there at his feet to drink in of all the spiritual richness she can. Forgotten is every other detail of life, for now her soul is being renewed and replenished in this special moment with her teacher.
Indeed, it is easy to see the simple lesson here, that it is important to focus on what really matters—our relationship with our Lord and Savior—rather than always on the mundane details of life. We have to keep our spiritual priorities straight and put God first in our lives. When we do that, it’s amazing how much better our lives will run!
But when we look at the context of these verses and take into account that Jesus was in the process of deliberately heading towards Jerusalem and his crucifixion, trying to get his disciples to understand what the future truly held for him, then we can see an underlying message that could be missed here. Jesus was calling to his disciples to follow him as the Suffering Servant Messiah with a sense of commitment—a willingness to lay down their all for his sake—a willingness to follow him to and through the crucifixion to his resurrection and new life.
A lawyer had asked him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus had told the story of the man who was left for dead and the Good Samaritan who came and cared for him and even took him somewhere and paid to ensure his care there. Through this story Jesus put the question before the lawyer, what price are you willing to pay to be rightly related to God? Are you willing to sacrifice your dignity, your spiritual purity, your time and resources, and your convenience to live in union with the lost, the least and the ones in need? Are you willing to be identified with the One the world would reject?
These are critical questions. Was Martha aware that she did not need to do a bunch of stuff in order to be rightly related to Jesus? Did she realize that she could rest fully in what Jesus had done and would do in, with and for her? Mary apparently had come to see this and so was not concerned about the other details of hospitality and household management that were of such importance to Martha.
We can reflect on what Luke wrote in his gospel and ask ourselves how well we understand the message of grace. Do we realize that in Christ, we have been fully reconciled to God, and that he is waiting for us to give up our human efforts to do all these things, and to just trust in him, in what he has done for us and will do for us in Jesus Christ, in his life, death and resurrection, and in the precious gift of the Eternal Spirit?
God is calling to us, giving us the opportunity to choose “the better thing” by embracing his gift of love and eternal life in Jesus Christ and by forsaking all other loyalties in our lives. When we choose Christ first over all else, then he goes to work to make sure the rest gets done—and we can fully trust him to finish what he has begun.
Dear God, thank you for your perfect love that you have shed out on us in Christ. We trust you, Father, to accomplish all you set your hand to do, including transforming us and making us to reflect the image of Christ. You are a glorious and faithful God and we praise you, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (NIV) Luke 10:41-42
by Linda Rex
I stood in the hallway of the house that was used as the food and clothing pantry I helped to get started back in Iowa, Heavenly Hands. A young woman in her twenties was talking with me and with Jo, the lady who was instrumental in growing our outreach ministry. Tears filled the young woman’s eyes as she told me about standing at the gas pump and finding she had to decide between putting gas in her car so she could go to work, or buying groceries for her children and her to eat that week. Unlike those of some of the visitors to the pantry, hers was a real story of poverty and loss. I found I too had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.
Over the years I learned that what was most meaningful about participating in an outreach ministry such as this was seeing the difference we made in another person’s life, most especially when that person came to see and experience the love of God in a real way in their lives. What compensated most for the negativity of those taking advantage of God’s generosity were the stories of those people whose lives were transformed by the Holy Spirit along with these human gestures of help, prayer and support.
The story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 is most often used as an instructional passage to teach us about the importance of caring for those who are lost, wounded, forsaken and/or ill. This is indeed a meaningful way to look at the passage. But I believe that it is important to consider the small detail of exactly who Jesus wanted us to understand as being our neighbor.
In Luke 10:25-29 we read about a lawyer who was testing Jesus, asking him what he should do to inherit eternal life. (Question to ponder: how does anyone “do” something to inherit something? Doesn’t it come about mostly due to how you are related to someone?) Jesus gave him the standard rabbinical answer—another question: “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” The lawyer answered by repeating the two great commandments, loving God and loving one’s neighbor. Jesus answered him, “Do this correctly, and you will live.” And then he told the story of the man who is left for dead by the side of the road, those who passed him by, and the social outcast, the Samaritan, who tended his wounds, took him to an inn, and paid for his continuing care. This was the true neighbor to the one left on the road. But let’s go a little deeper.
We find elsewhere, in Matthew 25:31-46 that when a person tends to someone who is ill, in prison, or in need, Jesus said that they are actually tending to Christ himself. In many ways, the man left for dead is a true Christ figure in this parable, not just the Good Samaritan. Do we see that in loving and caring for our neighbor, those in need or in trouble, that we are actually caring for Jesus himself? Are we willing to commit ourselves to Jesus as the Good Samaritan did to the man in the road—risking our reputation, sacrificing our time and resources, providing Jesus with care and, paying for his needs and care in a committed and ongoing way?
Taking it even further—perhaps the real question here in regards to inheriting eternal life and in caring for one’s neighbor is the question of relationship: how well and in what way are we related to Jesus Christ? Do we recognize that in him we died and rose again, and are now living a new life in him? For eternal life is this: knowing God and the One whom God sent, Jesus Christ. How well do we know him? Are we willing to lay down our lives and live in newness with him each and every day, and in such a way that we are tending for others who are in the same predicament we are in?
When we see ourselves as the one laying by the side of the road left for dead in commonality with the One who died for us as well as others, we begin to see ourselves and Jesus more clearly for who we truly are and we can begin to have greater, true compassion for others. We find that the power, the will and the heart to care for others comes not from ourselves, but from his compassion that is now ours as we trust him for it. It is Christ in us by the Holy Spirit, who is this neighbor, who cares not only for us but for each person we may encounter, and who gives us the heart and mind to truly care for God and for one another.
To truly and properly love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves requires the very person of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit living his life in us. Because he lives in us and we truly know him in this way, we then have eternal life. This is the correct answer to the lawyer’s question of what to do to inherit eternal life. There is only one way—to be rightly related to God and to truly know him and the One he sent, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, our dearest and closest neighbor.
Holy God, please open our eyes to see you in a new way, as being our nearest and dearest neighbor, and to open our lives and hearts to you completely. Grant that we might truly know you and begin to live in right relationship with you and with others as you intend. Fill us with your love and compassion, we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
“But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” Luke 10:29