Putting the Bible into practice.
How do you demonstrate that God is real? I think if I could choose anything to be the focus of my life, that would be it. As I grow, I want to be someone who puts everyone around them on a collision course with the unmistakable reality of God and His Kingdom. I want to be a kind of professional ambassador or real estate agent for Heaven. Unfortunately, I’ve found this to be rather easier said than done, especially as the primary person I have to convince is so resistant to the truth. You can’t teach what you have yet to learn! And my heart struggles so deeply when it comes to believing Jesus. How then do I move forward?
We read a passage at church this morning that inspired me with an unexpected key. It contained some of the last recorded words of John the Baptist. Towards the end of his life, John found himself competing for followers with Jesus. He had to explain to his disciples that his own ministry must now draw to a close, even as Jesus’ ministry was blossoming. He began to spell out exactly how vital and unique Jesus was, and how huge a difference there was between the Messiah and any of the prophets who came before Him. Contrasting Jesus with himself, John explains:
"The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit." (John 3:31-34 NIV)
"If Jesus really is the One I believe, then the only honest response to this must be to build my life on His words."
To be honest, I doubt this little speech meant much to me the first few times I read it, but this morning one line jumped out at me: “Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful.” (v. 33) I didn’t realise that it was possible for me to certify that God is truthful! But of course that is exactly what I’ve been dreaming about. I want to demonstrate that God is real, that He tells us the truth about Himself. And now I have the key. I have to accept the testimony of Jesus.
Well, then, great! Job done! Presumably every Christian has accepted Jesus’ testimony, why else would they have given their lives to Him? I must have been effortlessly certifying the truthfulness of God from the age of 2!
I really wish it was that easy and I could finish my writing at the end of this paragraph and you could stop reading and get on with whatever you are supposed to be doing. But the truth is, we can’t. Because, even though I’ve been a Christian almost all my life, I haven’t always accepted Jesus’ testimony. In fact, there are still many areas of my life in which I still refuse to accept it. I don’t always act as if what Jesus taught was true.
Unfortunately for me, there is a big difference between claiming to believe Jesus and actually living as if I believe Him. As Jesus famously said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and says ‘Amen, brother!’ is like a wise man who built his house on the rock..." I think I misquoted that. The biggest revelation I have had over the past few years is this: if Jesus really is the One I believe, then the only honest response to this must be to build my life on His words: "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock." (Matthew 7:24 NIV)
"I was forced to act on what I claimed to believe, and now I think I really do believe!"
Here’s an example of what I mean. Jesus taught that we shouldn’t worry about anything. He taught that all we have to do is to seek after His Kingdom and His righteousness, and God the Father will make sure that we have everything we need. I always thought that I believed Jesus in this case, as I was pretty good at not worrying about money, food, clothes and things. It turns out that this was largely because I always had a plentiful supply of money, food, clothes and things. If I take you back to a year ago, when my rent was due in two weeks and I only had about $40 in the bank with zero income, I can promise you that not worrying became a whole lot harder, and trusting God to provide seemed a lot less smart. But of course He did provide, because Jesus was telling the truth! After a year or so of putting this to the test (inwardly quaking somewhat every time) I can confidently report that God is good for rent, food, pretty dresses, sweaters, rides to the store, unexpected shoes, chocolate, haircuts and successful visa applications. I was forced to act on what I claimed to believe, and now I think I really do believe!
Best of all, in this one area of my life, trusting God to provide my material needs, I am beginning to demonstrate that God is real. I have stories to tell! I accepted Jesus’ testimony about the faithfulness of God, and I can now certify that God is truthful.
What would happen if this faith were to spread to all the other areas of my life? Gradually, by continuing to read Jesus words, by choosing to accept that Jesus knows what He is talking about and is telling the truth, and by going on that difficult journey of putting this belief into action, I am beginning to live my dream. I am becoming someone who can prove the reality of God.
"When Jesus entered the game, the rules of play changed."
Now, if you have followed my line of reasoning so far and are beginning to get excited, let me add some important points for thought. Firstly, if for "the testimony of Jesus" you have been unconsciously reading "what the Bible says", you need to take a second look. When Jesus entered the game, the rules of play changed. Much of what He taught represents a huge shift from the Old Testament teaching that came before Him. In fact, He begins some of His most controversial teaching with, "You have heard that it was said" before going on to astonish His audience with a radically new idea. We tend to be familiar with this shift when it comes to grace and salvation, but have you spotted how radical Jesus’ teaching is on money and forgiveness? It’s common for Christians to read a Proverb each day, sometimes without realising that many of them no longer apply. Take for example, “One who has no sense shakes hands in pledge and puts up security for a neighbor,”(Proverbs 17:18 NIV) and contrast this with, “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:42 NIV) The wisdom of Jesus trumps the wisdom of Solomon.
Secondly, because of the radical nature of what Jesus taught, there is some confusion in the church as to whether we ought to even try to do what He said. My pastor once heard another pastor announce that obeying Jesus is impossible, as it would mean giving to anyone who asked. I hope you find this as distressing as he did! In reality, it’s with verses like this that the rubber truly hits the road. Because, of course, if Jesus was telling the truth, then we will be provided for regardless of how much we give away. If, on the other hand, Jesus was wrong, then following Him is going to land us in some trouble.
Lastly, I like to challenge you to cut through all of this confusion by making a discipline in your life of regularly reading the words of Jesus. We’ve been doing this at the Father’s House Church for several years now, both individually and corporately, and I can guarantee that no one who has taken this challenge seriously has come away unchanged.
Here it is then: the key to demonstrating the reality of God, both for yourself and in the sight of others — listen to Jesus, believe He knows what He is talking about, and act on what He has said.
The results will be astounding.