Why is it Easier?

Matthew 9:5-7  NIV  5 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.”  7 And the man got up and went home.

Jesus asked the teachers of the law – who came not to learn, but to accuse – if forgiving or healing is easier for Him, knowing neither was the single right answer.  Instead, there was no difference to Him.  The question I ask myself, as a believer, is why I find it easier to believe in Jesus’ forgiveness than in His healing.

In the early days of being born again, it was easy to doubt salvation, because I based it on thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors – and they looked the same as before Jesus. The “symptoms” of my life were my guide.  Through renewing my mind with the Word Christ, I grew to understand that God forgave all sins (mine and everyone else’s) forever in Christ when He was on the cross.  That meant He had already covered any current “symptoms” to the contrary.  My confidence was transferred gradually to what Christ did, instead of what I was doing.  Today, some of those “symptoms” of unsaved remain, but they no longer throw me into a tailspin concerning whether or not I am forgiven.

Jesus’ healing is no different than His forgiving, according to the above passage.  Both are included in the work of salvation He finished on the cross.  Following this to its logical conclusion, then, once we are in Christ, physical “symptoms” do not determine whether we are healed any more than unsaved “symptoms” determine whether we’re forgiven.  That’s so simple and so clear.  So why do I still rely on my physical “symptoms” to determine my state of health?

camera lensOnly as I worked on this blog post did the answer begin to come into focus.  In fact, my focus has been the problem all along.  I have allowed “symptoms” to determine whether Jesus healed me.  I focused on “symptoms” and missed Jesus, the One Who already completed the work of healing.

Concerning forgiveness, only as the Lord adjusted my focus by His Word and His Spirit was I able to rest in His finished work.   Likewise, I believe He has begun His work of adjusting my focus once again, this time in the area of healing.  He wants me fully in His rest.  And He started it all with the simple question, “Why is it easier?”

2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Hebrews 12:2 NIV  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus . . .

The Chart Doesn’t Lie, Does It?

You’ve probably seen something like the chart in this picture.  Maybe you used one to track your children’s physical growth.  What about your Christian growth chart?  Is it out for all to see, or is it just in your brain – away from the public eye?  I’m talking about the one you use to track how much you have grown in Christian character since you began this journey with Him.  The one on which you can consider where you stand in relation to other Christians you know.  Have you grown by leaps and bounds, do you not see much difference from the last time you measured, or has it been an up-and-down journey?

Can I let you in on a secret?  It’s one that needs to be shouted from the rooftops to the whole body of Jesus Christ.  Here goes: Growing in Christ is a sham!  Yes, you read that right.  The real or imagined growth chart, whereby we plot our progress in our Christian life, is a man-made, pit-instigated invention.  It keeps our focus off our perfect Jesus Christ and on our imperfect human selves – and keeps us comparing our imperfect human selves to one another – as we try to “get better.”

We are new creatures in Christ.  We’re not becoming new creatures.  We are – the moment we believe in Jesus and His finished work on our behalf.  We have been made new in Christ.  He isn’t progressing.  He is complete.  We are in Him.  As He is, so are we, right here and right now, in this world.  The problem is, we insist on looking through our natural eyes, so we can’t see it.  When we think we see it, we’re still looking at the flesh, not the spirit.

When we work so hard to grow in Christ – like a fruit trying to produce itself on the tree – our effort is self-focused and self-defeating.  One day we mark ourselves high on our progress chart, but the next day we are back at the bottom beating ourselves up.  What we have considered growth in Christ is improved behavior.  When we’re good we feel good about ourselves, and when we are bad, we feel like worms.  Again, the focus is on us, not Jesus.  These self-improvement efforts, regardless of motives, easily hide fleshly attitudes.

“But I think about things so much more like Jesus now than I used to.  I know people see Jesus in me more than they used to.  After all, I must decrease and He must increase.”  Christ is either in us or He’s not.  Any true improvement is a result of the work of Christ in us, not our working to be like Him – an eternally fruitless effort.  We are not supposed to be like Christ.  Rather, we are in Christ, and He, the Hope of glory, is in us.  Believe this reality of His work in our stead, because we couldn’t.  That’s when resting in Christ comes, when self-effort and self-focus decrease, and when He is seen more clearly.

Our growth is only in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  So, come on.  Tear up that Christian growth chart and discover the absolute freedom and joy of simply being in Christ.  Of resting in His finished work.  Of recognizing and receiving His forgiveness and covering for all the self-focus.  Of being immersed in His love!

I.D. Please

Why do we do this?  Are we really better than another because of it, or does it just make us feel that way?  It’s in every area of our lives.  I refer to our efforts to align ourselves and identify with something larger.

In the United States, in the political realm, we call ourselves conservatives, liberals, or moderates – most times specifically using the party name.  Within the church, we refer to ourselves as Baptists, Catholics, Pentecostals, non-denominations, etc.  Within those denominations, we’re quick to narrow it down even further by what branch, main focus, or specific location we attend.

It’s also at work in other nations.  In the church in Israel, for example, people refer to themselves as Messianic Jews, Palestinian or Arab Christians, probably others, too.  In China, it’s the state-approved church or the underground church to start with, before all the subdivisions are added.

Is there anything wrong with these labels?  None of them are found in Scripture.  Thus, they actually divide and cause factions among the body of Christ, rather than unifying.  Even when we add Christian to any of those labels, we infer that Christ is not enough.  If Christ is really enough, why do we prefer to look for the differences that keep us at odds with each other, rather than looking at Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  He, alone, unites His body.  Not Christ plus our denomination-type alignment.  Not Christ plus our culture or nationality.

We’re either in Christ or we’re not.  All other alignments are contrary to Him.  There, I said it.  But I wasn’t the first:

Matthew 12:30 NLT  Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me.

Galatians 3:26-28 NIV  26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.*

2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

In Christ.  He, alone, is our identity.  We will never be completely united by our opinions or leanings, or even our natural heritage.  Only in Christ, and in Christ alone, are we drawn together in the unity of His Spirit – His Spirit of love. We are born into Jesus Christ.  We are new creatures.   One in Christ.  May that be our only I.D. tag!

1 Corinthians 1:10-13 NIV  10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.* 11 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?

* (highlighted by Kay for emphasis)

Faith Gone Wrong

I can’t get away from the book of Hebrews.  To be honest, I haven’t tried.  I read through it a couple of months ago, but found myself not ready to move on once I got to the end.  It continues to be a wonderful journey with Holy Spirit highlighting various verses, phrases, even individual words, and then helping me really see them.  One particular verse, and the insight He has revealed in it, is radically affecting my understanding of the rest of the book of Hebrews, the Bible, and my everyday life.  Please read on to join us in this part of the journey.

Hebrews 11:1 NIV (2012)  Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. . .

This is such a familiar verse, one we frequently quote in our preferred translation.  Perhaps it helped that I was reading it this time in an updated NIV, so a couple of different words jarred me out of rote recitation, forcing me to stop and consider it again.  As I did, the simplicity of faith became clearer than ever before.

Haven’t we used this verse primarily for things – even good things and promised-by-God things – and in so doing, made this thing called faith a hard work?  Think about it in some of the following familiar statements: “I’m believing God for _________  (fill in the blank), and ________ and ________.”  “I don’t have enough faith for _________,   only enough for _____________.”  “She only had enough faith for this part, not for the whole ________.”  “I must not even have a mustard seed of faith.”

We don’t find statements like these in the Bible, though we certainly hear and use them today. What’s the common denominator in all these modern-day so-called faith statements?  It’s an “I” focus.  Faith has become all about us, about our efforts to believe enough for whatever end result we seek.  What an endless and wearisome cycle!

But the Bible is good news!  The faith, confidence, and hope of Hebrews 11:1 are to be in Jesus Christ alone, not in our ability to believe for the desired change in situations or circumstances for ourselves or others.  Don’t believe me?  Look at the previous verse.

Hebrews 10:39 NIV (2012) But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.

Since Hebrews is written to believers in Christ, we belong to those who have faith and are saved.  What faith is required to be saved?  Simply, faith in Christ Jesus alone – in what He fulfilled and finished completely in our place because we never could.  In Him all our needs are met.  Like the believing-while-in-unbelief man of Mark1, our focus (and our faith) is to be Jesus, not what He does or will do.  In Christ, all work (healing, too) is already complete and all provision is already made, though our natural eyes may not yet see.  He, Jesus Christ, is our answer.

No longer is our question, “What am I in faith for?”  Rather, it becomes, “In Whom is my faith, my confidence in what I hope for, and assurance about what I do not see?”  And the answer comes via two questions.  Is Jesus Who He says He is?  Does He always point to our Father?  Absolutely.  He can be fully trusted.  He cannot lie.  Whatever He has promised is for all time.  That’s where we fix our eyes, regardless of current circumstances.  Our faith is not even in what He has promised, though we can bank on it.  Our faith is in Jesus Christ, the totality of Who He is, the very Promise Himself.  Therein is His peace.  Therein is His rest.  Therein is our confidence and our assurance about what we do not see.

This major, radical, mind shift is causing a major “tilt” in my brain multiple times a day as the adjustment – the refocus – takes hold, forcing the old-and-gone-wrong to leave forever.  What a wonderful journey, though, this faith in Christ Jesus alone!

1 Mark 9:24 – “help my unbelief” – Jesus helped the man focus only on Who He was, no longer mixed with what his natural eyes saw – it was faith in Jesus alone

What’s Needed?

Sorry for the longer-than-normal delay since my last post.  I’ve been in a season about which I will share soon, but writing hasn’t been my focus.  As I’ve spent more than the normal time resting recently, I’ve kept my Christmas music going in the background, and realize an overall sense of joy and peace has resulted from those words and music resonating in my spirit.

Since we are only 1 ½ weeks from Christmas Day, most people are probably heading into frantic mode with gatherings, shopping, wrapping, cooking, etc.  It is my prayer that this song will minister that same sense of joy and peace to you as you listen, and maybe even sing along.  After all, what we really need, always, is to focus on Emmanuel, Christ with us.  Let’s Ring the Bells!