Loving and following Jesus as he truly isWritten by Subby Szterszky
What's inside this article
C.S. Lewis once observed that when we pray, we ought to approach God not as we think he is, but as he knows himself to be.
It’s a wonderful piece of advice, given our universal impulse for changing God into our own image, what the Scriptures refer to as the sin of idolatry. We do this when we chip away at what God has revealed about himself, removing the bits we don’t like or can’t understand, leaving a God with whom we feel more comfortable and in control.
In the current religious discourse, there are lots of voices claiming to love and follow Jesus, but in many cases, the Jesus they follow and love is a caricature sketched from a few selective attributes. Rather than the Son of God who died for our sins and commands us to repent because his Kingdom is here, he’s a life coach who tells us we’re fine as we are and not to judge anyone else’s path.
How can we know we’re loving and following Jesus as he truly is? We can begin by looking for him in all the right places.
Jesus in the Trinity
The Gospel of John begins with a well-known passage that should never fail to boggle the mind: Jesus existed since before creation as the Word of God, both with God and as God, the one through whom everything was created and the source of all life.
This is the most foundational truth about Jesus, echoed in the rest of John’s Gospel and throughout Scripture. Jesus is equal with God the Father and shares the divine name, I AM, as well as all of God’s attributes – mercy and justice, holiness and love, among countless others. There’s no contradiction between how God revealed himself in the Old Testament and in his Son. As Jesus said, anyone who has seen him has seen the Father. Together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, Jesus has shared a glorious relationship of love since before they created the world and made humanity in their image.
All authority over the cosmos belongs to Jesus, and he upholds it by his power. The sun rises, seasons change, plants grow, galaxies swirl, our hearts beat and our brains function because he wills it. Our every thought, feeling and imagination, past or future, is known to him. Jesus is the Lord of history, sovereign over every life, culture, nation and world event. At the end of time, he’ll return to judge the world and everyone who has ever lived in it.
The deity of Jesus and his place in the Trinity isn’t an abstract theological doctrine. It’s the basic truth of existence, meant to fill us with reverential awe and wonder.
Jesus in Creation
Adding wonder to wonder, the triune God isn’t a cold, distant deity, but one who cares for his creation with wisdom and kindness. He calls the untold billions of stars by name but also numbers the hairs (or lack of same) on our heads. The world, although fallen, continues to benefit from the goodness of God, who sends his rain and sunshine on the just and unjust, provides for the needs of all his creatures and gives us every good thing that we enjoy.
In his ultimate act of love, God entered his creation and became part of it in the person of his Son Jesus. The purpose of this mission was clear from start to finish. Jesus came to save his people – those who would believe in him – from their sin through his perfect life, atoning death and resurrection. He didn’t come to redraw the political map or repair the world, but rather to redeem and renew it by ushering in a kingdom that would lead to a new cosmos in which sin, suffering and death would no longer exist.
At the same time, Jesus cares about sin, suffering and death here and now. While on Earth, he healed the sick, showed mercy to sinners, gave hope to the hopeless and raised the dead. Women and children, foreigners and outcasts flocked to him and he welcomed them all, but he also called them to repent and follow him. Injustice and lack of compassion angered Jesus, and he could be tough or tender as the situation required, speaking words of comfort or warning that his audience needed to hear.
As the incarnate Son of God, Jesus partook in every aspect of human life, except for sin. He went to weddings and dinner parties, ate and drank and laughed and cried with his friends. In Jesus’ humanity, we not only see God in terms we can grasp, but we also get a foretaste of the life we’ll share with him for all eternity in his new creation.
Jesus in Scripture
It has become customary among some professed Jesus followers to drive a wedge between the Gospels and the rest of Scripture. The Jesus they claim to follow is limited to his words and actions recorded in the Gospels – and even those selectively, avoiding the challenging parts about sin, righteousness, judgment and the like. The letters of Paul and the other apostles, as well as the bulk of the Old Testament, are written off as products of an unenlightened culture steeped in patriarchy and a host of other evils.
This view, however, was not shared by Jesus. He made the astounding claim that the entire Old Testament – the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms – were about him. More than that, he ascribed the words of Moses and David to God speaking through them by his Holy Spirit. Likewise, Paul and the apostles were commissioned by Jesus to speak and write about him the things he revealed to them by his Spirit and with his authority.
As the second person of the triune God, Jesus isn’t just the author of nature, but also the author of Scripture. All the words of the Bible are also the words of Jesus and carry his authority. When he told his original followers that heaven and earth – the entire cosmos – would pass away, but his words would not pass away, he didn’t just mean the red-letter words in the Gospels. He meant every word from Genesis to Revelation.
Jesus in his Church
As with the wedge driven between Jesus and his Word, there’s a perceived wedge between Jesus and his Church in the mind of some of his professed followers. They claim to love him while having little love for his Church and even less interest in being part of it. They prefer what they feel is a more authentic, private relationship with the Lord, perhaps shared with others of like mind who’ve also checked out.
There are many reasons for this, some of them complex. Our church experience may seem boring, lifeless and out of touch with the realities of the world. The people at church may appear inconsistent, uninteresting, lacking taste and holding opinions we find unsavoury. Communing with nature, going for a run, or curling up with a good book and a cup of tea may feel like a better way to get close to God than by sitting through a church service.
Of course, there are also those who’ve been wounded in the church, having experienced spiritual, emotional or physical abuse at the hands of church members or leaders. The thought of returning to church – any church – is a trigger that causes them to relive their trauma. Such individuals need wise, compassionate care to help them heal, not judgment. And the church needs to own the harm it has caused, lament it and repent of it.
All of that said, Jesus is still Lord of his Church. They’re his people, his body, his bride for which he gave his life. Far too often, the Church has twisted the Word of its Lord and inflicted grievous harm on those in its care. Nevertheless, Jesus continues to build it, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
It’s impossible to separate Jesus from his Church. He designed it as a sanctuary where we meet with him, worship him in word, song and sacrament, and find healing, empowering, loving community with our brothers and sisters in the faith. If that hasn’t been our church experience, we need to keep our hearts with Jesus and by his grace, find one that is.
Jesus is our everything
Jesus is the eternal, all-powerful Son of God, the creator and maintainer of the cosmos, the author and subject of all the Scriptures, and the Lord of the Church. He loved us and gave himself for us, becoming the atoning sacrifice for our sin so that we might be included in the life, love and glory he has enjoyed with his Father since before the universe began.
Although many have tried, it’s impossible to reduce Jesus to a mere human teacher who dispensed some good advice and never challenged anyone or expected them to change. As he told his first disciples, to love him was to keep his commands, and to follow him was to deny ourselves and take up our cross each day. The Father’s purpose in sending him wasn’t to leave us as we are, but to make us over into the image of his Son so that we might share in his perfection and in his holiness.
If our image of Jesus doesn’t align with what he’s revealed about himself, we may be following a Jesus of our own making. As Tim Keller observed, “If your God never disagrees with you, you might just be worshipping an idealized version of yourself.”
We’ll only grow in our love for Jesus, and follow him more faithfully, when we look for him in all the right places. He’s to be found in the eternal glory of the Trinity; in his redemptive union with Creation and humanity; in the eclectic pages of the whole Scripture; and in the communal life and worship of his brothers and sisters in the Church.
When we see Jesus in these sacred spaces, we discover broadening vistas of his beauty, goodness and grace. As his true followers, we can’t help but love him not as we think he is, but as he’s revealed himself to be. Together with our sisters and brothers in the Lord, we’ll experience the deepening wonder that Jesus is our everything.
Subby Szterszky is the managing editor of Focus on Faith and Culture, an e-newsletter produced by Focus on the Family Canada.
© 2022 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.
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