As born-again believers, we don’t live our faith once a week at a church service. We don’t save it up for special occasions like the annual commemoration celebrations of Jesus’ birth and resurrection. We live our faith day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, and second by second. Every breath we breathe is a gesture of faith. Every word we speak should reflect our faith. I don’t mean that we should be phony, like many religious people are prone to be, peppering their speech with phrases like “I love you with the love of the Lord”. I just mean we should choose our words to be kind and helpful, rather than rude and disparaging. Jesus says we’re judged by our words and will be held accountable for every single one of them, even those we use when we speak to our own personal Judas Iscariots.
There are those who believe that Jesus accomplished everything that needs to be done for our redemption on the cross and we don’t have to do anything else. We can live more or less however we want to live, as long as we claim to be “with Jesus” or to “believe in Jesus”. While it’s true beyond a doubt that Jesus accomplished the mission God sent him to do (pay humanity’s sin debt long owed from the fall of Adam), we still need to, as Paul puts it, work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
The works of the law weren’t sufficient to pay the sin debt, but they were required for a time. Similarly, as we now work out our salvation with fear and trembling, as we measure and weigh each and every one of our words before we let them slip out of our mouth or fingertips, those gestures are not enough on their own to pay for us to cover our own personal sins, but we still need to do them. We still need to treat others as we want to be treated, because Jesus told us we had to. We still need to keep the 10 Commandments and love our enemies, because Jesus told us we had to. We are not exempted from keeping our end of the bargain because Jesus kept his. He did the heavy lifting, but we’re still required to give it everything we’ve got. We’re still required to put in our best effort not once or twice a year, but every day, all day.
That means hour by hour, minute by minute, and second by second we are to live as if God is watching and taking notes of everything we do, because he is. He’s even taking notes of our thoughts. We don’t have to go out looking for good deeds to do; God will bring them to us. And they won’t be good deeds: they’ll be tests of our faith. They’ll be tests to see if we actually mean what we say or are just hypocrites and lipservers.
The rubber truly hits the road in our tests. That’s when we show our true colors, especially when we don’t have time to weigh and measure our words before they escape us. I get down on my face and thank God for his tests, because they show me where I am spiritually, not where I say I am or think I am or tell myself I am, to comfort myself. I need to know exactly where I am spiritually – in God’s eyes – so that I know what I need to improve (which, as it turns out, is pretty much everything lol).
Whether or not I actually succeed at improving what needs to be improved is not the point; the point is that I give everything I’ve got to do my best as I work towards improving what needs to be improved. It’s my humble acknowledgement that I fall far short of the bar even while I’m giving every ounce of my strength to reach up to it that God is looking for. That’s what God is looking for – that we give our best even while knowing it will never be enough. We don’t let our own perceived and unperceived inadequacies stop us. We give our all, all the time.
When Jesus tasked his disciples with leaving their homes and families and jobs, he was in effect asking them to give him their all. He was saying: Everything you are, everything you’ve built and accumulated in this world, I want you to walk away from, I want you to let go, even relationships. I absolve you from all responsibility towards them, but in return you have to invest everything in me. You have to give me everything you’ve got. Everything you previously invested in your possessions, your families and your work, you now need to invest in me.
Everything, holding nothing back.
In return, I will give you everything you need to survive, but it will come with persecutions and hardship. You will also likely die an outcast from society and a martyr: You will be killed for the sole reason that you gave me your all. But your reward will be great in Heaven.
Not a lot of people want to sign on to such a deal. Jesus, by God’s guidance, knew in advance who would, and so he hand-picked them, one by one.
He’s still hand-picking them.
If you’re a born-again believer, you’ve been hand-picked, plucked out the fires of your own self-induced sin conflagration. You’ve been given a second chance by none other than Jesus himself, with the blessings of God Almighty. Someone once asked me why I was born-again, why this happened to me, and I couldn’t answer at the time. I can answer now: I didn’t choose it; it chose me. I was hand-picked in the same way the disciples were hand-picked, not because I was better than anyone else or holier than anyone else, but because God knew when he directed Jesus to hand-pick me that I would (eventually) give everything I had to him, that I would hold nothing back. That I would be kicked in the teeth and keep smiling. That I would labor in obscurity and keep laboring. That I would live for the Truth and then (eventually) die for the Truth. God is looking for people like that. I pray he’s found it in me.
We do not live our faith once or twice a year or around other people, for show. We live it hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second, day in and day out. We give everything we’ve got to God, even knowing that everything isn’t enough to save our soul. We still give it, and while we’re giving it, we thank God for plucking us out of the fire and giving us a second chance.