As human beings, we have the capacity to feel with moral implications, to exercise the gift of imagination, and to think in paradigms. We make judgments according to the way we each individually view or interpret the world around us. Even if we do not agree with each other on what ought to be, we recognize that there must be—and that there is—an “ought.” For example, we all ought to behave in certain ways or else we cannot get along, which is why we have laws. In short, we ascribe to ourselves freedom with boundaries.
Yet too often we shun boundaries because we feel impeded or we’re afraid they will deprive us of what we think we really want. While we know that freedom cannot be absolute, we still resist any notion of limitation ... at least for ourselves.
The Bible does not mute its warning here. We are drawn like moths to the flame towards that which often crosses known boundaries, that can destroy, and yet we flirt with those dangers. But at the end of life, we seldom hear regrets for not going into forbidden terrain. I do not know of anyone who died as a Christian exercising self-control who wished he or she had been an atheist or had lived an indulgent life. But I have known many in the reverse situation.
In this inconsistency we witness unintended consequences. As I have noted before, I have little doubt that the single greatest obstacle to the impact of the gospel has not been its inability to provide answers, but the failure on our part to live it out. That failure not only robs us of our inner peace but mars the intended light that a consistently lived life brings to the one observing our message.
After lecturing at a major American university, I was driven to the airport by the organizer of the event. I was quite jolted by what he told me. He said, “My wife brought our neighbor last night. She is a medical doctor and had not been to anything like this before. On their way home, my wife asked her what she thought of it all.” He paused and then continued, “Do you know what she said?” Rather reluctantly, I shook my head. “She said, ‘That was a very powerful evening. The arguments were very persuasive. I wonder what he is like in his private life.’”
The answers were intellectually and existentially satisfying, but she still needed to know, did they really make a difference in the life of the one proclaiming them? G.K. Chesterton said, “The problem with Christianity is not that it has been tried and found wanting, but that it has been found difficult and left untried.” The Irish evangelist Gypsy Smith once said, “There are five Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Christian, and some people will never read the first four.” In other words, the message is seen before it is heard. For any skeptic, the answers to their questions are not enough; they look deeper, to the visible transformation of the one offering them.
The Christian message is a reminder that our true malady is one that morality alone cannot solve. A transformed heart by God’s grace is the efficacious power that lifts us beyond mere morality. It is the richness of being right with God. His grace makes up for what our wills cannot accomplish.
Here we must bring a different caution. Christianity is definitively and drastically different from all other religions. In every religion except Christianity, morality is a means of attainment. No amount of goodness can justify us before a sovereign God. The Christian message is a reminder that our true malady is one that morality alone cannot solve. A transformed heart by God’s grace is the efficacious power that lifts us beyond mere morality. It is the richness of being right with God. His grace makes up for what our wills cannot accomplish.
At its core, the call of Jesus is a bountiful invitation to trust and freedom to live in the riches of that relationship. I am only free in as much as I can surrender to God and trust Him to give me the purpose for which my soul longs. This is the wonder and power of a redeemed heart. If I cannot surrender and trust Him, I am not free. We must know to whom we belong and who calls us all to the same purpose. Only when I am at peace with God can I be at peace with myself, and only then will I be at peace with my fellow humans and truly free.
I remember meeting a doctor from Pakistan several years ago. He was a Muslim by birth and practice. He was invited to go to hear a Christian speaking on the meaning of the gospel. He told me he didn’t really care much for what was being said, until the final two statements. The speaker said this: “In surrendering one wins; in dying one lives.” In surrendering to Christ we have the victory over sin. In dying to self, Christ then lives within us.
When that crucified life is seen, men and women are drawn to the Savior because they see what the gospel does in a surrendered heart. That witness lives within the boundaries our Lord set for us and takes us beyond mere morality to the life of the soul that is set free.
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