gratitude & hoopla: On Christian To-Do Lists

gratitude & hoopla

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

5.6.06

On Christian To-Do Lists

My consideration of the subject of Biblical rest began with this passage from Hebrews 4:
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
"That rest" is called "the Sabbath rest" in the previous verse. It is yet to come. It has not yet been achieved. It remains to be entered into. And so, "therefore let us strive to enter that rest . . ."

This is the "not yet" aspect of Kingdom rest. Like peace, like lions laying down with lambs, like every form of perfection that God has "prepared" for His people, we have not yet taken hold of it. Although we have all sorts of reasons to be confident about one day receiving it, it remains not yet. As Paul wrote to the Philippians:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
So there is certainly a need to press, to pursue, to take hold of and not let go.

All well and good. But if the Christian life is all about race-running, then perhaps all we really need is a good coach with a stirring you-can-do-it pep-talk. Keep on, you can do it. Run hard, you can do it. Memorize Scripture, you can do it. Pray unceasingly, you can do it.

What? You're not doing it yet? What's wrong with you?

Is this a problem, or am I just making this up? To tell you the truth, as should be clear by now, I can't really relate to these pep-talk sermons. I want to tear up these Christian Can-Do lists. Somehow, I can't help thinking they miss the point.

Let's go back to the Philippians verse. Look at the prior verses, in which Paul says, Everything that I once counted as valuable, working hard for with all diligence, I now count as rubbish. I've let it all go so that I might "gain Christ and be found in Him." He then unpacks this phrase--"to gain Christ and be found in Him". What does he mean? To gain Christ, he will explain, is to be like Him. It is, I think, another way of saying "conformed to his image." In this passage he sums up that conformity with reference to His victory over death (the power of his resurrection) and to His complete self-submission ("the fellowship of his sufferings").

Now, all this sounds rather strenuous. Anything but "restful." I thought salvation was by faith alone. But of course it is. Paul never misses the opportunity to remind his readers of just this, and he doesn't miss it here. All that sharing in Christ, having his likeness, being found in Him, is equated simply to this:
not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.
At the end of the chapter, Paul will warn his readers about those teachers who offer a righteousness based on law-keeping, performance, doing-doing-doing. He calls such teachers "dogs." More to the point, he calls them "enemies of the cross." And he says, as a counterpoint:
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
It all comes round to this. In all our working, it is Christ working in us. Paul always makes sure to adjust the focus so that it is Christ who comes clear in the center of the picture. Christ, and His cross.

We cannot transform ourselves. To try to do so is to find ourselves among "enemies of the cross." So it seems the message here is Christ-centered and cross-centered, not race-centered. In the final analysis, we cannot strain after perfection; it must be given us.

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