Friday, February 28, 2020

Losing Sight

I've been thinking a lot about Francis Schaeffer's admonitions that Christ should be Lord over all the areas of my life. I keep going back to Colossians 3:17, everything we do needs to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus. There's nothing really exempt from that: the most trivial thing I do is included, as is the most complex thing. "Everything" includes it all.

It seems to me like this has been missing in my life: I've tended to separate the "mundane" from the "spiritual". The "spiritual" is examined in the light of Scripture, but the "mundane" is just sort of allowed to go its own way. And I know I'm not alone.

Francis Schaeffer warns that when we allow that to happen, the "mundane" will eventually overtake, overshadow, choke out, and consume the "spiritual" parts of our lives.

So it's of tremendous interest to me that Colossians 3 starts with the admonition to "seek the things which are above" (Colossians 3:1), and then moves on to say that everything we do – all things, whether word or deed – need to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus. That seems almost like a contradiction: if I'm to seek the things that are above, then aren't the things "down here" really of no importance? Well... the Scripture doesn't actually say that. I agree that so many Christians I have met seem to think and act that way, but it's not what Scripture actually says.

And so I've spent the last six months or so grappling with this question: if Christ is to be Lord over all of my life, if I am to do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus – then what does it mean to seek those things above?

I'll be the first to say that worldliness is rampant in the Church. It's all too easy to find examples of Christians living for this life, with no thought for the next. And I've done an awful lot of that myself. I'm not blind to that. But at the same time, it seems that many, many Christians I have known have fallen into what we might call the opposite error.

It seems to me that a lot of "brethren" have a puritanical streak buried not too deep below the surface. And that seems to produce an almost Gnostic tendency to see "this world" things as unimportant, or perhaps even evil. So we have this strangely detached view of the world where we're called to live. And, of course, it's impossible to do "all things" in the name of the Lord Jesus when we think (deep down) that many of those "all things" don't matter.

And, in fact, I have seen over and over again that this sort of detached pseudo-Gnosticism leads right back into worldliness. Because we end up in this place where we think Scripture has nothing to say to our everyday lives. And I've fallen into that: I've been so wrapped up in trying to be heavenly minded that I've just sort of let "this life" go on autopilot. And eventually, it's the "mundane" that pushes out the "spiritual".

Oddly, it was contemplating 1 Corinthians 15 that led me to question myself here. Resurrection must mean that God is concerned with my physical body. And when we realize that, we begin to see that the physical world must be important to Him.

So I've wrestled a lot with this, and I've come to very few conclusions. But I have come to two, and I want to share them.

First, I notice that Colossians 3:17 tells us the first step to doing all things in the name of the Lord Jesus – giving thanks to the Father by Him. And so I've been thinking a lot about giving thanks. And I'm specifically talking about "this world" here. There is a sort of self-righteousness we can fall into: when we start talking about how God has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ, we can take that and turn it into looking down on the other blessings God has given.

I don't mean that we shouldn't bless God and thank Him for all the spiritual blessings we have in Christ. I mean the attitude that dismisses physical blessings in this life is wrong. There's no other word for it: it's sin. Colossians 3:17 tells us first that everything needs to be under the Lordship of Christ, then that we need to thank the Father.

I am tremendously blessed in this life. God has been open-handed with me, and for many years I was mired in a self-righteousness that led to me to dismiss those blessings as somehow "lesser", so that I could focus on the "greater" spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus. Let me say again, that is sin. Gratitude for spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus cannot lead me to ingratitude for blessings from the Father in this life. That's merely using Scripture to mask our fleshly ungratefulness.

Second, I've come to understand that it's possible to enjoy blessings along the way, and thank God for them, without losing sight of the goal.

Don't get me wrong: it's very common for the flesh to turn a blessing into an idol. But it's not to turn us to idolatry that God blesses us. It's possible to thank God for the blessings along the way without losing sight of the end that He has promised.

So when He takes us to a place where there are twelve wells and seventy palm trees, that's not so we can settle down and forget the promised land. But... to insist on staying in the desert, to think that sitting under the palm trees or drinking from the wells is a sign of decline: that's not being spiritual, it's being ungrateful. It's sin.

After what seems like a very long time, I'm starting to see that it's possible to seek the things that are above and do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus at the same time. Colossians 3:1 isn't an excuse for neglecting Colossians 3:17, or vice-versa.

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