Why are you following Jesus? What’s in it for you? Are you driven by the interests of your own “kingdom” or by the realization of your desperation for the love and ways of God’s Kingdom seen here on earth as it is in heaven, especially in and through your life?
In Luke 18, a wealthy community leader approached Jesus to ask him a question. He wanted to know what he had to do to “deserve” eternal life (or as translated in another way – the exact requirements in order for him to for sure share in eternal life with God). The question alone indicated one of two things:
- a sincere desperation for God and heart-felt desire to be near to Him
- a selfish desire to be counted as “godly” and a guy desperate enough to ask for acclaim in front of God and everybody
The “prefix” to the question indicated something, too. The rich official schmoozed Jesus a bit. He called Jesus “Good Teacher” in his introduction to the question. Then, he asked, “What must I do to deserve eternal life?” The thought of “deserving” eternal life, coupled with the kiss-up prefix to the question seemed to indicate a selfish interest. And Jesus picked up on it. He responded, like in so many other occasions, with a question:
19 Jesus said, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good—only God.
Wow. From the question that Jesus responds with, we get an even greater insight into the motivation and interests of this rich official. He was interested in his goodness, not in the goodness of the teacher before him nor the goodness of the God with whom he wanted to share eternal life.
I really caught that statement a few years ago, and I have struggled with it sense. It keeps causing me to ask a very strange-sounding question – IS GOD INTERESTED IN ME BEING GOOD, OR IN HIS GOODNESS BECOMING MORE AND MORE ALIVE IN AND THROUGH ME? Two very distinct things. The former has to do with my efforts, my accomplishments, my accolades, and my measurements. The latter has to do with His efforts, His accomplishments, His accolades, and His measurements.
What did Satan tempt Jesus with most? Have you ever noticed? Read back through the Gospels and you will see it. How often Jesus hinted at His coming death as the time when God would be glorified, God’s goodness known. And how often Jesus would rebuke, usually in response to Satan himself or to someone he was manipulating, anyone or anything that tried to push him to be “lifted up” before it was time. By “lifted up,” they wanted and expected Jesus to come to fame and power. Satan tempted Him in that way, too, almost like He knew that if Jesus got to the cross, the effects of his evil efforts would be overcome and life would be ultimately restored. So, Jesus was most tempted with personal goodness. Personal acclaim. Personal fame. Maybe that constant struggle is what led Him to pray so passionately in the garden:
42 ”Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
God is not interested in my personal goodness, especially as it relates to my personal performance and achievements and fame. He is interested in His goodness known by me, alive in me, and seen through me. Read Matthew 5:13–16 and John 6:29 and John 20:21. He wants us to live not for the measurement of our performance or merit we earn because of our performance. He wants us to live for His sake, not our own.
Could it be that this is especially hard to figure out in the midst of the culture of the pursuit of the American Dream? We are so consumed with our own ability and goals and efforts and achievements, are we missing God’s intention for us? David Platt said:
”The dangerous assumption we unknowingly accept in the American Dream is that our greatest asset is our own ability.”
Our own interests and pursuits, focused on giving our best to God and doing good for Him. Focused on doing “right,” with the expectation that if we do “right” (treat our wife kindly, provide well for our kids, deal in business with high ethics, and send a check to help the hungry), then God will bless our efforts. And isn’t that the American Dream? Let’s give God our best, and He will give us the best in return? Sounds like that ought to be okay. Sounds right. Right?
The problem with that assumption is that the underlying motive, the core interest, is focused on self, not on God. Along with that, we become limited in our thoughts and actions by our own ability and pursuits. We become enslaved to the quality of our performance and very often even by the goals we achieve and the stuff we acquire. We then disable ourselves from responding to God’s dreams for us and requests of us, all because we got caught up in the common default of the American church – the pursuit of the American Dream.
This is no knock on America. I am one of the most America-loving, patriotic people I know. My heart hurts for our purpose and for our troops and for freedom – all great things. But followers of Jesus must examine the teachings of the One we follow and surrender to walk in His ways, even if it means we might have to give up other status-quo, personal pursuits.
Strange as it sounds, maybe the most difficult surrender for us is the surrender of our striving to be good and being noticed by others as good. It is difficult to see that as a distraction from God’s mission, isn’t it? But if the motive of our striving is self-centered and even goes anywhere close to trying to figure out how to “deserve” eternal life, then we are misguided and are missing the point of the Cross being enough to restore us from our selfishness and sin. Our interests must be GIVEN UP so that we can take on God’s interests – His love shown, His goodness known, and His mission owned.
Paul Miller said:
The great struggle of my life isn’t trying to discern God’s will. It is trying to discern and disown my own will.
We are so often focused on wanting to figure out “God’s will” (what He wants ME to do for Him) that we are missing out on actually sharing life with Him (living with HIM, abiding in Him). Could it be that wanting to share in the life of the Kingdom of God also means that we must be willing to live out the ways and teachings of the King of the Kingdom of God?
If we are following Jesus for the benefit of our own “kingdom” rather than for the cause of His Kingdom, then we are not following Jesus. We are using Him. We are not following the King. We are acting like a selfish, rich King, not at all understanding our debt to Him, which He forgave, nor the limitations of our own abilities and accomplishments, which He so graciously made up for by doing and being enough for us at the cross.
- PRAY_Lord, expose to me my motives and interests, and help me to be willing to look You in the eye and agree with what you show me there.
- BEWARE_Surrendering your interests to want to show God’s goodness still provides the evil one the chance to tempt you with becoming prideful about surrendering your interests to want to show God’s goodness. Sounds like it’s hopeless? No way!!! Rebuke satan. Give love. And don’t keep score.
- LIVE_Ask Jesus to daily, then, begin to change you from the inside out, to adopt His interests, His pursuits, and His ways. Live with Him as you do, not just “for Him.” Your best intention is incomparable to His best intention for us – that we might know the One that He has sent and live sent following Him wherever and however He leads.
Jen and I are so thankful to be walking on this journey and learning together with you. Praying we will learn and live Jesus’ ways and be His church together both locally and globally like never before. Love y’all.