The news is so discouraging and disheartening these days. So much suffering and anguish all around. I can only attend to little snippets of the noise at a time because national news stories provide so little hope, and no clear paths forward on solving any of the myriad problems we face in our American culture.
Add to this the negative bias that is so obvious in much reporting, and most of it is not worthy of our trust. Sometimes it feels impossible that we will see better days ahead.
Indeed, the Bible states plainly that “evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim 3:13, NKJV). We are warned by the Apostle Paul so that we will walk and listen very carefully in perilous times.
When the tragedies pile up and I am tempted to dwell on the darkness, I recognize that I need a dose of the gospel, taken like good medicine, or like a burst of sunlight through the clouds.
When I go to that source, I remember, again and again, that this world is passing away, but the truth of Jesus, and our destiny in him, is absolutely true and guaranteed to come to pass. This is the key to keeping our courage and hope.
The fact that I don’t like the direction humanity is heading, AND my desire to keep my faith in Christ strong and vibrant elicits some questions. I’m navigating this month through the gospel of John, so the words of Jesus are my primary guide as I seek the answers.
How do we as believers dwell in this world and not become like the world? How do we fully engage in the lives we have been given without falling in love with our lives? How do we fully surrender ourselves to Jesus and his kingdom while still obligated to participate in this worldly kingdom?
Jesus makes very clear in John’s gospel that his followers are in the world, but not truly a part of the world once we become born again children of God. We are in the world, but according to Jesus, the world is no longer in us. We are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20).
John writes that there is someone greater in us than “he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4, KJV). This is the Holy Spirit. There are practical, behavioral aspects to the ways we differ from those who are still “of the world,” but there are other aspects that are altogether spiritual and mystical, directed by the wise Counselor Jesus sends to those who believe.
We find guidance on these questions in John 15, where Jesus teaches his disciples about abiding, or remaining in him. He likens his people to branches connected to a vine, which is himself. As long as we are in the world, and even after we leave this world, we are connected to him, remain in him, are united with him, dwelling in him (some of the various other translations for the concept of “abide), as part of the same organism. He uses these terms multiple times throughout the passage.
There is nothing that can separate us from him unless we cease our abiding in him. It must be possible to disconnect ourselves from the vine somehow. Otherwise, why would Jesus command us to stay close?
Lord, never let us detach from you and go our own way. Without you, we can do nothing truly worthwhile!
We have to stay close to Jesus Christ or life stops making any sense, and we fall into despair. This is what I’ve observed in myself over my years of relationship with him, and I’ve also observed it in so many others.
When our attachment to him strengthens, we find that our attachment to the world and its attractions is weakened. We may enjoy relationships, work, play, and other experiences without NEEDING them in the same way. They are “extras” that we can utilize and enjoy.
When our lives are “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3) all of our experiences can be directed toward communicating the love of Christ to others. This is our primary purpose for being here while the Father is preparing the wedding feast for his Son—inviting others to join us through our attractive and convicting influence.
As Bob Goff has so winsomely demonstrated and taught, Love Does, and love needs to be extended to Everybody Always. (These are the titles of two of his books, which I heartily recommend.) This kind of life is not complicated, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. It usually is not easy. It often makes us quite uncomfortable to dedicate our lives to a reality that is outside the visible realm. The standards for love in the kingdom of heaven are so high above the standards down here.
That’s why it’s so essential to abide. Only Jesus can represent himself through us, and he can only do this if we maintain our conscious contact with him as our primary source and our ultimate destiny.