The sufficiency of Christ

colossians

Christ requires everything because he is everything. Selah.

I once asked someone this question, “What is the most important thing in life?”

My counterpart responded with what I would expect most people to respond with: happiness.

While this may seem like a suitable answer on the surface, let’s meditate on this for one minute. When saying that happiness is one’s chief priority, what does that really communicate?

I’m sure one is not thinking of the Beatitudes with this response. Most likely, this happiness is based on an ideal set of life circumstances that foster self-sufficiency and alleviate discomfort. Among these is, certainly, being among the wealthy.

I responded to my Christian conversation partner by saying that, as followers of Christ, Jesus should be at the head of our list. Prioritizing happiness requires that one chases different means—money, companionship, fame—in order to achieve a temporal, yet very uncertain end. In prioritizing Jesus, however, our joy will be complete (John 15:11).

Sadly, many have not come to realize this truth. Included in this population are many that Jesus, himself, encountered in his day. Of these, the rich young ruler ranks high on the list.

Luke 18:18-27 records Jesus’ exchange with the rich ruler:

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

The rich ruler had probably what most desire for their lives, money, influence and even good morality. Even with these things, however, he did not disregard the afterlife. He approaches Jesus and asks him one simple question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus gives the ruler an arbitrary list of commandments that the rich man apparently had a knack for keeping. After he assures Jesus that he has kept these commands intact, which probably creates a feudal confidence that eternal life can be achieved based on merit, Jesus bursts the ruler’s bubble by telling him he is still missing something.

Jesus, then, proceeds to tell the ruler exactly what he must do in order to inherit eternal life: sell everything, give to the poor and follow him. The ruler, instead of following the advice of the man he thought was qualified enough to answer his original question, walks away sad because of the answer the “good teacher” gives.

To me, this is one of the greatest tragedies in the entire Bible. Jesus tells this man that one thing is standing in between him and eternal life, and instead of following Christ’s explicit instructions, he walks away.

Why?

Well, it’s the same reason that we give today: Christ, by his lonesome, is not sufficient. Continuing in the pattern of the tragedy of the rich young ruler, our “Christian” culture fosters, albeit subtly, the complete lack of disregard for the sufficiency of Christ. Instead of raising the banner of “In Christ Alone,” we often see signs that read something like, “I want Jesus, as long as I can have my stuff too.”

What Jesus shows us in his dialogue with the ruler, though, is that you have to make a choice between him and everything else. We have been conditioned to think, however, that in giving up everything to follow Jesus we are getting the short end of the stick.

A byproduct of this is the Church lowering the standard of what it means to be Christ’s disciple, perhaps relegating it to simply living a morally wholesome lifestyle. From Jesus’ exchange with the ruler we know that following him is not just a matter of morals. When the ruler said he kept the commandments that Jesus listed, Jesus did not bust him out and say that he was lying. Instead, Jesus tells the young ruler that he, “still lacks one thing.” This must mean that he was pretty morally sound.

Another popular method is to separate being a “disciple” and a “Christian” altogether. This concept implies that being a Christian is for the general public while being a disciple is for those special few who feel called to go the extra mile. I’ve even heard it implied by clergy that every Christian is not a disciple. (I think it would be more accurate to say that everyone who says they are a Christian is not a Christian.)

Scripture tells us, however, “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (Acts 11:26). What the Bible lets us know is that these things are one in the same. Though the name “Christian” has become quite catchy over the last two millennia, the requirements of following Christ have not changed.

Jesus tells us in Luke 9:23-25, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?”

Essentially, what Jesus tells us is no different from what he tells the rich young ruler. The earliest followers of Christ understood this and responded appropriately.

Surely, hearing Jesus preach sermons like the Parable of the Sower put things into proper perspective. While describing the outcome of the seed being sown on the last two terrains, Jesus says, “The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop” (Luke 8:14-15).

Peter, speaking for the Twelve, says to Jesus, “We have left all we had to follow you” (Luke 18:28). Jesus replies, saying, “‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus said to them, ‘no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life’” (Luke 18:29-30).

Those who lose themselves and forsake all else for Christ’s sake do so because they have an accurate view of him, even without having to fully understand him (which we never will). In giving up everything to follow Jesus, one is not getting the short end of the stick, but the everlasting end.

Christ does not occupy partial lives, but whole, as the God who commands us to love him with all our heart, soul and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5). The ruler’s unwillingness to forsake his riches for the sake of Christ points to a truth that Jesus had previously posited, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34), as Jesus told him that in selling his possessions he would store up treasure in heaven.

Though we strongly embrace the Pauline salvation formula of “by grace, through faith” (Ephesians 2:8), let us not think that this is independent of Christ’s call to discipleship. Paul’s writings, to be expected, strongly reflect the teachings of Christ, as the gospel was given to Paul directly from Jesus himself (Galatians 1:12).

With this in mind, let us end with an exhortation from Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Phillippians 3:7-9)

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~ by christianballenger on January 29, 2013.

One Response to “The sufficiency of Christ”

  1. Christian this was simply awesome! WOW

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