November 2018 Blog Theme: Finishing the Race of Disciple Making
William Law was born at Kings Cliffe, Northhamptonshire, England in 1686. He was a well-educated, Cambridge man who loved the Lord and served Him faithfully. Because of his unwillingness to compromise his convictions by signing an Oath of Allegiance to new Hanoverian sovereign, George I, Law was deprived of any official role in the Church of England. However, he gained tremendous popularity as he wrote and preached against the creeping secularism and spiritual decline of his day. One of his most famous sermons was simply titled, “A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life”, published in 1728. In this message, he calls men and women away from just going through the religious motions, but to truly love God with all of their lives.
Here is a quote from that powerful message. The old English structure is a bit awkward at first, but Law has a message for us today.
“It is an easy thing to worship God with forms of words, and to observe times of offering them unto Him, so it is the smallest kind of piety. And on the other hand, as it is more difficult to worship with our substance, to honor Him with the right use of our time, to offer to Him the continual sacrifice of self-denial and mortification; as it requires more piety to eat and drink only for such ends as may glorify God, to undertake no labor, nor allow of any diversion, but where we can act in the Name of God; as it is more difficult to sacrifice all our corrupt tempers, correct all our passions and make piety to God the rule and measure of all the actions of our common life; so the devotion of this kind is a much more acceptable service unto God, than those words of devotion which we offer to Him, either in the Church or in our closet.”
William Law was simply saying that it is easy to go through the religious motions. It’s easy to offer God your words, to go to church, to sit through services and even give a small offering to the Lord. This is what he calls “the smallest kind of piety”. But it is another thing entirely to make Jesus Christ the center of your life around which everything revolves. It is much more difficult to honor God with your time and money, to put Him first in every action or endeavor, to let Him change you from the inside out in every area of your life. Yes, this kind of devotion may be more difficult, but it is this kind of devotion Jesus wants from each one of us. He wants all of us, not just our religious words. What Law was striking at was the lack of godly character in his day. We see the same problem today. Many people sit and listen to teaching, but few walk with God. Many people know Bible facts, but few know Jesus deeply and personally. Many people claim to follow Jesus, but few live as though they are following Jesus. The heart of the problem is a lack of godly character.
A few hundred years later, another pastor wrote on this very topic. Bill Hybels, Pastor at Willow Creek Church in Chicago wrote, “Character, a wise person once said, is who we are when no one is looking. It’s not the same as reputation – what other people think of us. It is not the same as success or achievement. Character is not what we have done, but rather who we are.” People show who they really are all the time. A businessman on a trip alone in his hotel room reveals who he is. High school students with no parents around reveal who they really are. A mom texting her friend reveals who she really is. Who you are when no one is looking is who you really are. God promises to take who you are and transform you to look more and more like Jesus. How do we change who we are on the inside? How can our inward person be transformed? This is an important question, and the Bible has a clear answer.
This is an excerpt from the book Invest in a Few by Craig Etheredge, which you can purchase here.
We are transformed on the inside through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. At the moment of salvation, the Spirit of God comes into our lives and goes to work reordering the private unseen world of our inner person. The Apostle Paul writes, “…we can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him,” (2 Corinthians 3.18 TLB). Only God’s grace can go to work transforming our hearts and making us new on the inside. But how does the Spirit change us? Do we just wake up one morning and our character is different? That would be nice, but I’ve never seen that happen. Like an expert sculptor, the Spirit often uses two tools to shape us into the image of Jesus – crisis and community.
When we go through a crisis, we are shaken out of our normal, comfortable life and thrust into a situation where we have to depend on God’s strength and His promises. In the stress and strife, we learn that God’s promises are real. We experience God’s presence, and we begin to grow spiritually. Paul writes, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation,” (Romans 5.3-4 NLT). Character is forged in the fire of trials. I once sat with three godly men as they separately shared a season in their life where they grew spiritually. In each case, every one of them grew during a time of crisis or trouble. Crisis develops character!
Another tool the Spirit uses is community. As we lean on each other, pray for each other and hold each other accountable, we our character grows. In (Romans 13.12-14 NLT) Paul writes, “…remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living… Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.”
When I was in high school, I can remember coming home after working in the corn fields covered from head to toe with dirt and grime. My mom would make me strip those clothes off and put them in the washing machine before I could even come into the house. Sometimes, our old habits and wayward selves are like dirty clothes. They stink. They look bad. They are not who we are, only who we used to be. We have to choose to take them off and put on Jesus. We have to choose to have a godly character. And that is why we need a community of other Christ followers around us. Through accountability, authenticity and confidentiality, we begin to take off those bad habits and begin to put on the ones who honor God. What does that look like? For the rest of this week we are going to take a deeper dive at how to create an environment that encourages godly character.
This blog is an excerpt that comes from our book Invest in a Few, which you can purchase here.
Written by Craig Etheredge