by Erich Bridges
RICHMOND, Va.—Believing in Jesus as Savior isn’t hard. Following Him as Lord — that’s the hard part.
We want to do things our way, not His, because we do not love Him enough to obey Him.
The saddest part of the story of Jonah, one of history’s most reluctant missionaries, is not that he took off in the opposite direction when God told him to go to the wicked city of Nineveh. It’s not that he got angry and depressed when he finally preached to the city and saw all the people there repent and believe. It’s not that he cared more about his own personal comfort than the souls of the Ninevites (see Jonah 4).
The saddest part is that he fled “from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3 NASB). How could he love the Ninevites if he didn’t love the Lord?
The Lord certainly cared about the Ninevites. They had committed all sorts of abominations, but they didn’t know any better. He asked Jonah, “And should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons … ?” (Jonah 4:11a NASB). But Jonah was too preoccupied with himself, his needs, his cold heart, his foolish pride.
That’s us. That’s me, at least. I want to serve God only. I want to follow Him. I want to make disciples among the nations — just as soon as I finish all the other things I need (i.e., want) to do. I’m like the young Augustine, called by God out of a fourth-century Roman culture saturated in immorality, who famously prayed, “Lord, grant me purity — but not yet.”
Tomorrow, Lord, I will give You my whole heart. I promise, just like I promised yesterday and the day before that.
The Apostle James had little patience for two-timing believers:
“You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: ‘He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us’? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.’ Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:4-8, NASB).
Double-mindedness is a plague in the American church, which now finds itself in hostile surroundings similar to those faced by Augustine and James’ halfhearted disciples. Our culture no longer accommodates the gospel; it despises it. That’s a blessing in this sense: The days when you could comfortably fence-sit with a toe in each camp are coming to a close.
The time for choosing has arrived.
The culture will tolerate a one-dimensional Jesus who accepts everything, judges nothing and requires neither inner transformation nor outer change. The Jesus of the New Testament is someone else altogether: He refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery, telling her angry accusers, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7, NASB). After they left one by one, He asked her, “‘Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more’” (John 8:10b,11).
Revisionists love to edit out that last part, but it’s the whole point of Jesus’ encounter with the woman. Once He dismissed the hypocrites, He bestowed the amazing grace and mercy of God on a sinner, but commanded repentance and obedience.
Years ago a missionary in Zambia visited a village that expressed interest in the gospel. He asked to see the village chief to seek permission to return. The missionary sat in the shade of a mango tree, waiting for the chief to come. A few minutes later, he noticed an old man hobbling toward him through the sand, leaning heavily on a stick to support his lame leg. The old chief considered the missionary’s request and gave him permission to return.
The missionary and a volunteer team came back a few weeks later to share the gospel through Bible storying. After four days of teaching, a line was drawn in the sand. The villagers were challenged to walk across the line if they were willing to turn away from their sin and make Jesus their Lord.
The first person to move was the old chief. He struggled across the line, dragging his crippled leg. When he finally made it, he looked up and declared to everyone, “I want Jesus to be my Lord!” He later was baptized, setting the stage for transformation of the whole village.
That’s a decision we need to make anew as followers of Christ. The line has been drawn.
Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent.