Lifestyle Choices

Today’s A to Z challenge letter is ‘L.’ Judging by the title, one might guess my subject is lifestyles.

Lifestyles have appeared a lot in the media recently. I’ve even been told that the term ‘lifestyle’ is inappropriate and rude in certain cases, since some people attest that their actions and desires are by nature and not by choice. I’m not getting into that here… but I am thinking of a particular decision we make and how it affects our lives. And yes, our lifestyles.

The privilege of chasing after God comes with a teensy-weensy price tag attached. I don’t mean to counter anyone’s understanding of grace or faith, and I definitely reject any claim of salvation by works, as though we earn God’s love by being good.

But if we pursue God, there’s an exchange that must take place.

14 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. – 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 NASB

The mission of the church is to make disciples. As we’re going, as we’re teaching, as we’re baptizing, we are commanded to make disciples. Not converts. That distinction is easy to miss. It’s a lifestyle choice we must make, or reject.

We belong to Him. He’s our King. He’s in control. We’re His subordinates; He’s our commanding officer. We can’t say “yes” to our Savior without the following “Sir” to our Lord.

Think of the storm chaser analogy. Someone doesn’t become a storm chaser and sit at home. They travel; they fly to where the storms are likely to hit, and then they drive out to where the activity is taking place. They go after the goal, and we must do likewise.

Over the years in the military and in the general public, I’ve heard people suggest that “there is a place for religion, and it’s ok as long as it’s not taking over everything else in your life.” In other words, religion is Sunday stuff (or Friday stuff, or Saturday, or whatever day is the appropriate day of the week for a particular faith), and would you kindly keep it in that box for the rest of the week, thanks. Jesus is great for you in the morning or evening at home, but if you could refrain from expressing your faith around anyone else, we’d appreciate it.

Not going to happen.

Why are religious people so difficult about this?

Well it’s not just a little box of “religion” that we’re being asked to put away. It’s our passion and purpose, our love and our hopes and our joy. It’s the fundamental driving force behind our interpersonal skillset. For the believer, our faith is the foundation of our values that motivate our actions, the beliefs that inform our decision-making. It’s not our hobby, it’s not our favorite sport or team. It’s becomes a part of who we are, a spiritual skeletal framework to which everything else is attached.

Paul tells us to be living sacrifices on the altar, chasing after God with all our heart, being transformed in the process. We are to be fully invested – not merely interested.

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The Unattainable Goal

During the A to Z, I’ve been writing here about important aspects of worshiping and pursuing God. Now we come to one of the most important – and least comfortable.

Holiness.

“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” Heb 12:14 NKJV

The Message simplifies this thought to “work on getting along… with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse.”

The word here means purification, sanctification, that state of staying set apart not just from the world but also for God. We can’t merely be on the outskirts of society, weird Ned Flanders types who never participate in anything fun because “that’s of the devil.” Nor can we live two lives, one devoted to God and the other riddled with willful sin.

We’re to be whole people, holy people, healthy and helpful to the world around us.

“May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23 MSG

So what’s the difficulty with this?

First, there’s no room for compromise. There’s no leeway for blowing it. Christ calls us to an all-or-nothing relationship. For example, in Luke 9:23 we see Christ tell us that His disciples must take up their cross and follow Him. That means essentially dying to ourselves in order to live for Him (2 Cor 5:14-15). Paul tells us our act of worship is to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. (Rom 12:1-2).

Holiness isn’t a half-hearted thing.

Second, we never fully measure up to the mark. We can never claim we have arrived at perfection. John writes that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Paul lays out our condition in Romans 7, how we often do what we know is wrong and fail to do what we know is right. And even our very best efforts are like filthy rags before God’s purity and holiness (Isaiah 64:6). “All have sinned and fall short” of God’s standard (Romans 3:23).

There is no finish line in life for this journey.

That can be a weighty realization. We must be holy if we hope to see God, yet we can never attain that goal.

So that brings us to another ‘H’ for today:

Hope.

Every morning brings hope that today we will be better than we were before.

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! (Lam 3:22-23 MSG)

Paul writes of his worldly achievements and merits, then calls them all worthless compared to Christ. And then he makes this comment:

“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me.
Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus.
I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” Php 3:12-14 MSG

This is why we can never wink at sin or shrug away our failures… and yet we can rejoice with confidence in God’s great love that transcends our shortcomings. When we’ve failed today, we confess it and start off tomorrow fresh, full of hope, eager to discover and display holiness.

So tonight you get two for the price of one: a reminder that we must be holy if we desire a glimpse of God, and the promise that there is hope every morning as we experience God’s love anew.

What do you think? What helps you strive for holiness? How does new hope each morning affect your thoughts about God?