Point of Reference
by Fred Price
So said Tertullian, a renowned African/Greek theologian of the early church, writing around 200 A.D. (Thomas Jefferson saying something similar in his assessment of what would keep American democracy on track.) The early church’s perception being that suffering – up to and including dying – for one's faith was not just a possibility but at times an inevitable consequence of following a “system” that ran counter to the world’s goals and ambitions. For many of those Christians, paying the ultimate price became the means by which the world was most radically changed.
Proving the point of Jesus’ challenge, “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 and for the gospel will save it.” Ml. 8:34,35 & Luke 9:23 The concept of losing to gain still being instrumental to genuine faithfulness to our calling in Christ today, even if for the most part we are merely asked to exchange our preferences for His will. (See Mark 8:36,37)
The reality of life, then and now, is that even though the victory over sin and death was achieved in full on the cross of Christ, Herod still shortly thereafter killed the Apostle James, and but for a miraculous intervention, would have executed Peter as well. (Even though he would receive his martyr’s crown later in Rome.) Stephen was stoned to death while passionately reminding his fellow Jews of their history and Christ’s fulfillment of their law; dying at the feet of the notorious persecutor, Saul who later became Paul, the chief proponent of Christ for the Jewish people and any others who chose to believe. As a convert to Christ, he and his travelling partner Silas, were imprisoned in Philippi where they too were miraculously rescued to complete their ministry in establishing a church there. But Paul’s history of being chased from city to city, beaten and left for dead, surviving shipwreck and deprivation didn’t sour him on the assurance of God’s love and provision through Christ; compelling him to speak loud and clear concerning the claims of Christ. (He likewise gained his martyr’s crown while under arrest in Rome.)
It’s no accident that sacrificial terminology figures so strongly in Christian scripture, Paul urging us to “offer yourselves to God” in Romans 6:13 And to, “…offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God…” Done in part by, “…not conform(ing) any longer to the pattern of this world (defined by John as the “…cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does…” in 1 John 2:15-17), “but (by) be(ing) transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Enabling us to then “test and approve what God’s will is” for our lives. Romans 12:1,2 (See also Romans 5:3-5 & 8:17-25 Paul’s assurance that, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28; giving us strength to persevere in the face of obstacles and opposition to our calling in Christ. Which is to glorify Him while seeing the world redeemed to its Edenic possibilities while awaiting Christ’s return.) The point being, between the moment of our salvation and the return of Christ – or our admittance to heaven through more “natural causes” – there’s a lot of work to be done – not avoided.
Much of the success of the church has been realized, not by a lack of suffering but through it; step by step, little by little; through generous Jesus-shaped love that draws people in to the Christian family. Throughout history, the church has grown exponentially when it was challenged; first by persecution, then by how its members responded to political critics and crisis, natural catastrophe, etc. (Although the Proverb writer correctly cautions that, “…man is tested by the praise he receives.” Proverbs 27:21) Setting an example no one had ever witnessed before of love in action. Paul’s assertion in Romans 6:3-5 that those who had been joined with Christ – through baptism – being “buried” and then raised to new life, was never intended to mean we will never be tempted to sin again or face tribulation, but that we have gained the ability to recognize it, repent anew of it, and remain accepted by Christ as he continues his work of redemption in and through our lives. (See Romans 6:12)
Similar to our participation in the Lord’s Supper, where “…whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death (and thus our salvation) until he comes!” 1 Corinthians 16:26; we proclaim the Lord’s purposes when we declare it by doing it . And we do that by being who He calls us to be, regardless of the circumstances or consequences. By loving others in Jesus’ name, we declare the love of God for his children, making of us something more than mere beneficiaries of God’s love but agents of it.
Followers of Jesus have no choice but to follow and go. (See Matthew 28:18-20 & 1 Peter 2:9) The “royal priesthood” we are called to be a part of is not an honorary title but a call to partnership; never intended as a means for us to get in touch with our inner feelings or an exercise in discovering and accepting the “real” us. It’s about fundamental, often uncomfortable change as we take up our “cross” – mimicking the exemplary life Christ lived for us – and reach out to others in love as he did. Serving/saving others in the here-and-now while we wait for the hereafter.
Mary wept, Jesus comforted her; the disciples were scared, Jesus went through a locked door to comfort them; Thomas doubted, Jesus calmed his doubt and challenged his faith – accepting his worship. New creation occurred because the power of darkness had been broken by the light of Jesus’ love on the cross. And we must be a part of that message and its implementation till Jesus comes again.
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Fred Price - married (49 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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