The Journey is the Destination
There is something unexpected which I have noticed among some believers who come to understand the gospel. When they understand the completeness of the salvation which we receive as a free gift from God, their standard of Christian living deteriorates. It should be that when a person has found Christ, his life becomes more pure and upright, and should be a model of good moral living. I have found that many times it seems to work the opposite way. That is one of the reasons that has caused criticism of our message, some people say that this message has not made people better. Of course, sometimes the critics are simply looking at superficial, external things of little significance, but it is still something worth noting. A lot of people get into righteousness by faith and we find that the women are not as modest in the way they dress anymore, and the men are not as careful about what they say, what they watch, and in many ways they seem to be less concerned about how others may perceive them.
My father used to say, “true Christianity turns a man into a gentleman,” and I’ve always thought that this is the truth. But I have observed that practically, sometimes it doesn’t seem to work this way. It is true that many of the things we thought were most important when we were under the law, turn out to be not really very significant. We become less focused on nitpicking and we discover that many of the things we were so concerned about were only an issue because we were burdened by legalism. Even today there are some Sabbath-keeping Christians who will not light a fire on the Sabbath and there are certain little practices like this which superficially appear to be an evidence of purity and holiness, but they are really relics of legalism. So I know that when we come to understand the gospel as it is in Jesus we learn to focus more on the things of the spirit than on the outward forms which are often heavily influenced by legalistic thinking. I understand this. But I also have to admit that I have seen in some cases that there has been a deterioration in standards, some seem to carry their new-found freedom too far, to the place where it begins to give Christianity a bad name. So why is this?
For most of my life I thought of salvation as something in the future, it was something I would receive when Jesus comes, after I kept all the commandments faithfully. My understanding was that if I live well enough, then when Jesus comes, I will be saved. This is what I used to believe! But the gospel taught me that when I receive Jesus Christ, then that is the moment when I have salvation. Salvation is not something I am looking for in the future, salvation is something I already possess today. But here is the question: if I already have salvation, why do I need to focus on living a moral life? If my goal is eternal life and I already received it, why do I still need to live a life of self-denial? Why do I need to put myself in uncomfortable positions if I already obtained what I am looking for? This apparently is the way the minds of some people work. What they are after is salvation, nothing else and since that is the motivation, when they have obtained it, they see no reason to keep on focusing on living a pure, morally upright life because they already obtained what they were after!
Of course, no Christian should think like this, but it is the reality of what has happened in some cases and the question is, why? When a person is under the law, he is working for his salvation, he believes that his law-keeping is a part of the process by which he is saved, so he has a strong motivation to keep the law. He tries hard to keep it and endeavors to live a spotless life because he is working for his salvation. He may be attempting an impossible task, but he tries hard to do it. However, the gospel teaches us that this is not the way to salvation, salvation is a gift from God through Jesus. You believe it, and you receive it, it is that simple and you have only to rejoice in the reality of what God has given you. So if the goal is salvation, what motivation is there anymore to continue to walk in harmony with the law? On the other hand, it is noticeable that there are others who understand the gospel in the same way, yet who do not fall into the same loose way of living, but instead become even more careful about the way they behave and live. Why is it that they have the same understanding about salvation, yet their response to life is very different? There is always a reason, and this is what we will examine in this article. Let us begin by focusing on a couple of verses from the book of John.
More than salvation
He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. (John 14:21)
Notice the amazing promise made by Jesus at the end of the verse: “I will manifest myself to him.” This is a wonderful promise and there is nothing that a Christian desires more than this. This word “manifest” suggests that I will “see” Jesus, I will experience Jesus. He will make himself a living reality in my life! This is one of the Bible’s great promises. Verse 23 says something similar:
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (John 14:23)
We know it is true that Christ and His Father live in us, but much of the time that presence is not manifested to us. This can be compared to having all the gold in the world, but being unable to spend it. Jesus said there are certain conditions on which we will be able to see him, to feel him, to experience him. It is clear that there is something more to this relationship than just the desire for salvation!
The reason why some Christians accept Righteousness by Faith and then fall into a more careless style of living, is a strange one. It is simply because their goal is salvation! It seems that unconsciously, people think, “well, I was chasing Jesus because I wanted salvation, but now that I have salvation, I can stop chasing!” The truth is, salvation is a wonderful thing and should be a strong motivating factor for everyone to serve Christ, but there is something greater! Jesus says that the key to a person keeping his words, continuing to live in a way that honors Christ, is, “if a man love me.” Let us consider two concepts of love:
1. Selfless concern for another
2. A strong desire to be with another person
Most of the time as Christians we emphasize the first concept because for Christians it is always the ideal to be selfless and to put others ahead of ourselves. This is clearly the nobler motive – to have a selfless concern for other people. We believe this is God’s kind of love, and this is true. Theologians like to emphasize that God’s love is “agape” love, a selfless concern for others. But let’s not overlook the fact that there is another aspect of love. There is more to a loving relationship than simply selfless concern and this other element of love is what Jesus is focusing on in the verses quoted above. He is focusing on the second concept, which is to desire a person and to want to be with that person. The first concept can be practiced even if we have a distant relationship with a person, or even no relationship at all! I can send money or goods to help a person, showing selfless concern, without even communicating with the person. This is the basis of many charities which operate in the world today, including many religious organizations, but this has nothing to do with relationships. The Bible says that “God so loved the world.” God loves the world, loves all of us, but this includes many people who have absolutely no relationship with God at all, in spite of his love for them. The question is, which of these two concepts of love is Jesus speaking of when he says, “if a man love me . . .?” It is evident that Jesus is here speaking of a relationship, not simply of the principle of selfless concern. Jesus is not saying that we should be concerned for him and seek to do something for his benefit by keeping his commandments, but rather, that we should desire fellowship with him so much that we become strongly motivated to keep his words.
Notice what Jesus said; the person who loves him in this way will keep his commandments, but then again, he says that such a person will keep his “words.” Commandments and words. For a long time I understood this to be focused on keeping the ten commandments, those were the days when my religious experience was heavily law-oriented. I thought that the way to a relationship with God was the keeping of the ten rules. As I discovered, that way does not work. Many of those who are the most strict commandment-keepers have a very poor relationship with God as the Jewish nation demonstrated. Later on I got to the place where I concluded that the emphasis of Jesus was not the ten commandments, but rather, the great commandment to love one another. So I started to focus on the one commandment of loving others, as the way of entering into a close relationship with God and Jesus.
Recently however, I was looking back over these verses in John 14:21,23, and I came to realize that there is something which I overlooked. Who was Jesus speaking to when he made these statements? Notice that Jesus is referring to individuals, not to groups. He says, “if a MANloves me.” Jesus is not referring to instructions for the Church at large, these are not standardized instructions given to everybody in general, this is not referring to a model that fits everybody! Standard instructions are impersonal, faceless, they require no attention or recognition from the person giving the instructions. They are just put out there and whoever comes into contact with them simply obeys. However, personal, individualized instructions are different. These are an indication that the instructor and the one being instructed have a personal relationship, personal interaction, they indicate that the instructor knows the person and has plans for him personally as opposed to the faceless duties which are given to everyone.
Jesus says, “he,” He says, “if a man . . .” He is speaking to me as an individual, it’s not for the church or the group or the family. I am blessed when I understand this. It is good to know that God loves the world and cares for it, but it brings a special joy when I realize that I, as an individual person am loved and that God has interest in me in a special way. That I am not just a number in a system, but that he wants to have a relationship with me that is between him and me alone!
Let us consider three perspectives on what it means to receive instructions. When we read Jesus’ statement, “he will keep my commandments,” we tend to think of the instructions written on stone and given to Moses at Mount Sinai, at the giving of the Old Covenant. When we consider the statement by Jesus, “he will keep my words,” we tend to think of the teachings given by Jesus as he taught during his earthly ministry. But when we consider the phrase, “if any man hear my voice . . . (Rev 3:20)” what comes to mind? Is it any different from the other two? There are “commandments,” then there are “words,” and finally there is his “voice.” Each one carries a different emphasis. Commandments are for Israel, they are for the world, they are even for the heathen who do by nature the things contained in the law. His words come a little closer, because these refer to what he himself actually spoke, but again, where are those words? They are written in a book, they are on paper, they are still impersonal, formal and for everybody. But where are the words for me, personally?
It is important that we recognize that in these two verses Jesus was addressing us as individuals, he was speaking about personal relationship. The key element here is love and personal interaction, Jesus is giving us a clue as to how to get into the heart of God! This goes beyond instructions to observe a particular died, recommendations about the length of your dress, information about whether or not you should pay tithes. This goes to the hearing of his voice speaking to you personally, it has to do with love between two persons, a loving relationship that makes you eagerly responsive to what he says to you, because you are friends and you want to please him.
When a man’s wife is far away in another country, then he communicates with her as much as he can. He writes, he calls, but they long for the time when they can add other kinds of interaction to the relationship which can make it stronger and which can build that relationship. He still longs for the privilege of personal face to face interaction with her. Love relationships are not intended to be long distance, at least, not for extended periods of time. Distance and time makes it become tedious and challenging and difficult. Is Jesus asking us to have a long-distance relationship with him and to keep it alive by observing a certain set of rules? Is he saying that if we do this faithfully, then he will show himself to us? Are we being asked to struggle to make ourselves worthy or deserving of his favor? Is he placing pressure on us to conform to a certain standard after which he will reward us with his presence?
His commandments, his words or his voice, which would we rather have, and which do we have as Christians? Is it words in a book or living words as we interact with a living person? Everything is much easier when we are working with a living friend. When my wife is away, thoughts of unfaithfulness may float through my head and I might have the temptation to look at other women, but when she is there with me the things that are hard become easy because the greatest force in the world for changing a person is the presence of somebody who loves you.
When God spoke about the coming New Covenant through the prophet Isaiah, he said,
And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left. (Isa 30:21)
This is a relationship statement. The words in the book are for the world, but the “word behind you” is for me personally! I’m glad that we all have the written words of Scripture to study but I’m even more glad that I have his voice to direct me, and that when I get up in the morning he says, “this morning I want you to study this passage.” I am glad that when I have multiple things to do, many tasks before me he gently directs me and says, “do this one first . . .” step by step, he guides and directs me, moment by moment. This is what the heart of the Christian hungers for, living fellowship, and this is what the Lord gives to us! Jesus is speaking about a relationship where you love him so much that you are sensitive to everything he has to say and you are responding. This is what he is talking about, he is not speaking of a standardized, formal relationship, he is not speaking about a corporate institution called, “the church,” he says, “if a man love me, he will keep my words, he will respond to what I am saying to him personally, in his ears, and I will be able to do something special in that person’s life.”
In John chapter 15 Jesus continued to emphasize this tremendous truth:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. (John 15:4)
A friend of mine went and joined himself to a certain denomination because he has come to believe that this is the oldest church and that God has been directing this church across the centuries. He now believes that the rest of us Christians are just usurpers. We talk about the spirit leading us, but he believes the spirit leads the church, not individuals. Is this true? Does God have no relationship with me as an individual? Am I simply a number in a corporate body? Just a faceless stone in a system operated by God? Included, but nothing special? Well, it is clear that we are going to be saved as individuals, not in groups, so that alone should tell us that it has to be about us as individuals.
The true joy of salvation
But the issue is more than just salvation. Salvation is something I obtained forty six years ago, if that is all I was after, then I have no motivation to continue seeking God, no incentive to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. Why would a person continue seeking when they have already obtained all they are after? But the truth is that the true joy of salvation is not heaven! It is not even the reality of living forever, it is Jesus Christ! The meaning, the joy of Christianity is Jesus Christ! People say it, but many of them don’t really know what they are talking about, because Jesus is a person and if you don’t have the person, then of course you don’t really have Jesus! Many people have a relationship with the instructions of Jesus, with the teachings of Jesus, but they don’t have a relationship with the person!
God knows what it is that we really need, he knows what we are hungering for, isn’t this the very purpose that he created us for? Isn’t he the one who put these desires in our being? Were we designed to be just like the lesser creatures, to simply exist for the purpose of eating food and partaking of the benefits and pleasures of the planet? The reformers who wrote the Westminster Confession got it right when they stated, “we were made for him, and our souls are restless until they find rest in him.” When we find Christians who are ill at ease, who are struggling, who are depressed and anxious then we see people who may have found the teachings of Christ, the ideas of Christianity, the religion of Christ . . . but they have not found Christ himself! The Psalmist was right when he wrote,
. . . in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. (Ps 16:11)
Jesus shows us the way to a victorious Christian life when he says, “abide in me,” but in the same breath, he tells us the secret of continual joy and peace.
If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. (John 15:10-11)
Jesus says, I am telling you the way, I am giving you a formula so you can be happy, so you can know what Christianity means, so you can find the true joy of what it means to know me. “If my words abide in you, you shall remain in my love.” Let us consider this as we look again at what he says in John 14:21.
. . . .he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father . . . (John 14:21)
When Jesus spoke these words, which definition of love did he have in mind? Was he thinking of love as a selfless concern for another? Was he saying that if we love Jesus, then God would have a selfless concern for us? Or was he speaking of love as the desire to be with a person? It can hardly be referring to the first definition because there was never a time in the history of the universe when God did not have selfless concern for every single person. It is the nature of God to love in this way and he cannot be otherwise, this is why John tells us that, “God is love,” this is why he cannot help but have selfless concern for others. So when Jesus says, “my father will love him,” he is not referring to God’s feelings and attitude towards us, but to God’s having a desire to be with us, to be close to us, to interact with us in a close, loving way! So it is very easy to understand his meaning; when a person is listening to what God has to say every moment and is responding to his voice, attentive, responsive and obedient, then God will find pleasure in that person, he will find joy in being with that person and will make his home with that person!
In Jamaica there is a proverb which says, “the humble calf sucks the most milk.” In a good family, all the children are loved by the parents, they nurture and care for them all. But some of the children may allow the parents more fully into their lives. I myself have four children, two boys and two girls. My relationship is different with each of them, each one is unique and it depends to some extent on how each one allows me into his/her life. I always said that my youngest daughter, Annelie, was my best son! The reason is because, even as a little girl she was always around me when I was working, trying to help. If I was planting something, if I was cutting the grass – she was right beside me. She was always there with her little tool, beside me all the time. If I needed some help I would call the boys and they would come, but I never needed to ask Annelie, she was always there around my feet. I had a special relationship with each of my children, but each relationship depended on how each one allowed me into his or her life.
So God is saying, “the humble calf sucks the most milk,” he is saying, “if you will let me into your life I will come and make my home with you.” But how do we let him into our lives? We let him in by responding to his voice, by listening and responding as he speaks to us, moment by moment, not as subjects, not as members of a body, but as friends, as a father and his children who enjoy and delight in the living relationship, moment by moment. Now we can understand the point that Jesus was making, he does make his home with us, he does manifest himself to us, but our obedience to his voice is the means by which he does it! This is how he fills your life because every move you make is simply an extension of his will, an extension of himself, and as you constantly respond to him, you find that he is everywhere around you, everywhere in your life. He is manifested in your life because you have opened the door for him to come in and be a part of your life.
I think that the greatest lesson I have learned is that the goal is the journey. What do I mean by this? Most of us are oriented towards success in life, but we often view success as the point when we reach the end of the journey. In the Christian life, for many, the end of the journey is heaven, it is eternal life, it is the moment when we are transformed at the coming of the Lord. But if that is the goal, then we all realize that it is not likely that we will reach the end of the journey in our lifetimes. The most likely event is that we will die without ever reaching the end of the journey and we live with an element of constant frustration, realizing that we have little hope of arriving at our destination in this life. The same thing applies if our goal is a life of perfect sinlessness, or a life of complete victory, we find ourself seeking for what the Lord can give us, how he can fulfill our ambitions. Our efforts are misdirected and we will be constantly frustrated.
But what if our Goal is the Lord? If our goal is the Lord himself, when do we reach the end of the journey? When have we arrived? When I am with him, I have reached my goal! The journey is the destination! The goal is he, himself and when I have him, I have reached the end of the journey! The Lord himself is the reward and when we understand this, we have a completely different view of success and failure. It does not matter if we have a job to do and it seems that we have failed in that job, even if we have to try a dozen times before we accomplish it. What does it matter if we are able to do it those dozen times with the Lord? All that matters is to have him with us, this is the purpose of life and maybe the reason why we have to do that same task a dozen times over, is so that we can have the privilege of working together with the Lord. If I am able to remain with him, then I am successful, but if I am able to accomplish the job and lose him along the way, then I have failed because he is the goal. When I am walking with him, I have arrived. The journey is the destination.
If we can approach life this way, then there will be no failure. Failure means ONLY to lose connection with Jesus, to operate on my own. Success simply means to have him with me, because he is my goal, my destination and there is no other ambition, no other measure of success.
(Source: Restoration Ministry)