In this abiding series, each post will be framed as an email correspondence to a friend who is seeking to get ‘more’ out of his or her faith. My hope is that by exploring this topic as a conversation, you will resonate with the message as deeply as if it were a letter addressed to you.
To: Friend Seeking More from Faith
From: Doug Nuenke
Subject: God is Always Previous
I must say, you and I come from such a similar background. My early church experience felt more powered by guilt and hard work than anything. You mentioned that you have several friends who have just given up and left church because they didn’t want to live under the burden. And they were fed up with the perceived hypocrisy that lay under the religious façade they experienced in some of the church leaders.
It grieves my soul when I hear of people leaving church because some Christians and leaders are missing the fullness of the Gospel!
The Christian life was never intended to be one of rules and appearances. We are invited to abide in Jesus, to make our home in Him. There is no need to impress the one who created us.
Imagine being with Jesus and His disciples in their final days together. Jesus had told them that He would not only be leaving, but dying at the hands of their enemies.
Jesus’ friends were no doubt distraught as they gathered together for what would be their last meal together. In this context, notice that abiding was the topic Jesus highlighted in his final, commissioning words to his disciples.
In John 15, Jesus speaks of the allegory of a vine and branches, likening His followers to branches that can only find sustenance in Himself, the Vine. He told them to abide in Him. You might assume that they were thinking – “How in the world can we do that, Jesus? You have told us you are leaving us. We won’t be able to abide if you leave!”
But that’s not how the conversation went down! Before he invited them to abide, Jesus had already laid out how the disciples could remain connected to Him—and it wasn’t through a religious system of rules, but though continuous, life-giving relationship.
Before urging his disciples to make their home in Him, Jesus told them exactly how He would remain near:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. … you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. … Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. (John 14:16-20)
Jesus’ call to abide was undergirded by these promises:
- I’ll send the Holy Spirit to be with you and in you
- I won’t leave you as orphans
- Because I will still live, you will have life in me
- You will live in me, and I will live in you.
In these promises of John 14, we see that God has always designed our relationship as one in which he communes with us, provides for us, and sends us out resourced for the task. The Christian life was never meant to be one of rigor and heavy lifting. Jesus came the distance to us, and then He did the heavy lifting.
Our God of grace is always the initiator and we are responders. He always makes provision for anything He asks us to do. God is always ahead of us, always previous.
When God prompts us to action in the Scriptures we can be sure that He has already gone ahead to prepare the way, giving us the provision or capacity to accomplish whatever He asks us to do! We aren’t limited to our own moral muscle, but rather infused with power as we are joined to Christ.
That takes quite a load off, doesn’t it? God is with you. He is before you. You need only yield to His goodness and lean into His love. That is the life of faith the Gospel has opened to us!