Comfort + Control

It is really amazing the variety of personality types that exist. What is more impressive is whenever a wide variety of personality types can work together to accomplish great works. I’ve been blessed to be on two church staffs as an adult in ministry and can testify to both being places where men and women humbly work together maximizing a variety of strengths, propensities, and idiosyncrasies. Many among us, myself included, have it within our personality to believe there surely must be more work to be done. More simply put, some of us aren’t really good at accepting grace. Grace at the point of justification? Absolutely. Grace applied during the experience of sanctification? Sure, as long as I work for it.

On Sunday, our Pastor of Adult Discipleship preached a sermon on the opening verses of Colossians 2. I will not re-preach his sermon or write a different version. You can listen to it by clicking here. Instead, I want to elaborate on the truth God highlighted for me. The truth that I am guilty of a “Jesus but also” experience in my relationship with Him (one of Jay’s points in the message). The idea that I can be saved by grace through faith, but that it is necessary for me to please God by way of adding spiritual, physical, or emotional disciplines to the commandments of God.

This is not a new concept. In fact, it is the very thing the apostle Paul battles throughout many of his letters during his First Century ministry. Therefore, if you had asked me before Sunday, “Do you struggle with legalism or works-based faith?” I would have told you no. Legalism can be simplified to obedience without worship. Doing the right spiritual thing for the wrong selfish reason. This was not me…at least not consistently. However, consider the two expression of “Jesus but also” to see if you and I can learn from Paul and rid ourselves of the need to add to what has already been done.

Jesus But Also: Comfort

There is perhaps no greater spiritual need for socially affluent Christians than to develop a theology of suffering. Jesus teaches repeatedly that it is not a matter of if suffering comes, but when (John 10, John 15, etc.) We can be guilty of a major “Jesus but also” whenever we pursue Jesus but remain with an unhealthy commitment to our own comfort. This is seen most clearly in Jesus’s teaching in Luke 9. Verses 57-62 teach of three responses to Jesus. It is the final response which describes a follower more committed to comfort than to Jesus.

At first reading there seems to be nothing wrong with wanting to say goodbye to your family. Goodbyes are a big deal at our house. We always say, “I love you” before leaving. But in the case of this potential Christ-follower it is a matter of unhealthy commitment. In verse 62, Jesus describes the result. In the farming culture this description would have been easy to understand. If a farmer looks backward while plowing forward, he or she will not plow a straight line. Then, it will be nearly impossible to come along afterward and plant crops. The same is true whenever we attempt to live, “Jesus but also comfort.” God ordains your steps (Proverbs 16:9). This is a comfort to those living by faith and terrifying to those pursuing comfort.

Consider your life. Do you make decisions which give an appearance you are living with Jesus as your priority, but actually you are only willing to follow Him if He prioritizes your comfort? If we could hear your prayers, are they primarily about you, your wants, and your needs?

Jesus But Also: Control

This “but also” is very similar to comfort, but with a distinct difference. This “but also” puts you on the throne of your own heart. Typically, whenever we hear a phrase like this we think of being self-serving, arrogant, or prideful. My hope is you will consider how you might be attempting to control the narrative of your life, on the throne of your life. God the Father speaks truth into our lives by way of the Holy Spirit (John 16). Yet in our broken humanity, we will see what the Spirit of God is illuminating on the pages of scripture, but still choose to live in whatever manner we choose.

Consider this truth beyond simply sinning or not sinning. As a Christ-follower you will likely be tempted to a tug-of-war. The two sides? Confessing sin and controlling accountability. You do not have to have spent decades in ministry to finish this sentence: “If someone confesses they are looking at pornography, they need an __________ __________.” Right, an accountability partner. But if that accountability partner does not exercise leadership and you do not allow him or her the freedom to spiritually influence your life, you remain in control of the confession. If you meet with your accountability group at Chick-fil-a for breakfast every Friday morning (because that’s where and when good Christian accountability groups meet, of course) but only confess sin and do not receive correction, you are living with Jesus but also control. Our society is a mind field of temptation and sin. It is far too common for Christians to read God’s Word, spend time in prayer, then decide what they believe is a big sin, little sin, or maybe not even a sin at all.  

Paul teaches there is full assurance and hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge but this will not come as long as you or I live attempting to control theology or the work of the Holy Spirit. God’s people have been deluded by plausible arguments since the Garden of Eden. It plagued the First Century church in Paul’s day and it is a challenge for us in the here and now.

Are you guilty of firing your arrow at a comfortable target, then asking God to bless it? Or are you willing to ask God to guide your bow, guide your steps, and follow Him no matter how uncomfortable it may be. Are you willing to give up your efforts to control your spiritual life, navigate the narrative of your confession, and allow the Holy Spirit to work in your life? May we become Christ-followers who are no longer satisfied to live as Jesus but also…