Last night at our Bible study in the Gospel of Mark, we were discussing Jesus' statements in 9:34-37 (among the rest of the passage); the subject at hand went through my mind much of the night.
"And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?'" At the end of it, Lauren, one of the younger participants in the class, read one of Paul's quotes from Philippians 3, which knit perfectly with our study. "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.
Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.
Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
The difference is clear to anyone who has lived long as an unbeliever before coming to Christ. Perhaps the biggest difference is what one dreams of doing with one's life as an unbeliever and as a Christian. Maybe the difference also could be attributed to having been an unbeliever in the younger years, when the dreams are more optimistic and perhaps unrealistic. Still, the unbeliever clings to this life, and as he comes to know Christ, as he gains by increments a hope, an understanding, of the future delight of heaven, he releases his grip on the things of this life, which pale in comparison.
The difference is understandable. For the unbeliever, he will experience nothing better than what he has in this life, and it just makes sense to make the most of it until he has a future hope. You can see that the world is trying to make their earthly experience as heavenly as possible, as if there were any way around the idea that it all will come to an end. For the believer, however, this world is far fuller of trouble and trial and dirt than the future that he realizes is waiting for him, and the best that he experiences here, that which used to be so alluring, grows increasingly meaningless.
Paul knew perhaps best of all humanity what he was living for as a believer; many agree that Paul speaks of himself when in 2 Corinthians 12, he discusses someone who had an experience of being taken up to the "third heaven." Paul lived his life as though understanding just how great his heavenly reward might be. He held nothing back in his service to Christ; he didn't seek to preserve his life, or to pursue worthless and temporal things. It was obvious that whatever he had seen in his heavenly experience, it motivated him to the point that earth and its trappings, and all the learning and acclaim he had so diligently earned in the Sanhedrin, had lost its luster. He now considered it refuse in comparison to knowing Christ.
So in the night, when I was pondering this lesson, I thought of various questions to apply to my life, some of which are convicting to me...
1. What would an outside observer think I was living for, if he could observe my life, based on my behavior?
2. What are my dreams for this life?
3. What upsets me the most?
4. What thoughts consume my idle time?
5. If I were given the opportunity of my dreams, what would it be, and why?
6. When I am disappointed, what thought consoles me?
7. Am I a worrier?
8. Do I hoard things?
9. How big a motivator is money? What is my greatest motivator?
10. How do I hope to be seen by the people around me? How does that affect my behavior?
11. Do I hope that people see Jesus in me, or that they don't?
12. Whose pleasure do I seek?
13. Would I seek to live longer on earth so that I could have some particular dream fulfilled?
14. If I seek fitness, what is my purpose? If I seek a perfectly clean house, what is my purpose? If I seek financial abundance, what is my purpose? In any of my goals that I pursue, whose glory am I pursuing?
15. Do I have an ongoing awareness that God sees my life and knows my heart?
16. How much suffering will I be willing to endure for Christ? Do I think that with His help I can face it?
17. Am I afraid of death? If so, what about it frightens me? Do I feel that I would be ready to face God at any minute?
18. Do I have a true longing for heaven, a feeling that I don't belong here but there as a citizen, a desire to see Jesus face to face? Do I expect heaven to be a relief and a joy? How much do I ponder heaven? Is my longing for heaven more a head-knowledge, or a heart-knowledge?
Our goal should be to have these answers be 180 degrees from where they were before we were believers. I don't suppose any of us can say that we've reached that 180 degrees in this life about any of those questions, even if we come close on some of them. Some of my answers are better than others; some I try justifying somewhat. Probably in any of them, I have to think about how honest I'm being, and since there's always room for improvement, all of them I should pray about, and seek to change my heart.
I can't say that there are many things I hope to do before I die. I don't think I fear death much; in fact, there are times when I long for it (maybe for the wrong reasons!). The main selfish reason I would choose to stay is take part in raising Tim to adulthood; there are other things I would like to do along the way (most of which seem unlikely). Most of them are easy to put aside. I think I look forward to heaven for some of the right reasons. But am I living like Paul lived? No, I know I'm not there; far from it! So I need to change, to improve, to seek His help, because without it that change will never come. I want to live as to say with Paul in Philippians 1:21, "To live is Christ, to die is gain."
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