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The Object of Our Devotion
By David A. DePra
Have you ever noticed how easy it is to see WRONG – especially in the church? Wrong is everywhere. And it is not hard to see it and point it out. Indeed, in the right spirit, in the intent of edification, we ought to see it and point it out. Otherwise, things just keep going the way they are.
But there is yet another problem in the churches -- which is much more serious than any of the wrongs we might discern. This problem, however, is an easy one to miss. It is easy to miss because the problem is that it is something that is missing! What is missing today in many churches is a personal DEVOTION to Jesus Christ.
It’s not hard to see sin in the church. Anyone can discern blatant unholiness, sin, and ugly division. But how about religious complacency? How about a devilish lukewarm spirit? How about good, old fashioned, intellectual, or even SPIRITUAL arrogance? Those are harder to discern. But in the end, the most difficult thing to discern is the LACK of what all of these things substitute for: Reverence and devotion to the Person of Jesus Christ.
The reason SUBSITUTES for Jesus govern a church is because Jesus hasn’t been allowed to govern. The reason people are devoted to something other than Christ is because they aren’t devoted to HIM. The substitute becomes the default. It is evidence of the LACK of something – true worship of Jesus Christ.
If people would become devoted to Christ, they would become so obsessed and addicted to Him, that all of those other things would cease to interest them. Fall in love with Christ, and He will have your heart. You won’t be wooed away by that other stuff. It is amazing how, if people become devoted to the Person of Jesus Christ, how the WRONGS cannot easily find a home in their church. It is amazing how, if people are focused on the worship of God, and upon the edification of His Body, how the things which characterize many churches – such as power struggles, politics, and a wrong focus – how these things are absent. That is because HE IS PRESENT. Where the Spirit of God is, there is liberty, Truth, and love. The junk cannot be easily smuggled in.
So now we can see why so many churches get off into bad and wrong trenches. It is not so much because they set out to do wrong. It is because they neglect the right. It is because they are not devoted to Jesus Christ. Thus, there is nothing to keep them out of those other things – there is no spiritual center of gravity – no FIRST LOVE.
The absence of the living Christ in a church is easy to miss if you have no frame of reference for Him. In many churches, "the bar has been lowered," to such a degree, and people have become so used to it’s lowered height, that people think that it is the NORM in the eyes of God. There is no upward call, for they think they have already reached the top. So they settle for less than they could have in Christ.
Not to be ungracious, but unfortunately, some folks think they, "have arrived." They think that their 1% is all there is – that it is actually 100%. Thus, if God tries to penetrate their church with the other 99%, they reject it. They don’t even realize that they have rejected the Holy Spirit, mind you. But their spiritual pride and arrogance – which insists that they have 100% -- is what blinds them to their need. It is the pride that’s the problem, not the understanding. And so things go on, in darkness and bondage. Saved people! And they never come into the knowledge of the Truth.
It is a universal axiom: If you don’t know what you don’t know, then you don’t know that you don’t know it! Get that? But the key here is openness to God. None of us CAN know what we don’t know. But if we are open to God, and devoted to HIM, He will be able to bring us on into greater Truth. So rather than think we, "have arrived," we need to realize that there is no such condition in this life.
Devotion is the key, for it places my focus on HIM, rather than upon myself, my spiritual condition, or my spiritual credentials. Some Christians are so proud of their ability to understand Bible verses, and so addicted to how good their good works make them feel about THEMSELVES, that they become devoted to themselves, rather than to Jesus.
This can be quite subtle. Do I actually believe that my admiration of myself because I have an ability to understand the Bible, explain it, or even minister to others – do I believe that this admiration of myself equals devotion to Jesus? No. That is spiritual pride. I am to be devoted, not to what Christ might do through me, but to Jesus Christ Himself. Then, those things can flow, and have their proper adjustment.
I am not to be in love with my ability to love. I am not to place my faith in my ability to believe. I am not to marvel in my ability to understand. I am not to be addicted to how good ministry, "makes me feel about myself." Rather, I am to leave myself alone and be devoted, and in love, with Jesus Christ. That God’s people would see this!
Christianity is NOT devotion to my church. Christianity is NOT devotion to my principles, or even to my Biblical doctrines. It is not devotion to the self-satisfaction which comes from serving. Most all of these are supposed to be OUTCOMES of devotion to Christ. But fundamentally, Christianity is devotion to a PERSON – Jesus Christ. And it is upon THIS that everything depends.
Leadership in churches are responsible, before God, for what goes on there. They are responsible for….ummmm, leading. But where? They are responsible for leading people IN devotion to CHRIST.
No leader in any church is ever going to say that their church is not devoted to Christ. The problem is that many don’t know what that means. Many will say that devotion to Christ is evidenced by serving at church. Or perhaps by how much we give to missions. Or by whether we minister to the poor. Now, all of that is GOOD. It is good! But do we realize that NONE of this activities necessarily prove a thing? CULTS DO THOSE THINGS!!!!! So do unbelievers. Thus, the question is not whether we serve people, or are charitable. The question is whether we are devoted to CHRIST.
Here is the big question: Is what we are doing the OUTCOME of being devoted to Christ? Or is it a SUBSTITUTE?
Let’s read the words of Jesus on this very issue:
Not every one that says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Mat 7:21-23)
The people about whom Jesus is talking in this teaching call Him, "Lord." But Jesus says that it doesn’t mean ANYTHING to call Him, "Lord," unless you are doing the will of God. But what is the will of God? Obviously, more than the things these people present to Christ as their merits: Prophesying, casting out devils, and doing MANY WONDERFUL WORKS – all of which they did IN HIS NAME. Notice His rebuke to them: "I never knew you." Indeed, having heard all that they did for Him in His name, He calls them, "workers of iniquity."
Why? What is the issue here – where have these people failed? Clearly, they never opened themselves up to Christ, and gave Him personal access. They never allowed Christ to KNOW THEM. Instead, they substituted RELIGIOUS WORKS, which they did, "in the name of Christ, "for a personal relationship WITH Christ. In short, they were never devoted to Christ the Person. They were devoted to a man-made religion ABOUT Christ, and devoted to the things they were doing FOR Christ.
This is clearly seen in the fact the Jesus says that they are workers of iniquity. Ask: Do you see any, "works of iniquity," listed by these people as things they had done in the name of Jesus? Nope. Thus, it is the motive and spirit in which they did them that gives Jesus reason to define them in such grievous terms. Jesus is saying that doing things – even wonderful looking, religious things, in His name – cannot substitute for allowing Him to know us. And indeed, if we won’t let Him know us, we are not devoted to Him. We are, in fact, standing aloof from Him, living in our own religious agenda. That is iniquity.
Can we see that it isn’t the service or work that we are doing that is an evil thing – in and of itself? But that if we use it as a SUBSTITUTE for devotion to Christ Himself, then WE, not the work, are operating in unbelief? At that point, even the thing we are doing, "in His name," is a work of iniquity, as far as our personal relationship with Christ. For we are using it to replace Christ. We have set it up as an idol and have given it our devotion.
There are thousands of Christians who go to church every week, even many in leadership, who DO many things in the name of Jesus -- many religious things – even charitable things. But they will not tolerate any penetration or conviction of the Holy Spirit upon them personally. They will not allow God to come in and, "mess with their church." They will not allow God to deal with them personally. They will not permit any kind of spiritual adjustment, or any kind of TRUTH to come in – if it clashes with them. They will not allow the Son of God to open them, expose them, and have access to them personally – showing them to be needy and dependent. No! Thus, we have what we have today in churches. A lot of religion. But not much Holy Spirit.
Paul constantly said that we ought to be of the SAME MIND, or attitude, that of Jesus Christ. He said that this would be true unity. The ONE ATTITUDE that Paul the apostle continually exhorted the church to share was devotion to Jesus Christ. If that one mind is in a group of people, you have true unity, and you have the freedom of the Holy Spirit. But if people are not of that one mind, you will have DIVISION.
The tragic irony in this is that you can have DIVISION in a church, but peace. All that is necessary for this dichotomy is for those who are devoted to the Person of Christ to compromise. But peace that is the result of compromise is not the peace of God. It is SIN – because it is an unholy thing.
So what is the solution? People should start walking WITH Christ. But not with the goal to be AGAINST others. No. For if you walk WITH Christ, you are really FOR others – even if they don’t know it. You should walk with Christ, with the hope that they will follow.
God always has a few people He wakes up – through whom He wants to work. He wants them to break rank on the patterns which are going on in church, and to begin to introduce devotion to Jesus Christ. At that point, people will begin to make their choices. They will begin to decide who they want to worship.
Our First Love
The problems in our churches are merely reflective of the problem in PEOPLE. In leaders, especially. Many are simply not devoted to the Person of Jesus Christ. They are saved. They will go to heaven. But they have left their FIRST LOVE. So how can leadership which has left their first love, or perhaps never had Him as their first love to begin with, lead others, by word or example, in a personal devotion to Jesus Christ? It is impossible.
People try to operate in the Body of Christ on the horizontal plane – with each other – but neglect the vertical plane – which is their one-on-one relationship with God. It not only doesn’t work, but it is reflective of a lack of reverence for God Himself. The Body of Christ only works when EACH member is directed by the Head – or at least growing in that direction. It cannot work when members are directing each other – in word, deed, or merely example.
Again, each member must be devoted to Christ. Then, because of that common devotion, that ONE MINDEDNESS, relationship toward each other are adjusted, and the church is about the PERSON of Christ, not about the organization called, "church."
My devotion to Jesus Christ is characterized by what I am to Him when no one is looking, when no one hears, and when there is no benefit to me to act religious. My devotion to Him is defined by what I do when it costs me to obey Him. It is defined by where I turn when I need help. But who is the object of my worship. Anyone can talk about Jesus. But am I really DEVOTED to Him?
Fundamental to being a disciple of Jesus Christ, is unconditional devotion to Him. Jesus gave a number of rather sobering indications of whether we are truly devoted to Him as disciples:
So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsakes not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:33)
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-27)
Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:31-32)
The key here is to understand that no one can simply DECIDE one day, "I shall now be devoted to Jesus Christ." No. But you can open yourself to Him, and say, "Reveal Yourself to Me. Do whatever it takes." The devotion will automatically come as the result of surrendering and seeing Jesus Christ. You cannot see Him and not love Him.
The problem, however, is that many refuse to see Him. Not by saying they refuse, or knowingly refusing. But they refuse by continuing to hold on to what they are devoted to in place of HIM. This is ALWAYS the issue: What is keeping me from fullness in Christ? What won’t I let go of? What has my devotion? No man can serve two masters. As long as we serve the wrong one, we will be blind to the RIGHT ONE.
If we would just see the Truth, we would find that devotion to Jesus Christ does not destroy relationships and possessions. No. It brings them into proper adjustment. Thus, this is not a matter of you giving everything up to be holy. Rather, it is a matter of you giving everything to God so that He can make everything holy – especially you. Devotion to Jesus is always redemptive, restorative, and edifying.
The Missing Link
Anyone can see wrong. But how many people realize that the greatest wrong is the right that is missing? How many see that there is a dimension of devotion missing in our churches today, because people are not holding fast to the Head, in an unconditional worship and devotion?
Paul the apostle knew the danger of this.
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the substance is of Christ. Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increases with the increase of God. (Col 2:16-19)
God wants to bring His people into a devotion to His Son. But in order to do that, we must forsake all other loves which might substitute for Jesus. May God give His people the grace and awareness that this is the only solution for the church today. *
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