There are many ways to live life. At least this is what we are taught. We begin life as newborns with our entire lives ahead of us. As we grow into children, we are taught that all of life is about obedience, primarily obedience to our parents. A successful life means honoring them well. Into middle school and high school, life seems to no longer be about honoring parents; but instead it is about achieving good grades, having good friends and doing well in our extracurricular activities (whether those are athletics, band or good participation in a club or in student government). When most of us graduate from high school, our lives become about finding a good career, whether or not we choose to continue our education. When we find a good career, we then find the right wife and start a family. We strive to be homeowners and to pay off the debt that we have accrued. When we get older still, our lives become about the generations after us. We try to pave the way for our children and grandchildren in a meaningful way.
We strive for so much, not realizing that the next stage in our lives will change everything, even our definition of what it means to live. After all, while we are in middle school, we do not see that life will one day be something different than going to school every day and being with that certain group of friends. Yet, we strive to define life. We strive, through all of these avenues, to accomplish what we see as a good life and rarely do we see beyond our current strivings.
As I think back to my life as a child, I realize that my strivings then were entirely different than they are now. Then, I wanted the latest toy and now I feel like I simply want to pay my bills. Therein lies my struggle. If my strivings will change and with them my definition of what it means to live a good life, have I wasted my time at each juncture in my life?
No matter where we might be, we have all defined our lives according to our strivings. Our lives are about athletics, about family, about work, about making money, about education, about church, about our hobbies, about music, about being entertained, about world events, about friendships, or even about something that I might not have mentioned. My question is this: if we define life in these terms, is it worth living?
John 10:1-10 (HCSB)
“I assure you: Anyone who doesn’t enter the sheep pen by the door but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. The doorkeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought all his own outside, he goes ahead of them. The sheep follow him because they recognize his voice. They will never follow a stranger; instead they will run away from him, because they don’t recognize the voice of strangers.”
Jesus gave them this illustration, but they did not understand what He was telling them.
So Jesus said again, “I assure you: I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.
Are there many ways, or only one?
In this passage, Jesus is addressing a group of Pharisees. Before this, Jesus healed a man who had been blind from birth. We know with this particular case, that there was a group of Pharisees (a higher and more educated class of Jews), who believed that someone had sinned against God in order to cause this man to be born blind. They believed that his blindness was some sort of punishment. When the man was healed, these Pharisees called on him and interrogated him: some because they wanted to understand and some because they wanted to criminalize Jesus. They learned that the man had truly been blind from birth and that he had truly been healed by Christ. After the man who was formerly blind insisted that Jesus was indeed from God and not a sinner, the Pharisees threw him out of their presence.
After being thrown out of their presence, the man encountered Jesus. He confessed his faith in Jesus and Jesus made this statement: “I came into this world for judgment, in order that those who do not see will see and those who do see will become blind” (John 9:39 HCSB). Referring to the blind man, Jesus claimed that those who do not see will see. In essence, those who are aware of their brokenness will become whole. In reference to the Pharisees, He claimed that those who do see will become blind. Or that those who don’t believe themselves to have any brokenness will not have made that realization.
There were some Pharisees who heard him say this and they asked, “We are not blind too, are we?”
Jesus answered, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” In the same way, if we would recognize our blindness, we would be forgiven of our sin. If we say that we can see, or that we are not broken, our sin remains because we choose not to accept Christ’s healing.
It is within this context that we arrive at our current passage in Scripture and I might make a few observations.
- Many of the Jews believed that life was about following the law. In fact, it was by the law that God was supposedly pleased and by the law that everlasting life was thought to be gained.
- If we pursue anything in life, we are like the Jews in this way.
- We try to achieve a certain standard in life by working hard, getting good grades, honoring our families, having a certain level of comfort, having a high enough education, being good enough at sports, playing an instrument, singing well, or even serving others.
- If this is what we make our lives about, then we, like this group of Pharisees, have claimed to be able to see. We have claimed that we know exactly what we need to do to live a good life or to be righteous.
- In this case, Jesus actually calls us blind.
The blind man who was healed discovered the only thing that truly matters in life was that he believed in Christ for healing. Jesus expands on this in our passage:
- He refers to Himself as the Shepherd.
- Anyone or anything else that tries to lead people in life is a thief and a robber.
- It is only by the way of the Shepherd that the sheep, or God’s people, go in and out and find pasture.
This brings me to my first challenging question for our lives: Is there anything other than Christ trying to lead us? After we answer, the natural follow up question would be this: Are we following Christ, the good shepherd, or are we following these other things?
Are we robbers?
Considering this, it makes sense for us to say that we cannot see everything. We sometimes remember our past experiences accurately. We know what we currently experience. We cannot, though, know the future or anything that is beyond our own personal experience. Yet we are quick to assign meaning to life. As we have already discovered, the meaning we assign to our own lives is arbitrary. It changes throughout our lives and it is assigned in vain. How are we to know whether or not we have assigned correct meaning? We cannot!
So I ask this question: Are we robbers or have we allowed robbers to take the place of Christ in our lives? If Christ is indeed God’s messiah and the door as He claimed, then He is able to guide us in this life and the next. Here is the mistake so many people who claim to know Christ make: they claim that being a Christian is solely about relationship and not at all about religion. Yet, even as we look into this text, we discover that it is only through Christ we can go in and out and find pasture. If we care at all about who Christ was and is, we should take hold of this: He did not and does not hate religion. Everlasting life begins as we enter into a relationship with Christ and Christ, the door and the good shepherd, guides us in life. Religion, then, is about honoring Christ with our actions; but we cannot do this without first having a relationship with Him.
Considering this, I have discovered two relevant ideas for our lives:
- Religious practice is important.
- We do not worship ritual or tradition, we worship Christ.
- Yet ritual and tradition, when treated rightly, are important for us as we put into practice the relationship we already have with Christ.
- Let us not be fooled. If we were created for a relationship with God, then we were also necessarily created to honor God in our actions. If this is religion, then it must be that we were created as a religious humanity.
- We might see evidence of this as we look at our world. People are great creators of religion. Even people who claim to be irreligious believe, and must believe, that there is a correct way to act and a reason why this way is correct. Every person is religious, but not all religion honors God.
- Jesus’ half-brother, James, even wrote this to the church: “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27 HCSB). There is a way to have a pure and undefiled religion before God.
- Anything we do in life, if not guided by Christ, is worthless.
What vision should we have, then?
This is the heart of my vision as my wife and I finally begin our service at Eastside Baptist Church and as we begin to both engage and serve our new community. My desire is to proclaim God’s word in a real and powerful way. Too many people preach fruitlessly and too many people ignore the very real issues in our world resulting in the proclamation of a watered down or filtered Gospel. This will not be me. Here you will hear Scripture as it was given. We will discover what it means in our lives together. We will be genuine with one another so that we might live life well: not according to our own definition of its meaning, which is arbitrary, but according to the direction of the One who created us and breathed life into us and designed us for a very real purpose.
As we consider the passage above, I have to ask:
- Do we live life under any other shepherd than Christ?
- Do we choose to be entertained rather than striving to honor Christ by serving others?
- Do we choose not to grow and serve in a local church so that we might sleep in, make more money, finish a project for work or school, or remain comfortable?
- Are we so concerned with making money that we forget to love people?
- Are we so concerned with our own status that we refuse to serve others or to belittle ourselves for the benefit of others?
- Do we replace our time growing and serving in a local church by doing other things instead?
- Have we claimed to know what life is about, and in so doing actually become blind?
- Do we see ourselves as the smartest person in the room and fail to learn from others?
- Do we think that church will not benefit us even though our vision is so limited?
- Do we expect that simply following the rules will earn us a place with God?
- Do we hope to be served rather than serve?
- Do we not yet know Christ?
- Here is the devastating news for our lives: we are limited to guess what life is about and how to live a good life. Most of the time we are wrong. A good job, a good family, a good education, a comfortable lifestyle, fame, popularity and success will not satisfy us. Christ is the door and the good shepherd. It is only by His direction that we can live well and be satisfied in this life and the next. Before we can follow Christ, we must know Him. Religion means very little without relationship. Romans chapter 10, verse 9, states that anyone who confesses with his or her mouth that Jesus is lord and believes in his or her heart that God raised Jesus from the dead will be saved. This is all it takes to receive everlasting life. This means something profound both for our lives here on this earth and for our eternity.
If we know Christ, we should strive to follow his direction. For it is the only we can live well. If anyone does not know Christ, my hope is that he or she chooses this moment to begin a relationship with Him. This is the only way we can gain everlasting life and the only way we can live a worthwhile life on this earth.