From looking around, there seems to be every reason to be afraid and doubtful about everything. Debt, inflation, and economic downturn threaten to strangle our livelihood; revolutions in the Middle East skyrocket oil prices across the world; governments and businesses ravage the environment to unsustainable levels; natural disasters strike indiscriminately and violently all the time.
Contra this uncertain world, God speaks to anyone who would listen, “Having come in the form of the man, Jesus of Nazareth, I am the Deliverer you really need.” If we trust in Him, He brings us through this world’s storms to eternal salvation with joy and fellowship forever with Him after death. Nothing can really hurt us.
One time twelve of Jesus’ men were on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee during a violent storm. This is a terrifying and uncertain experience when you’re on a small boat that might sink. While trying to survive this crisis, they saw Jesus walking to them on the water, impervious to the squall. At first they didn’t know who it was, but Jesus called out to them through the noise of the waves and wind, “Take courage, it is I! Do not be afraid!” One of them, Peter, the most impulsive of the disciples, called back “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” Jesus responded “Come!” and out leapt Peter from the boat. But he didn’t submerge – he just stood there. An obvious miracle. Yet as he started to walk out to Jesus, he began looking around. That wind sure is blowing hard. The water sure is churning. Peter wasn’t looking at Jesus anymore but on the vicious forces of nature around him. He began to sink. At this point Peter must have been in total panic and fear. Kind of the feeling you’d get if you just lost balance on the edge on the roof of a skyscraper, or you see your car is about to hydro-plane into a pole. He cried for Jesus to save him, then Jesus grabbed hold of Peter in a flash and hoisted his trembling disciple back into the boat. “You of little faith! Why do you doubt?” Jesus asked him.*
We all have storms of our own. It looks as though we’re going to be engulfed by our trials as it is, but Jesus asks us to go further – get out of the boat! Take even greater risks than we ever would have dreamed to be nearer to our Deliverer. But our degree of success or failure in the middle of this turbulent and uncertain world is never to be the foundation on which we stand. Never look at yourself or at anything in your surroundings. Because you fail, and your surroundings deceive and are unstable. We must look at Christ, and Christ alone. Here are three applications of this:
1.Never look to yourself for assurance you’re saved. You’ll only become uncertain as you see all your failures, or worse, prone to pride in thinking you’ve not done too bad a job at holy living, calloused to how much more sanctification you really need. Assurance of our salvation is in Christ alone. Christ promised “he who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6.47) Do you trust in Christ for eternal salvation? Then you have God’s irrevocable life right now. Look to Christ, His person, His promise, His adequacy, His sufficiency – not your own person, promises, adequacies, and sufficiency. He is a Man who keeps His word, because He’s the Son of God.
2.Never look to yourself for assurance of getting through a hard time of life – you really have no control over the bigger situation, and when things get worse and don’t go your way, panic will set in. Paul the Apostle speaks of a dark situation he was in, saying “we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope” (2Corinthians 1.8b-10a) Even in hard times so bad that it looks like death, trust in God, who ultimately will save your eternal soul but also is fully able to deliver you through the difficult season.
3.Never look to yourself for assurance when setting out to do an important task or mission in life – to start a business, pursue a career, become a parent, etc. As ready as you may feel, you’re not “all that” and pride is a precursor to failure. You have no real control over your success. Many brilliant and talented people fail. Paul told the Corinthians of his great task – how his Apostolic ministry is of the Holy Spirit, written on human hearts and abounding in glory even far beyond when Moses spoke with God to receive the Torah… but Paul was careful to note: “Not that we are adequate in ourselves or consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.” (2Corin 3.5) They trusted in God for the effectiveness of their ministry.
We can be totally confident in Him. Such confidence seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? But must be believed for us to have any certainty in this world. Christ is our assurance. Cling to Him for assurance. He’s the only place you’ll find it.
*Story found in Matthew 14.22-33
Americans like mirrors. We check that we’re presentable, admire our perceived good-looks, bemoan our perceived ugliness, talk to ourselves, and gets sadder from there. In America’s obsession with self, you could say we worship at them like altars! In 2Corinthians recently, I noticed Paul the Apostle looks at a new kind of mirror than what we’re used to.
You see, in the ancient days of Israel God spoke to Moses “as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33.11). Exodus 34 records that when Moses would return from speaking with God, “the skin on his face shone.” The people were afraid at this (understandably, I would be too). Therefore, Moses put a veil (think Middle-Eastern head-covering, not some flimsy linen thing) over his face whenever he returned to the people from having the Law revealed to him from God.
In 2Corinthians 3, Paul draws on this story to say that if the Law, though not able to give salvation still “came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?” (3.7-8). The glory of Christ being the Savior that frees us from the Law by faith in Him, and His Spirit coming to empower believers, was the message of Paul and his missionary associates.
Paul was a successful man in the world before he became a Christian and Apostle. Being of a more upper class, he had access to reflective mirrors (unlike the poor) and probably saw a stately figure looking back at him. But nice mirors and all his other wealth left him when he became a Messenger of Jesus. Despite beatings, hunger, thirst, imprisonment, riots, and a host of other nasty experiences they yet had “great boldness in speech” to speak about Christ (3.12). How did he give it all away, going from the comforts and prestige of being a successful Pharisee to become “the dregs of the earth”? How did Paul and his missionary associates trade their health and looks for starvation and scars all over their bodies from the beatings? How did they get over themselves? Verse 18 reveals an answer:
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
When you look at a regular mirror, you see yourself. But when you look at the truths and experience of God’s glory in His grace, mercy and holiness, you see all that Jesus is. And when one stares at this kind of mirror, the mirror called Christ, he or she begins to be transformed into what they see. Instead of transforming yourself by looking at yourself more, you look at Christ and Christ transforms you.
For these missionaries, their modus operandi was to behold the glory of their Lord Jesus Christ. The missionary’s inner well-being and action doesn’t form from doing nice things for poor people, although that is good – it is gazing intently at the glory of Christ, directing ourselves toward seeing, experiencing, and knowing God. If we want to be changed into better, more Christ-like people and to do effective missions, we look to Christ first – not to ourselves, nor to other people, or other ideologies. As the Scandanavian missionary Frederick Franson’s motto went, a missionary must have “constant, conscious communion with God.”
And of course, this applies to all Christians. In the book of Romans, Paul expounds eloquently on the grace and holiness of God for 11 chapters. When he finishes at chapter 12, he stops and says “Therefore, I beseech you . . . be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12.1-2). Then goes on to 5 chapters of the actual actions fitting for those saved by God’s grace. We renew our minds by setting our minds on the glories of the grace, mercy, and holiness of God. Yet too often we are looking in the wrong mirror. Tired of the evil you find in you? Desire to be loving, joyful, forgiving, not bitter, not unhappy, not quarrelsome, etc., etc.? And the most longing desire – to get to know God Himself? Let’s stop looking at the shattered mirror of ourselves and gaze at the glory of God in the face of Christ. And the more we look, the more we become like the glory we see.