We want to make contracts with God, but the gospel tells of a more wonderful story of a Father who loves us and saves us.
We want to live independent lives where we use our freedom to serve ourselves, but the gospel gives us a greater, better freedom in Christ where we love and serve others.
We want to achieve things for ourselves on our own terms and often fail spectacularly or quietly, but the gospel shows us how the Holy Spirit has, can and will change lives.
We want to live quiet and safe lives, but the gospel points us to lives that will involve risks and a future in heaven which far outweighs them.
In this section of the book I was reminded how the gospel shapes our perspective in many areas, but in particular, I was reminded how the gospel challenges my cultural assumptions and needs to be the lens through which I look at the world, rather than the other way round.
I have been delighted and challenged in reading something that is so straightforwardly gospel-focussed. It is a delight to reflect on God's goodness to me in his Son. To think about that in terms of my past, my present and my future. But then I am also challenged as I see how I have lowered my gaze, how my thinking is awry and how my own heart is so easily choked by weeds.
In reading this section of the book I was challenged to think particularly about how I make decisions. This has been something I have been thinking about for a while (in fact, my only New Year's resolution this year is to think about how to use my freedom in Christ to love and serve others, Galatians 5:13). I have been struck by just how intentional I have to be in order to make decisions with reference to others, not just my husband or children, but to my church family as well.
This particular topic made me reflect more on notions of individualism (and again, the lack of depth to the chapters is the particular weakness here) whereupon I came across this helpful article by Don Carson: http://thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/article/contrarian_reflections_on_individualism looking at some of the gospel benefits of individualism and surveying some of the arguments against.
The example which Timmis and Chester give is of decisions in regards to leaving churches, particularly of people in ministry leaving. Now, I am aware that individual situations are always more complex than what can be covered in a book like this, but I still think that the principle is correct here. That is, that because we are a community of believers, because we do things not for ourselves, but for the benefit of others, we need to be careful when we leave our churches that we are not doing it just because it seems to be a good decision for ourselves. And while the authors make special mention of people in ministry here I would say this is a principle for all of us.
I find that where we are (Sydney) we are literally spoilt for choice for good evangelical churches. Even in areas like South-West Sydney, despite there being fewer, there are still some excellent churches to choose from. It can be easy to leave a church that is struggling in numbers, under-resourced in staff, has average music and move up the road to the vibrant new church in the sparkling new building. We have a choice. We need to be wise. We need to seek the good of others (Philippians 2: 3-4). Sometimes it may come down to practicalities, but even then the manner with which we leave will show the depth of our understanding of this principle. Cut and run? No way.
Leaving church is only one aspect of this. I need to be thinking about my relationships with my church family when I make decisions about my leisure time (or exercise time), planning when to take holidays (how to avoid too many Sundays or Bible study days away), being inclusive and welcoming, generosity, making time to care for others...
At the start of the year life for me is already beginning to feel rushed, pressure is on to commit to a variety of things. I have been reminded to consider my relationships with the family that God has brought me into when making my decisions. I’m going to commit to my New Year’s resolution and seek to use my freedom.