What if Christians became the best advertisement for Jesus?
Jesus said his followers would be a light to the world and a city on a hilla warmly inviting, neighbor-loving, grace- and truth-filled destination for all. He envisioned his followers as life-giving neighbors, bosses, employees, and friends, the kind of people who return insults with kindness and persecution with prayers. Rooted in biblical convictions, they would extend love, empathy, and care to one another as well as to those who don't share their beliefs. Over time their movement would become irresistible to every nation, tribe, and tongue. Irresistible Faith is a blueprint for pursuing this vision in our current moment, of redeemed individuals and a renewed community working for a restored world. This is a way of being that gives a tired, cynical world good reason to pause and reconsider Christianityand to start wishing it was true.
"I miss the kind of church Scott describes in this book, and I don’t think I am alone." Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz and Building a StoryBrand
"An important call to resist the urge to lobby and position ourselves, but rather to be driven by gospel-powered love." Raechel Myers, founder and CEO of She Reads Truth
"An antidote to much that is wrong with our Western, American version of Christianity. " Gabe and Rebekah Lyons, authors and founders of Q
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About the Author
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BEING OKAY WITH NOT BEING OKAY
FOR MOST HONEST CHRISTIANS, BECOMING like Jesus Christ — what Scripture calls sanctification — can be an anticlimactic process. No matter how much better we become over time, no matter how much more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled we are this year compared to last year (Gal. 5:22–23), we never progress in our character to the degree that we once hoped we would. Ironically, the more like Jesus we actually become, the less like Jesus we tend to feel.
When I first became a Christian, I had a brimming optimism about becoming a better version of myself. This, after all, is the promise of God to all who trust in Jesus — he will not merely help us turn over a new leaf; he will actually give us a new life. As a newly born child of God, I was a new creation. The old Scott was gone, and the new Scott had come (2 Cor. 5:17). The Holy Spirit had taken up residence in me, which meant that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead was living in me. This power would give me faith to trust and follow God's Word and God's ways over my own flawed feelings, impulses, and ideas. It would give me hope in the face of life's sorrows, letdowns, and uncertainties. Most of all, it would enhance my ability to love God and others. Through this newfound faith in Christ, I could become the kind of friend, neighbor, spouse, and contributor whose irresistible faith would be remembered and celebrated — even long after I'm gone.
Like many Christians in their newfound faith, I felt really good about the kind of person I was destined to become in Christ. I would, as the apostle Paul has written, be able to "do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13). It was only a matter of time before I would become the very best version of myself. Or so I thought.
NOT YET WHO WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE
Now, some twenty-nine years later, I am more of a realist. These days, I often feel more sinful and less holy and virtuous than I did in those first days as a brand-new Christian. Although there are many ways in which I have become more like Christ, in other ways I still ignore and disobey and even deny him.
When I am at my best, those who are closest to me will tell you that the fruit of the Spirit is at work in my life. When I am at my worst, those same people will tell you that I can be petty and even angry about the most insignificant things. I get road rage. I get way too irritated with people who eat a little too loudly. I think about money a lot more than I should. I find more satisfaction in the praise of people than I do in the grace of God. I can be selfish, cowardly, conflict averse, jealous, and ambitious in all the wrong ways. I can, like the Pharisees, use my spiritual gifts and platform as a means to draw attention to myself and applause from others — applause that belongs to God, who alone deserves the glory. Sometimes when an immodest movie scene appears, I don't look away. I am afraid about the future as much as I trust God for it. I am a man who lives by fear as much as I am one who lives by faith.
Because of this, when I see Jesus on the cross crying out, "My God, why have you forsaken me?" I often think, "My God, why haven't you forsaken me?" I am with Herman Melville on this one, for like his sailor Ishmael in Moby Dick, I am "dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending." I am now twenty-nine years a Christian and the words of Brennan Manning ring as true now as ever:
I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.
A far cry from the irresistible faith I once thought would describe my life, I sometimes feel like I am more part of the problem than I am part of the solution.
Do you ever feel the same about your own life? Are we hopeless?
Thankfully, there is also plenty of reason not to despair. Because of Jesus, encouragement is available to us as we experience the disappointment of anticlimax and as we face the fact that, until Jesus returns, we will continue to fall short of the glory for which we have been created. Encouragement comes from knowing that even the greatest heroes of faith were flawed and broken — wrecked, weary, restless, and sometimes tortured sinners — even when they were at their very best.
The prophet Isaiah, whose lips were skilled at declaring the truth, beauty, and character of God to the people of Israel, had a vision of the holiness of God in the temple. This experience was enough to make God's prophet hang his head in grief. Isaiah became convinced that, in comparison to his Creator, even his purest and most virtuous body part — his prophet and preacher's mouth — was flat-out dirty: "Woe is me! For I am lost," the prophet exclaimed, "for I am a man of unclean lips" (Isa. 6:5).
Similarly, the apostle Paul felt the gravity of his own hypocrisy more at the end of his journey than at the beginning. Early on as a Christian, he referred to himself as "Paul, an apostle." Later, he became "Paul, the least of the apostles," then later, "Paul, the least of all the saints," then finally, this: "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost" (1 Tim. 1:15). He also wrote with great emotion about the inner conflict of living inconsistently with his inmost, Spirit-formed desires: "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom. 7:24–25).
There is great paradox to life in Jesus Christ. We are on our way home, but we aren't there yet. We long to be better than we are, but can't quite figure out how to move forward, or even where to begin. The new has come, but the old, fleshly self remains with us. We are being made more like Christ, but our sin and selfishness and narcissism and idolatrous leanings are always there, threatening — even promising — to stunt progress. We move two steps forward then one step back, and sometimes three.
This is our shared fearfully and wonderfully made yet frail human reality. Aren't you relieved that those you respect most in the faith also have shortcomings? Aren't you relieved that so many of the men and women in the Bible — people like Isaiah and Paul, Rahab and Martha — are men and women with deep, abiding flaws? Aren't you relieved that every last one of them is an incomplete work in progress, a person whose least flattering features remained with them until their dying day, even as they journeyed toward perfection? How awful and disheartening it would be if the valiant, self-sacrificing, heroic disciples of Jesus weren't also screw-ups just like us. Their failings bring me almost as much comfort as the promises of God, because if there is hope for busted-up sinners like them, then there is also hope for a busted-up sinner like me.
If God shook the earth through the likes of these, then certainly God has the power to shake the earth through the likes of us.
OUR NECESSARY STARTING POINT
The beginning of blessedness — and the beginning of real change that will cause the world to notice the light in us — is not the realization that we are okay, but the realization that we are not okay. It is not in becoming convinced that we are superior to everyone else, but in recognizing that we are no better than anyone else. It is not in believing that we are strong and capable and competent, but in accepting that we are frail and incapable and weak, while also being fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14). It is not in thinking that God expects us to be awesome and prettied-up and all put together, but in gaining confidence that God has first and foremost, in Christ, caused us to be forgiven, loved, faithful, and free. It is from this humble place — and only from this place — that we have any chance of growing into the virtues of Christ. It is only when we can cry out, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" that we are sent home justified, blameless in his sight, and confident in his love (Luke 18:9–14).
As my friend the Los Angeles pastor Rankin Wilbourne often observes, God does not love us to the degree that we are like Christ. Rather, God loves us to the degree that we are in Christ. And that's always 100 percent.
It is essential to begin our journey together with this truth in our minds and hearts — that the first step in becoming like Jesus is acknowledging how unlike Jesus we are and knowing that he loves us just the same. This means that we should not suppress or cover over the doubts we have about ourselves, pretending as if they didn't exist. Rather, we must start listening to those doubts and applying the truth about Jesus to them. We must not try to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Rather, we must realize that we don't even have boots. We must not merely think that we have problems. Rather, we must understand that we are our own biggest problem, our own worst nightmare, our own worst enemy. As William Shakespeare's Cassius observes, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves."
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones shares a similar perspective on our human condition: "The first thing you must realize, as you look at that mountain which you are told you must ascend, is that you cannot do it, that you are utterly incapable in and of yourself, and that any attempt to do it in your own strength is proof positive that you have not understood it." God's call on our lives, then, is first and foremost not a call to action but a call to brokenness and contrition, for a broken and contrite heart he will not despise (Ps. 51:17).
WE STUMBLE ON
Where do we go from here? As my friend and songwriter Tom Douglas often says, "We stumble on."
This is the paradox: in the midst of our ongoing failure, we nevertheless continue our journey of becoming more like Jesus. The apostle Paul's wish for the first-century Galatians is still our Lord's wish for us today: that Christ be formed in us (Gal. 4:19) and that the fruit of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control — become the most dominant, visible, increasing, and operative attributes of our lives (Gal. 5:22–23).
Though we will remain broken and conflicted and beset by sin until our last breath, we cannot allow ourselves to ignore our pursuit of Christ and his Spirit-filled virtues. Even though we will never fully attain it in this life, we must continue to strive with all the energy Christ supplies toward the perfection for which we were made — recognizing that even the striving is a gift given to us by him. From beginning to end, our confidence is not in ourselves but in God. He began a good work in us, and he will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6). In the same way that he saved us, he will ultimately complete us — by grace, through faith, and in Christ — so that God alone might receive the glory.
I can't think of many better (and strangely admirable) examples of persistent striving to overcome character weakness than the late Samuel Johnson, a Christian and literary giant of the eighteenth century. Johnson struggled for decades against the "deadly sin" of sloth. Here are some excerpts from his diary:
The year 1738: Oh Lord, enable me to redeem the time which I have spent in sloth.
1757 (nineteen years later): O mighty God, enable me to shake off sloth and redeem the time misspent in idleness and sin by diligent application of the days yet remaining.
1759: Enable me to shake off idleness and sloth.
1761: I have resolved until I have resolved that I am afraid to resolve again.
1764: My indolence since my last reception of the sacrament has sunk into grossest sluggishness. My purpose is from this time to avoid idleness and to rise early.
Later in 1764: I resolve to rise early, not later than 6:00 if I can.
1765: I purpose to rise at 8:00 because, though, I shall not rise early it will be much [earlier] than I now rise for I often lie until 2:00.
1769: I am not yet in a state to form any resolutions. I purpose and hope to rise early in the morning, by 8:00, and by degrees, at 6:00.
1775: When I look back upon resolution of improvement and amendments which have, year after year, been made and broken, why do I yet try to resolve again? I try because reformation is necessary, and despair is criminal. [He resolves again to rise at 8:00.]
1781 (three years before his death, forty-three years since his first resolution): I will not despair, help me, oh my God. [He resolves to rise at 8:00 or sooner to avoid idleness.]
We are not alone in our failures. Johnson's forty-three years of frustration and failure — much like the sins and setbacks that beset you and me again and again — played a key role in the way God intended to shape and ultimately complete him. In some ways, this place of anticlimax and fumbling is right where God wants us to be. For it is only from this posture that we come to see how much we need the loving-kindness that Jesus is so happy and so ready to give to us. It is only from this posture that we recognize the truth that apart from Jesus Christ, we can do nothing (John 15:5).
And yet, with Jesus Christ, all things are possible. In Samuel Johnson's case, despite decades of losing the battle with laziness and sloth, he became a renowned poet, writer, ethicist, literary expert, and linguist. Significantly, Johnson, who described himself as "a life radically wretched" and filled with "mournful narratives," was one of the most celebrated literary figures of his time — with expertise in poetry, philosophical and political commentary, lexicography, and more. Most notably, in 1775, Johnson published the first Dictionary of the English Language, later earning him the nickname "Dictionary Johnson."
As my wife often says, every single person except for Jesus is a mixed bag. This includes the likes of Samuel Johnson, who fiercely struggled all the days of his life with his own shortcomings, failures, and sins, and yet whose life was by no means wasted. Even during his years of deepest struggle and self-doubt, Johnson was leaving the world better than he had found it — laboring and serving from the light that had been placed in him by God.
TO ERR IS NOT HUMAN AFTER ALL
There is another reason we should be encouraged even as we struggle with our snail-pace progress. Last I checked, there were 861,000 self-help books available on Amazon. The sheer popularity of self-help books points to the reality that humans live with an insatiable longing for something more, something better. This is why we keep making resolutions every New Year's even though, like Samuel Johnson, we will almost certainly not follow through with them. We are plagued with an inevitable frustration. We were made for more and we know it. As we are reminded in Paul's letter to the Romans, we groan under the weight of this longing (Rom. 8:22–24). When the light of God is active within us, this frustration can be a hopeful sign of what's to come but has not yet been realized. Call it a holy dissatisfaction, a frustrated anticipation of what we know will one day come true: that we will be like Jesus Christ, for we will see him as he is (1 John 3:2–3).
Our innate, unshakable longing to be better suggests that, deep down, we don't really believe that to err is human after all. If we are governed by Scripture, filled with the Holy Spirit, and aware of our calling to become perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, we will always feel a tension with that assertion. The very fact that we confess our sins betrays the idea. As those who are created in the image of God, we are hardwired to long for more. As Blaise Pascal has written:
The greatness of man is so evident, that it is even proved by his wretchedness. For what in animals is nature we call in man wretchedness; by which we recognize that, his nature being like that of animals, he has fallen from a better nature which once was his.
For who is unhappy at not being a king, except a deposed king?
Put more simply, the same impulse that kept Samuel Johnson from giving up on his own sanctification should also be an impulse that drives us. We are meant to grow. We are meant to improve. We are meant to become unstuck. But the question remains: How?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Irresistible Faith"
Copyright © 2019 Scott Sauls.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Bob Goff xv
Part I Abiding In The Irresistible Christ
Chaptei 1 Being Okay with Not Being Okay 3
Chapter 2 Getting Our Heads Straight 21
Chapter 3 Savoring the Precious Christ 41
Part II Belonging To An Irresistible Community
Chapter 4 Practicing Transparency and Kindness 61
Chapter 5 Performing Soul-Surgery on One Another 79
Chapter 6 Embracing Hope Inside the Fairy Tale That's True 97
Part III Becoming An Irresistible Christian
Chapter 7 Treasuring the Poor 121
Chapter 8 Embracing Work as Mission 141
Chapter 9 Leaving It Better 161
Appendix: A Prayer for Irresistible Faith 177
About the Author 183