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Archives / 2008 / April

 

Christian commitment

Steven P. Vitrano

 

How can commitment be defined? Commitment can be defined as the decision to do what needs to be done, whatever the cost— a definition that characterizes countless heroes throughout history.

Christian commitment, however, can best be defined by starting with God’s examples: “ ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’ ” (John 3:16).* God decided to save a lost world. The cost was the cruel, despicable death of His only Son. What made this commitment Christian? Because it was inspired by love, the love defined by Jesus: “ ‘Greater love has no man that this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ ” (John 15:13).

How does this apply to the followers of Jesus, specifically to ministers? These words explain the relevance: “ ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ ” Jesus asked. And Peter answered, “ ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ ” Jesus then said to him, “ ‘Feed my lambs.’ ” A similar question was repeated twice more to which Peter finally answered in exasperation, “ ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ ” And again Jesus replied, “ ‘Feed my sheep.’ ” Then he told Peter “by what death he was to glorify God” and said, “ ‘Follow me’ ” (John 21:15–19).

Following Jesus, or feeding His lambs and His sheep—this was Peter’s mission. And love inspired him to fulfill it. While Peter didn’t quite understand the mission when he first became a disciple, he grew in love and became one of the founders of the Christian church—a commitment that, in the end, cost him his life.

Love for Christ does not mean merely a feeling or affection but a commitment to follow Him all the way. “ ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’ ” (Luke 9:23).

Jesus also said, “ ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’ ” (John 14:15). Christian love inspires the commitment to obey God’s commandments, not in order to win God’s favor but because He has won our favor. Christian love demonstrates what discipleship is all about. We say what He tells us to say, we go where He tells us to go, we do what He tells us to do—at whatever cost.

Love inspires commitment, and to have this kind of commitment we also need a crucial component: faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Given our human limitations, what we hope for and what we do not see cannot be confirmed as fact, at least as the world understands “facts.” Faith, however, gives the assurance and the conviction that what we hope for, and what we cannot see becomes a reality, a fact.

Of Enoch it is said that he pleased God. “And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists” (Heb. 11:6). Enoch could not touch or see God, but he believed in God. Faith made God a reality.

In Romans 4, Paul gives us another example of faith as reality in the life of Abraham. “In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations” (Rom. 4:18). Sarah was beyond the years of childbearing, and he considered his own body as good as dead, “but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (vv. 20, 21).

But faith cannot be defi ned as just belief, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (James 2:19).

“By faith Noah . . . constructed an ark for the saving of his household” (Heb. 11:7). He not only believed God, but he did what God told him to do. He built a ship on dry ground, telling people a flood was coming at a time when he had never seen rain. For that matter, nor had anyone else. He was laughed at, challenged, ridiculed, and despised, but he did it, enduring the persecution for many years.

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance and he went out, not knowing where he was to go” (v. 8). Abraham’s faith motivated him to do what many would consider unthinkable.

So with people of faith. Hebrews 11 offers us a “hall of faith”—Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets—“who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (vv. 33, 34).

Following his definition and examples in Hebrews 11, Paul gives us a model for commitment in chapter 12: “Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith [the Model], who for the joy that was set before him [the motive] endured the cross, despising the shame [the cost], and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God [the victory]” (vv. 1, 2).

Paul then admonishes us not to grow weary or fainthearted, because in our struggle against sin we have not yet resisted to the point of shedding our blood. We are to strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Striving for holiness becomes the commitment, but what motivation is there for it?

If Jesus is the Model, our motivation will be the joy set before us. This joy can be described as the joy of salvation, the joy of knowing that what God has promised, He will fulfill.

Righteousness by faith does not patronize sin, because faith in Jesus motivates the commitment to follow Him. The substitution of Christ’s righteousness for our unrighteousness does not patronize sin because that gracious act of love motivates us to obey Him. Commitment does not ask “How hard shall I try?” Commitment says, “Whatever it takes!” Commitment does not say, “I can never be perfect.” Commitment says, “I may not be perfect, but in Christ I can be.”

What Christ has done for us, what Christ does in us, what Christ will do for us—all these motivate us to commit our lives to Him. Jesus said, “ ‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’ ” (Matt. 11:28–30).

 

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*Scripture references are from the Revised Standard Version.

 

 

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