Thursday, March 15, 2007

Living the Forgiven Life: Embrace the Transformation

(A Lenten devotion based on Ephesians 5:8-14 & John 9:1-41)

Can you imagine the man in today’s Gospel text, having been given his sight by Jesus after spending his entire life in darkness, ever approaching life the same way again? Or, to think of an even more extreme case, can you imagine Lazarus, having been brought back to life by Jesus after spending four days in the tomb, ever looking at life in the same way again? Being touched by Jesus in such dramatic ways produces changes; it brings about a transformation. We who have been forgiven by God because of the death of Christ on the cross have been changed in dramatic ways, too. But we need to embrace the transformation. Are we fully embracing the transformation that comes with being forgiven? Another way to ask that question would be this: are we living the Christian life for all it’s worth? Yet another way to ask it would be this: are we really living like saved and baptized people ought to live?

Today’s epistle text encourages us, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Some scholars believe that this was part of a hymn or a reading that was used at the baptism of new believers. How appropriate it is for us today. We need to understand that we have been saved, that we have been forgiven, that we have been raised from the dead, that we have been freed from our sins. We need to understand that people who have been made alive by Christ have been made alive really to live. We are supposed to be different and we are supposed to live differently because we are in fact different. We are in light rather than in darkness; we are alive rather than dead. So, we need to take the Christian life seriously. How seriously are you taking it? We have been forgiven by God in Christ. How do we go about living seriously in that forgiven state? How do we go about embracing the transformation that is ours?

We embrace the transformation by living in light of our experience with Jesus. The blind man in our Gospel text had been born that way. He had lived his entire life in darkness. Then, because he had been touched by Jesus, he was able to see. He had to live his life in light of that experience with Jesus; he could do no other. And why would he want to do any other? As great as the man’s experience of gaining his physical sight was, the truly great event occurred later in the story when he came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah (v. 38). That was when his spiritual blindness was cured. Even though we know nothing of the man’s life after that point, we can be sure that the greater change came because of his belief in Jesus as Savior. That’s the greatest experience there is.

You just can’t have an experience with Jesus and remain the same. But we need to be intentional about living the forgiven life. We need to be intentional about embracing the change that has come upon us. As Ephesians puts it, “Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light” (v. 8a). Notice the powerful way the verse puts the situation: sin once held such sway in our lives that it can be said not just that we were in darkness but that we were darkness. But when the Lord comes in to our lives we are not just in the light but we are light. Because of that drastic change in our reality, we are called to “live as children of light” (v. 8b). Being Christians does not put us on autopilot. We have to intentionally choose to live as Christians are called to live.

Now, we don’t do so in our own power. We are inspired and taught by the grace and love of our Lord. But the truth still is that good habits come from good practice. I’ve been reading about a baseball player who wants to be a better hitter this year. During the off season he studied film of himself. He changed his batting stance. He took lots of batting practice. Now, his goal is for the right ways of doing things to become second nature to him. Meanwhile, though, he has to exercise the discipline of choosing to do the right things rather than doing the wrong things. Otherwise, his old habits will continue to run his life. Similarly, we have to purposely choose the things that are “good and right and true” (v. 9). Such choices will pay off in the long run.

We embrace the transformation by testifying of our experience with Jesus. When you have an experience with Jesus you have a testimony about that experience. Your experience is your experience and your testimony is your testimony. If you’ve been touched by Jesus you have something to share. When the blind man was healed there was some disagreement among people as to his identity. He just kept on saying, “I am the man” (v. 9). That’s the main thing we have to tell, isn’t it: “I am the one whom Jesus touched and this is how he touched me.” We say, “This is who I am and Jesus is the one who made me this way.” We tell the story of Jesus but we know the story of Jesus because of the way his story intersects our story. We tell of what Jesus has done for us.

Some care should be exercised here. My college teacher Dr. Howard Giddens used to say of some preachers, “They say more than they know.” Some non-preacher Christians are like that, too. They feel compelled to act as if they have all the answers and as if all things are simple to those who know the Lord. We should be careful not to say more than we know, though. When the Jewish authorities told him that Jesus was a sinner because Jesus healed on the Sabbath, he said, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (v. 25). Now, we know that Jesus was not a sinner. But we don’t know everything about Jesus because we can’t know everything about God. Such is the nature of God. But we know what he has done in our lives and that’s what we can talk about with confidence: “Once I was blind, but now I see.” We should study all we can and pray all we can and learn all we can but we need to accept that we’ll never have all the answers.

How do we testify about what Jesus has done in our lives? We do so by living as Christians ought to live. It’s interesting how Ephesians encourages us: “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.” Try. Make the effort. Know that it may not always be clear. But try. And then live in light of what you learn. Certainly such living means that you’ll avoid the works of sin that characterize the ways of the world. But positively it means that we’ll live in ways that reflect the light of Christ and that show the works of darkness for what they are. We bear witness to Christ by living in ways that reflect the transformation that he has brought about in us.

But we also testify about what Jesus has done in our lives by talking about it. How we should admire this man who insisted on talking about what Jesus had done in his life. He had to go up against the religious experts of his day but he would not back down because he knew what Jesus had done for him. We need to be ready to make our defense and to share our testimony. We each have our own story to tell but each story is the story of what Jesus has done. Tell it. Tell it faithfully. Tell it lovingly. But tell it. Someone you meet today may need to hear it.

We embrace the transformation by valuing our experience with Jesus. One result of the formerly blind man’s insistence on telling his story was that he was kicked out of his synagogue (v. 34). His parents, when questioned by the authorities, had been afraid to say too much because they knew that those who confessed Jesus as Messiah were to be put out of the synagogue (v. 22). In the early years of the church such became a real problem. The man was persecuted for his faith; he was made an outcast because of his insistence on bearing witness to his experience with Jesus. He had to make a decision that his experience with Jesus was more valuable than any other relationship he had or than any other reality that brought meaning to his life

What do we really value? Do we really value our experience with Jesus? Are we embracing the transformation that Jesus has wrought in our lives by valuing our relationship with him more than we do anything else? Think of how you make decisions. Think of how you choose to live. Think of the brand of ethics that your practice. Think of those things to which you do and don’t give priority. Do your choices show that your experience with Jesus has been truly transformative and that he truly is your priority? Or are there things that you are valuing more highly and embracing more closely than him?

It is important, as we live the forgiven life, that we intentionally embrace the transformation that Jesus has caused in our lives. We need to be committed to living the Christian life. That commitment needs to be purposeful and it needs to be radical. We need to bear witness to what he has done in our lives with our lives and with our words. It needs to be clear who we are and whose we are. Is it clear in your life today?

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