11I have spoken to you, so that my joy might be in you, and your joy might be complete. 12This is my command, that you love one another just as I loved you. 13Nobody has greater love than this, that he lays down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do that which I command you. 15I no longer call you slaves, because the slave doesn’t know what the master is doing. But you I have called frinds, because everything that I heard from my father, I made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you, and I appointed you that you should go and bear much fruit and your fruit might remain, so that whatever you ask the father in my name he might give you. 17These things I command you, so that you might love one another. — John 15:11-17
Part of my personal testimony (this is Henry) is that I left the church pretty close to when I graduated with my MA at seminary. One aspect of this was simply that I saw surrender to Jesus as a total surrender, a complete loss of self, and I simply wasn’t going to do it. It looked like a one-way street. Now I had made a commitment to Jesus earlier in life, but God kept calling for more and more surrender, and it finally came to me that it was all or nothing.
Now having finally made the more complete commitmentâ€”and having found out that even past what â€œfinalâ€ stage there is still much more room for God to take over in my lifeâ€”I find something interesting. What seemed like such a total surrender that it would erase me from existence is instead a step into new freedom.
Our verse describes such a change. On the one hand â€œslaveâ€ is a common term in the New Testament. We are slaves to Jesus Christ. Now some people try to make an historical case that slavery in New Testament times wasn’t really all that bad. Theologians try to bring up examples of how slaves could be respected members of a household. For some reason, however, there were no long lines looking to give up their free status and become slaves. It wasn’t nice, you didn’t own yourself or control your destiny. It’s much easier for a modern historian with tenure in a fine university to claim slavery was pretty tolerable than it would be for a person of that time to endure slavery.
So it looked pretty bad going in to have to become a slave to Jesus Christ. But there is another perspective. Once you accept the slavery you realize that on the other side it’s quite different than what it appeared to be. Jesus turns around and calls you friend. In other passages he calls us brothers and sisters, family members (Hebrews 2:11). I could discuss the difference in perspective, but what I want to emphasize today is that our Christian life always involves change. Our perspective in changing.
Our tendency is to read Bible texts in a static way. We’re sinners, so we’re always sinners, and we have to make sure to reaffirm it on a regular basis. We’re â€œpitiful, poor, blind, and nakedâ€ (Revelation 3:17 CEV), but then the next text tells us to â€œBuy your gold from me. It has been refined in a fire, and it will make you rich. Buy white clothes from me. Wear them and you can cover up your shameful nakedness. Buy medicine for your eyes, so that you will be able to seeâ€ (Revelation 3:18 CEV). So what happens after we follow that advice? Are we still â€œpitiful, poor, blind, and naked?â€
Hebrews 6:1 invites us to â€œmove on toward perfectionâ€ (or maturity/completion). But as we move on can we ever notice that we did move on? I think so. I think we should always remember that we are still not perfect, while at the same time affirming that God is leading us forward. Take time today to celebrate how far God has led you. Instead of seeing yourself as a â€œSINNER, saved by graceâ€ trying thinking of yourself as a â€œsinner, SAVED BY GRACE!â€ Instead of â€œpitiful, poor, blind, and naked,â€ celebrate the fact that you have received from your savior gold that has made you rich, clothing so you are no longer naked, and eye salve so that you can now see.
(24) What a miserable man I am! Who will deliver me from this deathlike body? (25) Thanks to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then in my mind I serve the law of God, but in my flesh the law of sin. (1) So there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, (2) for the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and of death. Romans 7:24-8:2