So you’ve come to the conclusion that your life was meant for more. You feel good about this. You may be experiencing a vague sensation of vast possibilities. But maybe you’re also wondering, what’s the point of reaching for more? After all, most of the people around you aren’t, and they seem to be getting through life okay. They’re holding their arms close to them, their fists closed around whatever it is they treasure, and it’s pretty comfortable because they don’t have to put any muscle into it. Maybe, you think, if you just open up your fingers a little, maybe stretch yourself a tiny bit, that would be good enough. At least it’s better than everyone else.
Well, I’ve got some unfortunate news for you: good enough is not good enough.
I’m sure most of you would agree that hot dogs are a wonderful invention. But once you’ve been enlightened about the ingredients in a typical hot dog, you may take a second glance at that tube of meat before indulging yourself. Fortunately, there’s an alternative to mainstream dogs in the products of Hebrew National, a company that makes all-beef kosher hot dogs. This company is clearly different from others by choosing to produce foods that meet the strict standards of Old Testament Jewish law. What I love most about Hebrew National is their slogan, which states, “We answer to a higher authority”. It’s stamped right underneath their logo on all their packaging and it’s certainly a thought-provoking line, leading to questions we can ask ourselves. Are we just followers in a crowd of lost people, doing whatever they do simply because it’s acceptable, or do we answer to a higher authority? And if we do, can other people see it?
Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Paul tells us multiple times that before we were saved by our belief in Jesus Christ, we were slaves to sin and that the human nature in each of us – the one that eggs us on to act on those crazy desires we have and tells us it’s okay to compromise and that anything is acceptable – was our master. But once we receive Christ into our lives, all of that changes. With His sacrifice, He freed us from sin’s control, saved us from spiritual death, and continues to offer us abundant life. We’re free in Him, but we have a choice about what to do with that freedom. We can float around, lazily living a life that is Christian in name but neutral or even secular in deed, content to be going to heaven someday and not letting that hope make much of a difference in our lives. Or we can follow the words and teachings of Jesus Christ, the one who made heaven a possibility for us, who said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)
What does that look like? What does it mean to live a life that pleases God and brings honor to His name? The beautiful thing about Christianity is that it is not a religion with a set of rules and regulations. It is about our relationship with God first and foremost, but it is also about the way we respond to God and what He has done for us and what He continues to do every day. The way we respond is a matter of the heart, and it is a personal thing for each one of us. Of course, there are things clearly spelled out in the Bible for us that are wrong, and there are things that are defined as right. But thanks to the fact that God forgives any genuinely repentant heart, we can still technically choose to do whatever we want without the fear of getting struck by divine lightning. Life is essentially up to us. The way we live either reveals that we care a great deal about honoring Him – or that what He has done really doesn’t mean a whole lot to us.
I love what 2 Corinthians 5:13-15 says: “If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God…For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” I remember that I was really struck by the magnitude of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and what that reveals about His incredible love after I watched The Passion of the Christ (which I highly recommend). I was reminded that He gave up absolutely everything for me. He humbled Himself to the point of His death, and He didn’t care what the world thought if that got in the way of what He had to do. He said that no one could take His life from Him – after all, he was the Son of God – and so instead, He had to willingly lay it down. His spirit was not forcibly wrenched from Him; He let it go. And He did all this in the midst of unspeakable physical agony, grief, humiliation, and rejection. In the few moments before His death, the eternal punishment for the sins of every single person who has ever lived or ever will live was laid upon Him all at once. He did all this for us, even though we didn’t understand. We didn’t get it. We didn’t appreciate its meaning. And you know what He said while He was dying a torturous death, bearing jeers from a crowd He could have smitten in a second? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
After everything He let us put Him through, He wanted to forgive us.
I don’t know about you, but that type of love makes me feel pretty compelled to live in a way that would honor Him. How could I be ashamed of Jesus Christ? How could I turn my back on Him? How could I not give up everything for Him just as He gave up everything for me?
In Ephesians 4:1, Paul says, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” That means answering to a higher authority. That means calling ourselves to better standards than what the people around us say is ok. That means recognizing that in the freedom we have in Christ, yes, everything is permissible because He offers us limitless forgiveness – but not everything is beneficial (1 Corinthians 6:12). That means, as God’s hands and feet, being faithful representatives of His character. That means striving to be worthy of the Name that we now bear. That means having enough respect for Christ’s incredible, sacrificial love that we are willing to make the changes that it calls for.
We know now that uncurling our fingers just a little more than everyone else is not good enough. What is good enough, then?
Maybe that answer, too, can be found in Jesus. He stretched out His arms on the cross in both directions, forced to reach so far that His shoulder was dislocated, so that nails could be pounded into the palms of His open hands. Those same arms, now resurrected, are open to us at all times, and those hands bless us every day in ways we don’t even pause to notice. Because of what Christ has done, because His ongoing love compels us, the very least we can do is stretch out and reach farther than we ever thought we could.