One of my favorite movies of all time is Saving Private Ryan. Of course, it’s extremely violent and has some really course language, but you won’t find a more realistic depiction of the Normandy D-day invasion. In case you missed it, in the film the U.S. Army determines that only one out of four brothers of a certain family is still living after the invasion starts. So they assign Captain Miller and his squad to find Private James Ryan and bring him off the front lines so that he--as the last surviving Ryan --won’t die on the battlefield (hence the title of the movie). After losing some men in their squad, they finally find him and two other paratroopers, and they all end up battling a much larger Nazi force in order to hold a strategically important bridge. Most of the Americans die in battle, with Ryan being an exception. Miller, lying on the ground bleeding out, in his last moments grabs Ryan and whispers “Earn this.” Ryan then goes home, starts a family, and then decades later goes to his friends’ graves and asks them if he did what Miller asked him to do, if he’d earned what his friends had sacrificed their lives for him to have.
Of course, the analogy is imperfect, as all analogies are. There’s never going to be a day in which I earn or pay back what Christ did for me. But as Paul says in today’s passage, I need—with God’s enabling grace—to strive towards conducting myself in a manner consistent with the Good News of Christ. BTW, if you’re wondering why I use the term “Good News” or “Message” instead of “Gospel,” I give my reasons here. It’s not something I consider essential, but it’s a strong preference of mine.
How would my personal conduct be “worthy of” or (I prefer this rendition) “consistent with” the Message? I thought the whole Message of Christ is “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved,” or salvation by grace through faith in Christ, or “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” What does any of that have to do with my performance or lifestyle? If you’re asking that question, you need to read my posting about salvation and repentance. To sum it up, repentance and a changed lifestyle post-conversion are part of essence of the Good News. Any presentation of the Message that doesn’t include that is incomplete at best and deceptive at worst.
Repentance is part of the Message, and also when I don’t live like I’m supposed to, it brings discredit upon what I’m proclaiming. Paul accusation against the Jews of his time was that “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” because of their hypocritical conduct. Unfortunately that applies to us as well: When we aren’t living a godly life, even non-Christians understand that that’s incompatible with being a follower of Jesus, and they use it as an excuse to reject him.
How can we—in the sense Paul is talking about here—conduct ourselves this way? What would a life that’s consistent with the Good News look like? Like my old teacher put it, this isn’t rocket surgery or brain science:
· Unity in the Body of Christ. As Paul has taught over and over and over, we’re all part of the Body of Christ. The only question is whether or not we’ll act according to this truth or not. All too often, we don’t.
· Unity in purpose. We aren’t called to be unified in liking or not liking Italian food. We don’t have to be unified on every less-important point of theology (like your particular timeline viz a viz the book of Revelation). But we need—we must—be “striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.” That means we’re working together to spread the Message and in defending the truth of the Message against the Enemy’s attempts to distort or silence it.
· Taking the eternal view over the temporal one. This could have two subheadings. First, we need this when we’re facing our “enemies.” I put that in quotes because really no lost person is my enemy. I only have one Enemy, and he’s not human. But we have people who oppose us all the time when we try to spread the Good News. They can use every dirty trick in the book, from mockery and lies and slander all the way up to persecution and murder. When we face them without fear, knowing that we’re on the winning side—actually, the side that’s already won—this is a sign that they’re on the wrong one. In our conflict, our eternal destiny and their eternal destiny are foreshadowed. Even if they persecute us, even if they supposedly silence us, the moment we decide to do things God’s way they lose and we win.
The other way we need the eternal perspective is in regards to our sufferings in this life. In another letter, Paul said that when you compare the absolutely worst things we could possibly experience in this life versus the glorious future we have in Christ, well, you can’t really compare it. When I look at any hardship I suffer for Christ’s sake, I’m supposed to see that as an honor and blessing. I know I know, easy for me to say from the comfort of America, where “persecution” usually entails someone mocking you online. But that’s what Scripture tells us.
So do I? Do I live a life that’s consistent with the Message I proclaim, with the Savior I claim to love? Tough questions, and I expect the answers won’t be easy to hear either.
Lord Jesus, I confess that all too often I don’t live a life consistent with who I am and whose I am. By your empowering grace, I want and expect to change that. Please.