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November 2005

Following Jesus

When Helen Roseveare first arrived on the Congo mission field in 1953 she was greeted by memorable words from senior missionary Jack Scholes. She recalls them in her autobiography

Give me this mountain(IVP; pp.75-76).

‘If you think you have come to the mission field because you are a little better than others, or as the cream of your church, or because of your medical degree, or for the service you can render the African church, or even for the souls you may see saved, you will fail.

‘Remember, the Lord has only one purpose ultimately for each one of us — to make us more like Jesus… Let him take you and mould you as he will; all the rest will take its rightful place’.

Central issue

Mr Scholes had put his finger on a central issue — the crux of the matter not only for missionaries but for all Christians. The great purpose of salvation is that we should be ‘conformed to the image of his Son’ (Romans 8:29).

It is not that we should complete a sort of heavenly steeplechase, with each fence corresponding to good deeds and successes — hurdles we must negotiate if we are to enter heaven by the front door.

The fundamental issue for both individual believers and the Evangelical church as a whole is not what we do

forthe Lord (that was the mistake of the one-talent servant in Matthew 25:24-28) but what the Lordis doing in and through us. ‘It is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure’ (Philippians 2:13).

Getting this sorted will resolve much else.

Saved to be holy

First, we will remember that our fundamental task is to follow Jesus. It is

aswe follow that he will make us fishers of men (Matthew 4:19). We must not reverse the word-order within this biblical precept; to do so is incipient Arminianism.

Successful fishing is certainly guaranteed, but Jesus determines the timing and abundance of the catch as we first follow him. He is not only Lord of the harvest field but also of the fishing fleet!

If all that matters is what we do and ‘achieve’, we will begin to think that any activity which does not yield immediate outward success is a frustrating waste of time. We need to remember that God has saved us to be like Christ, and this is the work that his providence and Spirit are accomplishing in our lives. To recognise this may save us from having a nervous breakdown!

Confidence in Christ

Second, realising this, we will pay closer attention to our heart — the centre of our being. ‘To make us more like Jesus’ is not only about doing; it is about

being. We are saved that we might ‘be holy’ (Ephesians 1:4). While holiness manifests itself in righteous living, loving deeds and evangelism, it does not beginwith those deeds. It springs from a deeper source — the affections and inclinations of the heart (compare Matthew 15:18-20).

The wise man says, ‘Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life’ (Proverbs 4:23). True religion begins and is maintained in the heart. We must first ‘sanctify the Lord Christ in [our] hearts’, and only then will we ‘be ready to give a … reason for the hope that is in [us]’ (1 Peter 3:15). To lose sight of Peter’s order of priority is to become a spiritual casualty.

Third, if we remember that it is God’s inexorable purpose to conform us to Jesus Christ, our confidence in him will grow. We shall be ‘steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that [our] labour is not in vain in the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Because his gospel is ‘the power of God to salvation’ (Romans 1:16), we may be assured that every Christian without exception will stand perfect in the presence of the Lord at his second coming. ‘Made like him, like him, we rise … Hallelujah!’

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