~ What Comes After Saying "Yes" to Christ? ~
Jesus' parable of the prodigal son would have been more rich in meaning to His listeners than to us. They didn't need any explanation that under Jewish law (see Deuteronomy 21:17) the first-born son received a double share of the father's inheritance; that there were penalties for withdrawing the share before the father's death; that the younger son was then not just leaving his family for a time of personal experience and enterprise, but severing his ties with the family, not expecting to ever return. This is why the father described the son's status as "dead." (Luke 15:24) The older brother's bitterness didn't begin upon the younger brother's return, but upon his leaving. Besides all that the son was doing to the integrity of the family, he was instantly depleting the family of one-third of its estate and wealth, and the consequent income loss.
But this situation gets even worse. Later the younger son would care for pigs, ceremonially unclean animals for the Jews, and would eat what the pigs left behind. This would have been understood that this young man was not only dead to his family, but also no longer a member of God's chosen people. Jesus' listeners would have appreciated more than us how serious, tragic and painful the son's choices were to himself, family and national-spiritual heritage, without even getting into the wanton, sinful life he led while being dead to his family and God.
The parable ends with the joyful return and rebirth of the son into his family and spiritual heritage. Jesus also mentions the work that the older son now had to do to relinquish his self-righteous response and learn what is truly important, to celebrate the rebirth of one who had been dead.
However, without direct reference to the parable, the Scriptures continue to teach about this prodigal son and what he must now do. There are churches and evangelists who mislead many into thinking that the celebration of angels and followers of Christ upon a person's spiritual birth into the kingdom of God is the end of the story. There are evangelical rallies and "altar calls" and applause and joy at "numbers coming forth," just as the father of that prodigal son and all the family and servants celebrated. Then there's the day after.
We can safely guess at what the days after must have constituted for the young man in Jesus' story. Years of reckless self-indulgence, irresponsible spending of time and money, using people and being used by people for personal and selfish gain, no doubt cultivated thought patterns and attitudes that needed changing. Christ's teaching to "forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us" needed to be implemented. Restitution for squandering and wastefulness had to be made . The virtues and practice of self-discipline and obedience needed to be learned again. The old temptations and fantasies of the son will probably return again, stronger than before. The prodigal son had to learn and live a new set of attitudes and perspectives.
That first time (or second or third) when we changed our heart and called out "Yes!" to Christ is just the start of a lifetime of "seeking first the kingdom" and experiencing God's increasing manifestation in and claim to every single part of our lives. That first "Yes!" to Christ isn't enough to meet the challenges of being His follower; it isn't enough to take us into full maturity in Him; it isn't enough to assure the continuation and strengthening of our faith in the face of adversity and spiritual warfare. So what comes after saying "Yes!" to Christ?
St. Paul explains, "People who are ruled by their desires think only of themselves. Everyone who is ruled by the Holy Spirit thinks about spiritual things. If our minds are ruled by our desires, we will die. But if our minds are ruled by the Spirit, we will have life and peace." (Romans 8:5-6)
A change of heart isn't enough. A death is required: "You must think of yourselves as dead to the power of sin. But Christ Jesus has given life to you, and you live for God." (Romans 6:11) How many of us truly do that? Live only for God? Think of us as being dead to the power of sin? Doesn't that imply that we then no longer struggle with sin?
A more difficult declaration to make with St. Paul is, "I have been nailed to the cross with Christ. I have died, but Christ lives in me." (Galatians 2:19b-20a) Some may say "This is true about me because the Bible says so." However, consider that if it is true about you, you will have experienced this wondrous mystery in some unforgettable way.
Paul also writes, "Let the Spirit change your way of thinking and make you into a new person. You were created to be like God, so you must please him and be truly holy." (Ephesians 4:23-24) Obviously this is a life-long process as we continue to spiritually grow, and there is no upper limit to growth. But, this is not to say take your whole lifetime to grow a little! Imagine that someone polled your friends and asked them, "Can you agree that so-and-so seems to be a new person compared to a year ago? Does he seem more holy and Christ-like now?" Hopefully the answers would be "yes," and not "no, he hasn't really changed" or, worse, "no, he was more holy and Christ-like a year ago." Mental renewal is a daily process. We all have our leaps forward and our days of stumbling; however, all are part of the process that, over time, shows we have indeed grown holier and more like Christ, and that is the will of God for which we pray!
God doesn't leave us alone to sink or swim in this process. It's written, "In certain ways we are all weak, but the Spirit is here to help us... We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him." (Romans 8:26, 28) What a wonderful promise! I depend on this, but He depends on my obedience.
The transformation of our minds is so essential because of the many sources of information our minds use. The Scriptures present a great example of this in St. Peter's growth. When Peter announced, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God," Jesus told him, "You are blessed! You didn't discover this on your own. It was shown to you by my Father in heaven." (Matthew 16:16-17) Here Peter had the mind of God.
But then, a little while later, after Jesus explained the nature of His death, "Peter took Jesus aside and told him to stop talking like that. He said, 'God would never let this happen to you, Lord!' Jesus turned to Peter and said, 'Satan, get away from me! You're in my way because you think like everyone else and not like God.'" (Matthew 16:22-23) Wow, Peter quickly goes from thinking with the mind of God to thinking with the mind of Satan!
Soon, Peter shifts again, telling Jesus, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never say I don't know you." (Matthew 26:35) Now Peter is talking with the mind of his own pride and inflated confidence. Then again, after Christ's arrest, "Peter began to curse and swear, 'I don't know that man!'" (Matthew 26:74) Now Peter is speaking with the mind of fear and desperate self-preservation.
However, over time and the filling of the Holy Spirit, Peter was given the mind of Christ. He later wrote, "Be alert and think straight... the Scriptures say, 'I am the holy God, and you must be holy too." (1 Peter 1:13a, 16) Peter had become a new person. But Paul tells us, "Each of you is now a new person. You are becoming more and more like your Creator and you will understand him better." (Colossians 3:10) Is that true of you? Paul also declared, "You died with Christ. Now the forces of the universe don't have any power over you." (Colossians 2:20a)
Is that true of you? If it is, you are blessed since you can wake up and excitedly say, "Before I sleep tonight I will be more like my Lord and Creator and will understand Him better since He renews me daily." If it is not true of you, have hope but heed the divine instructions for the "day after you say 'Yes!' to Jesus": "If you are guided by the Spirit, you won't obey your selfish desires... God's Spirit has given us life, and so we should follow the Spirit." (Galatians 5:16, 25)
The Scriptures are clear that following the Spirit is our choice and it requires allowing ourselves to be nailed to the cross with Christ. Resist the falsehood you may hear from some who preach in the name of Christ that salvation and the provision of the Holy Spirit comes by saying a short prayer of sorrow for sins and "acceptance" of Christ. The Creator needs more than that, namely your entire life. My life for the mind of Christ Jesus? What a wondrous and magnificent gift! Following God's Spirit into eternity? Incredible love!
So on the day after the
celebration of rebirth, we begin the self-denying adventure of daily renewal,
transformation into a new person, increasing holiness and growing Christlikeness!
Yes, eternal life with God is supremely incredible. And so is the
offer of the mind of the Christ while we still live on this earth.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
© Winter, 2001
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