We live in a culture of pride. We think that in order to be healthy and happy, that we have to define our selves by what we like, and what makes us happy and fulfilled – and then aggressively assert such a self-definition in public (we surveyed this in post one of this series). The Bible is kind and honest enough to warn us that such self-assertion is pride, which is neither good and healthy. Rather, it is deeply destructive – it insults God and alienates us from each other (post two). Jesus, the ultimate human being, shows us that real, healthy, humanity does not seek to define itself, but is completely dependent upon, and indeed defined by, God the Father (post three). When we put our trust in Jesus:
- We can have confidence that God loves us, despite all our failings – this is the confidence of faith (post four);
- From this confidence, we can, like Christ, humbly serve others in love (post five); and
- We look forward, in eager, confident hope, of God himself approving us – this final post.
Seeking affirmation is normal. I hope that’s been clear in the series so far. It’s good and healthy for us to want someone to say to us “you’re all right“. The question is: who are we seeking this affirmation from? Our selves? That’s what contemporary Western individualism thinks is right. Our family or ‘tribe’? That’s what traditional communal cultures expect. Or God in Christ, in accordance with Biblical Christianity?
Jesus both sought, and received, the Father’s affirmation. The (synoptic) gospels show us how he received the Father’s approval when he baptised – “this is my beloved Son; I am very pleased with you“. What does the first thing the Holy Spirit does to Jesus? He propels him into the desert, to do battle with his mortal enemy, Satan (Matt 3:17-4:1; Mark 1:11-12; Luke 3:22; 3:38-4:1).
Just think about that for a moment. If that’s what the Holy Spirit does, are you sure you want to share this Holy Spirit? If that’s what it means to be baptised, then are you sure you want to be baptised? If that’s what it means to be part of God’s family – to be God’s sons and daughters by faith in Christ (John 1:12-13; Galatians 3:26; 1 Peter 1:3-4) – then are you sure you want to be part of God’s family? To put it bluntly: what’s more important to you? Living a complacent, luxurious, carefree life in this world? Or the applause of God the Father in the new creation?
Jesus did not have a carefree, luxurious life. Religious leaders publicly opposed him and conspired to kill him. His family thought he had gone mad (Mark 3:21). People were ungrateful to him (Luke 17:15-18). One of his closest friends betrayed him; another denied him. The legal system failed him. And after living a life of humbly serving the weak, the poor, the outcasts and the neglected, he ended up dying all alone on a Roman imperial torture device. Remember, the cross was not just executing people, but of executing them publicly, slowly, shamefully, and painfully – as a warning not to defy the might of imperial Rome. And even in death, he had no grave, no ‘home’ of his own – no place to lay his head. A friend had to donate one (Matt 27:57-58; Mark 15:43-46; Luke 23:50-53; John 19:38-42). Some of our pet dogs get a better burial than the Son of God incarnate.
Why did Jesus do this? Why did he bother? Well, he did it because:
- Of his identity as God the Son incarnate. As the Son of the Father, he wanted to please his Father. He was faithful to the mission his Father gave him – the task of dying as a sacrifice for sin and sinners.
- He loves sinners. He willingly gives himself to death, so as to reconcile his enemies to himself.
- He looked forward, in confident hope, to the Father’s affirmation.
Most of us are familiar with the second reason. It’s the one we tend to go to first – Christ died in order to forgive sinners. And that’s certainly right.
Many of us will be familiar with the first reason. Jesus is the expression of the Father’s redeeming love towards elect sinners – that’s what the justifiably famous John 3:16 means.See also Mark 1:38; Luke 4:43; 19:10; John 14:23-26; and the Garden of Gethsemane.
But how many of us meditate on the third reason? That Jesus obeyed the Father and loved sinners, looking forward to the Father’s approval?
Philippians 2:9 says that God “exalted” Jesus – set him in the highest place of honour – precisely because he was willing to go down to the place of deepest grief and shame in bearing our sins on the cross. In this, the Apostle Paul echoes what the Prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah 53:12 – that God will exalt the suffering servant precisely because he “bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors”. The author to the Hebrews says the joy of sitting at God’s right hand motivated Jesus to endure the cross – Hebrews 12:2.
This does not mean God the Father is a cruel taskmaster, who sets harsh conditions which we have to fulfil to “earn” his favour. That would make God be like Chancellor Ava Paige from Maze Runner, or Seneca Crane from The Hunger Games.
Instead, it means that the love between Father and Son, while being different in a way appropriate to each divine Person, is truly mutual. Displayed in Christ’s incarnate mission. The Father enacts his love for the Son by giving the Son the mission of saving the world, promising him cosmic rule once he has succeeded in this mission, and giving the Son the Holy Spirit to empower him to fulfil the mission. The Son enacts his love for the Father by completing his mission in the power of the Spirit, and then joyfully accepting the reward: rule over everything and everyone in the universe.
In any healthy relationship, love is mutual, and mutually reinforcing – we love to make the other person happy, and their happiness makes us happy. The Father didn’t want Jesus to fail – he wanted him to succeed, so that he could honour him. And the Son didn’t resent the mission the Father sent him on. Quite the opposite. He rejoiced in the opportunity to please his Father, and looked forward to the Father’s final approval.
It works in ordinary human relationships. Those of you who are parents – you love your children unconditionally. They don’t have to do anything to earn your love. But sometimes they do something that makes your heart swell with pride, as you think to yourself “that’s my boy!”, “that’s my girl!” That’s what Jesus did. As the Son of the Father, he faithfully gave himself in love as a sacrifice for sinners, and now enjoys the Father’s applause forever.
It’s the same for us. The Christian life is not comfortable, safe, and luxurious. If you want comfort, safety, and luxury, don’t come to the cross of Christ – go to a holiday resort. The Christian life is one of conflict – of combating sin within ourselves and outside, in the world we live in; of daily struggling against the world, the flesh, and the devil. It is the daily struggle of humbly serving others in Christ’s name, even to the extent of loving our enemies.
Why bother? Why not just give up being Christian, and enjoy life instead?
We do not go through hardship in order to earn God’s approval. That’s works-righteousness. We are justified by faith alone. When we put our trust in Christ, we become God’s children. What God said of Jesus, the divine Son incarnate, becomes ours – “this is my son; this is my daughter; I am very pleased with you”.
We go through some of that hardship out of love for others. I reflected on that in my previous post.
But also – when you are going through hardship for Christ, let this be a comfort to you: your heavenly Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matt 6:1, 4, 6, 18). In the parable of the faithful servants, the master rewards them – and one part of their reward is that they get to share his joy (Matt 25:21, 23; Luke 19:17, 19). The author to the Hebrews lays out the heroes of faith in chapter 11, climaxing in Christ as the ultimate example of faithfulness (Heb 12:1-3). Paul promised the Thessalonian Christians that God will vindicate them for the troubles they were experiencing for being Christian (2 Thess 1:4-7), and was confident, when facing martyrdom, that God would reward him for his faithfulness, and that others who are faithful to Christ will share the same reward (2 Tim 4:7-8). On that day, many who are now first will be last, and the last, first.
Seeking affirmation is normal. God made us as approval-seeking beings. The question is: who are we seeking this affirmation from? Our selves? Our family or ‘tribe’? Of God our heavenly Father?
We become God’s children by faith. As God’s children, we give ourselves in sacrificial love for others – just like Jesus did. And, again just like Jesus, we look forward in confident hope of the Father’s approval. Let that motivate you to run with perseverance towards the prize.
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|1.||↑||See also Mark 1:38; Luke 4:43; 19:10; John 14:23-26; and the Garden of Gethsemane.|