Last night as the believers who meet in our home were discussing Romans 13 :14; “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” a friend (one of the most faithful and dedicated believers I know and respect), in their characteristic candor and honesty  said, with (what I took as regret), “I hope I someday learn to put on Christ.” They also said, “It is nearly impossible to love as Jesus loves.” The thought that crossed my mind was, “This person is very close to the kingdom of God.”

We who have buffetted our bodies with spiritual disciplines and faithfully attempted to renounce our flesh in regards to its lust have had  tastes of that ego-boosting salve of conscience that comes from doing good. (We have also known the debilitating slam to our consciences that comes when we perceive we are doing bad haven’t we?) As we faithful and dedicated saints acknowledge that we are still inwardly yearning for the Father’s affection and His robe of favor and begin acknowledging the utter impossibility of living and loving as Christ does, the kingdom of God is closing in on us. We are destined to be blessed and shall if we will only persevere a bit longer, allowing God to have His way (which, by the way, is radically and unexpectedly unlike ours.)

Oh what a blessed day when we hard working elder brothers (from the Prodigal Son Parable) discover the fast-one the world, the flesh and the devil have played upon our hearts, alienating us so effectively from the affections of God.  I hear the elder brother protesting, “Where is your fear of God? You have become too familiar with God Almighty. Do you not know He is a consuming fire!” The saint who is reconciled to the Father graciously responds, “God’s perfect love in Jesus has cast all fear out of my heart. God is my father and He has called me His friend. I am even welcome in the Throne Room. There is no distance between God and I. Christ has perfectly bridged that gap. Even now I am now standing bold and joyfully in his holy presence. Truth be known, I am living courtesy of His Life in me.

Elder brother again; “In all your self-confidence and prideful claims you certainly are not putting on the humble garb of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The saint, with head resting upon the Lord’s breast says, “On the contrary, the most humble thing a human can do is cease working, acknowledging the utter impossibility that anything they might do would equate to putting on the nature of God incarnate or that anything they might do would somehow qualify them as worthy and lovable.”

Elder Brother again (never one to just roll over): “But its a command!” You are saying that putting on Christ is optional!” The son (at rest) responds, “Oh no, not all; its imperative we put on Christ but there is a mystery here in how we go about it. It is so much more than just a spiritual discipline. It is Jesus Himself, the Mystery of the Ages who has come to live in us and become our Life. His Life is our life. We have no Life outside this Life and it is purely a gift. He is the only clothing we have or need.” Working to put it on, even working to please God in dogged faithfulness is a perfect formula for works-based performance religion and the inevitable alienation from God and exhaustion of spirit it causes. The good news is, that just like prodigals, elder brothers too can be reconciled. I’m living proof.

Much of MwM is devoted to describing the proving ground God lovingly designed to bring me to the blessed place of embracing the hope-filled and impossible nature of my situation.  I am quite certain the sad exchange between the father and the elder brother was not their last dialogue. I guarantee the father pursued this faithful, hard working, angry and disillusioned son. He had looked forward to the coming of this day when his son’s bitterness and cold heart could be exposed.  The wise father knew that his son must take ownership of his heart’s condition if he were to ever realize his Fathers love – the only salve the boy had ever needed or really wanted.

The father relished this encounter which most of us see as the cliff-hanger ending of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. He knew this precious child was very close to the kingdom of God – that safe place where his son’s heart could take refuge and comfort in His pre-existing love, which could never have been earned. The elder brother may have needed help in processing his anger over the futility of all those years of wasted labor in the harvest field. I know mine did.

Because the Father led some true Shepherds to me (like yourself – a bonafide 1 in 99) who knew the landscape of the heart and helped me to finally work through my anger which had so carefully been stuffed away. How often I too thought, if only I could put on the Lord Jesus, then all would be well. Trying to put on our best dress or suit while laboring uphill on a treadmill would be an apt picture of the futility of this enterprise. How comical we must look to the world and to God in our sweaty and clumsy efforts of putting on the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Father patiently awaits the blessed day we give up or slip and the belt throws us into a mangled heap behind the machine.

The religious spirit has powered so much of what has been done in Jesus’ name it would be suicidal (at least to religious flesh and the institutions it fuels) to challenge its motives. Can you imagine what an apparent power outage it would create if every Christian enterprise (individual and corporate) being driven by guilt and fear simply ceased? Perhaps the bearings on our religious hamster wheels would simply overheat and seize up; perhaps the Lord will just allow the soul to exhaust itself in its efforts to please God in its own strength.

I believe I hear one last retort from our elder brother, “But what about the souls who will not be saved and discipled if my labors were to cease? And what about the church discipline that needs to be applied to my younger, errant and prodigal brother who has consumed so much of your affection and resources and seems to prefer just being alone with you to actually getting the real work of the gospel done?”  I see the father patiently making his way back into the strained relationship, earning his son’s trust by way of his listening heart, creating that safe space where his boy is willing to finally vent his anger and expose all his twisted perceptions of things, especially about his father’s heart. When the wound has been lanced and all the putrid contents have spilled out, I imagine the father saying…..

My dear precious child, if only you could grasp how much I love you and always have. I know your deeds which began as attempts to please me. I know that you thought these deeds would translate into wealth and security. I know your disappointment in me when it did not seem that I rewarded you accordingly. It will do your heart good to be honest – that you have been very angry with me. Is that not so my son? You must understand, I could not reward you as you wished. Had I doled out your inheritance proportionally to your labor I would have misled you as to my love and conditioned you to think that you could control me. You must understand how distasteful it is to me for you to think that my love is so cheap that it could be purchased with your labors. May I say something now dear one?”

With a strangely troubled yet hopeful heart, The elder brother says, “Yes Father. Please speak to me.”

Do you understand now that you are bankrupt when you think you have qualified and have earned my love through your faithful service? Whatever applause this enterprise garnered is the only reward you will ever receive. None of these temporary positive feelings, born of man’s approval have anything at all to do with the inheritance I have been preparing you to receive. This trouble in your heart that you are sensing is nothing less than the effects of my refining fire which has brought you to this threshold. I’m standing at the door of your heart now and I want to give you some fatherly advice that I promise will heal your lukewarmness toward me. I have a true salve that will heal your eyes, enabling them to see all the distorted things you have imagined about yourself, about Me and the world around you.  If you will invite me in, your life will never again be the same. May I enter?”

With fear and trembling, the boy says, “Please Father. Come in. I have longed to hear your heart.

“I appreciate that you have read and studied my Word. I would like for you to also know my Spirit. It was beneficial that I go away so that He might come and make your heart my dwelling place on earth. Did you think you had achieved this miracle by laboring in the field? Did you think your labor could secure this Mystery of all mysteries?  You will put on (if it can be called that) the white garments of Christ when you simply acknowledge what I have done for you as a gift. Nothing at all is built for the kingdom if it is not resting firmly on this cornerstone. Oh how many stumble though. There are so many stumbling around in guilt and fear, so much so that this sad parody is thought of as “normal” and as “the beginning of wisdom“.

“Embrace a bit longer this trouble in your heart. Endure, knowing that I am the Good Shepherd and I am leading you to much greener and well-watered pastures than the arid wastelands you have become accustomed to.  In my ambition to give you your true inheritance I am reproving you, disciplining you out of my love which is the treasure you have yet to receive. Please hear my heart and repent.  As you do and learn to live out of the Life I have deposited in you, you will be clothed in Christ; you will be fully armored and you will be an overcomer. Your first victories will be over Guilt, Shame and Fear – the frail demons that rape and pillage in all environments void of grace. They are no match for my sons and friends! Understand that even now you are seated with me in heaven on our Father’s throne. Can you hear what I am saying?”

The Christian life is not achieved by subscribing to the right rules and dedicating oneself to obeying them. The Christian Life can only be received. It is utterly miraculous. The Life of Christ is facilitated by the Life of Christ. It can only be lived by us when we see that Christ has clothed Himself in our human flesh. Truly, Christ in us, is our only hope of glory. God had no other plan for the expansion of his kingdom. His Word will one day fill the earth and it won’t be in books on shelves; it will be in the nearly infinite numbers of stories of his transformational life finding expression through millions and millions of prodigals and elder brothers who have finally received their inheritance – a deep understanding and experience with the Father’s heart, in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

The supernaturally abundant life that Jesus promised will be naturally and miraculously revealed in ways that, not surprisingly, very much resemble the Life of Jesus, as it is portrayed in our passage. My dear friend was spot on last night. The love of God is impossible to express in our own strength. However, when we die to our flesh’s entanglements with religion, the love of God will flow naturally out of us Spirit-inhabited humans and it will look like this……

But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.


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