(We are currently in a conversation about the good news of Jesus Christ. To read previous articles in this series, simply visit www.webbweekly.com and click on my picture.)
We have reached the pivotal point in our conversation about the good news of Jesus Christ. So far, everything we have shared is universally true for every human being on planet earth:
1. God loves you.
2. God created you with a purpose.
3. Sin has separated you from that love and purpose.
4. Through Jesus Christ, God extends forgiveness and reconciliation.
The first four statements in the good news of Jesus Christ apply to all of us. Your age doesn’t matter. Your skin color doesn’t matter. Your gender doesn’t matter. Your wealth doesn’t matter. Your education doesn’t matter. If you are reading this, then those first four statements apply to you. Even if you don’t believe in any of this and you’re only reading this to see just how crazy Hartzell is, it doesn’t matter. Those four statements apply to you. Truth is truth whether you believe it or not.
So now we come to the crux of the matter. The last statement in the good news of Jesus Christ is this: (5) through belief we are reconciled to God’s love and purpose.
While the first four statements apply to everyone, this final statement applies only to those who believe. With so much riding on the word belief, it is vital that we understand exactly what we mean by the word believe. So let me tell you a little story:
During the winter of 1858, a 34-year old man named Charles Blondin stretched a tightrope over Niagara Falls and walked across. That year he made quite a few crossings, each time adding gimmicks to excite his audience. One time he even carried a stove to the middle of the falls and cooked an omelet. He then lowered the omelet by rope to some audience members watching his antics from the Maid of the Mist. At one point, he carried his manager, Harry Colcord, on his back across the cavernous divide. Imagine being that guy! In all, historians estimate that Blondin crossed Niagara Falls three hundred times!
On one crossing, Blondin pushed a wheelbarrow ahead of him. When he reached the opposite side, he yelled to the audience, “How many of you believe I could cross with someone riding in the wheelbarrow?” The crowd cheered wildly and affirmed their belief that he could do it. Then Blondin asked for a volunteer to ride in the wheelbarrow. Silence. While the entire crowd believed that Blondin could do it, not one of them was willing to surrender to that belief and climb into the wheelbarrow.
Belief, in its truest form, requires surrender. Without surrender, belief is empty. What good did believing do for Blondin’s audience? Their belief didn’t change their lives. Their belief did nothing for them. Without surrender, their belief allowed them to enjoy the show, but it didn’t change their lives one bit. Had one of them surrendered to their belief and climbed into the wheelbarrow, they would have had the ride of a lifetime. Seriously, their life would never have been the same again.
My friends, many people claim to believe in Jesus Christ. They enjoy being a part of the show, but their belief has not accomplished anything. Such empty belief allows them to stand safely on the sidelines – unchanged and unchallenged. Sadly, too many people in our churches are no different than the crowd at Blondin’s performance – and then we wonder why our churches are powerless and ineffective.
As a pastor, I see it all the time. People who claim to believe in Jesus and yet they have not fully surrendered their lives to what that belief requires. Frankly, it’s confusing to watch.
Jesus said this, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Jesus is inviting you to get into the wheelbarrow – to surrender your life fully to His Lordship. And let me assure you, that belief/surrender will change your life!
That is my understanding of what God meant when He had John write these words, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
There is much more to be said on this topic. So let’s pick up the conversation again next time. Until then, take a close look at what you mean when you say you believe. If that belief has allowed you to remain safely on the sidelines, you may want to reconsider what it means to believe.