The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
October 28, 2018
Jesus longs for His followers to enjoy, not only an infinitely wonderful life in heaven, but also an increasingly wonderful life on earth. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Jesus would like that new and better life to start yesterday!
So how do His followers let that happen?
Romans 6 teaches that this really good life is obtained, not by self-help and self-effort, but by self-offering to the Lord. It urges followers of Jesus to present their bodies, and each member of their bodies, “to God as instruments of righteousness”.
According to this scripture, what counts for obtaining the best life is offering ourselves to God as His servants and becoming His own as much as a slave belongs to a master. That means that what matters more than who we are is whose we are: Do we belong to sin or to righteousness, to our broken humanity or to a redeeming divinity? We make progress in the good life just to the extent that we allow the Lord to take over our life. We emerge victorious by surrendering to God’s control and becoming slaves to the dictates of love and justice.
We surrender by choosing to let the Master take charge and be the driver of our life.
When in October of 1970 I began a life of following Jesus, one of the first new worship songs to which I was introduced was a country rock number whose lyrics described a guy getting out of the driver’s seat of his car and letting Jesus take the wheel. The refrain went like this: “Now, I’m riding in the back seat, and I am finding it to be a very great relief. Now, I’m riding in the back seat, and I am leaving all the driving to the chief.”
As hokey as those lyrics are, I have ever since thought of making progress in my Christian life in those terms, in terms of taking a backseat to Jesus and letting Him drive my life.
That’s not to say that I haven’t at times kept my hands on the steering wheel and kept Him in the passenger seat. I would never, of course, think of asking Him to get out of the car altogether, for He is a handy guy to have along for the ride, in case something comes up for which I might need some divine assistance – say, in case I have a physical problem and need healing, in case things are going badly at work and I need a way through it, in case I am feeling anxious and I’d like to know some peace of heart, in case I’m aware of my mortality and want to make sure I’m going to heaven.
That is, however, the least rewarding way of traveling with Jesus. The more rewarding way is to switch seats with Him and permit Him to steer things, to let go and let God, to surrender to the Savior’s Lordship and allow Him to be in charge.
If I let Jesus take possession and control of me, I’m not for example in charge of my wallet anymore. It’s no longer a matter of my giving money now and again when I am feeling generous or when I find myself with some extra cash. For now my wallet has become His wallet.
If I let Jesus take possession and control, I’m not in charge of my ego anymore either. I no longer have a right to satisfy every self-centered ambition. For now my agenda has become His agenda.
If I let Jesus take possession and control, I’m not in charge of my mouth anymore. My mouth belongs to Him and I don’t get to gossip, flatter, cajole, deceive, intimidate, exaggerate or manipulate. For now my mouth is His. In fact, now every member of my body is His, and belongs under His authority.
I embrace this way of living when I bear in mind that His sense of direction and His driving are better than mine.
I also embrace this way of living when I am honest, and own up to how stubbornly sinful I am. That’s not the entire truth about me, but that is still the absolute truth about me. After all these years of travelling with Him, I can still be self-centered and selfish, still be cold to the needs of others and indifferent to the demands of justice. My only hope is to yield to the Savior’s Lordship, submit to His authority, and present my members to Him, for Him to make them instruments of righteousness.
I cannot, by any degree of fervent resolve and diligent perseverance, by any amount of willpower and trying harder, will myself into the better life. I can only surrender my will to God’s will.
And that’s all I have to do. For when I come under God’s control, I come under God’s power; and His power can all by itself drive my life to the very best destination.
It’s never a matter of mobilizing my will. It’s always a matter of surrendering my will.
I am willing to surrender it when I admit I am powerless to achieve the good life I seek on my own, and I dare to believe that God stands ready and able to get me there by His power alone. All that is required of me is to continue to choose, day after day, to present myself to God and to ask Him to take things over.
This surrender brings victory, but it almost never brings it in an instant. I have to renew the surrendering of my will each and every moment.
Some time ago, someone did me great harm; and there was nothing I could do to minimize the damage or to get him to help set things right again. All I could do was to get my heart right again, the heart that was harboring bitter resentment. And the only way I could get it right was to get it into the hands of God. All I could do was surrender to the severe sanctification of accepting a bad situation I could do nothing about, and present my members – my heart, my mind and my mouth – to God to become in His hands instruments of righteousness.
It was a long, slow process. I had to keep turning my thoughts away from fantasizing about wrecking some payback on the guy; keep biting my tongue when I had opportunities to badmouth him to others; keep disciplining myself to pray for him, often through gritted teeth, that God would bless him; keep letting God drive my car into Christ’s grace; keep giving over to God my inability to let go of my desire for payback; and keep asking God to change me in ways I could not myself.
With Jesus behind the wheel, with perseverance in the way of trust and obedience, I over time got further and further away from resentment and further and further into the good life that comes from having Jesus in charge, a life of freedom and peace and joy, a life I could never obtain on my own.
I was blessed, not through self-help, but through self-offering. That is the only way for any of us, I think. Let us pray.