The Natural Moral Law 1

There is a concept in the performance of classical music involving an orchestra and a soloist…called a concerto…which says that the best performance occurs when each participant loses some of their own individuality to the higher vision of the composer’s musical score.

The piano soloist may want to go faster or slower at certain points, the flute, piccolo, and clarinet players may all want to play louder when their parts come along in the concerto, and everyone from the conductor to the percussionist has their own ideas of how the musical piece should be played.

But the musical score itself, although open to individual artistic interpretation and expression, sets out in detail when to play loud or soft, fast or slow, and which notes to accent to bring out the melody.

The worst performance would have everyone doing their own thing in a confusion of varying tempos and all playing louder than the next person in order to be heard.  The best performance occurs when each orchestra musician, the soloist, and the conductor all lose some of themselves for the sake of the musical idea as conceived within the musical score.

A higher good is achieved…in this case a cohesive, disciplined, and entertaining rendition of a piano concerto, for example…by giving up something of our own individual interests in collaboration towards a higher common goal or standard for musical performance…as articulated within the artistic inspiration recorded in the written musical score.

The world of sports offers several analogies to this concept.

In college football, the playcall on offense called the “student-body left” has the entire offensive blocking linemen and the fullback all moving to the left after the football is hiked, with the running halfback carrying the ball looking for the small, momentary opening gap in the defense to run through.  All of the offensive linemen and the blocking fullback lose themselves to the coordinated effort of the play scheme, hoping that the swift running halfback will find the elusive hole in the defense to run through for a sizable yardage gain.

In baseball, the “sacrifice fly” hit deep enough to the outfield to get the runner safely home from third base to score a run, is an “out” for the batter but a positive for the team.

In basketball, the “assist” of a well-executed pass that sets-up an easy “layup” basket for another player is a statistic that recognizes the positive sacrifice of one player’s potential, game-end scoring total by giving up the ball to another player in a better positon on the court to score for the team.

These examples and numerous others embedded within the normal course of life that we take wholly for granted, recognize a reality of best practices that are subservient to distinct sets of principles or programs that are themselves all subservient to a higher, unifying standard of honorably good, right, and fair attitudes that should guide our actions towards the best achievable outcomes.

Whether it is how best to perform the third piano concerto of Rachmaninoff, or the best ways to play the games of football, baseball, or basketball, our best and most inspired outcomes are achieved when we understand the value of the giving up of ourselves to these higher programs or principles unique to each endeavor.

This approach of the one, true, right way to do something is then harmoniously in-line with the one, unifying higher standard that governs all right behavior.

Some have called this higher standard…the moral law.  Others have called it the natural law.  I like to call it the natural moral law.

Before I-Phones and the internet social media, C. S. Lewis described it briefly this way:

If you wrote me a letter a month ago, and I did not respond with a return letter yet, and I bump into you at the grocery store, I will come up with all sorts of expedient excuses for why I have not thoughtfully and courteously made the effort to write a return letter to you.  I will say that I hurt my wrist, I ran out of my favorite personal stationary, I have a special project at work that has taken all of my time, or my wife has kept me busy painting the exterior of our house.

I come up with a quickly fabricated excuse to explain my poor social etiquette in this matter of failing to courteously reply to a friend’s letter…because I automatically and independently know what the right course of action should have been.

This is not merely a result of social reactive conditioning.  My friend and I are both instantly and naturally appealing to an independent standard for right behavior that we each subconsciously subscribe to.

Another better response would simply be to apologize to my friend, admit that I had “dropped the ball” and that I would reply to his letter soon.

But the one thing I will not flatly say, if I want to keep our friendship intact, is to protest that I am not duty bound to return his letter…and that I am surprised by his inquiry about my alleged oversight.

This flat rejection of an accepted social norm for courtesy in timely replying to personal letters from friends…would violate the higher standards of the natural moral law, universally underlying right behavior in all human relationships.

This is a reality of right and virtuous conduct completely self-existent and independent of whether or not we consciously recognize this high standard called the natural moral law.

Pride

One encouraging and hopeful conclusion we can draw from scripture is that pride is not a problem for God.

God does not struggle with the character flaw of a swelled head.  God’s sense of self-worth is so finely balanced and His perspective is so true in its outward looking viewpoint that He can rise above the destructive elements of pride.

For God, puffed-up pride is an impediment…an unproductive distraction…that stands in the way of continuously active, creative thought.

But in our current fallen condition, swelled-headed pride is one of our biggest enemies.  We think we know best.  We want to do things our way.  The central theme in the biblical narrative stories of faith is that God displaces our way with His way.

No one likes the cross.  Jesus did not enjoy the experience of the crucifixion.

But through the cross of Christ both the Father and the Son are glorified.  Self-sacrificing love is devoid of the negative aspects of pride such as described in 1 Cor. 13:4-5: ”love…vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up…seeketh not her own.”

God displacing our way with His way through the totally unconventional vehicle of a God-composed adventure of faith… fundamentally cuts across the grain of our thinking that we know best.

When our cross gets heaviest, we are troubled.  We get upset and complain to God.  We want explanations and answers.  A grain of wheat dying to produce much fruit is not a part of our presumed expectation for worldly conventional normalcy.

It takes prayer, patience, and hope on our part for God to lovingly show us through the playing-out of life events what still needs to be fixed in our lives in order to bring forth much fruit.

Only the living God knows how to do the cross properly.

The cross in our lives has pinpoint accuracy.  For Jesus, the way of the cross eventually actualizes into a Roman cross on Calvary Hill.  Our crosses are something unique and individually tailored to each of us.  If the cross and the resurrection glorified Jesus and the Father (Jn. 13:31), our cross and resurrection as godly transformed new people in Christ will glorify both ourselves and God.

As Spirit-born Christians, if we are following Jesus down the road toward Calvary…if we are walking in the Spirit and God is on our side…there is nothing in all of existence that can defeat us no matter how daunting are the outward circumstances or the negative appearances of temporary failure.

This is the liberating broadness of the reality of a journey of faith that is one of the priceless things Jesus purchased for us through the cross and the resurrection (Rom. 8:31).

One of the great ironies in all of human experience is that the way of the cross actually opens up a pathway to a breadth and a quality of freedom that is completely unknown to worldly conventional thinking (1 Cor. 1:18).

This is what we see in all of the narrative stories of faith in the Bible.

By an incredible show of courage, character, and grit…God earns our respect and gratitude by personally stepping into this broken world and participating alongside us, through a divinely composed, daring and risk-filled strategy that against all worldly conventional odds procures for us an honorable exit out of the bondage to sin.

Like the serpent on a pole raised up in the Exodus wilderness (Num. 21:8-9), Jesus Christ amazingly became a “curse on a tree” for us that we might be delivered from the curse of sin.

If we as Spirit-born Christians are likewise to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29), then some portion of this reality must be a part of the danger zone of picking up our own cross and following after Jesus down the road toward Calvary Hill.

The question God asks each of us as we enter into the upcoming last days is: “will you go out on the edge for Me and for the sake of the gospel, through a daring, challenging, and risk-filled life-script I have individually composed just for you?  If I give you My Spirit and the grace you will need, will you allow Me to live My plans through you to fulfill your highest purpose and to be a blessing to others?”

Isn’t this what is portrayed in the narrative stories of faith in the Bible (Rom. 4:18-25)…sacrificing some portion of conventional normalcy for the sake of a cause larger than ourselves, even when this results in a misunderstood and worldly unpopular journey of faith following God?

 

A Journey of Faith is Larger than Temporary Adversity

A God-composed journey of faith life-script is partially hidden to outsiders (2 Cor. 4:2-4; Jn. 14:17), is incomprehensible to many people (Jn. 15:19; 1 Pet. 4:4), and falls outside of the worldly goals and aspirations of horizontally conventional thinking (Rom. 12:2).

These two conflicting worldviews…a journey of faith following Jesus Christ through free-will choice…and an unbelieving indifference to any knowledge of God whatsoever in our lives…could not be more different.

A large part of the program of worldly acceptable thinking is to keep up the outward appearances of success at all times.

But no one is absolutely “winning” out there in the world in a guaranteed, indefinitely sustainable, secure sense of the word.  Fortunes can disappear overnight, beauty fades away, athletic prowess wains over time, fame and the power it bestows can turn negative in a moment.

The outside world-at-large is mostly competitive, not supportive.

Many people work extremely hard to “keep up with the Joneses” next door, to live in the right zip code, and to be seen moving about in the highest social circles.

But the world coldly says to outsiders and wannabees: “first prove your worth, and then we will pay homage to you.”  The struggle and pressure to “keep up appearances” is in actuality a limiting reality located in the top-half of successful human experience that allows little or no room for the sometimes beneficial…but worldly humbling…challenge of adversity.

God as our Creator has no such doubtful starting perception of us that requires us to first show Him our worth before He will accept us and commence a personal relationship with us.  God knows us inside and out…better than we know ourselves.  He sees our hidden talents and our future potential because He placed these things within us.

Our journeys of faith following God are courageously unbounded and conceptually unlimited because they begin within the mind of the God…who knows who and want He created us to be.

                This broad outlook admits the width and breadth of human experience unlimited by horizontally conventional thinking. 

The narrow gate of Matthew 7:13-14 is surprisingly the gateway out into the broadest and most liberating of horizons possible, because God alone knows the optimum end-point destinations for each of our life journeys.  This narrow gate is the correct starting point for every imaginable life-plan and career path, and every conceivable Christian ministry.

When our God-composed journey of faith life-script therefore takes us through the hard terrain of difficult times, we know that we are not permanent “failures” and that the negative verdict of the world’s judgment for our temporal plight is based upon a short-sighted and uninformed assessment of our current potential.

Abraham for a time is a wealthy herdsman but disappointingly childless for the highest imaginable reason, setting up the unique scenario whereby he can demonstrably grow into becoming “the father of faith.”

Jacob for a time struggles against an unethical and miserly uncle.

Joseph’s unique “graduate course” in management and leadership takes him through the humbling social positions of being a servant-slave and an unjustly convicted prisoner.

Moses the great deliverer and prophet is assigned for a time to being a sheep herder in the quiet obscurity of the land of Midian.

David is being chased for his life by the established and recognized King Saul of Israel.

Gideon protests his calling to push back the invading Midianites by saying he is nobody important in Israel or even in his own family.

On paper, Ruth as a foreigner does not stand a chance with the wealthy and influential Boaz.

Hannah by all outward appearances will continue to be childless.

Esther is only the newly selected queen with little or no influence, and her uncle Mordecai has the deadliest enemy in the capitol city for his adversary.

The great prophet Elijah complains to God that seemingly everyone is against him.

Jeremiah protests that he is too young to be God’s mouthpiece.

Upon seeing the miraculous catch of fish, Peter in a moment of honest self-appraisal says to Jesus: “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk 5:8).

Paul candidly tells us in 1 Corinthians 4:9, in terms of his social status as a missionary evangelist to the first- century Greco-Roman world: “For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last…” even though Paul and the other apostles go on to write the brilliantly inspired New Testament gospels and letters to the churches that have helped untold multitudes of believers down through the centuries to our present time.

Yet in the first-century, no one is naming hospitals, universities, or cathedral buildings after Saint Paul, Saint Peter, Saint John, Saint Luke, or Saint Timothy.

In a carefully crafted journey of faith life-script, there is room for adversity and the appearance of failures when they are designed to produce character growth and positive outcomes.

No one is closer to this reality than Jesus Christ the Son of God.

In terms of the outward appearances of worldly conventional thinking, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is one of the most disappointing, colossal failures in human history.

The crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth falls far outside of the narrowly optimistic, top-half, worldly successful expectations of the coming Son of David messiah for large numbers of Jews in Israel in the first-century, and is still one of the main reasons why modern Jews reject Jesus as their messiah.

Yet the crucifixion is one of the greatest things God has ever done…maybe the greatest thing He has ever done.

Jesus Christ the divine Son of God selflessly sacrifices His own life on a humble cross forever fixed on Calvary Hill, to redeem His lost and fallen people through the unexpected offering of Himself as the payment-in-full sacrifice for mankind’s sin.

All the angelic host of heaven are watching with amazement and awe as they witness divine love in action in their revered Son of God Jesus pinned to a lowly Roman cross of execution as the just and lawful punishment for mankind’s shortcomings.

In that crucial moment of the most awful, humiliating, and degrading of earthly circumstances…the justice, love, mercy, and grace of God are blended together in an unimaginable mixture of divine character.

If we can grasp and understand the cross, and the required humility of the life and status of Jesus leading up to it, then in the challenges of our own journeys of faith we can let go of the outward appearances of circumstances and trust God for the future beneficial outcome.

Jesus the Son of God sheds His life’s blood on the cross to rescue us from the penalty of rebellious sin…taking our place for wrongdoing that we rightly deserve.  The resurrection of Jesus three days later demonstrates the power of God to turn the outward appearance of humiliating defeat into overcoming triumph for all those who place their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.

The new birth in the Spirit sets our feet upon a path free from the condemnation for sin that we could never procure for ourselves.

In terms of the enormous width and breadth of the span of all possible human experience, the crucifixion of the God/man Jesus Christ is both the very worst and the very best at the same time.

If Jesus had accepted the counterfeit offer from the devil to receive “all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them” (Mt. 4:8-10), the narrowness of keeping up the outward appearances of worldly success …solely at the positive top-half of human experience…would not have allowed Jesus to reach down so low through the rejection and humility of the cross, to grab ahold of and pull each of us out of the pit of darkness we had fallen into.

This is one explanation for how and why Jesus can rescue the perishing in whatever strata of a lost condition we are found of God, because His understanding and empathy from personal lived-experience stretches from the absolute lowest to the absolute highest throughout the full range of abject worldly failure to heavenly triumph.

The apostle Paul epitomizes the width and the depth of the Christian walk of faith experience when he says: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13).

No Such Thing as a Small Calling

The biblical-quality journey of faith is universally accessible to all Spirit-born Christians, and is not something reserved only for the “superstars” of faith recorded in the Bible.

Certainly there are ranges of difficulty and a variety of different challenges involved within God-composed journeys of faith.  But every biblical-quality journey of faith following Jesus Christ today, no matter how simple or seemingly small-scale, is filled with the special warmth of divine love, light, and transforming power.

There is no such reality as a “small calling” in the estimation of God (Mt. 10:42).  Every called-out mission, no matter how seemingly small in appearance, requires the Christian to enter into the danger zone of a journey of faith.

A “small calling” in conformity to God’s ways and perfect timing will shine brightly for all eternity, because anything accomplished having eternal spiritual value must have the involvement of the handiwork of the Holy Spirit.

If our calling is to be used of God to save even one person, through the high quality of our transformed life and testimony, this one person may turn out to be our most treasured friend and next door neighbor in heaven.

God knows this and will set up the timing of required events perfectly and beautifully, energized by the Holy Spirit, so that the two of us can rejoice together in the presence of God for all time.

A small calling is just as much a spiritual masterpiece as the large calling.  God is perfect in both the small calling and the large calling…just like He is in the creation of the galaxies and solar systems in the massive sized universe and in the brilliantly precise organization in the microscopic world of living cells.

Both the larger and the smaller are within the contemplation of God’s creative imagination and within His management skills.

The Way of the Cross

The biblical reality is that Jesus rejected the subtly counterfeit offer tendered by Satan of all of the kingdoms, wealth, and glory of the world, in the temptation in the wilderness, because these things already belonged to Jesus (Mt. 4:8-10).

Jesus is the singularly unique Person of “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The prince of Peace”…of Isaiah 9:6-7, even though He is found in the humble status of being a carpenter from Nazareth without any worldly-recognized, lofty pedigree to His credit.

The life-script composed by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit for Jesus to be the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for the sins of the world …is so far above the inflated and over-valued offer of Satan to try to tempt Jesus with the temporary allure of the power and glory of this world…that if this offer was not presented with the intention of such universal collateral damage to the human race in mind, fueled by the most deadly malice…it would be almost laughable.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt. 6:33), does not say “and all these things shall be withheld from you.”

Paul says in Philippians 4:11 “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”

Peter expresses this well in the closing to his first epistle: “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you” (1 Pet. 5:10).

An instructive observation about the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible is that every single one…without exception…has nothing to do with achieving success in a purely worldly sense.

There is not a single storyline in a God-composed life-script in the Bible that chronicles a pathway, no matter how admirable and commendable in keeping with the “Protestant work ethic,” to worldly success, wealth, personal renown, and comfortable security (Lk. 12:16-21).

On the contrary, every biblical narrative story of faith is located at the elevated level of an adventure of faith far above the conventionally normative plans and aims of everyday life.

It is not that God dismisses these aspirations and responsibilities as unimportant…”your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things” (Lk. 12:30).

It is simply that in a totally committed adventure of faith God has all of the practical necessities of life factored into the equation that will produce a divinely elevated outcome (Phil. 4:13).

This applies equally to Christian medical missionary doctors in the Amazon rainforest, Christian CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, highly paid professional athletes, and to the elementary school janitor with a wife and two kids struggling to make ends meet.

Jesus did not die on the cross to give us lives of horizontally conventional normalcy (Rom. 6:3-4).  The biblical narrative stories of faith are anything but conventionally normal.  Jesus died on the cross, and rose the third day, to procure for us an adventure of faith.  Jesus died for us that we might live a life divinely guided by purpose, meaning, and love for God and for one another (Jn. 10:10).

That every single biblical narrative story of faith soars far above worldly conventional normalcy is a key to placing the highest value upon journeys of faith that Jesus purchased with His own blood on the cross of Calvary to actualize for each one of us.

As blood-bought and Spirit-born Christians today we should not allow any of the cultural challenges of radically skeptical unbelief to undercut or diminish in any way this priceless heritage of our journey of faith following Jesus Christ.

The narrative stories of faith in the Bible are masterpieces of incalculable value.

Above the creativity of a Rembrandt, DiVinci, or Renoir…they are living portraits of real people engaged in the most challenging and beneficial pursuits conceived out of the very heart and mind of God.

Above the artistry of a Beethoven, Chopin, or Brahms…biblical journeys of faith combine events and circumstances into perfect harmony, pace, and rhythm to produce compositions of rare beauty and lasting interest.

The lives of the people of faith in the Bible touch us at our deepest longings for truth, virtue, and the sure peace of inner conviction, in a world where the true directional compass for the guidance of our spirit and soul is hard to find amongst a multitude of competing voices and alternative pathways to follow.

The narrative stories of faith in the Bible tell us that there can be real meaning, purpose, direction, and risk-filled adventure to our lives.  They tell us that there is a living God who wants to take an active role in the events and circumstances of our lives to help us find out who and what we were created to be.

These biblical stories describe a God of brilliantly creative imagination combined with an insightfully piercing grasp of moral and ethical standards at the peak of truthfulness, yet with the enduring patience and forbearance of a wise and loving parent (Mt. 6:9-13).

God wants to partner with us to help us find our true selves and to perfect our unique place in eternity, through what this book calls the Christian danger zone of faith.

The Callings of God in the End-Times

In Paul’s message to the many Christian converts in the churches he founded across the Greco-Roman world in the first- century, nowhere does Paul instruct these Christians to “pull-up stakes,” gather up their belongings, and to “hit the road” as missionary evangelists in imitation of his own unique calling of God.

Except for those very few who were called-out to join Paul for some portion of his missionary travels, and those in the future who might be called to the mission field, it was expected that these Christians in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and Thessalonica would carry on in their professions and trades in the commendable “occupy til I come” mode (Lk. 19:13).

The fruits of the Spirit as enumerated by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23…such as love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance…have no connection to some special once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to a sacred mountain or some holy shrine.

They are obtained by Christians through daily walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25).

This we can do right where we find ourselves, through prayer, Bible study, listening to God, and stepping-out in obedience to His voice…none of which necessarily requires going anywhere special or doing anything grandiose through self-energized good works.

Becoming a transformed new person “in Christ” ready to share our testimony (1 Peter 3:15) and following Jesus by faith (Jn. 6:29) is the foundation for a life pleasing to God.

In other words, we do not have to have a spectacular calling and a renowned ministry to please God.

All of the things that are typically considered commendable and admirable…financially supporting our families, performing our best at work, investing time in our marriages, raising our children with wisdom, love, and patience, being a good friend, and setting an example to the world of what a Christian man or woman of God ought to be, amongst several other similar things, are all endeavors which without question or controversy please God and make Him proud of us.

I believe that some of the larger realities of life…building a good marriage, raising children, and pursuing excellence in our chosen careers…already have built-in journeys of faith pre-written into them.

These are pre-scripted, ready to use, out-of-the-box vehicles the Holy Spirit can use to lead people into the “all truth” of John 16:13….challenging, complex, and needing the participation of God in our lives…just as much as a calling to become Christian missionaries in parts of Africa, New Guinea, or Nepal.

Applied Faith is Historically Jewish and Christian

I would like to make one final point before moving on, and it is a critical point in understanding this area of our motivation to take up the cross.

Jesus could not succeed and win over the religious and political leadership in Jerusalem in the first-century…because the gulf between worldly conventional thinking and a God-composed journey of faith…is a gap too wide to bridge (Jn. 8:43).

The religious leaders in Jerusalem unwittingly fulfilled the messianic prophecies of Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 in crucifying Jesus…precisely because of the historic, unchanging reality of this wide gulf.

They could do no other than to reject the lowly yet miracle-working Jesus of Nazareth, because their mindset and hearts were stuck in the flat-line status-quo realm of worldly expectations alone, worshipping at the safe idol of conventional normalcy rather than the risk-filled, Abraham-style adventure of faith.

By contrast, in Luke 10:17 the story is told of the returning seventy disciples sent out to minister two-by-two: “And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the demons are subject unto us through thy name.”

These ordinary, common-folk disciples are seen here as excited and overjoyed at the possibilities arising in this new elevated realm of faith in God and in beneficial service to mankind.

Counterintuitively, the leading Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and lawyers in Israel in the first-century couldn’t care less about the teaching or the miracles of Jesus.  They did not care about healing the blind, the lame, the deaf and dumb, and those afflicted with leprosy (Mt. 9:12-13).

They only wanted to know from Jesus: “what are you going to do about the Romans occupying our country?” and “what are you going to do about our economy…about improving trade and business…and especially about peace and an eternal kingdom in Jerusalem?”

These religious leaders basically said through their words and their actions throughout the four New Testament gospels: “we do not care about your Sermon on the Mount or raising Lazarus from the dead…we care only about the horizontally conventional aspects of worldly political power” (Jn. 11:47-48).

A God-composed journey of faith life-script, following God by faith according to the uniquely singular Jewish tradition of Abraham, was oddly and disappointingly the farthest thing from their hearts and minds (Jn. 8:23).

When Jesus stands before Caiaphas and the religious leaders at His night trial, the basic question at issue about the ministry of Jesus is: “whom makest thou thyself?” (Jn. 8:53).

The messenger was being attacked (ad hominem) rather than the message.

The cross, the resurrection, and Pentecost had not happened yet.

The resurrection, which would change everything from that time forward for all eternity, was yet four days away.

Jesus was being unwisely judged solely by His lack of worldly status up to that point in time.

The wide gulf between “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt. 6:33) and “what do you plan to do about the Roman occupation of our nation Israel?”…in other words Isaiah 9:6-7 as interpreted by these religious leaders…was center-stage and fully on trial…as it still is to this day. 

Spiritual vision…the ability or inability to see Jesus for who He is…is the real issue that was on trial that fateful night two thousand years ago.

The main point here is expressed by Paul (someone personally and intimately familiar with the basic issues in question) in Romans 8:6-7…”For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”

If we attempt to follow the Law through our own self-directed carnal mind…if we attempt to save ourselves through our own good works…without the benefit of a new spiritual heart that enables us to enter into a divinely crafted journey of faith…we will fall short.

Jesus was considered a failure and was crucified, by the religious leaders and a portion of the general populace…because He was operating far above the horizontal realm of worldly conventional thinking and living.

An elevated journey of faith powered by God, and carnally-minded conventional thinking, are incompatible at a lethally explosive level when perfectly expressed through Jesus Christ the Son of God walking through this broken world…which is blindly lost in sin.

If the life of Abraham was about fulfilling horizontally conventional normalcy, Abraham could have stayed safely in Haran.

Abraham courageously journeys out into an adventure of faith following God into the Promised Land.

                The cross at Calvary not only epitomizes the rejection of Jesus Christ, but also a rejection of a God-led, Abraham-quality expedition of faith central to Judaism and Christianity.

When Abraham walked the earth he was not only the father of faith…but also the sole entirety of the Jewish nation.

A journey of faith after the pattern of Abraham is therefore exclusively Jewish by origin and definition.

When the leaders in Jerusalem rejected Jesus in favor of continuing worldly conventional normalcy in the political and religious realms (Jn. 11:48), when they rejected an adventure of faith patterned after Abraham, they were in the most profound and concrete way being un-Jewish (Rom. 9:6-7).

The rejection of Jesus as messiah is an emphatic endorsement of worldly horizontal, conventional normalcy because it is a rejection of the bold and liberated adventures of biblical-quality faith starting with Abraham.

Acts 13:27 reads: “For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him.”

Their tragic vision was so horizontally limited they could not recognize the divinity of Jesus Christ of Nazareth…right before their very eyes (1 Cor. 2:6-8).  They were stuck in the self-autonomy mode of going our own way.

This is why in the area of motivation it is imperative that Spirit-born Christians take up their cross and “enter in at the narrow gate” (Mt. 7:13-14) of our God-composed adventures of faith.

Every Spirit-born Christian is in the narrow gate and no longer on the broad road to destruction.  The new covenant promise of God is that all believers will know Him from the least to the greatest (Jer. 31:31-34).  The way of the cross in a journey of faith is the God ordained route to rise above worldly conventional thinking and into the realm where all things are possible with God.

We cannot possibly write the life-script of experiences that will bring us into a personal relationship with God.  We cannot possibly know ourselves well enough in-the-moment, using divinely wise foresight like God possesses, to be able to craft a life-plan that will actualize our individual destiny.

We cannot creatively imagine a life-script for ourselves to match the innovative brilliance of life-plans like those of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Ruth, Hannah, Esther, Daniel, Peter, James, John, Philip, and Paul…producing personal character growth and at the same time filling a cultural and historical niche in time that is outside of the range of our short-sighted, wide-angle vision.

This is why the Spirit-born Christian today must abandon self-sovereignty, take up their cross, and begin their journey of faith following Jesus Christ…building a backstory of faith-generating experiences that form the basis for overcoming faith as described in Hebrews chapter 11, Ephesians 6:11-18, and Revelation 12:11.

My Story

I cannot speak for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joshua, Ruth, Hannah, Huldah, David, Elijah, or Luke the physician and the writer of the third New Testament gospel and the book of Acts, as to their personal reasons for deciding to follow God.

For me, upon hearing the gospel message for the first time and being convicted of my sin…at age 18…I was amazed first that God was real and second that He knew all about me.

I was also amazed that He did not condemn me but was offering forgiveness for all of my past mistakes and wrongdoings, wrapped within a quality of encouraging, optimistic, and unconditional love I had never before encountered.

In a way I cannot adequately describe, I acutely sensed that this was my Creator speaking directly to me, showing me lovingly how and where I was coming up short in His estimation, and offering a way out of sin and a way into a new life through the cross and the resurrection of Christ.

The additional realization over time, after my conversion, that God thought enough of me to reveal to me His plan for my life, sealed my commitment to take up the cross and to follow Jesus through a mixture of respect, admiration, and a deep curiosity to see how a walk of faith with God would actually work out.

I sensed that it was not just merely okay, but was actually expected and encouraged of me, by faith to put God’s higher ways to the test.

My curiosity about the ways of God, starting out in my new walk of faith, in my case made up for the lack of high character or natural talent in godliness…that I did not and do not innately possess.

Passion, dedication, and tenacity in my own unique journey of faith…came later with time.

But everyone possesses and can begin their journey of faith exercising healthy curiosity about God…and to have a willing and open-mind to accept the offer of Jesus…recorded in John 16:13.

With my Christian conversion experience I also felt an equally indescribable, secure, and solid sense of hope that whatever God had planned for my future it would no longer be aimless, unguided, and missing the mark.

The nagging sense of the empty insecurity of not knowing the right way…that something important was missing in my life…left me entirely when Jesus entered my life.

The higher ways of God are infinitely more hope-filled than anything this world can invent or offer.  A God-composed journey of faith is the one and the only thing in all of reality that offers genuine hope in this current life.

An equally important factor in “selling” the positives features of taking up our cross to follow Jesus is that in our journey of faith, no matter how challenging in the present moment, we have the very real sense that we do not walk alone.  Not only are we “compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1), but we also carry within us the very real and tangible peace of God which comes with having Jesus with us and inside us at each step of the way (Rev. 3:20).

No matter how challenging the temporary circumstances of the present journey, if we can get quiet and still in our “prayer closet” before God, we sense the uplifting encouragement that Jesus knows the one right way to go.

Accepting the Invitation

One of the challenges of writing a book like this is the very real obstacle of trying to “sell” the idea that the way of the cross is not something to avoid…is not a negative (1 Cor. 1:18-24).

The way of the cross is not a take-it-or-leave-it option for the true disciple of Jesus Christ, today or in the long ago past.

At issue is not some Christianized version of the worldly warped and totally inaccurate viewpoint that God wants to steal our fun by forbidding the pleasures of sin…that God is somehow a cosmic killjoy with strict rules and a bag full of “don’t do this or that.”

The way of the cross is at the highest imaginable level, the best possible path to take in life because it removes our mediocre way and replaces it with something infinitely and eternally better.

The not-so-obvious difficulty here is that taking up our cross for the sake of Jesus and the gospel (Mk. 8:34-35) has an unspoken, justifiably negative connotation.

Picking up our cross is not picking up our golf clubs, our bicycle, our fishing pole and tackle-box, or our slow-pitch softball gear.  Taking up our cross and heading off toward Calvary Hill means that we will be crucified.

But if the cross of Jesus Christ set us free from sin and gave us the gift of eternal life, how then can the way of the cross, applied to our own lives, be a negative?

If every narrative story of faith in the Bible has God displacing our ways with His higher ways through the way of the cross…without exception…how can taking up our cross be anything other than the greatest thing that could possibly happen in the lives of born-again, Spirit-led Christians (Heb. 12:1-2)?

Of course Abraham the wealthy herdsman, recently relocated to the land of Canaan…the “Land of Promise” inaugurating the first biblical journey of faith…wants a large family of sons and daughters…a tent full of laughter, joy, and fulfillment.

But God reshapes the normal aspirations of Abraham into something much larger and grander in becoming the “father of faith” that fathers millions upon millions…like the number of stars visible in the night sky…of direct and indirect descendants of faith that will each shine in the glory of their own journeys of faith, like starlight for all eternity.

But the cost involved in Abraham’s beautifully crafted, purpose-filled walk of faith is to let go of his own way…by faith…to create the space for challenging trust and patience in God’s higher ways to be put into action.

As a teenager growing up in Canaan, Joseph is bursting with the knowledge that he has innate leadership abilities.

But only God can set-up a tightly focused training regime and an unimaginably improbable scenario of events that leads not to Joseph capably managing the family sheep herding enterprise in Canaan according to horizontally conventional expectations, but instead managing the entire nation of Egypt as ruling governor during a massive crisis having a divine trajectory and eternal implications.

At the time only God had the prophetic foresight to see all of this.

Certainly Moses wants to engineer the deliverance of his people from bondage in Egypt.  This imperative is an innate, conscious calling for Moses from his youth (Ex. 2:10; Acts 7:25).

But there is no plausible, worldly conventional scenario whereby Moses can achieve this goal.

Moses cannot raise a foreign army strong enough to militarily defeat Pharaoh’s army and set the Israelites free.  Moses cannot devise an effective program of non-violent protest combined with elegantly persuasive speech to convince Pharaoh and the Egyptians to “let my people go.”

The only force on earth strong enough to liberate the Jewish people from bondage as slaves in Egypt is the living God.

The God-composed life-script for Moses “the deliverer” and for the divinely created nation of Israel…is beyond human invention…far above anything Moses or the Israelites could imagine or actualize.

The way of the cross in the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible and in the lives of Christians “walking in the Spirit” today…is deeper, fuller, and overflowing with purpose and meaning beyond anything we could imagine or cause to come into reality…no matter how high or how humble the actual path may be at any one particular time in our lives.

An instructive observation about the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible is that God does not sell the benefits of His callings to the people of faith through an upfront, give-and-take process of negotiation.

God already knows ahead of time that placing loving faith and confidence in us that conveys our priceless worth to Him as individuals…will capture our devotion when it is met with a corresponding measure of faith in God on our part.

People hear God’s call, and with allowances given to their understandably human reservations about their fitness and capacity to be able to comply with the magnitude of their missions (Ex. 4:10; Jud. 6:15; 1 Sam. 10:22; 1 Ki. 3:7; Jer. 1:6; Jon. 1:3; Lk. 5:8), they take up their callings and willingly follow God.

Following the Law

Following the Law alone…the Torah…the Ten Commandments and the Old Testament ordinances…carries the very real risk of falling back into self-autonomy…of creating our own rationalized ways of measuring up to our own standards for judging our performance.

But a biblical-quality journey of faith, divinely crafted out of the mind of God, offers no such option for wiggle-room manipulation on our part…because a God-composed journey of faith has a definite life-script storyline…a plotline…with a premeditated, end-point outcome having a pathway of intended events and circumstances that Jesus described in His Sermon on the Mount as the “narrow gate” (Mt. 7:13-14).

In other words, if we have the whole program in the form of the 613 Mosaic laws of the Old Testament…if the entirety of the information package of our religious experience is in our possession…we then have the ability to tweak,  adjust, and moderate the more difficult elements to suit ourselves. 

But a biblical-quality, God-composed journey of faith that is revealed to us incrementally as we travel along our faith-journey (2 Cor. 5:7; Jer. 33:3)…does not always allow us to see too far ahead and thus tempt us to take an alternate detour- path because the true path gets narrow, steep, and seemingly “dangerous” to our conventionally limited way of thinking.

This is a part of the incredible genius of God-composed journeys of faith as recorded in the Bible…as guiding templates of instruction for our own journeys of faith.

While Moses and the Israelites were in their wilderness journey they were collectively, as a group, all experiencing an adventure of faith…momentarily bereft of their own individual plans and schemes…and as a result of their shared common goal of recapturing their Promised Land of Canaan…they had no other worldly conventional choice than to give all of themselves to God.

The unacceptable alternative would be to go back to Egypt.

It was their learned-faith in God in the hardships of the desert wilderness that enabled the Israelites to go on to conquer their promised homeland.  It was learned-faith in the middle of an adventure of faith that enabled them to eventually capture their destiny…through trust in God…a new-found confidence in themselves…and uplifting adherence to a divine set of laws and rules.

Even though from time-to-time, overcoming faith pops up in the numerous deliverances during the period of the judges in Israel, during the reigns of godly kings, and during the times of prophets like Samuel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, yet the Jews over time fell back into following the Law exclusively and forgot about their divinely sanctioned, universal access to the adventures of faith patterned in the lives of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and David.

It is much easier in terms of our self-willed, humanistic bent to follow laws, rules, and religious practices that we can conveniently tweak, manipulate, and interpret to suit ourselves, than it is to step-out into the unknowns of a risky journey of faith not of our own making… that has a divinely crafted storyline of definite trajectory, direction, and intention…that cannot be toyed with.

We see this in the biblical narrative stories of faith in both the Old and New Testaments.

When viewed in the context of the fundamental purpose behind all of our efforts in many fields of research and in the arts…to find purpose in life…this concept of a God-invented journey of faith…leading to an understanding of the knowledge of good and evil that simply eating the fruit from a tree in the Garden of Eden could not possibly fully achieve…rises to the very top of all philosophy, science, history, politics, economics, and religion.

By the practice of following Torah alone (easily susceptible to becoming corrupted into autonomous self-rulership apart from God) the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus…sadly and tragically missed the target…dynamic and actualized faith following God.

The Jews were supposed to do both…follow the Law and walk in individually personalized, God-composed journeys of faith.

In missing the all-important half…an adventure of faith…these Jews in the first-century time of Jesus were in the most profound way missing their special heritage of personally experiencing the faith journey of Abraham the “father of faith.”

Spirit-born Christians today must be careful not to make the same mistake by exclusively following institutional Christian church practices as their sole experience, while neglecting a genuine adventure of faith following Jesus Christ after the pattern of God-composed life-scripts recorded for us in the pages of the Bible.