By Jim Uhley
Faculty, College of Theology
Mark Labberton is president of Fuller Theological Seminary, the school I graduated from back in 1980. Before becoming the head of the seminary, Labberton served for 16 years as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, Calif., and afterward served at Fuller as a homiletics professor and director of its Lloyd John Ogilvie Institute of Preaching.
Recently, he sent a book titled, Called: The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today, to all Fuller alumni. In this book, he discusses issues about following Jesus today as one of his called disciples. He opens the book by saying:
When I was considering the possibility of embracing Christian faith as a young college student, what I feared most was that it would make my life smaller rather than larger –less love, less joy, less creativity, less wonder, less engagement. I had met enough Christians who were incarnational proof of this, so when I finally came to faith in Christ as a college student, it was because I discovered that Jesus saves people from the very smallness I feared. I saw that the very essence of the kingdom of God is a life bigger than I would ever find outside of it.
After reading this, I realized that he was describing my fears and dreams at times. I have feared that following Christ would lead me into a little life confined by his demands and that he dreamed less for my life than I did.
Larger than Life
Like Mark, I did not want to settle for a small life, I wanted to grow and have adventures and face challenges. Following Christ has led me into challenges, some that were almost too much for me. It is my opinion that everyone wants a meaning-filled, big life. No one wants to be small and to count for little. Many people today are rejecting Christ because they perceive he wants to limit them and give them small constricted lives.
Similarly, the apostle Peter wants the people he addresses in his letter to have an expansive life; a life that when measured in the scales is found to have gladdened the heart of God. We’ve all made bad decisions. Some of them were just bad judgment, but a lot of the things we have done have served us and hurt others and gone against what God wanted for us.
The Ransom for our Sins
These are called sins. Sin leaves us owing a debt to those we have hurt and to God. This debt cannot be paid. Peter talks about a ransom. It is as if we have been put in a debtors prison or kidnapped and we can’t get our freedom unless someone pays the debt, the ransom.
Jesus came and ransomed us back to God, but not with bags of gold and silver (1 Pet 1:18). He paid for us with his life. His precious blood became the ransom. This shows our worth to him.
Even though we have often chosen the wrong path and traded away the great life he wants to give us, he loves us and chose us as the objects of his affection. Peter tells us that faith in this love is transforming and it also gives us “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet 1:4).
Hope on the Grace of Christ
This sets us free in this life from despair because all those dreams we have of a bigger life will happen. We will have the love, the joy, the wonder that the limitations of this life would never let us have, no matter what we accomplish.
Furthermore, Peter says, “set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed” (1 Pet 1:13). He doesn’t say, “Set a little hope on the grace of Christ, but set all your hope on Christ.” He doesn’t say, “Hedge your bets a little so in case life doesn’t turn out the way you want you will have something to fall back on.”
Set all your hope on Christ’s grace. Ponder that for a while. What would it mean for you, from this point on to place all your hope on the grace of Christ? Wouldn’t that set you free to do whatever he says and follow wherever he leads? Are you afraid that if you follow Christ you will have less of a life, have less joy, be less free, and accomplish less?
Not Less but More
This is the silliest lie we can tell ourselves. The creator of the universe who sets up kingdoms and brings them low wants us to trust him and his love. The God who became a man and died naked on a cross only to become the leader of the largest religion in the world promises that those who humble themselves will be exalted.
What God wants to give us all is not less of a life, but more of a life. Not a diminished small life but an expanding, big life. But we cannot have what we will not trust God to give. This is because we cannot get that life without God’s grace.
We cannot reach the dream that God dreams for us on our own. When we give all that we are to God his grace will lift us out of a small life and into the glorious and joyous life that he has planned for us all along.
Labberton, M. (2014). Called: The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today. InterVarsity Press. Westmont, Illinois