The Progress Paradox

What it means

What are we to learn from these parables of the kingdom? How can they lead us into a more intimate, dynamic, empowering experience with God today? Every parable is intended to teach a significant single point. With today’s text, the point is clear: living in the Kingdom, making God your king, is an investment worth all it costs and more. Whatever you must give up to serve God unconditionally is the wisest sacrifice you can make.

What does it cost us to make God our King? In a word, everything. We Americans don’t know much about kings and kingdoms. We elect our leaders and turn them out of office if we don’t like them. But in kingdoms, the king owns everything. He runs everything. If this were a kingdom, you’d be sitting on the king’s chairs and wearing the king’s clothes. Everything you do would be in his service, for the sake of his kingdom. You wouldn’t serve him only by coming to church or reading the Bible or praying, but with everything you did, every moment you did it.

This is the consistent call of Scripture on our lives:

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).

“I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1).

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

The process begins first thing in the day, when we sell ourselves to purchase God’s treasure for this day. Then, all day long, we face the same decision. Will I choose this temptation over God’s best for me? Will I repeat this gossip, consider that illicit thought, choose this untrue word, do that selfish thing, or will I sell that to experience God? Will I serve him or myself? Will he be my king, or will I?

I grant you, this is not the way most people see spirituality today.

I grew up in a world which separated the spiritual from the physical, Sunday from Monday, religion from the “real world.” Go to church so God will bless you. Pray so he will help you. You’re the king and he’s the servant. Measure this sermon by whether or not you liked it; measure worship by how it makes you feel. Make God a means to your end.

These days it’s even worse. Now popular spirituality says that you can be your own god, that salvation depends on your own inner enlightenment; no sin, confession, repentance, forgiveness required. These are outdated, antiquated traditions.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the on-line class being taught each Monday night by Oprah Winfrey and Eckhart Tolle. More than a million people have signed up. I’ve read Tolle’s two bestsellers, and am frightened. In The Power of Now, Tolle teaches that “Christ is your God-essence or the Self,” “your indwelling divinity.” Here we learn that “the man Jesus became Christ, a vehicle for pure consciousness” (p. 104). We are told that “the ‘second coming’ of Christ is a transformation of human consciousness. . . not the arrival of some man or woman.” Tolle warns us, “Never personalize Christ” (p. 105). Sin and guilt are outdated. Salvation comes when you live in the Now.

In A New Earth, Tolle’s newest bestseller, he claims, “you are the Truth. If you look for it elsewhere, you will be deceived every time. The very Being that you are is Truth. Jesus tried to convey that when he said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life’…Jesus speaks of the innermost I Am, the essential identity of every man and woman, every life-form, in fact. He speaks of the very life that you are” (p. 71, emphasis his).

What about our need for salvation and eternal life? Tolle tells us, “there is no such thing as ‘my life,’ and I don’t have a life. I am life. I and life are one. It cannot be otherwise” (p. 128, emphasis his).

Tolle’s books have sold millions of copies because they speak to the need inside every human heart for completeness, healing, hope, joy. They offer us a choice which began in the Garden of Eden: you can be as god (Genesis 3:5).

Tolle and Oprah call us to live in the Now, seeking salvation from within ourselves. There are many other ways to do this as well. Your life will be complete if you can just get into the college you dream of attending, or buy the car you really want, or move into the home you’ve long aspired to own, or get the job you’re aiming for.

The Home Depot slogan defines the role of the church today: “You Can Do It. We Can Help.” It’s all on you. It’s all about you.

Or you can sell all of that and buy what Jesus alone can give. Here’s the progress paradox: when you make God your King, he can do far more with your life than you can.

The omnipotent, omniscient Creator of the universe has a “good, pleasing, and perfect” will for your life (Romans 12:2). He has plans to prosper you and not harm you, to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). But he can lead only those who will follow. He can heal only what you’ll put into his hands. He can use only those who will be used.

Let’s say Tiger Woods is available to give you a golf lesson this afternoon, but I’m ready to help you as well. Steve Jobs wants to help you program your new iPhone, but you could ask my advice. Warren Buffett wants to manage your money, but so do I. Which makes sense?