An Image Problem


Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” (John‬ ‭13:20‬ ‭ESV‬‬)
Last week, I mentioned that I wanted to come back and really spend some time on this last “truly, truly” statement of Jesus in this passage. Why? Because it has huge implications for the church, our culture, and those of us who claim to be followers of Christ. As mentioned, these statements are critically important and that’s why Christ calls attention to them. Let’s take a look…

I commented last week that the church today has an image problem. Some approach the problem from a “public relations” perspective and see it as a marketing problem. Improve your image and you’ll improve your ability to draw or attract a crowd. In fact, an entire industry has sort of developed around this angle and you can attend any number of church growth seminars that will give you lots of insight on how to improve your church’s image and improve attendance. However, based on the context of this passage, the real issue underlying our image problem is one of obedience. 

As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, the focus of this story is Jesus’ supreme example of humble service and the distinct contrast between Peter and Judas’ failures and their subsequent reactions and repentance or lack thereof. This example of humble service and “in your face” contrast of repentance/non-repentance is being placed before the church. John makes certain we see the difference between Judas and Peter. We need to make certain we see the difference. 

John tells us how Peter reacts when confronted by Jesus and the basin of water, he initially refuses but, when confronted by Jesus, he repents and submits. But, we know that Judas has determined to carry out his plan of betrayal and never repents even when confronted by Jesus. What does this have to do with the church and our image? Judas’ actions are a scar on the church’s face, yet he was never truly a part of the church. He was never a believer, only a “bystander” and it really shows.

I have a few hobbies that I enjoy doing, but I’m not very good at them. I like working with my hands making things, especially with wood. I like the smell and feel of it, but I’m not very good at it. I know that I would probably be better if I put more work and effort into it, but I’m not committed. At least not enough to get better. My efforts are passable but not professional. I’m a hobbyist and not a very good one, and it shows when you look closer. If I did my job with the same level of skill and commitment that I do my with hobbies I wouldn’t be employed for long. Nobody in the carpentry industry would put me on their staff as a skilled carpenter. I might be able to get a job sweeping up around the shop, but that’s about all. 

Why is this important? The church has a number of people who claim to be a part of and speak on behalf of the church who are really nothing more than bystanders. Wait a minute, how can I say things like that? Just because you own a baseball cap doesn’t make you a member of the team…

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans‬ ‭6:16‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit… Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew‬ ‭7:15-17, 20‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

So, not everyone who says they are Christian really are Christian. We must be discerning and wise. Measure their words and actions by scripture and Christ’s example. 

Next, once we see evidence that they are true spokespersons of God then we should listen to them. Does that mean they’ll never make a mistake? No, go back and consider Peter’s response to Christ. He initially refused, but when confronted by the truth he repented and submitted to Jesus’ authority. That’s the mark of a man seeking God. That’s the mark of Peter’s life. He did make mistakes, but when confronted with the truth he repented and sought forgiveness and restoration. That was the mark of King David’s life. That was the mark of Abraham and Moses’ life. Can you honestly say that’s the mark of your life? 

The mark of a righteous and godly man isn’t perfection, since that’s impossible for us in our sinful state, but a righteous man pursues God with all of his heart, soul, mind and strength. 

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John‬ ‭1:7‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Notice that walking in the light is not perfection as illustrated by our being cleansed (ongoing and continuous) from our sin. But, walking in the light is pursuing obedience and Christlikeness. 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians‬ ‭2:8-10‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans‬ ‭8:28-29‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Oh, how often we misuse and abuse that verse (Rom. 8:28) and try to make it say that God will work everything out for our happiness and satisfaction. “Everything is going to work out. God wouldn’t want you to be unhappy or or hurting. God’s going to work everything out for your good.” In this instance, “your good” is equated with your selfish desires and personal satisfaction and that interpretation simply isn’t true. God has your good in mind, but it likely doesn’t match up with what you’re thinking or desiring. God’s ultimate goal for your life, as illustrated in these two passages, is a life that is transformed into one of service that mimics Christ’s example. 

Lots of folks get hung up on the doctrine of predestination and all of the related questions and fears. In fact, I was a bit surprised by a young lady at Spotlight on Shawnee last week who asked me if we were a Calvinist church. I said, “well, I believe scripture is truth and I trust in Jesus not Calvin. As for others in our church, I’m sure some are [Calvinists] and some aren’t [Calvinists].” 

So often, we hear someone talk about Calvinism or predestination and we begin getting images of exclusion; God choosing some but rejecting others. Do I believe in predestination? I sure do, scripture teaches it. But, everywhere I read about predestination it deals more with sanctification than with justification. In other words, it is more about being Christlike than it is about God excluding people. Catch Paul’s words in Romans 8:29 “…those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Paul indicated that God foreknew who would believe (because He’s an omniscient God), but His foreknowledge was focused on conforming us to Christlikeness. 

Now, let’s get back to Jesus’ “truly, truly” statement. As we’ve seen, we are called to be Christlike in every aspect of our lives. When we are faithful in doing so, our representation of Christ is purposeful and effective. We are sent and being sent means our presence, our purpose, and our message must be Christ’s, our sender. When we go in His name, bearing His message and His image, then we faithfully fulfill Christ’s purpose.

So, Jesus’ statement has two basic implications… one for those of us who are sent, and one for those to whom we are sent. We must be faithful in representing Christ well and, when we do, they are confronted with the powerful truth of the gospel. They are faced with a faith choice, will they accept the evidence of a life transformed by the grace of Christ and, in doing so, be transformed themselves by His grace? 

Whoever receives the one I send, receives me, and the one who receives me receives the one who sent me. We are sent to represent God, do we do so faithfully? When we do, God is present in our service and unbelievers are confronted by His presence and called to a life of faith. 

For those of you are are believers, I call you to obedience of faithful representation of Christ. Be people of faith! For those of you who aren’t, I call you to see the faithful representation of Christ in His servants. Embrace faith!

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