The apostle Paul wrote that Christ died that we should no longer live for ourselves but for Him (2 Corinthians 5:15). To live no longer for ourselves but for Him is the essence of discipleship. That phrase sums up all we could include under the headings of disciplines, holiness, and service. But what is it that will motivate us to live not for ourselves but for Him? Paul said it is the love of Christ: “For Christ’s love compels us” (2 Corinthians 5:14).
The idea behind the word compel is to press in upon so as to impel, that is, to urge or drive forward by the exertion of a strong moral pressure. Kenneth Wuest, in his expanded translation of the New Testament, beautifully captured the flavor of the word compel, as Paul used it here, when he translated, “For the love which Christ has [for me] presses on me from all sides, holding me to one end and prohibiting me from considering any other, wrapping itself around me in tenderness, giving me an impelling motive.”
Notice though, what compelled or motivated Paul in such a strong manner. It was not a continual challenge to be more disciplined, or more committed, or more holy Rather it was his constant heartfelt awareness of Christ’s love for him. It was not the thought that “I ought to do this or that” or a feeling of guilt for not doing something that motivated Paul. Rather it was his overwhelming sense of Christ’s love for him that spurred him on.
We believers do need to be challenged to a life of committed discipleship, but that challenge needs to be based on the gospel, not on duty or guilt. Duty or guilt may motivate us for awhile, but only a sense of Christ’s love for us will motivate us for a lifetime.
If the love of Christ for us is to be the motivating force for a life of discipleship, how then can we come to the place where we are acutely conscious of His love? The answer is, through the gospel. It is, of course, the Holy Spirit who pours out His love into our hearts (Romans 5:5), but He does this through the message of the gospel. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus paid for all our sins on the cross and that we are thereby forgiven. As we continually reflect upon that gospel, the Holy Spirit floods our hearts with a sense of God’s love to us in Christ. And that sense of His love motivates us in a compelling way to live for Him.
Over the years many devoted Christians have been drawn to Paul’s heartfelt desire expressed in Philippians 3:10, “that I may know him” (KJV). Our hearts have resonated with Paul’s as we have said, “That’s my desire, too, just to know Christ in a more personal and intimate way.” What then is the immediate context of Paul’s words? What is it that caused him to have such an intense yearning?
The context is Paul’s testimony of how he renounced his own self-righteousness in order to gain the righteousness that comes from God through faith in Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:1-9). It is in the context of recounting the gospel as it applies to him personally that Paul feels this surge of desire to know Christ more intimately welling up within him.
A sense of obligation and duty never stimulates such a desire within us. Only love does that. If we are going to persevere as committed disciples of Jesus Christ over the course of our lives, we must always keep the gospel of God’s forgiveness through Christ before us. We should, to use the words of my friend Jack Miller, preach the gospel to ourselves every day.
Preaching the gospel to ourselves every day addresses both the self-righteous Pharisee and the guilt-laden sinner that dwell in our hearts. Because the gospel is only for sinners, preaching it to ourselves every day reminds us that we are indeed sinners in need of God’s grace. It causes us to say to God, in the words of an old hymn, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.” It helps us to consciously renounce any confidence in our own goodness as a means of meriting God’s blessing on our lives.
Perhaps more important, though, preaching the gospel to ourselves every day gives us hope, joy, and courage. The good news that our sins are forgiven because of Christ’s death fills our hearts with joy, gives us courage to face the day, and offers us hope that God’s favor will rest upon us, not because we are good, but because we are in Christ.
Several months prior to writing this, I was given a copy of a letter written by Mutua Mahiaini, the leader of The Navigators ministry in Kenya, Africa, to The Navigators constituency in Kenya. In his letter, Mutua addresses rather eloquently this issue of performance versus God’s grace, so I wrote him asking for permission to quote his letter. He kindly consented, so I quote most of it here for you.
We know, of course, how central the forgiveness of our sins is to salvation. We preach it, we believe in it. We see that first repentance and surrender to Christ as a glorious moment. We also accept that having come to the Lord, we must continue to purify our lives. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9. But in talking with many believers, I get the impression that most of us consider the ongoing repentance of the saved as a not-so-glorious experience. A sort of sad necessity.
Sin grieves God. We must not down-play the seriousness of it in the life of a believer. But we must come to terms with the fact that God’s Grace is greater than all our sins. Repentance is one of the Christian’s highest privileges. A repentant Christian focuses on God’s mercy and God’s grace. Any moment in our lives when we bask in God’s mercy and grace is our highest moment. Higher than when we feel smug in our decent performance and cannot think of anything we need to confess.
Whenever we fail—and fail we will, the Spirit of God will work on us and bring us to the foot of the cross where Jesus carried our failures. That is potentially a glorious moment. For we could at that moment accept God’s abundant Mercy and Grace and go forth with nothing to boast of except Christ Himself or else we struggle with our shame, focusing on that as well as our track record. We fail because we have shifted our attention from Grace and Mercy. One who draws on God’s Mercy and Grace is quick to repent, but also slow to sin.
Note Mutua’s statement that any moment when we bask in God’s mercy and grace is our highest moment, higher than when we feel smug in our decent performance and cannot think of anything we need to confess. Does that not remind you of Paul’s words, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14)?
Are you and I willing to live like Mutua and the apostle Paul? Are we willing to rely on God’s grace and mercy alone instead of our performance, to boast in nothing except the Cross? If so, then we can stop living in our good-day-bad-day scenarios and bask every day in the grace of God. And in the joy and confidence of that grace we can vigorously pursue holiness.