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Rethinking Devotion

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For the longest time I believed Christianity was all about becoming a better person. I thought the only way to gain acceptance before God was by doing more and trying harder. Boy was I wrong. These thoughts led to a lot of internal focus on my struggles, flaws, and weaknesses. It was all about me. My thoughts were consumed with whether or not I was becoming a “better Christian.” Because that is what Christianity is all about, right? That’s what I thought.

Many of us grew up in the church feeling this burden of performance. I thought that devotion to God looked like rigorous effort and righteous improvement, but we don’t have the ability within ourselves to be fully devoted to God.

Say what?

For performance freaks like myself, we love to convince ourselves that we have the ability do it! We can be devoted to God if we just try harder! But the truth is that the more I try, the more it becomes about me and the less it is about Jesus Christ.

Backward Devotion

We can try all we want, but we will never be fully devoted to God until we are in his presence spending eternity with him. Don’t get confused – we must strive to be devoted to God in our lives; however, we must strive to do so by looking at Jesus Christ and not by focusing on our own personal progress.

Where I fail in being devoted to God every day, Christ succeeded in being devoted every single moment of his life. We are justified by faith in the substitutionary death and perfect life of Christ Jesus. Jesus was completely devoted to his Father. He followed his will perfectly. Jesus Christ loved fully and was always loyal. He was, and always will be, the only man to ever walk on planet Earth who was completely devoted to God. We cannot get it backward.

Outward Devotion

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believe in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15:1-2

Reading through 1 Corinthians one night, I recognized the gospel of Jesus was something that we as Christians had received (past tense), something that we stand on (present tense), and something by which we’re being saved. This verse revolutionized my thinking. I felt like my eyes had been open to the now-power of the gospel.

But what did this mean for me? I had already been a Christian for a few years, and I thought my Christian walk was about becoming more devoted to Christ. Well that’s true of course, but the way to become more devoted and sanctified in Christ is the tricky part. The gospel of Jesus Christ hit me like a ton of bricks that night and I realized that true spiritual growth was about focusing less on myself and more on Christ. This meant that the gospel essentially turned me outward away from myself and toward Christ and others.

At church, my focus was able to be on God and others because I was covered by the righteousness of Christ. In my family life, I was able to focus on their needs because I knew that all of my needs had been provided for by Christ. Within my community, I was able to love others freely because of the unmerited love I had received on the cross of Christ. The gospel changed everything.

Over time the view of myself diminished and my dependence upon Christ increased. My daily walk with Christ changed dramatically because I spent more of my time focusing on his finished work for me and less on my performance for him. I was able to be more devoted to Christ because my focus was solely on him. This is what gospel-driven devotion looks like!

Rethinking Devotion

The truth is that we are often more concerned with becoming “devoted Christians” then with becoming devoted to Christ, himself. Philippians 3:14 says, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Our eyes must be focused solely on the work of Jesus and the eternal fellowship that we have gained with God through his death and resurrection our behalf.

The gospel must be our motivation to become devoted to Christ. The gospel is all about the work of God done through Christ! To progress as a Christian is to be grounded in the gospel. The message is completely about Jesus!

This truth freed me from thinking about myself constantly and opened my eyes to the need to look to my sufficient Savior as I progressed in sanctification. I developed an outward outlook and was able to forget about my insufficiencies, my failures, and my flaws. My daily walk with the Lord could now be centered upon loving God and loving others. My eyes were on Jesus and not on myself.  As Tim Keller writes, “Blessed self-forgetfulness!”

After his conversion, the Apostle Paul became one of the most devoted men to Christ throughout Scripture. However, it is interesting to notice that Paul referred to himself over the course of his Christian life as the least of the apostles (1 Cor. 15:9), the very least of all saints (Eph. 3:8), and the foremost sinner (1 Tim. 1:15). Because Paul kept his eyes solely focused on Jesus he was able to admit his lack of devotion to Christ and rest upon the saving grace of Christ Jesus. Paul understood that devotion to Christ was less about him becoming better and more about placing his faith on an unchanging Savior.

Gospel Focused Devotion

If we focus on the gospel and realize that we have already been transferred into the Kingdom of God (Col. 1:13) because of our faith in Christ Jesus, we are able to pursue becoming and strive to become more devoted believers. This is what the process of becoming more like Jesus is all about. Your identity is sealed, so you are able live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel. When gospel truth intervenes in your life, difficult circumstances can be looked at in the light of Christ.

For example, when Christ’s work becomes the center of what you focus on during the day, that horrible job you complain about all the time becomes work you gratefully do for God. Christ has blessed you with it. It means that stay-at-home moms who despise being cooped up in the house all day with three infant kids who are just craving some attention can persevere through their circumstances and rest in the arms of a Savior who whispers, “In you I am well pleased.” It means that students who are being bullied and struggling with depression can find immeasurable peace and hope in knowing they have nothing to prove. Christ has proven everything.

This is what keeping keeping Jesus Christ at the center of our devotion does. We are set free. We become more devoted to God by focusing on the glorious good news. With your identity in Christ sealed, you are able to overcome life’s hardships and suffering because he has overcome! The only truly Christian way to freely pursue devotion to God is with your eyes focused on Jesus.

Matt Manry is the Director of Students at Life Bible Church in Canton, Georgia and a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He blogs regularly at gospelglory.net Twitter @matt_manry

For more resources on devotion, work through Winfield Bevin’s primer on the Holy Spirit.

For more free articles on all the particulars of devotion, check out this amazing series about Meditating on God’s Word by Tony Merida.

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