My dear son,
I realize you will be serving Christ in a world far different than the one where I was trained and first released into ministry. Your methods, your dress, your vocabulary, the technologies you use and even the problems you face may have little in common with the world I knew, or even the world in which we both minister today. You will be a faithful servant of Christ not because you mimic my words or imitate my ministry style, but because you live out the timeless values we share – values that come to us from the Word of God and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
So while I still have the opportunity, I want to take a few minutes to summarize in writing the values and life lessons I have attempted to live out before you and most want to pass on to you…
Before all things, pursue God. The Creator is infinitely greater than all He made, just as an artist is far more than his paintings. In fact, God’s unfailing love is better than life itself. Therefore, make knowing, loving, and enjoying God, as He really is, your highest calling, your most passionate pursuit. Whatever you do, don’t let go of God. In this life, it’s less about perfection and more about not giving up. Don’t stop pursuing God with your whole heart, soul, strength, and mind. When this becomes the constant in your life, you will be unshakable, no matter what happens in your world.
We really can know God as He truly is, because He has revealed Himself to us through His Word. Neither your culture nor the reigning worldview of your time will tell you the truth about God and His ways. The Bible is our authoritative and reliable source for knowing God as He is. Just as a healthy meal nourishes your body, let His Word continually sustain your soul. Like Jeremiah who ate the scroll, consume and digest God’s Word. His Word is truth. Don’t allow the mood of your time to interpret Scripture. Instead, interpret your times through the Word of Truth. God and His ways are good and lead to life. Never be ashamed of this. Make knowing the Word and obeying it the solid foundation upon which you build your life and ministry.
As I have demonstrated to you persistently, if not perfectly, continually preach the gospel, first of all to yourself.
The Gospel humbles us by telling us the truth about ourselves. Apart from Christ, we are hopeless sinners, controlled by the world, the devil, and our own sinful, self-destructive flesh. We desperately need Jesus. The world desperately needs Jesus. The Gospel doesn’t let us forget this.
The Gospel also gives us hope by demonstrating that God is not only just, he is also full of grace. God satisfied the demands of his own justice by punishing our sin in Jesus on the cross. Never stop marveling at this wonder: Jesus, the incarnate, sinless Son of God, took upon himself the righteous wrath of God that our sins deserved. As a result of Christ’s atoning sacrifice and victorious resurrection, God offers forgiveness of sin and a restored relationship with Himself to all who believe. All of this, from beginning to end, is grace–a pure gift of God’s love, completely undeserved and completely rooted in God’s goodness and God’s redeeming actions in Christ on our behalf. Put your life roots down deep into the truth of this grace. Let it permeate and saturate your life. Believe it, even when you don’t feel like it is true.
Finally, the Gospel reminds us that through faith in Christ we receive a new identity. Through faith in Jesus, we are adopted into God’s family. We are given all the rights and privileges of true sons, including an incomprehensibly great future inheritance. In addition, we are filled with the Spirit of God himself. Know who you are because of Jesus and then daily choose to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
Don’t just preach the Gospel to yourself. Faithfully teach it and all its implications, over and over again, to those under your care. Be intentional and bold about sharing this Gospel with those who do not yet know Jesus.
Because we now belong to Jesus, we are called to live holy lives in this corrupt world. Therefore, treasure a clean conscience and guard a pure heart, so that you will not throw away your confidence. Each day is a battle. This battle rages most fiercely in our minds, right between our ears. This conflict is between the Spirit of God who lives in us and our flesh, which is rebellious enough on its own but is provoked to sin even further by the world and the devil. Through your faith in Jesus, you have been set free from the condemnation of sin. You are no longer slaves to sin. Nonetheless, you must still choose, every day, even moment-by-moment, to say NO to the desires of the flesh that lead to death and decay and choose to say YES to the Spirit whose desires lead to life. As you do this more and more, depending on the Spirit’s power through prayer, you will not only discover the fullness of life in Christ, you will lead others into life as well.
But you can’t do it alone. You were never meant to. God intended that our life of faith in Christ should be lived out in community. Just as God didn’t just say He loved us but also concretely demonstrated His love by sending Jesus into the world, in the same way our love for God must be more than sentiment and words. It must be demonstrated in how we give ourselves relationally to the good of others, putting their interests ahead of our own. The word for this kind of Christ-centered community is church.
The church is God’s plan for this age. Through the church God reveals his wisdom and glory to both the seen and unseen world, as lives are transformed by the gospel around the globe. There is nothing better you can devote your time, energy, gifts, and money to than the church. Eternity will show that the most significant thing happening in your time will be what God did in and through His church.
Remember that the church is people. That means you need to value people, even when they are difficult and unlovely. Jesus died for them. You can love and serve them with your life, helping them to reach their spiritual potential in Christ. This is a life well spent. A life you won’t regret.
So, live with purpose, a purpose defined by God’s mission. It is all too easy to get distracted and side-tracked by the world and its many pleasures. Don’t waste your life on worthless, vain, trivial, temporal, counterfeit things. Jesus is coming back. There will be judgment. Every person will give an account of what he or she did in this life. There is a literal heaven and a hell. God will make all things new and dwell eternally among his redeemed people. Because these things are real and certain, live today in light of these future events. Don’t take them lightly but rather let them motivate you to remain faithful to God’s purpose for you.
These are things I have thought, taught, and tried to live out. This life wasn’t long enough for me to get as good at any of it as I would have liked. It was God’s grace that helped me make any progress, and it is God’s grace that gives me hope in my shortcomings. May God’s grace determine and define your life.