I have no regrets about my faith upbringing. My family and small church nurtured and encouraged my faith. They gave me opportunities to ask questions, exercise gifts, and participate in the mission of God.
However, somewhere along the line I began to assume the idea that there was one correct answer to every faith question. If my answer was “I don’t know”, that was acceptable, but it meant that I didn’t know the correct answer.
As my faith has grown I’ve come to appreciate that the bigness of God often means that limiting ourselves to just one correct answer sells God short.
One example of narrowing an answer too much concerns our salvation. Why did I become a disciple of Jesus? My standard answer sounds something like, “I became a Christian because I didn’t want to spend eternity in Hell and I wanted my sins forgiven.”
I’m confident millions of other Christians through the years have responded to the Gospel for similar reasons.
While in an ideal world people would respond to the Gospel as a loving response to the love of God our motives are usually much more self-centred than that. But we don’t need stay that way.
In Ephesians 3:1 Paul describes himself as “the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles.” Most scholars agree that Paul probably wrote this letter from a Roman prison. They also agree that he was imprisoned as a consequence of his ministry. However, it’s notable that Paul doesn’t describe himself as “the prisoner of Rome…“, but as the prisoner of Christ Jesus.
As a prisoner of Christ Jesus, Paul was committed to the person and mission of Jesus. In Romans 6:19 Paul describes how we’re all captive slaves to something,
“ Forgive me for using casual language to compensate for your natural weakness of human understanding. I want to be perfectly clear. In the same way you gave your bodily members away as slaves to corrupt and lawless living and found yourselves deeper in your unruly lives, now devote your members as slaves to right and reconciled lives so you will find yourselves deeper in holy living.” (VOICE)
By calling himself a “prisoner of Christ Jesus” Paul references his status as a disciple of Christ. With that in mind the next phrase challenges our generally accepted understanding of salvation.
Paul is a prisoner of Christ, a disciple of Christ, a follower of Jesus, for the sake of you Gentiles.
We might not describe ourselves as followers of Jesus for the sake of ME. But when escaping hell is our primary reason for accepting God’s salvation, then it really is all about me.
The problem here is not that I need forgiveness. There’s nothing wrong with preferring to spend eternity with God than without God. The difficulty arises when our primary reason for relationship with God revolves around my well-being.
This naturally brings us to the vital question, “For whose sake are you a prisoner of Christ Jesus?” “Who benefits from you being a Christian?
Jesus lived his life for the benefit of others. Paul lived his life for the benefit of others.
- Who do we live to benefit?
- Who does our church exist to bless?
- Who notices our faith?
- Who would miss God’s presence if we weren’t present?
Too often it seems Christians feel like prisoners of Christ, trapped in a list of wrongs and right. How that picture changes when we’re prisoners of Christ Jesus for the sake of our neighbors.