I'm going to talk this evening about 'How to Live'. If you look on the back of the service sheet, you'll see that title on my outline. If you're a student, then it's an issue that you can't avoid. How you do decide to live during these student years is potentially formative for the rest of your life. But it's an issue that none of us can avoid.
But why should you be the remotest bit interested in my views on how to live? No reason at all. That's why I want us to look at the Bible reading we heard earlier, because the Bible is God's word. And when we pay attention to what the Bible has to say about how to live, we're listening to the voice of God.
So what's God's view on how to live? Well, please open a Bible at that reading: Mark 8.27 – 9.1. Now what the Bible has to say about how to live centres on Jesus, so I want us to try and understand what this passage is on about by asking the three questions that are there on the outline: First, what do you know about Jesus? Secondly, what are you going to do with your life? And thirdly, how are you going to live your life?
1. What Do You Know About Jesus?
Take a look at that first paragraph headed 'Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ'. What's going on here? We're picking up this account of the life and death of Jesus at a turning point. After thirty years of obscurity, Jesus went public with his message, and backed it up with an astounding series of healings and miracles. He gathered a group of followers around him who saw and heard it all. At this point Jesus has obviously decided that they've seen and heard enough to be able to make up their minds about him once and for all. So he draws them into a discussion which is going to end with them well and truly on the spot. Listen again to what happens. Mark 8.27-28:
"And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" And they told him, "John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.""
John the Baptist had identified Jesus as so much greater than himself that even tying Jesus' shoelaces would've been too great an honour. John had been summarily executed for daring to criticise Herod. Some people thought Jesus was John back from the dead. Others were expecting the appearance of a prophet who would be the forerunner of the Messiah, and they thought Jesus was that prophet. There were two other theories going around, which perhaps understandably the disciples omit to mention: some thought he was off his rocker; others that he was Satanic. What they don't seem to have been saying was that Jesus was 'just a carpenter from Nazareth'. What Jesus said and what he did was too shockingly extraordinary for any ordinary explanation of him.
So what have you heard people say about Jesus? Perhaps that he was a fine moral teacher but no more? Those who think that surely can't have read what Jesus actually said about himself. Or perhaps they say that he was a just a good man. Or do you have Christian friends who say that he was God and man? Or maybe many you know don't even seem to think about Jesus. 'Who do people say I am?' That's Jesus' question to this generation as well. But then Jesus turned his attention to his followers. Verse 29:
"And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?""
They can't hide behind other peoples' views now.
"Peter answered him, "You are the Christ.""
What does that mean? The Christ is the prophesied Messiah – the King promised and sent by God to overthrow the enemies of God's people and bring God's people into an everlasting kingdom of peace and security. Peter has been watching Jesus' every move and listening to his every word for a couple of years. And he's begun to realise just whose company he's been keeping. He hasn't got the whole picture though. That's why Jesus tells them all not to go blabbing about him all over the place. Verse 30:
"And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him."
There's more they need to take on board first. So then Jesus gives them his own perspective on what he's about (v31-32):
"And [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly."
This is astonishing. This is not the kind of Messiah that Peter, for one, was expecting. Jesus agrees that he is the Messiah – the Saviour and King of God's people. But how's he going to bring in his Kingdom? By dying at the hands of his enemies. Why?
It's an extraordinary fact that the death of Jesus was purposeful, despite the fact that humanly speaking it looked as if it was out of his control. Jesus said later that he would die 'to give his life as a ransom for many'. In other words, his death would be the price that had to be paid so that we could escape eternal death and hell and find forgiveness and eternal life. But, amazingly, Jesus said that he wouldn't stay dead. He would be raised from death to live for ever. He would defeat death itself. And that would be God's proof that Jesus really was the Saviour and Lord of the world. That's who Jesus said that he was.
And then the question comes round to you and to me. Who do you say that Jesus is? Because how you live will be formed by your answer to that question. So that leads us on to my next big question on the outline:
2. What Are You Going to Do with Your Life?
If you think Jesus can be safely ignored, then you'll decide what to do with your life without any reference to him. If that's you, then I would simply say to you: Please think again. Take a closer look. Try out one of our Christianity Explored groups, or go along to Focus if you're a student, or JPCi if you're an international. Take a look at our website or pick up a leaflet for details. Because the conclusion that Jesus can safely be ignored simply cannot bear the weight of the facts.
But what if you know Jesus can't be ignored? Are you clear in your own mind that Jesus is God and man, the King of kings and Lord of lords who died for your sins and rose again? Because if we believe that, then we've got to be quite clear about the implications for the way we live. You can't believe in Jesus and then live your life as if you didn't. Just look at verse 34:
"And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, [Jesus] said…"
Do you see those two categories of people around Jesus? There's the crowd who hang around Jesus because he's so attractive, so charismatic. They want a piece of him. But they've got him safely at arm's length. Then there's the disciples. Where Jesus goes, they go. What Jesus says, they do. At least, that's what they're committed to. They muck up, of course. But their lives are not their own any more. They belong to Jesus. What he says, goes. So what Jesus does now is effectively to say to those disciples, 'Do you realise what you're letting yourself in for? You can't play at being a Christian. Be consistent. Give me everything. You won't regret it.' And it's as if Jesus says to those in the crowd, 'I will not be your plaything. I will not be the mascot hanging from your rear view mirror. Give me everything. And you won't regret it.' So Jesus calls them to him – and look at what he says (v34-37):
"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?"
Do you see the two radically different options that Jesus lays out there – two different ways that you can live? First, you can live for yourself. Secondly, you can live for Jesus. You can live for yourself by pursuing your own pleasures, by promoting your own interests, and by accumulating your own wealth. Or you can live for Jesus. You can live to please him, to promote his glory, and to give the whole of your life as a thank-you gift to him. Which is it to be?
Every now and again we come up to major turning points. Maybe the whole world is at a turning point right now. What is true is that Jesus' claims are universal. The whole world does have to decide whether to live for itself or bow the knee before Jesus as its only Lord and Saviour. But turning points come to us individually as well. Moments come to us when the course that we set will mark our lives. So which is it to be for you? Are you going to live for yourself (even if it is with a veneer of Christianity)? Or are you going to live all out for Jesus, as he is calling you to do?
What are you going to do with your life? That's what you've got to settle. But then there is that third question, which follows from the second. So:
3. How Are You Going to Live Your Life?
That second question is really the big picture question: Where are you heading in life? Now we get down more to the nitty-gritty: How are you going to get there? What kind of person are you going to be today, tomorrow, at school, on your course, at work, with the people you live with? This is all about the outworking of that choice to live for yourself or to live for Jesus. Take a look at the rest of what Jesus says here. Verses 36-38:
"For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man [that's Jesus] also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
What are the implications of what Jesus is saying? Here are three. First, living for yourself is easy. Secondly, living for Jesus is hard. And thirdly, living for Jesus is abundant life. So first:
a) Living for Yourself is Easy
It's the opposite of denying yourself and taking up your cross. We don't have to be taught how to go with the flow, take the path of least resistance, make things comfortable for ourselves and indulge our own self-centred desires. That comes naturally to us. What's more, living for yourself has an immediate pay-back. If you go with the flow, you avoid all the effort of having to struggle against the flow. If you take the path of least resistance, then you don't find yourself in situations of potential conflict. If you just do what you want, then your desires are gratified, and it feels good.
It doesn't always work, of course. Sometimes our plans to give ourselves a good time immediately backfire in some unforeseen way. And the gratification can be frustratingly short-term, so the need to seek further gratification comes round again frustratingly quickly. But Jesus doesn't deny that self-centred living can have an immediate pay-back of sorts. If things really go your way, you might even gain the whole world. Everything you ever imagined getting in your wildest dreams might come your way.
But there's a downside. And it's this. Living for ourselves has catastrophic long-term consequences, for others and for us. Getting caught up in what Jesus characterises as 'this adulterous and sinful generation' can end up being excruciating. Just think about the people you know, or your own life. The guilt and shame and damaged and broken relationships and general mess of our lives can generally be traced back directly to some defiance of God's will. The gratification wears off but the pain remains.
And it only gets worse. Because the truth is we really are accountable to God. Jesus will be our judge one day. And if we've chosen a life with ourselves at the centre, a life without God, then that's what he'll give us. And that will be eternal death. We will forfeit our souls. We will lose our lives. If we disown Christ now, he will disown us then. He is crystal clear about that.
So living for yourself is easy. It comes naturally. At times, it has an immediate (if short-term) payback. But it's catastrophic. Secondly, though, we have to face the fact that:
b) Living for Jesus is Hard
It means abandoning sinful selfishness. "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross…" That doesn't just mean that every now and then you have to think about delaying the purchase of that designer garment for another few weeks. Denying yourself means renouncing yourself, disowning yourself, displacing yourself from the number one spot in your life. If you're going to follow Jesus, then you will cease to be the centre of your existence. He will be.
And one result of that will be that you'll need to be publically and openly identified as belonging to Jesus and also to this rabble that he loves and that makes up his people, his church. We won't be able to keep quiet about our faith in Christ. In some parts of the world the price of that is high. Jesus is not exaggerating when he speaks of losing your life for him and for the gospel. Many Christians literally lose their lives because they refuse to make their faith in Jesus a merely private matter. In this country at the moment the worst we have to face is misinformation, lies, anti-Christian propaganda and hostility. But if we're ashamed of Jesus, one day he will be ashamed of us.
So living for Jesus as Lord will mean following Jesus' voice wherever he leads. We can't put up any 'keep off' signs in our lives. And if he says to us 'go', then we must go. If he says 'stay', then we must stay. And that can be a tough assignment. Living for Jesus is hard. But, thirdly and finally:
c) Living for Jesus is Abundant Life
Should we do it? How can we not? And when we do, we find true and lasting joy and peace and hope. And nothing can tear him away from us. That's security.
What is more, we find ourselves swept up in the power of Christ's expanding kingdom. Whatever precisely Jesus meant (in Mark 9.1) when he said that some of them there would not taste death until they'd seen the kingdom of God come with power – whether he meant the resurrection, or the ascension, or Pentecost, or the fall of Jerusalem, or the impact of the gospel more widely, or a combination of all of them – what is clear is that we live in the age of the demonstration of the power of God's kingdom. God's plans are taking shape. Jesus is in control. His power is at work in the lives of his followers, as he uses them to further his purposes. And being part of the church which is the lightning conductor for God's power through the gospel makes for an exciting life here and now, whatever the hardships.
So if we live for Jesus, we have the presence of Jesus with us, and the power of Jesus at work in our lives. But that is not all. We also have the promise of Jesus. We have everything to look forward to. Eternal life lies ahead of us. And when we come before Jesus to give account, he will not be ashamed of us, because he'll recognise that we belong to him. If we live for Jesus, life is not easy. But it's full of the presence and power and promise of Jesus. And that is abundant life.
When you're at a turning point in your life, the question of how to live is inescapable. That's true whether you're at school, or university, or whatever your circumstances. The Bible's answer is God's answer. And the Bible's answer is centred on Jesus. So what do we know about Jesus? He is the Saviour. He is the Lord. How, then, should we live? We should not live for ourselves. We should live for him. Is that what you're going to do?