When I read the scriptures and in particular the New Testament and read of Paul’s life and work, I am really intimidated. The things he went through, the things he experienced, the huge and ongoing struggle against so many things, physical and emotional, reputational, and personal. I don’t know if I want his life. I don’t know if I can ‘follow him as he follows Christ’. It just seems as if it cost him everything and then he was martyred. They got him in the end.
How do I follow Paul as he follows Christ? (I Corinthians 11:1). While I flee from the idea at the same time, I am drawn to it as a moth to a flame. Oh, to know God and Christ that intimately, that my devotion is so radical that I throw caution to the wind as I put my life, my whole life, all of it, into the hands of the Almighty. Surely if God is who He says He is and that He has communicated propositionally with us to know Him and to live in relationship with Him, then surely it must show up radically in my living. Where is the starting point?
Isaiah 6:1-8 is a passage I go back to regularly and in some way captures for me the genesis of radical devotion.
6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
Isaiah, a prophet of God, has a vision of God that is both awesome and terrifying. When he really encounters the God of the Universe, the only God, and sees Him in all His holiness and majesty, his immediate response is; “woe is me, I am ruined.” Basically saying ‘I am dead’ His realization is that he is a man of unclean lips and lives among people of unclean lips. He is overwhelmed by his own sin and the sin of the people that he is a part of.
God comes to him (stoops down as it were) and touches a coal to his lips to atone for his sin and to remove his true moral guilt before a true God. The act of atonement is clearly an act of total mercy and grace because Isaiah had nothing in his defence in front of such a holy and righteous God. When he hears God musing, “whom shall I send, and who will go for us? his immediate response is, “here I am, send me”.
Until we have an encounter with the God who is really there and grasp our true moral guilt before Him and are blown away by His unmerited grace towards us in the atoning death of His Son, only then can we hear His call to follow Him and to hear Him musing, “who can I send, who will go for us?” Its only there, at the foot of the cross, that I can look full into His glorious face and say, ‘Lord, send me’. It is only from there that I can walk in obedience to His Lordship in my life and that I can say with Paul, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). It is only from there that I can say I will follow Paul as he follows Christ and that my life is a devotion to Him. Put another way is that my life is a living sacrifice, my reasonable worship. (Rom 12:1)
That indeed is radical devotion due to a radical faith in a God who is really there, who holds me really accountable for every thought, word, and deed, who really stooped down to reconcile me to Him, while I was still a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips, who really and radically provided the atoning sacrifice for my sin, who graciously fills me with life everlasting, how can I not die to self and offer my life in obedience to Him, my Father. There is nothing radical about that. It is the natural outworking of the love He has for me and the love I have for Him. It may seem radical to others, but no longer to me.