As evangelists we must ensure that the ‘on-stage’ matches the ‘off-stage’ life. How do we maintain authenticity in our lives and our evangelism? This session explores the importance of devotion within the Christian life and evangelism.
God is holy, that is, he is set apart. He is perfect, sovereign and unique. There is none like him. We on the other hand are not holy. Our lack of holiness is not simply because there are other humans, meaning we are not unique in the way God is. No, we are unholy because every single one of us has fallen short of the perfect standard of the holy one himself. God is unique because he is perfect, and we are not. The writer of Hebrews tells us that only the Holy will see the Lord (12:14), so this lack of holiness is a major problem for humanity. How can the unholy become holy, acceptable to the Lord and able to dwell in his kingdom?
The good news is that Jesus has provided the way by which an unholy people can enter the presence of the perfect holy God and dwell with him forever. Those who put their trust in Jesus share in his holiness and we begin to live for the first time – because true life is holy life. But how do we live holy as Jesus did and how do we ensure that our evangelism comes out of authentically holy lives?
Luke’s gospel gives us a wealth of unique material that is not found in the other gospels. Among the well-known content only Luke provides, are the parables of the good Samaritan (10:25-37) and the prodigal son (15:11-32). But perhaps the most curious unique story told by Luke is from Jesus’ childhood – the only such story we have.
Returning from their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover festival, Mary and Joseph realise that Jesus is missing. After three days they are eventually reunited with their son upon finding him among the teachers in the temple precincts. Jesus is sat among the wise teachers, learning from them, but also contributing and astonishing them with his remarkable understanding of the scriptures at just twelve years of age. When Mary asks Jesus why he has treated his parents this way, worrying them by going missing (which seems like a reasonable admonishment), Jesus appears confused by her question.
Jesus’ confusion stems from the fact that you are only lost or missing if those trying to find you don’t know where you are. But how could they not have known that he would be in his Father’s house? This is the natural place for him to be. It’s a little like looking everywhere except the White House when trying to track down the US president and then being baffled when you find him at his desk in the oval office, asking him exasperatedly, ‘Where have you been?’.
Luke recounts specific language in Jesus’ response to Mary that reveals claim to a unique relationship to God: ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’. There is no apparent equivalent to this anywhere in scripture except from Jesus himself. And so, the first recorded words we have of Jesus find him declaring that he is the Son of God, and that the most natural place for him to ever be is with his Father.
The work of the cross means we can be adopted into God’s family, to be given the right to be called children of God by putting our trust in Jesus. And so the question becomes: how natural is it for us to spend time in our father’s house? To be in fellowship with him, devoted to his instruction, empowerment, perspective and love?
It is in the place of devotion that we discover more fully who we truly are. We grow. We are refined. We are emboldened. We are convicted of our wrongdoing. We are instructed in our purpose. We are fulfilled in our existence. Through devotion we are made holy as he is holy. Devotion is core to the Christian life because it produces holiness. This is core to the task of evangelism because the gospel is to be lived and proclaimed by a holy people. If Jesus realised and responded to this truth as we will see in the teaching below, how much more so must we?
God is asking us as we come into fellowship with him and asking not with exasperation but with delight: ‘Where have you been?’.
Read the following passage.
Mark 1:35 (NIV)
‘Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.’
We ‘devote’ ourselves to all sorts of things in this life. Many are seen as virtuous, such as devotion to family and friends, to upholding positive values, to pursuing dreams. Others are potentially more trivial: devotion to your hobby, a sports team, or getting that high-score on whatever the latest mobile-gaming craze may be.
Jesus exhibited some of these devotions too. He was surely devoted to learning the family trade from Joseph. He was devoted to his friends, seemingly spending more time in fellowship with them than preaching to the multitudes. He was devoted to his mother, ensuring that John would take responsibility to care for her after his death.
In light of these things, how are we to make sense of Jesus saying that he came to set families against each other, if he was devoted to his own family (Luke 12:53)? We make sense of it in light of his primary devotion to his Father in heaven, at the cost of all other devotions no matter how virtuous they may be. Jesus was not saying that it is wrong to love your parents, or that he specifically wanted to tear families apart for its own sake, but Jesus knows that anything pulling your primary devotion away from God will ultimately make you unholy, because only God is holy, and holiness can only be found in devotion to him.
Discuss the things that easily pull your devotion away from God, especially things that are not bad in-and-of themselves, but can easily become distractions from or barriers to submission to God.
It is possible to become more devoted to evangelism than to Jesus himself! But this will not do, as we exist to worship the King himself, not our ministry or any other blessing he gives to us. We must be grounded in spiritual living that listens effectively to God.
No matter the demands of his ministry or earthly relationships, Jesus prioritised his personal relationship with his father above all, taking the time to retreat, pray and listen. For Jesus, being with his Father was the most natural place for him to be, the place he has eternally been until stepping from heaven to earth to become a man. Mark’s gospel tells us of three such occasions. Spend some time reflecting on and discussing these passages:
Mark 1:35-39 – Rising early to pray in a solitary place.
What does this tell us about listening to God for daily instruction?
Mark 6:45-46 – Retreating to the mountaintop to pray.
What does this tell us about relying on God for daily restoration and refreshment?
Mark 14:32-41 – Praying in Gethsemane before being arrested.
What does this tell us about bringing the weight of our circumstance to God?
Informal and spontaneous prayer throughout the day is great, but setting aside intentional time to pray and read the word is important. Some are great at praying and not so good with the bible, others have a great bible study but come unstuck when it comes to prayer. The most effective method is to combine the two, reading a chapter or more of scripture and then praying over what the passage says and its application. You will also want to include general thanksgiving and adoration of God as well as prayers of request and need in these times to round out your devotional prayer life.
The examples of prayer from Jesus’ life do not include confession, as Jesus had no need for repentance being without sin. Confession and repentance will however be part of our time ‘in our Fathers house’. Psalm 51 is an amazing prompt for this kind of repentance prayer and reflection, and serves as an example of using the Psalms more generally as part of our prayer life (see the homework section below).
The first step in holiness is recognising that God is holy and that we are not. We need him, and as we take the time daily to step into his presence with humility and submission, the transforming power of his love will ensure that we are never the same again. It is that transformation that stands tallest as the strongest evidence that the gospel is true and has the power to save and transform. As we proclaim the goodness of God and the Jesus story to a world in need, those we reach can grow in confidence of the authenticity of the gospel message by examining the work he is already doing in our lives which are lived in devotion to him.
Jesus has made the way for us to be holy through the saving work of the cross, calling us to die to the old life through faith in him. As we are born into new life, Jesus has also amazingly shown us what it looks like to pursue and live out holiness through daily devotion to the Father.
Fill out accountability forms and feedback // Diary the next meeting if not already booked and pray to close.
Make use of these through the session or all together in one section, whatever works best for your group.
- How would you rate your prayer and bible study life currently?
- Do you notice or experience any impact from the health of your devotional life and what you are doing evangelistically?
- What distractions to devotion do you experience?
- How can you open yourself up to more instruction, refreshment, perspective and repentance through intentional devotion in the coming weeks?
Integrate these quotes as part of your teaching or use them as discussion points if helpful.
‘The purpose of the Disciplines is freedom. Our aim is the freedom, not the Discipline. The moment we make the Discipline our central focus we will turn it into law and lose the corresponding freedom… Let us forever centre on Christ and view the Spiritual Disciplines as a way of drawing us closer to His heart.’ Richard Foster.
‘God does not want you to become a God; he wants you to become godly – taking on his values, attitudes, and character.’ Rick Warren
‘If you think you can walk in holiness without keeping up perpetual fellowship with Christ, you have made a great mistake. If you would be holy, you must live close to Jesus.’ Charles Spurgeon
Begin praying through the Psalms, a few minutes every day reading and praying for at least a week on top of whatever other bible study and prayer you do. If you can, stretch yourself to a month or an entire year. You can do this simply by opening your bible and working through the Psalms one by one a day at a time, or by following a devotional plan such as Tim Keller’s My Rock; My Refuge: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms.
In Holiness Part Two we will explore how accountability (relationships with each other) partnered with the spiritual disciplines explored here (relationship with God) helps us to live in the holiness that God has made possible for us.