God is not restricted by time but yet He chose to complete His mission on earth in such a short time. Jesus’ ministry lasted only about three years but it has made such a great impact on the world. The number of Christians has grown exponentially from a few hundred in the first century to more than one billion in the twenty first century. How did Jesus make such a great impact in such a short time? I believe he was guided by His Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit to make very effective use of His time on earth. So what can we learn from Christ to be more effective and fruitful so as to carry on the legacy He has left behind?
Jesus said: “A lamp is not brought to be put under a basket, is it, or under a bed? Is it not brought to be put on the lampstand? For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear. Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it will be measured to you; and more will be given you besides. For whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.” (Mark 4:21-25)
A lamp is not lit up to be put under a basket or a bed, where it can give no light. Its design is to give light. So Jesus’ preaching by parables is not designed to obscure the truth, but to throw light on it. We should understand those parables, and, understanding them, should impart the truth to others also, as a lamp throws its beams upon a dark world. We shall be treated according to the use we make of our opportunities of learning. If we consider it well, and make a good improvement of what we hear, we shall be well rewarded. If not, our reward shall be small. This is a proverbial expression.
Those who diligently attend to God’s word shall increase more and more in the knowledge of the truth; but those who neglect them and are inattentive shall become more ignorant; the few things which they had learned they will forget and their trifling knowledge will be diminished. It is not sufficient that we have learned some things, or appear to have learned much. All will be in vain unless we go forward, and improve every opportunity of learning the will of God and the way of salvation. So what children are taught will be of little use unless they follow it up and endeavour to improve themselves.
Jesus hates legalism because it does not deal with the condition of our hearts before God (Cf. Matt 15:8). Christianity is primarily a matter of the heart. Everything flows from a relationship with God, who transforms our hearts when He regenerates us. The Pharisees seemingly were seeking after God, but in reality they were self-seeking. They didn’t see themselves as sinners in need of a Saviour. They saw themselves as good people because they kept the Law. But in reality, they didn’t keep the Law because they didn’t apply it at the level of their heart. Thus, Jesus in effect said that if they would be as careful about clean hearts as they were about clean hands, then they would be what they ought to be (Cf. Matt 15:10-20).
Similarly, the apostle Paul warns us of legalism in Colossians 2:20-23: “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” Legalists may appear to be righteous and spiritual, but legalism ultimately fails to accomplish God’s purposes because it is an outward performance instead of an inward change. Hence, we should not waste our time entrenched in legalism for it does not bear any fruit.
Jesus said, “God is a spirit, and they who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Ritualism is the opposite of worshipping in spirit and in truth. True acts of worship prescribed by the Lord become ritualistic when they are done perfunctorily, hence done mechanically and without either interest or zeal. The wonderful Scriptures furnish us “completely unto every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Indeed, God’s power has “granted unto us all things pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). When we sing, we are to “sing with the spirit and with the understanding also,” and when we pray, we are to “pray with the spirit and with the understanding also” (1 Cor. 14:15). God demands that the worshipper approach him with a sincere heart, offering up “a sacrifice of praise to God, that is the fruit of lips which make confession to his name” (Heb. 13:15). The Lord’s Supper, prayer, singing, teaching the word, and offering up our material gifts are all acts which are established by divine authority. The Lord’s Supper is a communion, or fellowship with the body and blood of Christ. It is also to be done in the assembly when saints are gathered together in his name in a spirit of togetherness (Acts 20:7). None of these are rites, but are to be observed with enthusiasm, zeal, and meaning. Devoid of the significance these have to build us up on our most holy faith, they will deteriorate and become meaningless rituals. Consequently, it is important that we worship in spirit and truth and not fall into the trap of ritualism which makes us useless and unfruitful (Cf. 2 Peter 1:8).
Jesus mentions a sin that is unforgivable in Matthew 12:30-32 and calls it blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. He says: “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters. Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in the age to come.” (Matt 12:30-32)
It is possible for man to blaspheme or speak against the Holy Spirit. Such persons wilfully, maliciously, and obstinately oppose the Spirit of God, without whom they are unable to love as “God [has] loved us.” (John 4: 12; Cf. Rom 8:23; 2 Cor 1:21) This love (the “charity” of 1 Cor 13) is the source of the new life in Christ, made possible because we have received “power” from the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; Cf. 1 Cor 13). Without the power of the Spirit, we are unable to “bear much fruit” (John 15:8, 16). Hence, all Christians should be responsive to the Holy Spirit so that it will make us bear “the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Gal 5:22-23) “We live by the Spirit”; the more we renounce ourselves, the more we “walk by the Spirit.” (Gal 5:25; Cf. Mt 16:24-26)
Unlike God, our time is quite limited; it is up to us how we want to make use of it. To be more effective and fruitful Christians, we should diligently attend to God’s word and impart the knowledge of truth to others. We should also avoid entrenching ourselves in legalism and ritualism which does not lead us and others closer to God. Instead, we should abide in Christ (the Vine) so that we may bear much fruit and thereby draw others closer to Him. Ultimately, the People of God is known by their fruit (Cf. Matt 7:17-20).
Let the song “We Are The Light Of The World” remind us of our responsibility as Christians.