As I was driving to work today, I heard a sermon on the radio begin with the phrase “pursuing Christ”.
I have to admit, I've kind of come to dislike that phrase.
I heard the call to ‘pursue Christ” in a worship service at a large church I visited some months back and it didn't sit well then, either. I've heard it many times over the years in many places, and it still doesn't sit well with me today.
I don’t recall Jesus ever telling his disciples to “pursue” him. He did say to follow him, yes, and learn from him. He asked us to obey him, and I guess you could say maybe even seek him, but those are different things.
“Pursuit” has the connotation of chasing after something elusive, something that one does not yet have but must “pursue” in order to attain or capture. I know that’s not the only dictionary definition possible, but I dare say – “pursuit” brings about certain images and visions in our culture.
Police pursuing a criminal.
A man pursuing a woman’s affections.
A researcher in pursuit of a solution to a problem.
A child in pursuit of an education.
A family in pursuit of the American Dream.
The US Declaration of Independence enshrines the "pursuit of happiness" as a basic human right.
The US Declaration of Independence enshrines the "pursuit of happiness" as a basic human right.
What’s the common denominator in these everyday examples? The object being pursued had not yet been captured or attained. The object of the pursuit is still elusive and evades the reach of the pursuer. Indeed, one can argue, once the object of the pursuit has been attained, the pursuit of the object ceases. The pursuit is over. The object has been attained.
Which brings me back to my point about “pursuing Christ”.
What exactly is it that the Bible asks us to pursue?
Is it Christ?
I submit it is not. Mainly because I don’t think we don’t have to pursue Christ in order to attain him.
Let me explain.
I did a Bible word search through several different translations of the Bible. In each, the Old Testament is replete with descriptions of pursuit. In nearly every single instance, though, the reference was to an army pursing another army, or of some enemy pursuing another enemy. David laments his pursuers and begs God for help all throughout the Psalms. There are many references to the pursuit of evil (ie. Proverbs 11:19) and the occasional encouragement to pursue good (ie. Psalm 34:14).
In every instance the pursuit mentioned in the Bible had the connotation of a pursuer and an elusive object of that pursuit.
Sometimes someone was being chased, and someone was running from the pursuer. Someone was trying to elude the pursuer.
Sometimes it was a warning to be careful about what you pursue, or you just might catch it (as in pursuing evil)!
Sometimes it was an encouragement to chase something that is worthy of being caught (such as goodness and mercy)!
But in each of these instances, the object being pursued had not yet been taken captive! It was not yet fully possessed, so the pursuit continued.
I submit, it is not that way with Christ. Not with Christ Himself. Not with the Person of Christ that gave Himself for us so that we can live. Not with the Almighty God that loves us so dearly.
To be sure, there are the “Things of God” that we are encouraged to pursue.
Psalms 119:32, “I will pursue your commands, for you expand my understanding.”
Proverbs 21:21, “Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love will find life, righteousness, and honor.”
1 Timothy 6:11, “But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. “
2 Timothy 2:22, “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
Matthew 6:33, “Seek (pursue) the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.’
An oft used passage which is used to depicts Paul's pursuit of Christ is Philippians 3:10-14, but it's really not Christ he's talking about pursuing. He's got Christ! He wants to know him better!
"I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us."But I think we unnecessarily and sometimes damagingly confuse the issue for many people when we teach that we need to “pursue Christ”.
I think sometimes Christians can get caught up in this idea that Jesus and God are “out there” and we are the ones who need to chase after God and draw close.
After all, doesn't James 4:8 say: “Come close to God, and God will come close to you”? We take this verse and some others like it to say that somehow our penitence and humility brings God closer to us, or garners some favor with God which pleases him more, which can’t be further from the truth.
God is with us, always.
In Romans 8, Paul makes a defining statement:
“I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. “
Put a big “period” on that statement, and wrap it up in a bow.
Kinda says it all.
Back in James 4, James is addressing practical issues of quarreling and arguing in the church, and encouraging Christians to be humble and resist temptation. He’s encouraging them to incline their minds and hearts towards God and not the world. By doing this Christians will “come close to God” in their hearts and minds, and will see that God is always close by. He’s teaching good everyday practices to keep our hearts aligned with God’s heart, to not stray from the lit path.
God never moves, we simply open our eyes and minds to the fact that He is already near.
I think by teaching and saying we “pursue Christ”, we short-circuit the basic reality of Christ.
Jesus is “Emmanuel”, or “God with us”.
God With Us.
Not “God Out There”, or “God In Hiding”, or “God Unrevealed” or "God Needing to be Chased After".
God With Us.
This is so important for Christians to understand. Christ is not someone to be pursued.
Indeed we can’t pursue him!
He pursues us!
Christ has pursued us, captured us, purchased us, and died for us. His pursuit was so complete and effective that he is IN us and we are IN him.
Romans 8:9-11, “You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.”
2 Corinthians 2:7-19, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”
Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Galatians 3:26-29, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Ephesians 3:16-18, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”
Philippians 2:1-2, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind”
And perhaps my personal favorite,
Colossian 3:1-4, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
So you see, the “pursuit of Christ” becomes a bit moot when we realize that Christ is already in us, giving us life. This is an important, fundamental understanding that I think Christians need to grasp. Christ is not something we pursue, for indeed he pursued us and bought us with his own blood.
If we pursue something, we should pursue Christ-likeness – a lifestyle reflecting and honoring Christ.
If we pursue something, we should pursue the servant-like qualities that Jesus showed on the cross, when he died for the love of people that did not love him.
If we pursue something, it is not God or Christ – not the persons themselves, because they are always with us – but instead we pursue an understanding of the Holy One and his great love for each of us, which encourages us to live gratefully, joyfully, and obediently to the commands Jesus spoke of when he said, “If you love me, obey my commands”.
Christ is always and forever with us.
I think Paul summed it up well in Romans 12:1-2.
“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Let God change the way you think. Pursue holy living, assured that Christ is with you.
Grace and Peace to us all.