I think it’s safe to say that we’re in the midst of the Golden Age of smartphones. Every year, a new iPhone is released, which is touted to be the most amazing, incredibly crafted iPhone yet! There’s seemingly an endless array of Android phones as well, each seeking to garner attention from the masses by marketing a special, niche feature that the iPhone doesn’t have (yet). Smartphones are all the craze nowadays — and you aren’t somebody until you have one, until you have the latest one. (At least, that’s what our current society would have you to believe.) I think it’d be also safe to say that you’re familiar with the “app” ecosystem — downloading applications to your device that enhance usability, functionality, and so forth. Apple was the first to really hone in on this with the launch of the App Store for iPhone in 2008. There, one could download a myriad of apps to perform various functions and make you more productive as you use your shiny, new smartphone. But, let’s be honest, you were about as productive as making sure all the green pigs get destroyed by your very mad birds. Apple’s App Store now has over 1.2 million apps to select from — which equals out to about 1.2 million distractions. Imagine something crazy and there’s probably an app for that! We love apps! And sometimes we treat our relationship with the God in the same manner (please, stick with me here).
A Supplementary Savior
Oftentimes, and shamefully so, we treat God as if he’s just another app that we download and add to our system and our schedule. He’s new but he doesn’t really change much. I might have to rearrange the order of the other apps on my home screen, but other than that everything stays about the same. Sure, he adds some new functions, some new abilities, but nothing overtly novel or life-changing. Maybe, of late, you’ve even considered the thought of deleting him from your screen all together, seeing as he takes up so much space and you haven’t really received anything from him recently — he doesn’t add that much benefit to you, or give you anything in return. Your last use of him was months ago!
This is exactly how we treat God at times. We relegate him to being an add-on, an additive, a supplement, thinking we can fit him in alongside everything else we want. We devalue God and his Word as if it’s something extra we have going on in our life, just another appointment to schedule or deadline to meet or person to impress. We pencil God into our agenda and if things get too hairy, too chaotic, he’s the first thing we erase. We have a lot going on. Our lives are busy, and often we get the notification that everything’s too full and that we need to delete something in order proceed . . . and often the first to go is God. To us, God’s just an app, to use or ignore as we see fit, depending on the day, depending on the mood. This sensibility to the things of God and to God himself is unfounded and sacrilegious. True Christianity, true belief, is in the God that makes you entirely new. His Word says:
Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert . . . And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God . . . And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new” . . . Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (Isa. 43:18–19; Ezek. 11:19–20; 2 Cor. 5:17)
God’s New OS
God is not an app you download. He’s an entirely new operating system. Getting saved is not like those supplemental updates Microsoft annoyingly notifies you about (seemingly) everyday. Salvation is not a software patch — salvation is completely new software. Going from unsaved to saved is like going from Windows Vista to Mac OS X Yosemite (which is an extremely stark difference!). God doesn’t just change some of your functionality or add some new features, he changes everything! New desires, new passions, new loves, new thoughts, new everything! As Charles Spurgeon says, “If you could take a hog from the trough and turn it into an emperor, that would not be half so great a change as is accomplished when an unregenerate sinner becomes a saint.” (Achievements, 112)
But this is what God does to sinners: he transforms them and makes them new. Indeed, that’s who God is, he’s the “great transformer of lives. He turns slaves into kings” — orphans into heirs, beggars into givers, sinners into saints. (Barnhouse, 71) Yes, “grace can transform a reviling thief into a penitent believer.” (Spurgeon, Wonders, 86) And the transformation that God provides is infinitely greater and stronger than anything you could ever hope to accomplish on your own.
You see, mankind knows something’s wrong; he knows there’s something missing. There’s a gaping hole in the heart of man that only eternity can fill, that only God can satisfy. As humans, we’re aware of this, even if we won’t admit it, and thus, we seek to fill that void on a plethora of things, pleasures, people, all in the hopes of filling the deepest craving of our soul. As is often the case, we look for this eternity-filler in one of four avenues: 1. Ourselves; 2. Others; 3. Pleasure; and 4. Religion. We use these as means to justify our endgame of attaining happiness and acquiring joy — two categorical impossibilities without the presence of the Spirit.
We seek satisfaction and fulfillment through ourselves, through self-improvement and self-help, thinking that a better version of us will meet our deepest needs. Or, through others, ascribing to the unfounded logic that others will meet my needs and give me what I want. Pinning your hopes on others to satisfy you only sets yourself up for imminent failure. Or, still, through pleasure, through what the world offers and promotes as gratifying and fulfilling; which more often than not leaves you feeling emptier than before. Or, even still, through religion, man’s paltry attempt at trying to earn satisfaction and contentment and fulfillment by being good. Religion is mankind’s venture at buying happiness by trying to buy God’s favor through law-keeping and ordinance-practicing. And really, this last one is merely a remix of the first, but with a little Jesus sprinkled on top. And, truth be told, these shoddy attempts at satisfaction, at gratification only reveal the shoddy God’s we’re pinning our hopes on. In the end, we’re attempting to “stand on an endless catalog of God-replacements that end up sinking with us.” (Tripp, 33–34)
The Christian life doesn’t involve finding joy or transformation by any of these means but a simple look, a “gaze of the soul.” In fact, the life of a believer can really be summed up into three words: “Looking unto Jesus,” for he is mankind’s sole source of satisfaction, fulfillment, and change. “Looking to” is synonymous with “Believing in” — a look unto the Christ is a declaration that he is Lord, a pledge that he is King, a trust that he is the Savior. If you recall, Jesus himself unites these two words in John 3, where he expounds the meaning and scope of God’s salvation to Nicodemus by recounting the events from Numbers 21, where the Israelites are plagued with fiery serpents as judgment for their constant complaints and gripes to the Lord despite his constant provision and deliverance. If you remember that passage, God’s patience is on full display as he makes a way for deliverance rescue for his grumbling people yet again. The Lord commands Moses, “Make a fiery [bronze] serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” (Num. 21:8) Life and liberation was provided for all, but only those who looked, those who believed, experienced its efficacy.
A Constant Look
Back to John’s Gospel, Christ is conversing with Nicodemus the Pharisee and declares: “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:13–15) Jesus connects the brazen serpent with his own atonement, so that just as Moses raised a bronze snake on a pole to be the cure for people’s disobedience, likewise Jesus was raised on a cross to be the propitiation for the world’s sin. This is what’s encapsulated in this “look.”
Your life as a believer is all caught up in a constant and continuous looking unto Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith,” as the Word says. This look, this belief “is not a once-done act, but a continuous gaze of the heart at the Triune God.” (Tozer, 71) And this is where the battle begins, because even though we’re redeemed and saved by the Person and work of Christ, so does our old passions continue to haunt and torment us throughout our earthly lives. We are fully justified in the sight of God but our hearts will be under constant temptation to return to our former lives and lusts till Jesus returns. The Christian warfare involves keeping our eyes fixed on Christ and what he’s done. To “look to Jesus” naturally involves looking to Friend and Savior of sinners from everything, in everything, and for everything. The devil will try his best to distract and drag you down by getting you to believe that Jesus isn’t sufficient, that his gospel isn’t enough, that the world’s promises do satisfy — if Satan can get you to believe that your life is found apart from the purposes of God, the power of the Son, and the presence of the Spirit, then he has you.
Returning to our earlier analogy, distrusting God’s goodness to you is to doubt the power of his salvific software. Satan wants you to be dubious of Jesus’s deliverance, and this is the quickest road to “deleting” God from your home screen. But “looking unto Jesus” is a determination to fight back against the devil’s schemes. “Looking to Jesus” is a declaration of war on the forces of wicked one, an enlistment in God’s confederate converts, his band of habitual misfits made perfectly righteous by the mercy and grace of his Son. The work and war of the Christian is in maintaining this look from, for, and in everything — notwithstanding the assaults of Satan and his minions.
Therefore, Christ-follower, “look to Jesus,” for he’s the One that has made your life possible, made it livable. Trust in him, knowing that his sufficiency is the only thing eternal enough to satiate all your internal longings. And “look,” rest, rely, believe “entirely and without reserve, on the faithful word which God hath spoken, and on the perfect work which Christ hath wrought.” (Booth, 192)
Donald G. Barnhouse, Expositions of Bible Doctrines Taking the Epistle to the Romans as a Point of Departure, Vol. 3, Part 1 (Philadelphia: The Evangelical Foundation, 1959).
Abraham Booth, The Reign of Grace, from Its Rise to Its Consummation (Philadelphia: Joseph Whetnam, 1838).
Charles Spurgeon, Christ’s Glorious Achievements: What Jesus Has Done for You (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2003).
Charles Spurgeon, Seven Wonders of Grace (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1877).
A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Whitakers, NC: Positive Action For Christ, 2007).
Paul Tripp, A Shelter in the Time of Storm: Meditations on God in Trouble (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009).