Today we are continuing our exclusive two-part interview with J.D. Greear, author of the new ebook Jesus, Continued. You can pre-order Jesus, Continued on Vyrso today!
In some of your writing about the book you say, “Through depth in the gospel and fellowship with the Holy Spirit, we can go from guilt-driven to grace-driven and gift-driven.” Can you give us an example of what that looks like in practice?
When we feel like we are responsible to save the world, we will feel like we are never doing enough—never being radical enough, never sacrificing enough. We’ll always feel guilty that we could be doing more. But when we focus on the fact that God doesn’t need us, that he multiplies loaves and fishes to feed multitudes and pulls $100,000 tax payments out of fish’s mouths if he wants, that burden is gone. When that burden is removed, we can be radically generous in response to God’s grace (that’s grace-driven), and fully surrendered to what God is telling us to do (gift-driven).
Recently I read that Pentecostals are the most effective mobilizers for mission on the planet. That is because they focus less on the enormity of the task and more on what God is directing you to do in his Spirit. The size of the task is crushing. Sensing that God has an assignment for you is empowering. The Baptist and Reformed communities are good at emphasizing the size of the task, which we need to hear, and feel. But we need to take our eyes off the field and look to the God who brings life back from the dead and multiplies our meager resources to feed thousands. Compared to the size of the task, we are nothing. Compared to the size of our God, the task is nothing.
God does not need us to accomplish the Great Commission for him, but wants to accomplish it through us.
For those that are currently mission-driven but burned out, weary, and longing for joy, what is one way they can start living a satisfied life in relationship with God through the Holy Spirit?
I sympathize with those who feel burned out from their mission-driven convictions. As I mentioned above, I would often pursue the mission with zeal, only to end up feeling paralyzed by the weight of it all. I toggled between summers of feverish activity and winters of guilt and fatigue.
The burden of that conviction nearly crushed me. My despair drove me to the Scriptures, and that despair eventually gave way to one of the most surprising insights I’ve ever had, one that has radically redefined how I see my service to Christ.
That discovery? God doesn’t need you! He never has. He never will. For anything. Ever. In Psalm 50:12 God says that if he were hungry, he wouldn’t come to me. God never approaches me as a needy God.
So it turns out I had vastly overestimated what I had to contribute. I didn’t have “more” I needed to give; I actually had nothing God needed to begin with. Nothing.
God is not now, nor has he ever, looked for “helpers” to assist him in saving the world. That doesn’t mean he isn’t calling us to give ourselves generously to that mission or to be sacrificially generous with our neighbors; it’s just that he’s not looking for people to supply his needs. He’s not short on money, talent, or time. He has never commanded us to go save the world for him; he calls us to follow him as he saves the through us.
So instead of asking the question, “What needs to be done in the world?” I should ask, “What is the Spirit of God leading me to do?” Just like Jesus told his apostles to wait on the coming of the Holy Spirit before they went out to the world, we are to look to the Holy Spirit for his direction in what God would have us do. We don’t “wait on” the Holy Spirit like they did, since we have him in our souls already, but we adopt the same posture of humble dependence on him that they had, looking for where he directs us to go.
Do you have any other examples of people that have moved from being weighted by the Great Commission to living empowered and focused based upon God’s gifting and speaking?
I am honored to be a part of a church where I hear stories about God empowering specific people for specific callings all the time. Their stories actually helped me to see how central the leading of the Spirit is in the pages of the New Testament. I could tell a dozen stories, but I’ll choose just one that makes the point beautifully.
I have a friend, Tony, who has adopted five kids, four from Ukraine and one from Kenya (and he says you have no trouble telling which ones are which!). The four from Ukraine he adopted at once. When I asked how he came to that, he replied that one summer he and his wife set out to study the book of Romans together. They felt struck by Paul’s admonition that those who know the gospel should become like the gospel. The more he learned about his own salvation, he said, the more he longed for a way to respond to Jesus for his great grace.
But how should they do this? As Tony and his wife prayed through that question, he came to Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 1:5 that God has adopted all believers into his family; then he read Paul’s command in Ephesians 5:1 for believers to imitate their God. “What better way to put the gospel on display,” Tony thought, “than to adopt an unwanted child?”
Tony asked God for the opportunity to do just that, and did God ever open that door! Tony went on a mission trip to Ukraine. While there, the orphanage director told Tony that someone had just brought in a set of four siblings. The kids, ages two through eight, were about to be split up and placed in orphanages around the country . . . unless someone came forward to take all four. When a worker brought the kids out to Tony, he saw four scared little children, all holding hands. They thought they were being called in for discipline. In that moment, Tony knew the Spirit of God had answered his prayer. “Those are your kids,” the Spirit said.
“I know I can’t take care of all the orphans in the world,” Tony said. “But God told me to take care of these four. I know adoption is not God’s will for every family. But it was clear it was the Spirit’s direction for us. We wanted to respond to the gospel, and this is the way the Holy Spirit directed us to do that.”
What is one takeaway you hope people embrace after reading Jesus, Continued?
I want readers to see that personal, interactive relationship has always been God’s plan for his people. This book exists to lead people to that experience if they’ve never had it, and help clarify it for them if they have. God has always been a God who is close and present with his people—but only since Jesus returned to heaven has he taken up residence inside of us.
But how do we know when God is speaking to us, leading us? More havoc has been wreaked in the church following the phrase, “God just said to me…” than any other. How do we balance what God has clearly and definitely said in Scripture and how he moves, dynamically, in our world today?
I also want to help readers understand how closely the Spirit connects to the gospel. Many Christians today talk about the gospel and the Word; others talk all about the Spirit. But these connect at the deepest levels. The deeper you go in the gospel, the more alive you become in the Spirit. By believing the gospel message, Paul says, you are filled with the Spirit (Gal 3:1–3), and if you want to grow more full with the Spirit, you must keep plunging deeper into the gospel message.
You can pre-order J.D. Greear’s new ebook Jesus, Continued and download his other titles today on Vyrso.com!