Christ Is Relevant Today
By Paul E. Little
Many people today are not so concerned with the question, Is Christianity true? They have a more practical question on their minds: Is it relevant? Student reaction is often: “So I believe what you’ve said about Jesus Christ so what? What’s it got to do with modern life? What’s it got to do with me?” If we want to be effective in communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ to others, we need to know how it is relevant to us personally. Then we must consider how to relate the relevant realities of Jesus Christ, including events that occurred two thousand years ago, to life in the twentieth century.
Many people are today more open to spiritual realities than they were previously because of the climate of our times. Shortly before his death, the late Dr. Karl Compton warned that mankind faces annihilation unless the human race soon achieves moral and spiritual advances equivalent to its technological advances. Life magazine, in reporting the Nobel prize winners in physics several years ago, pointed out that the tremendously rapid advances in scientific understanding have been mere arithmetic gains in comparison to the geometric gains of ignorance. Each additional discovery multiplies man’s realization of how much he does not know and can-not control. It also enables him to manipulate extensive new areas for ill as well as for good, e.g., nuclear energy which can be used to destroy cities or cancer. In spite of the fact that many attempt to extract morality from science, making science entirely amoral, metaphysical issues are more relevant and to the point today than ever before.
Many thoughtful people now realize that they cannot subsist on a diet of platitudes. How is the living Christ relevant to them? In considering present and eternal human needs, we find that the relevance of Jesus Christ to twentieth-century man is disclosed by His own words. The “I am” designations recorded in the gospel of John give us a clue as we see their relationship to modern man and his needs.
One basic need is for a filling of the spiritual vacuum, an answer to the inner emptiness that plagues many lives today. People often immerse themselves; in fact lose themselves, in all kinds of activity and external stimulation. But remove that external stimulation, get them alone with their thoughts, and they’re bored, anxious, or miserable. They feel the aching void within and they can’t escape it. They realize their lack of inner resources for the tests of life; all their props are external. Nothing external can produce lasting satisfaction. Satisfaction that lasts must come from what is inside us.
The Lord Jesus Christ says in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life; lie who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” A tremendous thing happens when we be-come personally related to Jesus Christ as a living Person. He enters our inner being and fills the spiritual vacuum as only He can. Because He is inside us through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, we can have ultimate satisfaction. Augustine and many others throughout the centuries have echoed this discovery. “Thou host made us for Thyself, 0 God, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee.” God constructed us this way creatures dependent on our Creator for completion and fulfillment. We can function as our Maker intended only when He is occupying the center of our lives.
Being released from dependence on external things for stimulation and pleasure in life is like sitting down to a sirloin steak after months of eating potato peelings. When we stop depending on outward and material things, we don’t have to stop enjoying them. We can enjoy a concert, for instance, or the beauty of a sunset, to the glory of God. But we no longer depend on these things for our satisfaction in life. Like our Lord, we have meat to eat which others do not, namely doing the will of our Father in heaven (John 4:32). We draw from the resources that we have within us through the Lord Jesus Christ. We enjoy but do not depend on externals.
Jesus Christ is “the thing” many people are longing to get hold of, He is the One who will fill their aching void and free them from their false dependencies.
Another major area of need is the aimlessness, the purposelessness that characterizes our age and the student world in particular. Many come up to me after a discussion and say, “You described me exactly. I don’t know what I’m doing here in the university. I don’t know why I’m eating three meals a day, studying architecture (physics, or whatever). I’m here because my folks are paying the bill, but I can’t see what it’s all about or what it’s all leading to. I’m caught in a rat race of daily routines. It’s hard to keep plugging away at the books when you can’t see where you’re going or why.”
To this need the Lord Jesus Christ says, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). When we follow the Lord we discover purpose and direction in our lives, because we are living in the light of God Himself and of His will for us. We are no longer fumbling in the darkness of confusion. Have you ever groped about in a dark room trying to find the light switch? You brush against something. Then you feel something else trail across your face. You jump three feet and knock over a waste basket. Your heart skips a beat. You know this uncertain, insecure feeling. At last you find the light switch, turn it on, and orient yourself. Immediately you’re secure. You know exactly how to proceed. Our experience is similar when we come to know the Lord Jesus Christ. He leads us out of our confusion and uncertainty into His light. We see our lives in the context of God’s will and purpose for history. That vision bestows significance, meaning, and purpose.
Most of God’s will is already revealed for us in the Scripture. When. we are obeying the will of God as we know it, He will make more of the details of His will clear to us. When we have told Him were ready to accept His will whatever it may be, He gradually discloses to us those other details about where we should be and what we should do. These details, which mean so much to us individually, are in one sense quite incidental to the basic purpose of God. He is calling out for Himself a people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, a people who will individually manifest the likeness of Christ. This is what God is doing in history. When He brings history to its conclusion, you and I will have the privilege of being part of God’s eternal work.
Our lives have significance, meaning, and purpose not only for this life but for eternity. Think of it! Many people have some purpose in life at this moment. But most of these purposes are short-lived. They won’t give ultimate satisfaction; they don’t mean a thing in terms of eternity. To have ultimate meaning our lives must count not only for time, but also for eternity. We see so many people today who don’t know what life is all about; they’re groping around in darkness without Christ. They’re as aimless as a ship without a rudder. If we relate the Lord Jesus Christ to them as the One who fulfills our need for direction and makes life purposeful, they may be attracted to Him and let Him meet their need.
Fear Of Death
A third need that the Lord Jesus Christ can meet is man’s need for an antidote to the fear of death. When we’re young death tends to be academic. We don’t expect to die soon, so we don’t give the possibility much thought. But death can rapidly become a prime consideration.
In this nuclear age an amazing number of young people have begun to think hard about death. They’re keenly aware that we live on the brink of destruction. One push of a button and everything could be gone. The depth psychology polling of Samuel Lubell, who takes what people say and tries to deduce what they’re actually thinking, revealed the key concern of American voters. For most, the latent issue in the presidential election was which candidate would best succeed in averting thermonuclear war. Although often kept beneath the surface, this threat of sudden destruction and death haunts the minds of men.
The Cuban crisis rattled the complacent as did the Berlin crisis before it. What will happen, they wondered, if the United States should get involved? I had just begun student work in 1950 when we were caught up in the Korean conflict. In every discussion with students someone would ask, “Suppose I’m shipped to Korea and a bullet comes up with my number on it. Where will I be after death? How can I be sure about life after death?”
The Lord Jesus Christ speaks with power to many whose minds are still troubled by death. In John 11:25, 26, He says, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” As we cone to know Him in personal experience, Jesus Christ delivers us from the fear of death. Death ceases to be an unknown. We know it is simply the servant that ushers us into the presence of the living God whom we love. This knowledge enabled Paul to exult, “O death, where is thy victory? 0 death, where is thy sting?” (I Corinthians 15:55). Instead of fearing death, we anticipate the most dynamic experience we can ever have.
I hope none of us has succumbed to the naive impression of heavenly existence as sitting on pink cloud number nineteen and strumming a harp. Naturally, we’d all be terribly bored with heaven after the first week. Lest we fall for such silly thoughts, let’s be assured that heaven will not be a boring place. We don’t have all the details, because God hasn’t chosen to give them to us; but from what He has told us we conclude that heaven will be a dynamic, expanding, creative experience far beyond anything our finite minds can now comprehend. It will be the essence of joy and satisfaction and song. Even though we don’t fully understand what heaven will be, we look forward to being forever with the Lord. So we can suggest to others that Jesus Christ Himself is the solution to their present fears of death.
Until we ourselves face the prospect of death, however, we may not be sure experientially that Christ delivers us from this fear. It’s wonderfully easy to say He does as you relax with friends around a warm fire after a scrumptious meal. It’s quite different to say it when you’re actually facing death. Situations such as impending surgery often brings an individual face to face with the fact of dying. When I underwent heart surgery ten years ago, I proved in the depths of my own experience Christ’s power to conquer the fear of dying. This proof was a valuable by-product of the operation. Before I’d always maintained that Christians don’t fear death, but I couldn’t speak from personal experience.
When they came in to inject the anesthetic the morning of the operation, I was keenly aware of my chances. I knew that in all likelihood I would come back from the operating room, and yet there was a distinct possibility that I would never come back. A heart operation, you know, can be a complete success, but the patient may die because one of seventy-four other things has gone wrong. That morning a joy and peace that I knew came totally from outside of myself flooded my being. I’ll never forget it. If I’d ever thought that peace in the face of death could be conjured up through the power of positive thinking; that idea was dispelled forever. I knew I didn’t have It In me to face this crisis myself. Mortal fear had gripped the man across the hall who was going in for an appendectomy. If positive thinking could have done the trick, he could have talked himself out of his fear. As for me, strains of The Messiah pounded through my brain as I was rolled down the hall to the operating room. As the nurses dripped in the sodium pentothal, I could even joke with thereabout how long I would stay awake 1 think I got to six before I lost consciousness. It was a wonderful experience for me to put this fact of reality to the test and prove it true. Because it is true, we can invite anyone who is seeking freedom from the fear of death to turn to the Lord Jesus Christ and find Him a relevant solution to their fear.
Desire For Inner Peace
Another expression of need today is the longing for inner peace. A Christian doctor on the West Coast took an informal, three-year poll among his patients. He wanted to know what one wish each would make if he were assured that his wish would be granted. Peace of heart, mind, and soul was the number one de-sire of 87 per cent of his patients. The phenomenal sale of religious books in recent years also indicates this unmet need. People don’t have inner peace but they want it desperately, Deep down they realize that everything in this life material possessions, power, prestige, fame will turn to dust and ashes. They yearn for the lasting inner peace and contentment that transcends these passing things.
Again our Lord supplies the answer to man’s need. His promise in John 14:27 is more than sufficient: “Peace I leave with you; my peace f give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled.” His peace differs from the peace the world gives. The peace we find in the world may seem real for the moment but then it’s gone. “I am not of the world,” our Lord said (John 17:14). Therefore He can give a peace that transcends this world, a peace that is deep-seated, permanent, and eternal. This deep-seated peace of heart, mind, and soul grows out of our personal relationship of faith and dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ. He only asks us to accept His invitation, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). People would pay millions of dollars if rest could be bought with money. But it’s not available that way. The Lord Jesus Christ only gives His peace to those who will receive it as a free gift.
Fifth, although we all have a basic need for love and security, loneliness is common today. A Harvard sociologist, David Riesman, emphasized this fact in his much-read book, The Lonely Crowd. He points out that many people are only existing as shells in the midst of a crowd.
Our Lord has dynamically related Himself to this particular need in saying, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). A shepherd looks after and cares for the sheep. Our Lord cared so much that He gave His life for His sheep. He has further assured us with the words, “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” and “1 will never fail you nor forsake you.” A student from Barnard College of Columbia University came to see my wife one afternoon while we were living in New York City. She was utterly alone and felt she couldn’t trust anyone because of past experiences with family and friends. As Marie told her about some of the ways Jesus Christ would meet the needs in her life, she looked up with tears in her eyes and asked, “Do you mean that He would never leave me; that He would always love me if I committed my life to Him?” My wife assured her that she meant just that, for the authority of our Lord’s words and the proof of her own personal experience con-firmed His faithfulness.
Has the presence of Jesus Christ ever dispelled your loneliness? Because I do a lot of traveling, I often find myself alone in Boondocks Junction, not knowing anyone. It’s been wonderful at such times to claim the reality of the Lord’s presence by faith and to recognize that I am never alone. It’s tremendous knowing that we will never be alone because the Lord Jesus Christ is always with us. Sometimes when we imagine we’re all alone we’re tempted to do things that we wouldn’t do if we remembered Christ’s abiding presence with us. But when we consciously recognize and live in the light of His presence, we have a negative deterrent from sin as well as a positive dynamic for life.
Lack Of Self-Control
Many people face a problem of poor self-control: “I find myself doing things I never thought I’d indulge in. I vow I’m going to change, but I can’t.” When students open up about them-selves, they almost always admit this problem. They’ve become involved in campus behavior that they would never have dreamed of back home. The maelstrom of social pressure sucks them in. Then try as they will, they can’t escape its grasp. Our Lord speaks to this need by promising to give us life and power. In John 14:6 He says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” As we rely on Him, avoiding the temptations we would bring upon ourselves and trusting in His power to deliver us from the temptations that come unforeseen, He releases His power in our lives and trans-forms our lack of self-control into deliverance from the power of sin. This transforming power characterizes the lives of many who have come to know Jesus Christ. It is especially evident in people who have been converted out of pagan backgrounds into a drastically different pattern of life. Jesus Christ has broken their chains of lack of self-control and given them power that they know couldn’t come from themselves. This is one of the most potent relevancies of Jesus Christ to twentieth-century man.
Thinking Needs Integration
In His words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” our Lord also speaks to another major need of man: integration in his thinking. A University of Wisconsin senior approached a Christian faculty friend of mine with this problem: “I’ve completed my 144 credit hours and in two weeks I’m going to graduate. But I feel like I’m leaving the university with a bagful of marbles in my hand. I don’t see any relationships between the various courses I’ve studied. They don’t seem to fit together. They’re more like unrelated marbles in a bag.” This fellow did not know Him who is the Truth the One who is absolute truth, from whom all truth stems, in whom all truth is interrelated and tied together. All kinds of things begin to fall into place in Jesus Christ as we come to see Him as the One who ultimately is the only truth.
Jesus Christ Is The Truth
We have authority as Christians to speak of Jesus Christ be-cause He is the Truth. We don’t communicate the gospel on mere pragmatic grounds, although the gospel is true pragmatically. Our approach does not present God as a cosmic bellboy who meets all our needs. We don’t claim that Christianity is true because it works. No. Christianity works because it is true. Jesus Christ is the Truth. Our Lord spoke with devastating authority when He said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mark 13:31). And so we should not relate Jesus Christ to people simply from a pragmatic viewpoint, although it does represent one very dynamic aspect of the gospel. We must always base our communication on the revealed truth of God and the authority of Jesus Christ Himself. Then we can relate Jesus Christ to contemporary needs, showing the people around us that He can be relevant to them in personal experience. Our own personal experience of how Jesus Christ meets specific needs will help an individual to see how very relevant and reliable the promises of Jesus Christ are.
In this short chapter we certainly haven’t covered all the needs of man in today’s world, nor all the Lord’s specific provisions for each of them. Neither are we pretending that once we receive Jesus Christ all our struggles are over. We do have problems in the Christian life, plenty of them. In fact, many Christians have more problems than ever before. The difference is that the Lord Jesus Christ is with us in the battle, and He makes all the difference in the world.
Article “Christ Is Relevant Today written by Paul E. Little is excerpted from How To Give Away Your Faith written by Paul E. Little.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”