I find myself on this cold wintery day looking forward to the warm summer when I can again leisurely float down the Shenandoah River on an inner tube. The sun, the water, and the beauty all make for a gentle and relaxing journey downstream…until I hear the sound of the rapids! At that point my carefree spirit turns to anxious anticipation as I sit up, become watchful, and chart my course.
Rapids can be fun because of the thrill. Rapids can also be dangerous, even life-threatening. I found this to be true on a river I tubed in Costa Rica. I had wondered why I was required to wear a life jacket, helmet, and sturdy shoes. I found out why as I approached the first waterfall!
As fun as tubing is, there is a major problem with it: You are at the mercy of the current! It takes you where it wants you to go, and it is a fallacy to believe you can effectively control the direction of the tube.
Let’s draw a spiritual parallel. Our world is like the river, and it so happens our world is wayward. It celebrates wrong as right and right as wrong. With that in mind, as a disciple of Jesus should you go tubing? No! Here are at least three reasons:
Because the world will take you places you should not go and lead you to do things displeasing to God.
To do so is to identify with the world more than Jesus.
Because we are commanded not to conform to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2a).
So, if you choose to abandon the tube unlike everyone else, you have chosen to live for Jesus instead of the world. Be advised—when you live for Jesus you will be going against the flow, and if you have ever tried walking against the current you know it is an unrelenting fight.
In John 17:14-17 Jesus prayed for his disciples. In doing so He provided a snapshot of what it looks like to go against the flow. First, to go against the flow is to be in the world (water) but not of the world. This means you no longer value what the world values. Instead of pursuing worldly pleasures and treasures, you obediently and faithfully pursue godly ones.
Secondly, to go against the flow is to be sanctified, set apart. This means you live life separate from the evil of this world and grow in moral purity, attitude, thought, and action. In what manner are you sanctified? In this case in truth. To be sanctified in truth is to live according to the truth. But like that age-old question, what is truth? Jesus clearly told us in verse 17—God’s word is truth! God’s spoken and written revelation is truth itself and is the standard against which everything else must be tested.
To go against the flow means you become less and less like the world and more and more like Jesus. By the way, if you seek to be more like Jesus you will do as he did. Here’s an example from a friend on imitating Jesus. At first glance it seems counterintuitive:
Hang out with sinners
Choose unpopular friends
Upset religious leaders who are going with the flow
Tell stories that make people think
Be kind, loving, and merciful in all things
In short, even though you are going against the flow, you should still have intentional relationships with those of the world, but those relationships will be redemptive rather than merely social. In John 17:18, Jesus purposefully sends you back into the world without being of the world. Why? To rescue those being carried away by the current (see Proverbs 24:11).
Which way do you want to go today, tomorrow, and the rest of 2021? The default (due to ignorance, apathy, or laziness) is to remain on the tube and be carried downstream by the world. The alternative is to trust in the One who saved you and follow him upstream against the flow.
Next Steps Pastor - Erik Wilkins