What is Lost?
"See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost." (Matthew 18:10-11)
What is lost?
At first this may seem like a silly question, but such questions allow me to enter deeper into areas I have not gone before to discover fascinating and even life-changing truths I have not considered before.
Listening to a compelling sermon a few days ago the speaker said some things that caught my attention. He challenged the typical assumptions most people have about what we presume this word lost refers to. And after considering his unique approach to this word I think I may want to take him seriously.
For centuries we have been led to view salvation, sin and everything surrounding those concepts almost purely in a legal construct. The long-held assumption has been that to be lost means that God has made a determination that you will be allowed to live in heaven or in His presence eternally. For some, to be lost means that you are not good enough or not obedient enough or are too rebellious or sinful or deserving of punishment to be 'saved.' These relate to traditional opinions about what the word 'saved' means as well. But that is not the main focus here, though it certainly plays into it significantly.
Over recent years as my understanding has moved significantly away from a strictly legal view of the sin problem, many words, terms, concepts and metaphors are suddenly in need of serious revisiting to find how they should be understood in the light of the emerging truth about God. When the darkness of fear and misapprehension about God starts to fade in the glory of truth about God's character of pure light and love alone, how do these previous assumptions and definitions and biblical terms actually find a better place in this fresh context of truth?
'Being lost' certainly can involve deliberate choices to rebel, to run away from God or even to inadvertently wander away like a sheep straying from the safety of a flock for whatever reason. But our involvement is not the main issue I want to look at here, for what I am looking for is a clearer understanding of what it means to be lost when considered from outside the distorting effects of arbitrary legal constructs. Just what is lostness and how might heaven view all of this?
'...for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to celebrate.
"But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found." (Luke 15:24, 32)
Clearly this wandering son of a prodigal father was not lost in the sense of not knowing where he was located. Nor was the problem that the father didn't know during his absence where he was or what he was doing. It is clear in this story that the son's condition of lostness was actually something that had begun long before he physically left home. And in addition the attitude of his brother reflected rather plainly that even though he had remained at home with his father that he also shared in this condition of lostness even though he had been confident he was doing the right thing in contrast to his brother.
As I peruse all the verses that come up in a word search through the entire Bible for this word lost, I realize that almost without exception, whatever is considered lost is something of value to the people involved. Whether it be lost articles, animals, people or whether it refers to emotional things such as hope or courage, the idea of being lost reveals a rift or strain in important emotional and social bonds or involves a loss of an important attitude or emotion for healthy living.
I think some of the most important clues to uncover the true meaning of what really has been lost can be found in the book of beginnings, the book of Genesis where the most important truths for understanding the real issues at stake are better seen. At the very beginning of sin on this earth, something extremely important was lost, particularly within our humanity. Consider this passage.
Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness...." God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Genesis 1:26-28)
Typically when we discuss the fall of mankind in the garden we think of what was lost in terms of freedom, dominion, authority or control over this world. But I am starting to see that is not the most important thing that was lost. In reality, our loss of dominion was only a symptom of what was really lost. The thing that is emphasized repeatedly in the above passage is that humans – both male and female complimentary – were designed as reflectors of God's own likeness. Dominion was simply part of that likeness, for to be like God would include 'ruling' in love over everything under your charge.
Lucifer wanted to rule too, which resulted in his downfall from the highest position of authority in the created universe aside from the Son of God. This same angel is now the one who leads us to focus on our loss of dominion instead of remembering that it is the image of God that is most important in our lives, not power or control to rule over others. When the image of God was properly reflected in Adam and Eve, there was no abuse of authority, no ruling over each other, and the dominion or ruling that was over the creatures and everything else on earth was all performed with a spirit of selfless love.
We have since become so immersed and saturated with the spirit of selfishness that it is impossible outside the convictions of God's Spirit to even perceive just how fallen our perceptions of reality have become. Selfishness infuses every thought we think and every motive. All of our religious notions and conclusions are also tainted with this diabolical infection and without a radical divine conversion and a new mind and heart we are doomed to be destroyed by this terminal infection.
This is why saving us required the very Son of God to come to this earth, to take onto Himself our infection. Yet without participating in its cause, He infused the healing power of divinity into humanity to create an antidote that can save us from its deadly hold on our souls. Only in Christ is found an effective healing salve, a balm, a vaccine that can deliver us from the terminal condition with which we are born. Only Jesus has the source and unlimited supply of truth and grace needed to counteract the rampant selfishness that infects our souls like an AIDS virus. Only by entering into an intimate relationship with God in Jesus can what was lost by our first parents be rediscovered by all of us.
And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:9-10)
This verse is in the context of Jesus inviting Himself to the home of one who was viewed by everyone else as a great 'sinner,' so great a sinner in fact, that no one believed there was any hope left for him. Zaccheus was a social traitor, but not only that he was a politically correct robber. His riches came at the expense of those he collected taxes from while his protection was provided by the occupying forces of the hated Romans, pagans who had imposed their superior power and dominion over the Jews.
As a collector of taxes for enemies of the Jews, Zaccheus was particularly hated by other Jews who viewed him as despised and completely forsaken by God. Interestingly the very Messiah whom Isaiah had described as being despised and forsaken by men and whom we would assume was punished by God – this same Messiah identified Himself with this social reject and came to have a meal with him in his house. By publicly forming intimate bonds of fellowship with the most hated sinner in the people's opinion, Jesus brought salvation (salvaging) into the life of this sinner. And He purposely did this to make a bold statement about His mission on this earth, i.e. to save what was lost.
We generally assume that Zaccheus' condition of being lost was in the same way the Jews considered him to be lost – because he was a traitor, a sinner, a breaker of socially acceptable behavioral norms and a law-breaker. Religious people especially tend to see those they view as open sinners through the lens of how much they are out of harmony with the laws of God. Even today we tend to fall into this same mindset whenever we think about sin and what it means to be lost. So when we read Scripture and come across verses like this, our minds immediately filter the words to assume that being lost means breaking God's rules and coming under liability to receive punishments from God.
But what is starting to become more clear to me now is that being lost means something very different than what I always thought it meant. Being lost may simply be reference to what is truly lost that still needs to be found. What my first parents lost in Eden that Jesus came to find in each one of us is a true reflection of the image of God, a reflection that is now so distorted that it is almost unrecognizable. This is that Jesus came to restore in every human being – the original purpose for our very existence.
If this is true, then what should I make of these words of Jesus?
"He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it." (Matthew 10:39)
As I meditate on this and seek for heavenly understanding, what initially comes to mind is how the way we function is persistently backwards from heaven's ways. Jesus was constantly saying things that seemed backwards to the way we intuitively think, because our natural reasoning and logic is inverted by sin infecting our nature. Since the fall we have been trying to live in reverse to the way our minds and hearts were designed to function, and like any well-designed machine, to force it to run in reverse all the time simply is not healthy or efficient to say the least. This is why Jesus kept emphasizing our need to view reality very differently than our natural mind perceives it, for heaven's way of living is intuitively backwards from how we generally do things and organize ourselves here on earth.
The basic operating system (OS) that was supplanted into humanity's brains at the fall subverted the original operating system based on divine agape love. This hijacked our hearts and infused us with a compelling motivation of selfishness and self-protection at the expense of others. Even if we understand this intellectually, not until the subconscious levels of our brain relating to our heart are salvaged and a rescue operating system is installed can we begin to experience the joy of true salvation.
The only way the lost image of God can be restored in a human being is through a reconnection to the Original that we were designed to reflect, the God who is only pure Love. And the only possible means by which we can reconnect to the God who is both love and the Source of all life and power is through the provision of the only connection given, the Son of God who is the Messiah.
What Jesus did not come to do was to satisfy stern demands of the Law of God waiting to punish us. Neither did He come to this earth to appease some fierce anger of God who wants to punish us.
Jesus came to this earth with His Father inside of Him to discover in each one of us the ability to again reflect perfectly the face of God from our hearts out through our lives. Jesus came to awaken true love inside our hearts by immersing us with His own love, and this is the only means that can effectively counteract the damage that selfishness and fear has created in all of us.
Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
Saving what has been lost is not an issue of making legal adjustments in order to abort the sure punishment we expect to receive from an offended Deity in heaven. The opposite is the real case, for God, the one we assumed was offended and angry over our sins, was the One who was and is in Christ and who is doing everything possible to expose hidden within each one of us the lost mirror of His true self. The only way to accomplish this is to awaken trust in Him in our hearts so that we will give the Godhead full access to dwell in us and so they can repair the damage that sin has caused. Then we will begin to produce a brilliant image/reflection of the truth about God whose likeness has been so obscured by the myriads of lies about Him that have kept us in fear.
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)
"But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found." (Luke 15:32) I believe that when we finally get it, when we really connect to what Jesus offers us, that we too will know why Jesus says we just have to celebrate.
What was lost and what is being found by Jesus is our true humanity. We often say that we fail and make mistakes and sin because we are only human. Yet this perpetuates the kind of lies Satan has used to keep us confused and in the dark about our true identity. To be truly human was defined by God at creation and in no way will tend to make us distrust God or treat anyone with anything less than perfect agape, selfless love like Jesus did. This is what was lost when our first parents sinned – our true humanity.
So, to be fully human means to be fully alive, to love passionately, to serve and bless others with enthusiasm and joy, to put other's needs ahead of our own. To be fully human means to rest in God's passionate love and care for us and to reflect that in how we relate to everyone else. In short, to be a real human means to love God with everything we have and are and to love everyone else whole-heartedly from a secure sense of identity and value as a child of God.
This is how heaven functions even today and it is the purpose that Jesus came to fulfill from inside of us so that we may finally be reintegrated back into the peaceful, joyful society of heaven.
Father, I want You to discover Your image that has been lost inside of me. I want the Spirit of Jesus to abide in me and to awaken in my own heart a saving trust in You so that Your agape love may be seen reflected from deep inside. When I am tempted to believe in any other definition of who I am, when I become afraid in reaction to what others think or say about me, remind me that only You have the truth about my identity that I must only accept Your opinion as my truth.
Father, show me Your image hidden inside of me that has been so masked it couldn't be seen before. I know this image is not something I could ever generate myself, yet in my lostness I have often thought I had to become a better person by keeping Your rules most carefully so that You would save me. Religion and my own fallen nature have so confused me that even yet I react with fear and feel shame when someone insinuates anything negative about me.
Shame has so warped my life, my relationships and my perceptions about myself that it seems impossible to appreciate what You see hidden inside of me. But You sent Jesus to seek and salvage what has been lost, and now I realize that what You are looking for is what has been buried beneath all my shame, fears, lies and misperceptions about You that prevent me from resting in Your irrepressible love for me. I want You to save what is lost in me and to deliver me from all that is resisting You so that Your glory may be revealed in the reflection of Your beauty from my mirror.
Help me to resist allowing anyone to keep infecting me with fear and shame by causing me to believe old lies about You. These habits of fearful, shame-based self-perceptions are so strong inside of me. But I just read in Your Word that You who are the One who both wills and works to produce what is pleasure for You. So all I can do is keep trusting You to do exactly this while at the same time I learn to distrust every other person's opinion about me that does not affirm what Your Spirit is revealing to me. Thank-you for Your promises and for giving Jesus to rescue and reignite the fire of love inside all of us to produce a symphony of mirrors to amplify the glory of Your passionate fire of love.