Contender or Pretender?

On Sunday, we began a new series called Contending. We’re spending the month of November in the letter of Jude. My big question from Sunday’s message (“Contending for Jesus”) was: What does it mean and what does it look like for us to contend for Jesus and the gospel in our lives?

Ultimately, you have two choices… being a Contender or a Pretender. I want to help you think through these two choices in your relationship with Jesus, in your family and friendships, and in our church.

1. JESUS: When you think about your relationship with Jesus there are two directions to go—Identity & Freedom or Idolatry & Fear.

Contender: Identity & Freedom. When you contend in your relationship with Jesus (not against Jesus), as you allow Jesus and the gospel to press further into your life… further into who you are, it becomes about identity and freedom. Contenders find their identity in Jesus and that brings freedom… increasing freedom from the power of sin… increasing freedom to be who we really and authentically are because we know that we’re loved and secure in our relationship with Jesus.

Pretender: Idolatry & Fear. But pretenders go to idolatry and fear. Idolatry is anything that becomes more important to us, anything where we find our meaning, purpose and identity other than Jesus. We “pretend” that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. But if we’re really honest, we often look to other things and other people for our identity. That’s idolatry, and it generates fear. If you give the key to your identity, meaning, and purpose to something or someone else, you will live in fear, praying and hoping that it isn’t taken away from you. You name it… money, sex, power, success, relationships… if you are looking to those for identity and purpose, at some point they will let you down. You know it. And so you live in fear, dreading the moment that it’ll actually happen.

2. FAMILY & FRIENDSHIPS: When we talk about the relationships within our family or with our friends, we’re either Proactive or Passive.

Contender: Proactive. Contenders are proactive in their family. Contenders are constantly thinking about and actively pursuing how Jesus makes a difference in their relationships in their marriage and with their kids. When we contend for our marriages, we’re vigilant about relational health. We keep short accounts with each other. We seek to become students of our spouse and kids. We pursue selflessness and a sacrificial spirit. We ask for forgiveness when we act out of selfishness. When we contend in our home, we pray for our spouse and our kids. We are constantly, proactively asking Jesus to give us wisdom and grace with each other. The same thing goes for our friendships. We pray for grace, for understanding, for the humility to be like Jesus and love our family and friends like He loves them.

Pretender: Passive. Pretenders are passive. They shift life into neutral. When marriage begins to struggle, they run from the problems. They’re so consumed with themselves and don’t care or notice when apathy and isolation sets in. Or there is a fear of causing waves and change that is needed to grow healthy. Pretenders are passive with their kids. Sure, they want their kids to be good, moral kids… but there’s a passivity about it. Almost an “I sure hope they turn out okay. I sure hope the Children’s and Student Ministry is teaching my kids about Jesus.” In that passivity, there’s not a proactive desire to help our kids really see the how Jesus and the gospel affects and impacts their lives, their decisions, and their relationships. In friendships, pretenders have no desire to take relationships deeper… to initiate and model vulnerability and transparency. Let’s just keep it superficial because I’m not willing to risk going deeper. Let’s just pretend.

3. CHURCH: When it comes to our church, our attitude is one of two things—Service or Serve Us.

Contender: Service. As contenders focus on Jesus and the gospel, we realize that the call to follow Him means the call to serve like Him. Contenders fight against that inward, selfish focus. Contenders pray for a love that manifest itself in sacrificial generosity as we use our time, talent, touch, and treasure for the good of other people. Contenders give of themselves and take care of people within the body of Christ. And contenders also have compassion and are focused on those that don’t yet know Jesus. In the church, contenders ask how they can give of themselves to impact and change their world, locally and globally because it’s all about the heart of Jesus and the heart of service.

Pretender: Serve Us. Pretenders on the other hand are all about “Serve Us.” With pretenders, it’s all about “What do I get out of it? How are my needs being met?” Pretenders give of their time, talent, touch, or treasure when it’s convenient and when there’s a surplus. But they usually don’t because it’s rarely convenient, and there’s rarely a surplus. But pretending doesn’t happen all at once. Churches start off being contenders… all about serving each other… all about mission and evangelism. But that focus slowly turns inward, and we begin to take care of ourselves more than the world around us. We stop contending for Jesus in our world, and it becomes about us. Service becomes serve us.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be a contender, not a pretender. I want to learn to fight the good fight and surrender more and more of my heart to Jesus. I want to understand the good news of identity and freedom in Jesus more and more every day. I want my family and my friendships to be fueled by the radical, sacrificial love of Jesus. And in our church, I want to contend for Jesus’ mission. I want to contend for boldness and courage to serve the people in our world, locally and globally, for the cause of Christ. I want us to be contenders, not pretenders. Fight the good fight. Contend earnestly for the faith in your relationship with Jesus, in your family and friendships, and in our church. “May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you” (Jude 2).

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