Johnathan Philip Kruis, Director of Student Activities and a Resident Director at Providence Christian College, offers a devotion (and bittersweet goodbye) to our students. Nine years ago he entered Providence as a freshman. He met his bride at Providence, graduated, married, and raised three kids during his five years of faithful service on the Resident Life staff. This fall he plans to enroll at The Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh to pursue an MDiv and future ministry among college students. The students of Providence will miss Johnathan’s cheerful disposition, his servant attitude, and his love for Christ and the Church.
I miss you all and I hope you all are doing well. I hope to offer you some encouragement during this time of uncertainty, social frustration and anxiety, I am of course referring to your experience during college. During your time at college, during the current anxieties, ask yourself, what is your only comfort? Because How you answer that question is of the utmost importance, it is of eternal significance. Where do you find your comfort?
My family and I love having you into our home and if we have had the pleasure of having you over for a meal, and if my daughter wasn’t feeling too shy, you may have had the opportunity to hear her pray. We taught her to end her prayers saying, “thank you that I am not my own but I belong to Jesus.”
We didn’t come up with that, and it will be familiar to some of you. It is from the Heidelberg Catechism, a series of questions and answers written in Germany about 450 years ago. You may ask, what does something like that have to offer us today? Well question and answer one is a summary of the comfort we are offered in Christ, a true comfort that addresses our greatest need and overcomes all separation, a timely comfort for today.
The Heidelberg Catechism says that my only comfort in life and death is that I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.
Where is your comfort? What helps you sleep at night, what calms your anxieties, what do you go to for peace? We have a difficult time with this. For many of us if we are honest we seek comfort in binge watching netflix, in video games, in sex, in relationships, in drugs or alcohol, in academic achievements, in a good job, in our family. Some of those things are good, all of them have their place. But apart from Christ none of them bring true, lasting comfort. Our only comfort in life and in death is that we are not our own but belong to Jesus. It is comforting that I am not my own. That may sound strange, especially as society constantly promotes the opposite, saying, “follow your heart, do what’s best for you.” The idolatry of autonomy reigns supreme.
I have been thinking a lot lately about when I first came to Providence. I was riding a high from finishing high school and starting a new adventure. But while I have many fond memories I also have a lot of regrets, and at the heart of those regrets was an attitude that I was my own.
I had new levels of independence, I wanted to do the things that made me happy, I only made an effort in school when it was convenient, or when I deemed it worthy of my interest. I treated people in ways that benefited myself. I was only interested in God inasmuch as I thought it helped me. I was extremely self centered, and it led to much anxiety and many regrets. I would swing from pride to self-deprivation and feelings of guilt, which led to depression. This just increased the cycle of chasing temporary satisfaction in the wrong places. It was all self centered. I needed to stop thinking more of myself, but I also needed to stop thinking less of myself and just think of myself less. There was no comfort in being my own. One of the scary things about being our own is that we are left alone with our selfishness, but that isn’t the scariest thing.
As I have come to understand more and more how truly sinful I am, the prospect of being my own is more and more terrible because My greatest need is to be made right with God, and when I consider that burden it is a life-altering comfort that I am not my own, I am Christ’s. The death of Jesus lies at the heart of this saving comfort because as Romans 3 says, in his death he “has fully satisfied for all my sins.” God is so good, so perfect, so Holy that no human work can satisfy his judgement, so Christ did it for us.
But If you are like me, doubt will creep in. How do we know we belong to Jesus and how do I know for sure that I am his? What do I have to do? The thing I love about this catechism is that it makes it so clear that this is not on us. The answer we are given directs the attention away from us. Your comfort is not in your ability to be good. Our comfort is not even in our faithfulness, but in the object of our faith, Jesus’s perfect obedience, sacrifice and resurrection, which is certain and unwavering. The catechism makes it clear, he is the faithful one, our faithful savior Jesus! Students of Providence, the gospel is not one that only brings comfort if you have your life together. As Mark 2:17 says, “Jesus said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” He came for you, the sinner.
Sin is powerful. It runs deep. We are all born with it, and until Christ returns we will be battling it’s effects. But our comfort does not come from our ability to be good. The gospel message is not that you will go to heaven if you can stop sinning. The gospel message is that the second person of the trinity humbled himself by becoming fully man, lived in perfect obedience, resisted all temptation, then died on the cross for your sins, defeated death, rose again and now sits in heaven praying on our behalf until he comes again for the final consummation. This is who you belong to. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. Recognize how great your sin is and rest in Christ’s deliverance.
And make no mistake, this comfort is not just waiting for you after this life. The catechism says that this comfort is in life and death. This is comfort you have now. Christianity is not the message of a hope for after we are dead. The catechism reminds us that Christ died for our souls and our bodies. Especially during this time of disease remember that the one who has a power to save, has bought you salvation, and right now today, as you are quarantined at home maybe anxious about your health or those you love, remember that not even a hair can fall from your head without it being the will of your Father. And you will experience pain and hardships, but as hard as it is to believe, God is working all things for your good, and not only that but because of the one who experienced the greatest pain, because of Christ, one day all will be made right, and there will be no more death, no more sickness, and no more tears.
In the meantime, separation is painful. It is so clearly not how things were meant to be. We feel frustration and pain when we are separated from those we love. Maybe it is geographic separation from friends or family that live far away, the frustration that comes with long distance relationships. Maybe it is separation due to sin, emotional distance, break-ups, divorce, distrust. And there is the greatest separation, the separation our sin causes between us and God. We are all experiencing separation during this time, and as this disease spreads we can’t help but think of the seemingly insurmountable separation of death.
It is a popular lie that death is simply natural, part of the cycle of life. Death is our enemy. Jesus wept when Lazarus died, even though he knew he would raise him from the dead. Death brings loss, and pain, even though it has been defeated. Death, the thing that causes the greatest separation now, is defeated in Christ. Separation is not how things are meant to be, and Christ has bought us the solution. In Christ we are not our own, and we are not alone. In Christ separation is removed, between God and between others. The union that we have in Christ to one another is stronger and deeper even than what you have with your biological family, and it lasts forever. It is that union that makes communities like Providence rich. It doesn’t make things perfect, not yet, I don’t have to tell you that our community still struggles with sin, but for all who are in Christ there is union that cannot be separated. It is really the only true community there is. As you go through college and enter into this community, as you are social distancing and long for community, as you are graduating or moving on, find true, life-giving comfort knowing that we are not our own, we were bought with a price, Jesus gave himself up for us, to redeem us and unite us to him and to each other. Praise God, let’s pray.
Class of 2015