The Mathematics of Derailing Spiritually


C.S. Lewis famously said that when we read history, we find that those who did the most for the present world are also the ones who thought the most of the next. In other words, the more heavenly minded we are—the more our heads and hearts are fixed on Jesus, his kingdom, and his purposes—the more earthly good we will be. And the more happy and healthy and whole we will be as well.

But if we are being honest, many Christians struggle to keep their minds and hearts fixed on what Lewis calls “the next” world. With goals to chase, degrees to earn, careers to pursue, friendships to enjoy, families to raise, retirement accounts to build, and more, we are easily distracted from our chief purpose as human beings—to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

In practical terms, how many of us have the time and energy to do what it takes to be heavenly minded? Who has the bandwidth, the focus, or for that matter the incentive to “set (their) minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2)? Who has the interest or ability to stop worrying about the details and concerns of here and now, and instead to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33)?

According to Scripture, the only way we can live a full and fruitful life in the here and now—the only way that things like career, family, friendship, and other pursuits can lead to healthy and life-giving outcomes—is to remain fixated on Jesus, his kingdom, and his purposes through each one of these pursuits. Jesus must be the sun around which the solar systems of our lives find their orbit. He must be our single non-negotiable, our “true north,” and the wind beneath our sails. Otherwise, by moving Jesus to the periphery and centering our lives on anything else, even our best and most noble earthly pursuits will backfire on us. When we turn good things into our ultimate things, they will go sour for us. When we plug our emotional umbilical cords into anything besides Jesus and expect them to give us life, they will steal life from us instead.

We each have something at the center of our souls that we treat as our functional treasure, as the ultimate source our own happiness and significance and flourishing. Whether it’s Jesus or someone, someplace, or something else, we all depend on these treasures to save, sustain, and govern our lives as functional lord and savior. We tell ourselves, “If I can have this, then it will be well with my soul. If I can hold on to this, things will be okay. If my thoughts, words, and deepest commitments are centered on this, my life will be worth living.”

When we think this way, we become like the rich fool in Jesus’ parable, who like Ebenezer Scrooge counts up all his money and material goods and preaches a mini-sermon to his own soul: “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God preaches a contradicting mini-sermon to him, saying, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be” (Luke 12:13-21)?

What makes this man a fool?

First, he is shortsighted. With the mortality rate being one person per every one person, sooner or later he will die. When he does, he will not be able to take his things with them. They will offer no comfort, no support, and no salvation for him. As another rich, yet much wiser man once said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

He is also a fool for depending on created things to do for him what only his Creator can do. As Blaise Pascal once said, in each of us there is an “infinite abyss (that) can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.” Every pursuit of ultimate satisfaction outside of God himself will lead to less satisfaction.

It’s simple math, really. Everything minus Jesus equals nothing, and Jesus plus nothing equals everything. With Jesus, every other person, place, or thing we are given to enjoy is bonus—not something to plug our emotional umbilical cords into, but rather something to offer thanks for to God.

As the Puritan, whose possessions were reduced to a single piece of bread and a single glass of water, said:

“What? All this and Jesus Christ too?”

Scott’s latest book, A Gentle Answer: Our ‘Secret Weapon’ in an Age of Us-Against-Them
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12 responses to “The Mathematics of Derailing Spiritually”

  1. Roy Liddell says:

    Internalizing and applying this truth in our lives seems as difficult as trying to catch the wind. Yet it also seems so basic and necessary. Something to pray for the ability to do…

  2. Jere Vandewalle says:

    This is as succinct a rendering of the true human condition as I have every read. To the natural mind it is a fleeting mist, but to the mind that is quickened by the The Spirit it is a supreme reality to rest and revel in. Thank you so much for this encouragement!

  3. Ron Barry says:

    Truth. Wisdom. Grace.
    All this and Jesus Christ, too?
    Eternally grateful.

  4. Vicki Gatchell says:

    What? All this and Jesus Christ too?

  5. Edwin says:

    The preaching for the pulpit, the TV, media, Wall Street and Hillsdale College is that the wealthy, wealthy and wealthy are blessed by god and we know this is true because this is how we live. No need for health or wisdom; we know those come from wealth too. And there is no actual need for god if you have enough. And certainly no one would take Jesus seriously if he asked one to give up all and follow; besides that was just a rhetorical question from another time. Any talk of living on less, simplifying our lives, giving more to the poor is rubbish; Jesus is an accessory to make us feel good, forgive our lack of disciple, greed, lust, pride and hold our hand if things get uncomfortable. Besides, our kids wouldn’t like us if they didn’t have a TV, smart phone and no real responsibilities.

  6. Tammy says:

    Very very applicable for most of us social media addicts these days. All I can say is this So. Baptist girl would be attending a Presbyterian church if we ever moved to the Nashville area. Thanks for such words of wisdom.

  7. greg rogers says:

    Beautifully put! Thank you. Some say you can be so heavenly minded that you become no earthly good. The Bible says that those who are heavenly minded are best at serving God on earth. I love my family, my job, to spent time on our boat in TN etc. All of these things are trinkets unless they are viewed from an eternal timeframe where Jesus is lifted high! I told a friend once that to take a walk in a beautiful state park in the spring longing for it to give peace that passes understanding is futile. But to take a walk in a beautiful state park with Jesus Christ, the Maker of all that is good, who died for puny little ‘ole me who needed such forgiveness from my sin just so God could fellowship with us and be glorified forever in a place that will far exceed the beauty of that state park, makes the earthly voyage down the park path sparkle with radiance of God’s Glory and offers real peace. Religion gives us endless duty that enslaves. Confession of sin for forgiveness by Jesus Blood and a relationship with Him offers us the opportunity to the Holy Spirit which is a “deposit that guarantees the things to come.” God, help us all to see you in the light of your Word by the power of your Spirit as we look forward to your eternal fully realized presence!

  8. Rebeca says:

    A generation is coming that will give up all their idols and truly turn to Jesus because they will walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, no more religiosity. Hallelujah!

  9. Tom Bailey says:

    I cannot put in a smart reply to show my agreement. Just quietly in my middle age, I want to say thank you for your words. I wish I could add a complementary thought, but my words do not collect together like they once did. So, just a thank you offered as a gift to you. Your gift is precious to me today. Tom

  10. Wendy says:

    Thank you, Scott Sauls. From even the first paragraph I am recognizing a healing taking place in my heart/mind that I hadn’t known I needed. Many years ago a mentor told me not to be so heavenly minded because I would be no earthly good. I didn’t know how else to be after recognizing my great need and Christ’s great gift. I was a new believer and respected her but it has always been an unsettling memory because it seemed to contradict Scripture. My hope has been that maybe I had just misunderstood her. All that to say again, thanks for writing this. I truly appreciate your thoughtful writing. Blessings as you journey on in Christ!

  11. Felicia says:

    Well said; may we all incorporate these truths that Pastor Scott eloquently wrote about so that we can keep even the good and worthwhile things in perspective, and never lose sight of ‘our true north.’ Thank you for this ever-appropriate reminder!

  12. […] This article helps us focus on eternity. Check out this quote: “According to Scripture, the only way we can live a full and fruitful life in the here and now—the only way that things like career, family, friendship, and other pursuits can lead to healthy and life-giving outcomes—is to remain fixated on Jesus…” […]

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