“Are you all in?” roared the high school football coach to his team in the locker room.
“Yes, SIR,” they shouted back.
“Then let’s go get it done,” said the coach, and the team rushed out onto the field to play their homecoming rivals who had beaten them 61-0 the year before. Turns out their playing “all in” would be pivotal to their ability to flourish as a team.
The same kind of wholeheartedness is required of our Christian life, but the question is, why does it matter?
Being All In: Living Lives of Wholehearted Devotion to God
The Old Testament story of Joshua at the end of his life tells of him calling the people of Israel to covenant renewal at a place called Shechem. Even after all the things God had done to bring them into the promised land, Joshua knew that the Israelites were still worshiping other gods. He tells them that they must be fully committed to God—they have to be all in.
But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. (Josh. 24:15)
Joshua is alluding here to the “Shema,” an Old Testament creed given to their fathers by God through the prophet Moses. In the Shema, Moses tells them, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:5).
In his booklet about the Shema, Wholehearted, Scott Redd says that we often think about “these three categories, heart, self, and strength, as discrete [or distinct] elements of the human nature.” But this misses the intent of the passage. What Moses is trying to tell us is more “about the thorough-going, outwardly directed character of the covenantal love that is required in response to the character of God.” God demands that the citizens of his kingdom be all in, to love and serve him with everything they are and everything they have.
Jesus speaks to this idea of wholehearted living in the New Testament. As biblical scholar Jonathan Pennington writes:
When we turn to the New Testament, we find this same concept operative in the Christian understanding of what it means to be godly, holy, and righteous. For example, one of the key ideas—if not the key idea—in the Sermon on the Mount is “wholeness,” “completeness,” or “singular devotion.”
Pennington suggests that we see the best example of this idea of “singular devotion” in Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The word perfect in this case, translated teleios, harkens back to wholeness with a singular devotion to the Lord both inside and out—the same as the exhortation to be holy as the Lord is holy (Lev. 19:2, 20:26) in the Old Testament, a “wholehearted orientation toward God” according to Pennington.
This all-in wholeness is the way humans were designed to live and flourish together, inter-dependently in God’s created order. Pennington suggests that this all-in wholeness is a “vision of what it means to be godly, which is the same as what it means to truly flourish.”
Being All In: Living Lives Aligned with God’s Design (and Desire) for Us
What does this all-in, wholehearted life look like? It starts with understanding that the gospel calls us to live lives based on God’s design and his desire. God created a world based on many principles that reflect his character and were intended to bring flourishing to his creation.
God’s gracious gift of the gospel through his son Jesus Christ not only restores our broken relationships with God, each other, and the physical creation but also empowers us through his Spirit to live lives that align with his desires. His desire is to bring more flourishing to his creation and his children can be agents of that flourishing.
Part of God’s commission to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28 was to subdue the earth. In this context, the word subdue, according to scholars Barry Asmus and Wayne Grudem, literally means to go out and make the earth “useful for human beings benefit and enjoyment,” a place for human beings to flourish.
If it was God’s desire for Adam and Eve to create more flourishing in a perfect world, how much more is it his desire for us to work toward the same ends in this broken world in which we live?
The gospel of Jesus Christ shows us what real flourishing is, gives us a taste of it in this world, and guarantees our experience of full flourishing in the world to come.
Being All In Together Makes All the Difference
Back on the football field, the players had bought into the new coach’s plan—they were all in. As a result, they achieved their first winning season in years, beating the homecoming rival by a touchdown. Even though each player made an individual commitment, they also made a corporate commitment to work together in a way that would bring them success. And those commitments paid dividends; the next year they were runners-up in the state championship and the following year they won the state championship.
Likewise, if we are going to live all-in, wholehearted lives as Christians, we not only make the personal decision about who we will serve but we must also work together with those who’ve made the same commitment, to bring about flourishing within our communities.
Are you all in?
Editor’s note: Read more about living “all in” in Scott Redd’s booklet, Wholehearted: A Biblical Look at the Greatest Commandment and Personal Wealth.
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