Following Jesus will cost you something. It will cost you this: putting your whole life on a table and letting him remove certain things. Things that might be incredibly costly like your identity, vices, or library.
11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit said to them in reply, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” 16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded. 17 When this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, everyone was awestruck; and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised. 18 Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices. 19 A number of those who practiced magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins. 20 So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.
Acts 19:11-20 (emphasis is mine)
Following Jesus will cost us something, even admitting the dark truth that is within our story. But friends, everything he removes he will replace with 10 times as much.
What might be the cost for you?
The last trait that I want to highlight from John Stott’s Radical Disciple is dependence.
Relying On Another
Dependence is something foreign to many within a hyper-individualistic society. Some might even see it as an attack against everything that made a nation great. Admittedly, while America was built on rugged individuals, earlier generations were also connected to their town and community groups. Although as a Radical Disciple is concerned, they will pursue after God and be dependent on him (as hard as this might be!).
Really though, this is tough. I get it. It would be nice to have everything figured out on my own. Yet, every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer at church, dependence hits me like a bucket of cold water. In the Lord’s Prayer, we’re declaring that the Lord must provide, otherwise we’re up a creek without a paddle, boat, or mosquito repellant.
Stott movingly recounts his realizations that he was becoming more dependent on others as his body was breaking down. Old age took its toll on him and now he needed care from others. Yes, dependence on others and on the Lord can be foreign to us in the USA. But a refusal to place our dependence on others is not a sign of maturity, instead it’s immaturity. We need others, especially as a Radical Disciple ages.
Grabbing onto Dependence
Dependence is pivotal to life. We come into this world as a baby, totally dependent on others.
Have you ever noticed that?
Something that I have personally witnessed is that my little daughter is 100% dependent on our love and care. Perhaps other phases of life will allow others to be dependent on us, but eventually, a lot will go out of this world dependent on others again. We are made to be a burden to others, to rely on the strength of the community. Whether it’s the biological family or church family, we are called to a life of “mutual burdensomeness.” Paul would similarly exhort that we should “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
If we are to be a disciple of Jesus, let’s follow his pattern. He was dependent on his mother and father (the God of the universe had his bottom wiped!!) and would exit the world at the crucifixion totally dependent, pierced and body stretched out on the cross. Jesus still had his divine dignity though, so nothing will be lost from us except our pride. If it’s OK for the God of the universe, then perhaps it will be alright for the Radical Disciple of Jesus.
A Parting Note
A Radical Disciple is someone who is thoroughly committed to follow Jesus (not a Christian in name only). They’re a pupil learning under a master and they are a person radically committed to the cause of the Kingdom.
What other traits does a Radical Disciple embody?
Another prominent mark of a Radical Disciple is that they are balanced.
There are many Christians that we might know (perhaps we are one of them!) that are high and low. They are strong in one area and weak in six other areas. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to be that person. Instead, I want to have a life that is balanced in my work, social, family, health, education, and spiritual facets to my life. I want to be a man who is characterized as not only even in temperament, but balanced in my schedule. Theologian John Stott wrote that the the marks of a well-balanced Christian can be found in one of Peter’s letters:Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house[a] to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” 8 and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. 13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
Stott using I Peter 2:1-17 extrapolates that we are called to embody a portrait with six major themes. We are called
As newborn babies– we are called to growth
As living stones– we are called to fellowship
As holy priests– we are called to worship
As God’s own people– we are called to witness
As aliens and strangers– we are called to holiness
As servants of God– we are called to citizenship
These six roles are not separate though, they are strongly connected. As a follower of Jesus, we are called both to individual discipleship and to corporate fellowship. We have individual identities and yet are also a part of something bigger than our own particular story. We are called to both worship and work, praising God and pointing others to him. We are called to be pilgrims in this world and also to be good citizens in the course of our lives.
As a Radical Disciple, we are called to a life that is more than just one dimensional, instead we are called to be a well balanced follower of Jesus. We are called to follow Jesus in every aspect of our life, truly making him Lord of all.
Do you want to be healed?
How does that statement hit you? Do you have to pause to answer? Maybe you might want to scream out, YES!
But think about the excuses that might fill up your mind if you did choose to be healed. For me, if I wanted to be healed, then that means I would have to give up my excuses (as legitimate as they might be) and take responsibility. That’s tough!
Truth is, I don’t like being forced into responsibility, I enjoy blaming other people for where I am at in life– blame the economy, or my wife, or society, or that denial letter. That’s why Jesus’ question is so piercing. If that man wanted to be healed, then he would have to take responsibility for his life from that moment on.
Will you follow?
John provided another passage where a man came to Jesus and told him that he would follow, but first, he wanted to go bury his father. In that first century context, that man’s father would have still been alive. He was asking Jesus for permission to stick around home until his old man died, that way he could ensure his inheritance. He would follow Jesus only after his financial prospects were secure. In another sense, following Jesus came after following his financial plan of action.
Jesus is looking for action, and he asks us if we would follow him now, not later.
Perhaps Jesus is calling us to responsibility, for pursuing after him and to quit making excuses. Maybe he wants us to choose him first, before anything else.
My pastor said once that perhaps the hardest thing about being a Christian is actually wanting to have Jesus’ mind and to follow him. What do you think?
“It’s very annoying following this person of Christ around because he’s very demanding of your life.”
What I loved about his interview was that it was so refreshingly candid and honest, something you might only encounter when it emerges from the inner recesses of your heart. The line quoted above was one of the points that really resonated with me because you just don’t hear this from your average pastor. If I ever have the chance to preach, this might be a theme I would like to explore, it’s something I have personally wrestled with for many years- Jesus is more than a safe teacher, he calls us to do hard things.
I’m glad that I am not the only one who has encountered this. All throughout the gospel accounts we read how Jesus called people to get out of their present comfort zones. He tells the fishermen by the sea to leave the family business and follow him. He tells the rich, young ruler to sell what he has and give it to the poor. He tells Nicodemus to be born again, and for his followers to forgive lavishly.
Following Jesus will not bring you gold and it will not help you become a better you. My apologies to a certain ever-smiling televangelist, but being a better you is just not what Jesus wants. He wants you to follow him.
When we follow Jesus, we will begin to see how broken we are and how badly we need his redemption. Even when I think I have my act together, I am humbled and made aware of my own failures and faults. As CS Lewis would say, “When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that’s left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less.“
Dear readers, when it gets annoying to follow Jesus, press onward. Jesus does speak hard words and following the Messiah will be a tough road at times. But all I can say sometimes in those valleys I need to use the words of his disciples in John, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.”
How do you handle the demands of discipleship?
Think about the last full moon you’ve seen.
Got the image in your head? Good!
Now, (hopefully!) you should recall from a science class or two that the moon does not make its own light. I’m sorry to disappoint if you never heard that, but the moon has no way of generating its nightly glow. Most nights out of the year, the moon provides a brilliant show for us here on earth. We can look up and see her up there, shining brilliantly in the dark. If you’ve ever had the chance of going out to a rural area, you know firsthand how incredible it is to have that light source up there. The full moon makes the nights a little brighter.
Though an elementary school child might know that the moon has no light source, we might not often think about why it provides so much light to us on the dark side of our planet. While the moon might not be like our Sun, it makes for a great mirror of light. Night after night, she reflects the light of the Sun to those who might be in darkness. Night after night, she reflects the brilliance of the Sun, providing a bit of beauty when things get rather dark.
Why the astronomy lesson? I guess I’m trying to say that Christ followers should be less like the Sun and more like the moon. We, by ourselves, cannot provide light to the world. We, by ourselves, cannot guide other people in the darkness. No, we need another light source. We need the light of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to shine into the darkness. It is only when his light is shone upon our lives, that we would ever have a chance at shining into the world.
Just keep in mind, that the only time that the moon does not reflect the light of the Sun is when the world gets in between the two. So it is with followers of Christ, when the love of the world’s spirit means we lose out on the light of the Son and we lose our example. Stay untainted from the world, my dear brothers and sisters, so that you and I might reflect the light and love of Christ to a world in darkness.
Do you think that we should get everything right when it comes to believing in God?
It might be odd hearing this from someone with a Masters in Theology, but I really don’t think so. I have written several times here that God is not concerned about us getting things right. He’s not primarily concerned that we get our theological act together.
Should we have a strong understanding of theology? Absolutely! We should study our roots in Church History, explore the depths of our faith in Theology, and grasp Scripture with confidence through Biblical Studies, but these areas of studies should not be what comes first. What comes first is who we are now and who we are becoming. Jesus was most concerned with a new way of being.
Jesus said to his disciples in John that he gave them a new commandment. He didn’t say try harder, become a better you, get everything right on a test, or dare to be Daniel. No, instead he told them “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” In fact, this was meant to be the main identifier of Christ followers. All people would know that this motley crew were followers of Jesus through the love exhibited towards each other.
Jesus was not concerned with getting your beliefs right. He wasn’t concerned about you passing the theological SAT’s. As important as that stuff might be, he was concerned about a new way of being. He was concerned that they loved each other and through this love they would invite others into a better story. A story that has an ending where God wipes every tear away from their eyes.
I do hope you might deepen your understanding of the God revealed in Scripture, but don’t start there. Choose to follow Christ and be a disciple of his. Follow him and take a new way of being, a person marked with faith, hope, and love.
Since we are in the final week of the love month of February it might be appropriate to close this out with a little bit of love.
As you may or may not recall, I wrote previously on the importance of loving people, even those who might annoy us. Yes, loving even those people who might send you in the opposite direction if you spot them walking into the room. That’s a tough thought, isn’t it?
Reading through an old book on my shelf, I noticed a couple of statements by the Early Church Fathers on this topic. In the Second Century, Clement of Alexandria wrote a portion on love that caught my eye. Actually, he might have been one of the first writers to use a variance of the much-maligned phrase “hate the sin, love the sinner.” Clement reminded the church at that time to love the thief or “ungodly person.” He wanted them to love that individual, but hate the sin that ensnared them. The inclination to sin that I know all too well. But before you hit the close button on your browser, let me say something quickly about what Clement said.
Clement did not want the person to be tolerated in the presence of Church. He did not want them to passively accept the individual. He did not want the people to put a scarlet letter on the shirt of the individual. Instead, he wanted the followers of Jesus to look at the person through a different set of eyes. Loving that person does not mean to condone or condemn them, but to see them as a man or woman that God has made, and that they are the work of God. They are the very work of God, someone who is precious in the eyes of their Creator.
Tertullian, another ancient Christian from the Third Century, would also comment that Christians were different in that age because they did not only love people who liked them. They loved their enemies, they loved people who might turn them over to the persecuting Roman authorities. For Tertullian, the Christian faith is focused on loving others and praying for those who might persecute you. Whether it’s that relative who calls you names because of your faith or the oppressive government militaries that break up church services by force, loving an enemy is something alien to our broken human nature and yet found in the heart of God.
For those who are in Christ, we too know that we have a dirty past. That while we were in the enemy camp, Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification. This is a basis of love. This is where a person can learn to not tolerate others, instead embracing them for who they are– a man or woman with the image of God on them.
How often have you heard the phrase “it’s a relationship, not a religion”? How about “I’m spiritual but not religious”? Maybe some of you have said it or posted it on your Facebook. I have heard those phrases a lot, and I’ve used those phrases a lot.
Confession time: I’ve come to the conclusion that that phrase is lame and not helpful.
Yet, even now when I hear that phrase it is tough for me to respond in the moment. Like a classic introvert, I cannot gather the right words in the moment to rebut this phrase. I get what the individual wants to say, but it’s dangerous to their faith. It’s dangerous because Christianity is a religion in addition to a relationship. Let me explain.
Peter declared in the Gospel of Matthew that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus replied, affirming what he said. Jesus then went on saying, “Upon this rock I will build individualistic relationships.”
Oh wait, that’s not how it goes? Hmm, let me get my New Testament out. Oh, it says “upon this rock I will build my church.” Well this is an interesting moment. Jesus is saying here upon this rock (the rock is the affirmation of Peter for Protestant readers of Scripture, or Peter himself for my Roman Catholic friends) the church will be built.
(*Puts on nerd glasses*) Church in this sentence is the Greek word ekklesia. Ekklesia is a gathering or assembly. So what Jesus is communicating is that upon this bedrock foundation a gathering of saints and a group of redeemed would be formed (*takes off nerd glasses*). In other words, Jesus wanted a community not just a relationship.
Jesus instituted a religion, an assembly of believers. The Book of Acts follows this pattern as well. Take a look at the imperfect early church, they were a group of Christ followers in community. A new religion was formed in spite of mistakes and infighting.
Christianity is both spiritual and religious. It is both deeply personal and dynamically communal. The church is a work in progress, it was so from the beginning. Imperfections are bound to arise wherever humans congregate, including followers of Jesus. But the glorious truth is that God works in his church, daily molding them into the image of Christ. We connect to God and others in the institution of religion and relationship. It is foolish to separate the one from the other, because it will take the Church (the community of saints) to help form a Christian.
You see, my dear friend, God redeems not just individuals who say the sinner’s prayer. No, he is redeeming a “royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that [they] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [them] out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once [they] were not a people, but now [they] are God’s people; once [they] had not received mercy, but now [they] have received mercy” (I Peter 2:9-10). The Lord is looking to redeem a people, not just a person. As Michael Horton would put it, “he does not simply want a few outstanding trumpet players who ‘wow’ their adoring fans, but an orchestra where the attraction lies in the harmony.”
A robust relationship must take place within the context of a community. So my encouragement is join a community of faithful followers of Jesus, and be part of the community of the redeemed. We need you.
Is it possible to be a conflict-free Christian?
I was reading over an article in a magazine that was speaking to the phenomena of Christians in the Islamic world. These were not the types that were oppressed by the Islamic rulers and the ones who have their churches set on fire. No, these were the ones that still attended mosques upon conversion. These were the men who would go into the mosque and pray on Friday afternoons. They are Jesus followers who remained in the mosque, worshiping the Triune God instead of the Islamic Allah.
In case you haven’t heard about this trend, this has been a controversial topic (see Muslim Followers of Jesus? from Christianity Today), and the question that is often raised is that this phenomenon counters the heart of the Gospel. It could possibly mix two separate religions, and this would in turn dilute the uniqueness of Jesus. For Jesus is not a prophet as Islam would teach, instead he is God (which is a blasphemous statement for a Muslim).
The way I see it, the general candor of the New Testament seems to portray the Christian life as being counterintuitive. It is about making a declaration of faith and then stepping into a different life trajectory or citizenship. Whether it was the renouncing of pagan ways in ancient Greece or choosing to authentically follow Jesus in Middle America, becoming a Christ follower can create discomfort from mild to extreme. It confronts you with the necessity to sometimes get your hands dirty and do uncomfortable things, like renouncing your former religion in spite of a death sentence.
We need to remain faithful
It was incredibly difficult to write that last sentence. While I might never know what it is like to come face-to-face with a sword for my religious views, I know that both in America and abroad, followers of Christ are called to be faithful. We are called to live authentic lives for the Kingdom of God and to speak the good news that Jesus is the Risen Lord.
Being faithful is about living well. What does that exactly look like? James would say that the pure religion of Jesus looks like caring for widows and remaining unstained from the world. In other words, it’s about acting justly and graciously towards the marginalized people of society. It is also about living lives that are purified (perhaps, purifying) and transformed by the grace of God.
We need to remain humble
It is not enough to be faithful and stand against a storm. We need to also be humble. The truth for all Christ followers, whether in Islamic lands or in post- Christian nations, is that we are people who have been graciously redeemed. We have been made children of God, by the grace of God, for the glory of God.
Adopted into the family. That is the imagery that Paul uses in Ephesians and it is an imagery I like to use as well. Because it demonstrates that the child has not earned himself into right standing with the parent. Her quick wit was not enough to get her into a home. No, it was the gracious act of the adopter. And for those who are in Christ, you and I have been graciously brought into a warm home. How fortunate is that? Why would or should I ever boast?
We need to trust that God is in control
The Lord will take care of you and I, that is why we need to be people who are both faithful and humble.
Even when things go awry. Even when everything seems to fall apart.
I was reminded of that in reading through Job. Here was a godly man, someone who was faithful towards the Lord. Yet, he experienced a tremendous amount of garbage. In the closing chapters of this book, Job was reminded that God was in control, even in the dark hours.
We need to remain faithful to the Lord, even when things go bad. We need to stay humble, even when things go right. God is in control over our situations, whether we are in Anytown USA or the streets of Cairo, and for that I cling to him.