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.
Another characteristic that Stott sees in a Radical Disciple of Jesus is maturity.
As many people have noted (both within Christian and secular scholarship), the church has grown rapidly throughout the world. This explosion of Christianity has outpaced even Islam in its global spread. Stott warns us though against becoming too triumphalistic, for this is often growth without depth. Church leaders in the majority world have been candid about the growing numbers and also are open to admitting the lack of a strong foundation. There might be plenty of numbers but cultivating deep roots is something that still lacks.
A lack of maturity is not just something that can be found in the majority world, but it can be found in Western churches as well. Paul confronted this in the 1st Century when he wrote to Corinth saying,
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?
These sharp words to the Corinthians needs to be heard by the church today. Becoming a Radical Disciple of Jesus means taking on the marks of maturity, growing up from being a mere infant. Paul wrote to the Colossian church,
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
Maturity is not just about using big words and paying a mortgage though. Maturity comes from being connected in Christ as a branch is connected to a vine and our arms are connected to the torso. To be in Christ means we are organically related to him, and that relation leads to a worship, trust, love, and obedience to him.
How do we become a mature Christian then?
Stott would suggest practically that the more clearly we see Jesus, “the more convinced we become that he is worthy of our commitment.”
Theologian J.I. Packer wrote that we are “pygmy Christians” because we have a pygmy God. Christians have created small Jesuses in the fashion of capitalist or socialist Jesus, ascetic or partier Jesus, and meek or revolutionary Jesus. Many Christians have domesticated Jesus through creating a false image of him. I know that I have been guilty of this!
If we want to be mature Christians, then we will have to see who Jesus is with clear focus and fresh eyes. We can be centered on him in two ways:
We can see Jesus in his supremacy
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. Col 1:15-20
We can see Jesus in his humility
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil 2:5-11
Last thing I want to point out about becoming a mature Christian is that all can become mature in their faith. It’s not just a secret club reserved only for pastor, theologians, or the little-old-blue-haired-lady-prayer-warriors. All can become mature and then encourage others on this path to a deep, mature faith.
For this month, I wanted to introduce an incredible thinker that I’ve recently discovered- John Stott. If you don’t know the British theologian John Stott, then I really hope you get to know him through his work. Quite frankly, Stott is incredible and this month will be centered on his book The Radical Disciple. With that introduction out of the way, let’s get on with the show!
In his book, Stott would write that two marks (among many) of a Radical Disciple are nonconformity and Christlikeness. For followers of Jesus, the first mark is cultivating nonconformity. We are called to live, serve, and witness to the world while also avoiding contamination from it.
The Church has tried to escape from the world many times in the past to preserve holiness, creating little subcultural ghettos. The church also has given up a bit of holiness in order to conform and go along with the world. Stott saw that the church needed to reject both escapism and conformism.
Holiness is a big theme in Scripture. We are called to be holy because God is holy (I Peter 1:15-16), to be transformed instead of conforming to the patterns of the world (Romans 12:2), and to follow Jesus by not acting like hypocrites (Matthew 6:8). Overall, Radical Discipleship in this characteristic is centered on a call to engagement without compromise.
While we engage the world by being present in it, we must also affirm the uniqueness of Christ. Jesus has no rivals nor successors and we should bear witness to this belief with a spirit of humility. Radical Discipleship calls for nonconformity, not “shaking in the wind like reeds or grass, bowing down before gusts of public opinion.” Instead we are to be as “immovable rocks in a mountain stream.” We are called not to be like a dead fish floating with the current, but to swim against the stream, to stand out visibly in a spirit of humility instead of changing our color like chameleons. We are called to be different, to be like Christ.
A lot of people hear what a Christian should not do, but they do not often hear what a Christian should be. They should become more like Jesus.
Stott unpacked this positive message through three passages calling for Christlikeness.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8:29
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. II Cor 3:18
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. I John 3:2
Still not entirely convinced? I John 2:6 puts it even more bluntly: “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” If we claim to be Christian, then we need to become like Christ, there simply are no other options. Practically, Stott sees Christlikeness in these ways:
In his incarnation– Christians are called to follow his humility Phil 2:5-8
In his service– Christians are called to help others and serve them, even if the task is menial of degrading John 13:14-15
In his love– Christians are called to love others in our lives, even if the love is costly like on Calvary Ephesians 5:2
In his patient endurance– Christians are called to endure, even when suffering comes unjustly.
In his mission– Christians are called to enter other people’s worlds, and to get skin into the game. We go to lost and lonely, for that is Christian love
Though suffering might come and sharing this message of Jesus might be difficult, but the reality is that we are not alone in this. God has graciously given us his Holy Spirit to help us fulfill this purpose in life.
“God’s purpose is to make us like Christ, and God’s way is to fill us with his Holy Spirit.”