Freedom in Christ

Memorial Day

It was not too long ago that we celebrated Memorial Day, a day in which we remember those who died while serving in our armed forces. We cannot imagine all the freedoms we now enjoy because of the ultimate sacrifice so many made on our behalf.

Therefore, it was fitting that we celebrated Holy Communion on that Memorial Day Sunday. For no sacrifice was as great and all-encompassing as Christ’s atoning death for us.

Gospel Picture

I love celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion because in it we get a beautiful picture of the Gospel. We enjoy precious freedoms as Americans because of the sacrifices of men and women through the centuries. And we have precious freedom as Christians because of the work of Christ.

In Galatians 5:1, Paul highlights that freedom. Paul writes,

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Freed to be Free

The freedom Paul is talking about is our freedom from the burden or oppression of legalism which Paul calls “slavery.”

You see, it is not the Law that Paul says is bad. When we understand God’s Law correctly, it is good, even beautiful. And that’s because God’s Law feeds us. It guides us. It draws us near to God. It teaches us. It encourages us.

But the way it was being used by the legalists in Paul’s day was actually enslaving the Christians in Galatia. It was like a giant weight lying on top of a person, crushing them bit by bit by bit.

Because of this oppressive legalism, the Galatian Christians had no freedom in Christ. They couldn’t enjoy being liberated from their sin because they couldn’t keep the Law well enough for the legalists. Instead of flourishing and enjoying their new life in Christ, they were suffocating under the weight of the Law, wrongly understood, and the condemnation of sin that came from that false teaching.

They were in a bad way.

Thus, Paul wrote to them and declared from the rooftop: Enough! The Law of God should never be used as an enslaving and oppressive weapon!

In addition to the wonderful previously mentioned things the Law does for us, it does something more. It leads us to Christ. Like a schoolteacher, the Law teaches us – it shows us our need – it leads us to Christ… and Christ leads us to freedom.

That’s why Paul said “it’s for freedom that Christ set us free. That sounds like Paul is being redundant, but he’s saying something very important here. Paul is saying, “Christ didn’t set you free… so you could remain a slave to sin. He didn’t set you free… so you could become a legalist.”

Through his work on the Cross, Christ set you free to become all you were created and called to be. Therefore, Paul wrote, “Don’t go back to a life of slavery… to sin or legalism. It is that wonderful, freeing work of Christ on the Cross that we celebrate in Holy Communion.

So, what does that freeing work look like? I want to point out how the Cross frees us in our past, present, and future.

Freed from Our Past

First of all, the Cross of Christ frees us from our past.

Here’s what I mean. We no longer need to live under the penalty of sin. We have been liberated from the condemnation our sin deserves. Romans 8:1 says,

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,

And that is true because the work of Jesus paid for – atoned for – our sinful and fallen condition. God no longer counts our sin against us. We no longer have to walk through life like poor Pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress did… with a giant bag of guilt and condemnation and sin weighing him down.

Therefore, when we read the liturgy for Holy Communion, and then receive the Bread and Cup, we should do so with hearts full of gratitude for Christ’s work on the Cross.

Freed for Our Present

Second, the Cross of Christ frees us for our present.

Just as Jesus freed us from the penalty of sin, his Cross also frees us from the power of sin in our present. This does not mean that sin no longer has any power over us at all. It still has the power to influence our lives. Unfortunately, we are not free from temptation. That is still alive and all-to-well.

However, we are now free from the dominion of sin. In other words, before we were in Christ we couldn’t help but sin. We had no real power to resist it. But now, because of the work of Jesus, that dominion of sin in our lives has been defeated. We have been freed from it.

Not only that, but when we receive the Bread and Cup we’re actually meeting with our Lord at his Table… in the present. Through his Holy Spirit we are filled with his grace. That is why John Wesley called Communion a “means of grace.” It is a way in which we put ourselves in the way of God’s grace.

You see, Holy Communion is a time when we’re strengthened by God’s Spirit and grace to live the life he’s called us to live. And Holy Communion reminds us that we are in this together. It is not an expression of a Lone Ranger faith. Instead, we gather with all our brothers and sisters in our local church, around the world, and including the Great Cloud of Witnesses of Hebrews 12.

Holy Communion reminds us we are now free to become all that God has created and called us to be.

Freed in the Future

Finally, the work of Jesus on the Cross, which includes his resurrection, reminds us that one day we will be free from the presence of sin in our lives.

Holy Communion helps us to remember forward. It reminds us of a future where our Lord will once again dine with us at a Heavenly Banquet. The precious meal of the Bread and the Cup is just a foretaste of the Great Banquet that awaits us.

No longer will we be entangled in sin at all. It will be once-and-for-all done away with. And as we move from this life to the life-to-come, we will live in the unveiled presence of our loving Savior.

But we do not have to wait for the coming of Christ’s Kingdom because we’re living in it right here and right now. That is why Paul could write, “don’t let yourselves be burdened any longer by a yoke of slavery.

Therefore

Therefore, because of the love and work of Jesus for you…

  1. You are free from the bondage of legalism and the penalty of sin. So, give thanks.
  2. You are free from the irresistible power of sin in your life. So, pursue becoming all God created you to be in Christ.
  3. And one day you will be completely free from the presence of sin. So, live every day in joyful obedience to Christ our Lord, with the living hope of those who love him.

Thanks be to God.

Jesus Christ is Lord

Jesus Christ Is Lord

Spiritual Buffet Table

When I was in seminary, I had the opportunity to take a course on The Sermon onthe Mount. I loved that class and learned a great deal from it. One of the big ideas I learned early in the course related to the first 12 verses of Matthew 5, which we call, The Beatitudes.

The professor said we often read the Beatitudes this way: We approach them as though they were a buffet table, in which we pick and choose the one or two verses we like and disregard the ones we don’t, as if we’re selecting a meal. We tend to do the same with the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23.

The big idea the teacher taught me was this: These so-called “lists” are really meant to be looked at as composite portraits of what each Christian is to look like. Each of these characteristics or attributes is to describe each and every Christian. Each and every Christian is to be poor in spirit, meek, merciful, and so on. Of course, none of us exhibits each of these in our lives to the same degree, but that is still the goal Jesus set before us.

But again, we tend to gravitate toward the ones we like or the ones we think we’re good at, don’t we?

Spiritual Life Checkup

The church I serve recently used a spiritual inventory called, TheSpiritual Life Checkup. Its purpose is to focus on the various areas of a Christian’s life to discern how the person is doing in the areas assessed, much like bloodwork focuses on the different components of a person’s physical health. One of the things I learned as I talked with folks about their checkups was that it’s easy to have a “buffet table” approach with this as well.

For example, the first three chapters of the Checkup focus on our vertical relationship with God – our devotional life, intellectual life, and our struggles and temptations with sin. For some of us, reflecting on God and looking inwardly are two areas we love thinking about and where we want to spend our time.

The following chapter of the Checkup takes a look at our outer life – our horizontal relationships with others. And for some of us, this is our sweet spot and we would be very happy to focus only on how God is calling us to interact with others.

Here’s the point: While there are some aspects of the Checkup we like more than others, that we’re better at than others, each part is for each Christian. And if we focus on only one part of it, we will find ourselves living compartmentalized lives.

Compartmentalized vs God-Centered Living

The third question of Part 1 of the Checkup asks this: Do you have a God-Centered life? Perhaps you are wondering what that means.

Many of us live compartmentalized lives. Think of a compartmentalized life this way: Imagine you are looking at a large office building. As you look at it you observe many different windows representing many different offices. Each of those office windows represents a different part of a person’s life. For example, one office window may represent God, while another might represent your family, or job, health, friendships, private time, and so on.

Here is the problem: While there are many parts of your life represented by the office building, none of them is directly connected to another. Your faith may be in the top left corner of the building while your family-life might be in the bottom right. They are simply compartments of your life, seemingly unrelated to one another and therefore, without the power to influence one another. God may be one part of the structure, but in a compartmentalized life, he is not connected to, or impacting, the other areas of your life.

Rather, God is calling us to live God-Centered lives.

Instead of an office building, now think of a bicycle wheel. The hub, where all the spokes meet together, represents God. Each of the spokes represents the various spheres of a person’s life: faith, family, work, community, health, politics, etc. Each sphere of a person’s life finds its stability and integrity in the hub, which again, represents God.

When God is at the center of who you are, your life will become more holistic because each part of who you are is grounded and centered in the same Person, the One who gives your life meaning, purpose, and value.

The take-away from this is not that we are either living a compartmentalized life or a God-centered life. None of us is doing this perfectly. The point really comes in the form of a question: Is a God-centered life the direction you desire to move in, and if so, are you making progress in that direction? Direction, not perfection, is what is in view here.

The Foundation of God-Centered Living

Our Scripture from Philippians gives us the foundation for God-centered living. The Apostle Paul was writing from a prison cell to a church he was very fond of. As he moved through his letter, he told the Philippians he wanted them to be of one mind, that is, to be unified in who they were.
And Paul, understanding the human condition so well, knew the key ingredient to unity was humility. That is why he wrote in Philippians 2:3-4,

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

It is hard to have unity if everyone is putting themselves first. That usually brings about division.
Paul then made a move to help them understand what this humble, other-centeredness ought to look like. He wrote in verses 5-8,

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death–
        even death on a cross!

If anyone could have held on to his own position, glory, comfort, and power – it was Jesus. He did not owe us anything. We did nothing to deserve his love. And yet…

And yet, though he was truly God, he did not hold onto that privilege, or the glory, comfort, and power that went along with it. He took on human nature. He became a servant, not to a fan club of folks who already loved him, but to those whose sins would ultimately nail him to a Roman cross. And he did this voluntarily. He did not have to do this. His love, mercy, and grace compelled him to choose to do this.

Renewed Thinking

When you work through the first three parts of the Spiritual Life Checkup, one of the discoveries you make is that you must humbly submit yourself to the Spirit’s direction, encouragement, and even correction in your thinking. That can be hard to accept.

But when you do, you cannot help but be humbled. Your thinking takes on a God-centeredness, and as Paul declared in verse 5, you begin to take on the same mind or mindset as Christ himself.
In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul wrote, “we take captive every thought to make itobedient to Christ.” That renewal in our thinking begins to show up in our living (Rom. 12:2). Our attitudes toward others, the things we value in this world, and the way in which we live our lives – it all begins to change.

We discover God is doing a great work in us from the inside out. We cannot help but put the interests of others before our own, because that is what Christ has done for us.

The Name

In verse 9, we get the all-important, Therefore.

Paul was teaching that because of all the Lord Jesus voluntarily did on our behalf, this blessed suffering-Servant was given something special. Paul declared,

God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,

What did God give Jesus? He gave him a name. And not just any name, but “the name that is above every name.”

It is not the name Jesus. It is the name Lord. In Old Testament times, the name for God was so holy and sacred, the Jews would not even speak or write it. Instead of writing God’s holy name, YHWH, they wrote the name, LORD – in all-caps – to represent God’s most holy name and position.

Paul was saying Jesus was given the name Lord, to acknowledge who he was. He was no mere teacher, philosopher, apocalyptic prophet, or revolutionary. He was God in the flesh. And because Jesus is Lord, Paul said,

every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Matthew 28 puts the same idea this way,

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

In Colossians 1, Paul says this of our Lord,

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

John 1:1-3, Hebrews 1:1-3 and Ephesians 1 all teach the same thing. Jesus Christ is Lord over heaven and earth. Jesus has allauthority in heaven and earth.

St. Augustine supposedly once said, “If Jesus Christ is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all.
The Dutch theologian and statesman, Abraham Kuyper declared,

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

It all belongs to Christ. Jesus Christ is Lord over every sphere of life.

Therefore

Therefore, we are called to submit every aspect or who we are to his Lordship. And this submission produces the God-centered life I was addressing earlier.

Jesus is Lord over our private lives, relationships, workplaces, finances, ethics, politics, values and priorities, doctrinal beliefs – everything about us – Every Sphere of Life. This is not a call for all Christians to look the exact same. There is still much room for variety of personalities, interests, callings, and gifts. However, submission to Jesus Christ as Lord is still the command and standard for every person.

And yet, we cannot simply will this to happen. We are powerless to submit to his Lordship, to grow in his likeness, and to love and serve others if we are not first empowered by his Spirit. And so, in the name of Jesus, I pray each of us would turn in trusting-dependence upon Christ as our Savior and all-sufficient treasure, for it is only then that his Spirit will enable us to bow our knees before him and confess with our tongues that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Walking Points

  • What areas of your life are centered in God and your relationship with him? Describe what that looks like.
  • What areas are not centered in God? Why do you think that is?
  • Talk with two or three Christian friends about helping you make God the center of all the areas of your life.
  • List the different areas of your life and write down what you think each should look like when Jesus Christ is the Lord over that area.

The Pursuit of God

Psalm 63:1 – O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Mixed Feelings

I think I know what it means to thirst for God, to long for him, to hunger for him.

I believe there are two different circumstances in which I experience this longing. One is when I have been walking closely with the Lord. I feel it when I am spending much time with him in his Word, in prayer and meditation, in worship, in the reading of books by godly authors, and so on. The more I am with him, the richer my time with him, the more I discover I want to be with him, the deeper I desire to go in my relationship with him. There is a true sense of longing during such times.

And yet, as strange as it sounds, during those times in my life of spiritual draught and depression, I also long for him. However, there’s something qualitatively different about the feeling. When things are going well in my walk with the Lord, it seems my deeper longing for him will yield great fruit. I almost expect a rich encounter with him. Yet, when I feel distant from him, though I still long for him, I wonder if I’ll ever have again with God what I once had. It’s almost a “longing of despair.” Have you ever experienced that?

Fickle Feelings

My experience is a good example of why it’s often unsafe to put too much stock in our feelings. Our feelings are fickle and they have the capacity to lead us astray. Not only that, but there are many things that can affect our feelings, such as our health, our sleeping patterns, our diet, the time of day, and our relationships. I often treasure my feelings, but I am very aware of how unreliable they can be.

It’s when we gauge our spiritual life based on our feelings we can get ourselves into trouble. For example, one day with the Lord may be a wonderful blessing and you may be tempted to think you should be canonized as a saint. Yet, another day might yield the opposite experience and you may begin wondering if you’re even a Christian at all.

Instead of living on that sort of spiritual roller-coaster, wisdom calls us to trust in the Lord always and continue plodding along with him every day, regardless of our circumstances and feelings.

God Himself is Our Reward

Hebrews 11:6 says God rewards those who earnestly seek him. Deuteronomy 4:29 tells us if we look for the Lord with all of our heart and soul, we will find him. In these verses, and others throughout Scripture, we are encouraged by the Lord himself, to seek him. His promise is we will be rewarded by finding him. You see, God is the reward!

Feelings are great. God gave us feelings. But they too are affected by sin which often makes them unreliable. Therefore, don’t put all your trust in your feelings but in the God who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He alone is the One we are called to seek, thirst for, and long after and desire. He alone is worthy of such a grand pursuit.

Walking Points

  • What do you think it means to desire God?
  • When do you find yourself most desiring God?
  • During what circumstances in your life do you feel the greatest distance from God? Closest to God?
  • What can you do today that will help you more faithfully “plod along” with God during the good times and the bad times?
  • Share your insights with a friend.

Prayer

Faithful God, I praise you that you are always trustworthy and true to your Word. You have promised to never leave me nor forsake me. Help me always believe that promise. Lord, I don’t have the words to express how grateful I am to you for placing desire for you in my heart. I know it is a fragile desire, far too susceptible to my fickle feelings. Fill me with your Spirit and control my desires that I might seek more and more to transform my life by renewing my mind daily. And as I renew my mind daily, may my love and desire for you increase exponentially. But even during those seasons (short ones, I pray) in which I feel distant from you, remind me that you are still with me. Please encourage me to continue plodding along in faithfulness, knowing that even this distance serves a purpose and to hold on to your promise once moreI ask this in the name of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Kingdom Disciples

Luke 13:20-21 – And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”

A Definition

A Kingdom Disciple is a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. The phrase, Kingdom Disciple, is my shorthand way of communicating what it means to live faithfully as Christ’s follower, under his Lordship, and for his Kingdom. This distinctive is not mine. It’s neither innovative nor original. However, my goal in emphasizing Kingdom Discipleship is to help Christians see more fully what God has revealed in and through his Word about following Christ.

Jesus Christ is Lord

By using the phrase, Kingdom Discipleship, I wish to remind disciples of Jesus Christ that our calling is to faithfully and obediently follow Christ in every sphere of life. This is imperative because Jesus Christ is Lord over every sphere of life. It was God who granted Jesus authority over heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18) and gave him the name above every name (Phil. 2:9). It would, therefore, run counter to the biblical witness regarding our Lord’s authority, for Christians to live compartmentalized lives as his followers. God doesn’t want us to submit to Christ for just 70 or even 95 percent of our lives. He wants all of us. To paraphrase Abraham Kuyper, there is not a square inch in all the universe Christ has not claimed for himself.

Therefore, our calling as his followers is to intentionally, faithfully, obediently, and joyfully extend his Kingdom – his rule, reign, will, and influence – into every sphere of our lives (in every area of responsibility, interest, relationship, and authority). Everything, the common and the uncommon, the sacred and the secular, is to be done for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31) and according to his will.

God’s Kingly Influence

The influence of Christ and of his Kingdom must come through gracious, loving, and truthful persuasion, modeling, and witness, never through coercion or manipulation. The kind of transformed individual, family, church, state, society, and world God desires will not, indeed, must not, come through violent political revolution or rebellion but by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit and the subsequent “salt and light influence” of God’s people.

The Local Church

The primary means, humanly speaking, by which God’s Kingdom is extended in this way is through local assemblies of God’s people. It is in and through the life of the local church that the life-giving, life-transforming Gospel of the Kingdom is proclaimed, taught, and lived out. It is only as men, women, boys, and girls are reborn by the Spirit of God that they can enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:3-8). Then, as they grow in their faith, having their minds continually renewed and lives transformed, they become better educated, equipped, and encouraged to take this good news of the Kingdom into every sphere of their lives. And just as the woman’s yeast is mixed into the dough and worked until it permeates all of it (Luke 13:20-21), so too is the Kingdom of God extended into every sphere of life by his disciples.

Walking Points

• Based on this devotional, how would you explain what it means to “extend your faith into every sphere of life?”
• Have you tended to compartmentalize your faith or does it permeate and influence the different areas of your life?
• What are some ways your faith ought to influence your home, workplace, and community?
• What are you presently doing to be such an influence?
• How can you help other Christians gain a larger vision of the Christian life?
• Meet with two or three Christians and pray for such a “kingdom expanding” revival among God’s people to begin today.

Prayer

My great God and King, Lord of all, I ask you to forgive me for not submitting all my life to you and, therefore, not seeking to advance your rule and reign into every sphere of my life. Awaken me with your Spirit and enable me to see and hear more clearly the needs of the world around me. As your ambassador of salt and light, use me how you will to hold back the darkness and slow the decay of this world. Let my life be a shining city on a hill that cannot be hidden so that, upon seeing my good works, you will receive all the praise and glory in heaven. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

Being a Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy

2 Timothy 2:2; 1 Timothy 1:2; Acts 13

One-On-One Discipleship

In my reading over the years I’ve been often reminded of how important one-to-one ministry really is. As a man invests his life into the life of another man, real growth can occur in remarkable ways. This is one of the key ways our faith has been passed down through the centuries. And I can certainly attest to the power and influence such a ministry has played in my own life.

A helpful way of thinking about one-on-one ministry is to think about three names: PaulBarnabas, and
Timothy. Below is a description of what each name represents as we think in terms of ministering to other men.

Paul

1.) Paul represents that person in your life who mentors, leads, and directs you. This is the man who comes along side you to disciple you along the road of faith and life. This is someone who has traveled further down the road of faith and life than you. This man doesn’t have to be a great deal older than you, but it probably ought to be someone who has walked faithfully with God long enough and far enough for you to profit from his wisdom – his reflected-upon experience, study of God’s Word, etc. And it usually is the case that, though not exclusively so, this man will be older than you as well. But, as I said, sometimes this simply means, “older in the faith.”

I hasten to add that you must beware of someone who says he has been a Christian for 25 years when in reality, he has been a Christian for only one year, 25 years in a row. In other words, there has been no growth and maturation over that 25 years. My own observation as a pastor is that this sort of person abounds in the church. There are many people who, by their own admission, haven’t learned much more about God’s Word and walking along the road with him, than when they were children in Vacation Bible School. And so brothers, you must be careful about this. Pray for discernment.

Also, just because a man is at the top of his game in his profession, does not mean he is likewise mature and advanced in his faith. Success in one field of endeavor doesn’t necessarily mean success in another area of life. As I heard one person describe it, a man may have a Ph.D. in psychology, but have a second grade Sunday school degree in Bible. This is not the sort of man you want to have as your Paul.

Barnabas

2.) Barnabas is someone who encourages you and holds you accountable in your faith and life. This is more or less a mutual friendship, or what’s called in the world of spiritual formation, a “spiritual friendship.” In the book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas traveled together side by side. Barnabas was a key person in Paul’s life, especially at the beginning of his walk with Christ as he introduced Paul to the Christian community. Their relationship then became one of mutual encouragement, ministry, and accountability.

There are men I have discipled for years who have gone from being a Timothy in my life to becoming a Barnabas to me. And while I can still disciple them, they also minister to me in many ways.

Timothy

3.) Timothy is that man you help guide along the road of faith and life. This is generally someone who has not traveled as far as you have in your walk with Christ. Such a man is marked (or should be) by an eagerness to grow in his relationship with Christ and is humble and teachable enough to receive what you have to share and to interact with you on the things of faith and life.

This “mark of a Timothy” should not be ignored just for the sake of having a Timothy. There are many smart guys out there who don’t have teachable spirits. They feel they have nothing to learn from another man. So too, some are indifferent to the things of God. Timothy, Paul’s “son in the faith,” as Paul called him, was humble, teachable, and eager to know, love, and follow God through Jesus Christ. So too, a “Timothy” shouldn’t expect to only receive guidance and wisdom from his “Paul,” but should plan on becoming a Paul himself one day so he can begin the whole process over again with another man.

This is a process in a man’s life that ought to last a lifetime and be produced, reproduced, and multiplied over and over again throughout the course of the man’s lifetime, as well as in the lives of the men he invests in. We are Christians today, humanly speaking, because those who went before us were faithful to this process.

In sum, we need to be a Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy and we need to have a Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy. Such men in our lives are gifts from God. And we have the blessed opportunity to be such a gift to other men.

Walking Points

·         Who is your Paul? To whom are you a Paul? Describe those relationships.
·         Who is your Barnabas? To whom are you a Barnabas? Describe those relationships.
·         Who is your Timothy? To whom are you a Timothy? Describe those relationships.
·         If you drew a blank on any of those questions, begin praying for God to bring men into your life who will invest in you or who will be open to you investing in them.

Faithful Discipleship

Southside’s Mission

Before I arrived at the church I presently serve, a vision committee was formed to prayerfully study, discuss, and articulate our church’s mission. They were then tasked with writing a mission statement based on their effort. The statement declared Southside United Methodist Church’s mission was to,

Build the Family of God into Faithful Disciples of Jesus Christ.

The committee also wanted to make sure Southside was not just another church with just another mission statement. They wanted to make the mission statement an ongoing reality. With that in mind, the church put together a search committee assigned with the purpose of finding someone whose ministry would focus on helping to build the family of God at Southside into faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

In doing this they were showing how seriously they took the familiar words of Jesus at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, what we call the Great Commission. There Jesus said,

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

By God’s grace, at least from my perspective, I was hired as Southside’s Minister of Discipleship. The idea and goal of discipleship is vital to the life of Christ’s Church. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t thank the Lord for putting the burden of discipleship on my heart and allowing me to serve with the congregation at Southside.

Making Disciples

Can any church faithfully live out its calling and mission if making disciples of Jesus Christ is not a priority? That question raises an even more fundamental question: What exactly is a disciple? After all, you can be a disciple of practically anything or anyone. Therefore, what defines a disciple of Jesus Christ is the question before us.

To help us unpack what a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ looks like, we’re going to take a look at Matthew 7:24-27.

The Sermon

Our text comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. For three chapters Jesus taught what has sometimes been called, “The norms of the Kingdom.” In these three chapters our Lord focused on what our character and conduct should look like if we would be faithful citizens of his Kingdom.  

Jesus concluded his remarks in the Sermon by saying in Matthew 7:24,

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine…”

What “words” was he talking about? He was referring to the words he had been preaching throughout the Sermon on the Mount. Those “words” of Jesus are important in helping us understand what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

The message of the Sermon on the Mount is powerful, convicting, and even devastating. But someone may well ask whether Jesus’ message can really be relevant to us, some 2,000 years later. Here is a small sampling of what Jesus taught in the Sermon, to help answer that question.

In chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ words focus on:

  • Our character
  • God’s blessings
  • How to influence others
  • God’s Law
  • The righteousness God expects from us
  • Murder
  • Anger
  • Hate
  • Reconciliation
  • Adultery
  • Lust
  • Divorce
  • Taking oaths
  • Truth telling
  • Revenge
  • Going the extra mile for another person
  • Loving your enemies
  • Giving to the needy
  • How to pray
  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • How to fast
  • Humility
  • Treasures in heaven vs. treasures on earth
  • Putting God first
  • Priorities
  • Worry
  • God’s provision for your family
  • God’s Kingdom
  • Judging others
  • Hypocrisy
  • Persistence in prayer
  • God’s goodness to his children
  • How to enter into heaven
  • True and false prophets and how to tell the difference between them
  • The right foundation for building your life

That is a pretty contemporary and relevant list.

A Tale of Two Builders

To bring his teaching to life and emphasize what it means to be a faithful disciple, Jesus told his listeners a story about two builders, one he called wise, and the other, foolish.

There is one part of this familiar story that may be easy to miss. In this story, Jesus was not comparing and contrasting a “Church-goer” from a “non-Church-goer.” He was not comparing and contrasting a committed Christian and an outspoken pagan who had never darkened the door of a church.

If that was the case, we might all breathe a collective sigh of relief, as if to say, “Whew, at least he’s not talking about me.”

In this parable Jesus focused his attention on two different kinds of people who, for all practical purposes, looked just alike in almost every way. To put it in our own language, we might say both people went to church. Both could recite the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer from memory. Both could sing every verse of every hymn. And both sat and listened to every word of the sermon.

Jesus’ point was that both houses the builders built looked identical, with this crucial exception: The foundations were completely different. One builder searched, found, and labored to build his house on a firm foundation of rock. The other took the path of least resistance and built his house in any old place, in this case, on nothing but sand.

Put Into Practice

What does the foundation of each builder represent? Jesus said the foundation signifies the words Jesus taught. Both people heard Jesus. According to Jesus, what made a person wise or foolish was what he did with those words. Only one builder put those words into practice. Jesus called that person wise. The other builder also heard the words of Jesus. However, he ignored them. Jesus called him foolish.

James, the brother of our Lord, must have paid attention to what Jesus was saying here because he wrote these words in James 1:22-25,

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. [23] Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror [24] and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. [25] But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.

The word to describe what Jesus was talking about is obedience. A faithful disciple is the follower of Jesus who hears his words and obeys them, puts them into practice. That is faithful discipleship.

This emphasis is found in the Old Testament as well. God gave the same message through his prophet, Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 33:31-32, we read,

My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. [32] Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.

God’s Word isn’t just to be admired, but obeyed. A number of years ago the men’s ministry at my church studied a book entitled, Point Man by Steve Farrar. It focused on helping Christian men live as the godly husbands, fathers, workers, and churchmen God desires. One of the chapters spoke to our need to study and obey Scripture. Farrar wrote,

“The Enemy does not mind if you revere the Bible, just as long as you don’t feed from it.”

He continued,

“The danger in the Christian life comes when I listen to a sermon or go to a Christian seminar or listen to a series of teaching tapes without applying the truth I hear to my life.”

He concluded this thought with these words,

“In the Christian life the opposite of ignorance is not knowledge, but obedience. God does not want to take a new Christian and move him from ignorance to knowledge. He wants to move him from ignorance to knowledge to obedience.”

Information for Transformation

From ignorance to knowledge to obedience. That is an essential element to faithful discipleship. God does not want men to read or study the Bible purely for informational purposes, but for transformation. To be sure, we must know and understand what the Bible says before we can put it into practice. But faithful disciples of Jesus Christ do not simply “collect” Bible-information so they can win Bible-trivia contests. They read and obey God’s Word so they can meet with God and be transformed by him.

My First Time with the Sermon

Have you ever read the Sermon on the Mount? I remember what I experienced when I finally started getting what Jesus was talking about. I felt despair. I felt so because in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said things like,

Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” (5:19)

“Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (5:20)

“I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (5:22)

“Anyone who looks at a woman (or man) lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.” (5:28)

“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away…If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (5:29-30)

That’s just from the first half of chapter 5. It is those words, and others like them, that we are actually commanded to read, study, and put into practice. That is why I felt despair and guilt the first time I really started understanding what Jesus was talking about.

The Point of Those Words

And that’s the point. Those feelings of despair, guilt, and hopelessness are there to drive us to the Cross of Christ. They are meant to move us to God’s gracious provision in the person and work of his Son, Jesus Christ. Only Jesus perfectly practiced those words. That is why he was the only acceptable sacrifice on our behalf.

We are saved only when we place our trust in Christ alone and love him as our Savior, Lord, and all-sufficient Treasure. He is the pearl of great price.

We must indeed strive to increasingly grow more obedient to God’s Word. It is how we glorify God and become more like Christ. Like the wise builder, we must build a strong foundation by putting our Lord’s words into practice.

Yet we do not obey Jesus in order to save ourselves by our own good works. Instead, a faithful disciple seeks to obey Jesus because he has already been saved by God’s grace. Our obedience, while required in a qualified sense, is evidence of a grateful and loving heart.

That is how faithful disciples show Jesus and the world they love him. By obeying him, they will bear much good and lasting fruit. Jesus said in John 14:15,

If you love me, you will obey what I command.

And in John 14:21, our Lord taught,

Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.

That is what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God who gives us eyes to see and ears to hear.

Walking Points

  • Have you ever read the Sermon on the Mount? If so, what did you think? What parts are you drawn to? What parts scare you?
  • What part is the hardest for you to put into practice? Why?
  • If you haven’t read it, take time now to do so. You will find it in Matthew 5-7. Ask God to reveal to you what it would look like in your life to obey what you’re reading. Then, ask for God’s Spirit to enable you to do so.

Welcome to Walking Points

Thanks for stopping! In the Bible, the term, “walking,” is often used to describe the direction and health of one’s faith and relationship with God. Thus, various folks in Scripture are said to have “walked with God.” Elsewhere, followers of Christ are encouraged to “walk in the truth,” “according to God’s commandments,” and in the “same way Christ walked.” Conversely, we are cautioned to not “walk in darkness” or “in idleness.”

Since we’re all on a journey I thought these “walking points” might serve as signposts and words of encouragement to help you more faithfully follow the Way in every sphere of your life.

Thanks again for stopping by.

Blessings,
Dale