A True Disciple

judson

Do you consider yourself a Christian?  There are many variations of self-definition when it comes to faith and Christianity.  Some are cultural Christians, some are Christians by birth, some just want to go to Heaven and some are radically transformed sinners who love and serve God.  Jesus defines a Christian – his disciples – as those who die to themselves, who have been born again, and who submit to God out of love and thankfulness for the grace given to them.  In short, we must surrender our lives to God in order to receive life from Him.

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

– Matt 16.25

What does this mean, exactly?  Theologians have coined a term that defines/explains this reality:  Lordship salvation.  Or simply, Lordship.  If we want to be Christians (mini Christs, followers of Christ), we have to submit to His leadership and authority.  Simply, He is in charge.  Paul says it this way:

“…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…”

– Rom 10.9

When we recognize our sinfulness and helpless state, we turn to Jesus for hope and help.  When we confess our sins and inability to honor God, we submit to Jesus for direction and admit that He is the way to righteousness and eternal salvation.  He is thus Lord over our lives.  He is in charge.  He is the authority.  Until we recognize the fact that Jesus is indeed the final authority, we are not believers.  We must confess with our mouths – and live out the reality that Jesus is Lord because we believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead in order to be saved.

Sometimes our logic would tempt us to disbelieve a command or teaching from Scripture.  We may try to follow Jesus as a good teacher, picking and choosing the parts of the Bible we like.  Sometimes the Bible is taught as a buffet of nuggets of wisdom from which we can choose.  But the reality is that we must take it all or none of it.  As long as we consider ourselves authoritative to decide the parts we like, the parts we believe, or the parts to which we will submit, we have not made Jesus Lord and are therefore not saved.

Adoniram Judson was the first missionary to Burma (now Myanmar).  He gave up his life to serve in this extremely dangerous and difficult place and ultimately left a tremendous legacy of believers behind.  While serving, a Buddhist teacher told him that the Gospel he was preaching was unbelievable because no king would allow his son to suffer such indignity.  This was Judson’s response:

“Therefore you are not a disciple of Christ.  A true disciple inquires not whether a fact is agreeable to his own reason, but whether it is in the book.  His pride has yielded to the divine testimony.  Teacher, your pride is still unbroken.  Break down your pride, and yield to the word of God.”

– Adoniram Judson

Our pride and self autonomy often keeps us from true belief.  Either we harbor a sin, or we allow our logic to facilitate disbelief, or we simply treat the teachings and expectations of Scripture as optional.  Pride is a wicked enemy against which we must fight continually.  Have you confessed Jesus as Lord over your life?  Have you recognized His power?  Are you submitting yourself to Him and dying to yourself?  Or are you still just enjoying the little pearls of wisdom from the buffet of Scripture?  Do you have a verse or promise that makes you feel better, even though you make your own decisions, you practice things that God calls sin, and you live life the way you want to live it?

Let us break down our pride.  Let us submit to Jesus who is Lord over us and over all of reality.  Let us recognize that God has revealed Himself in Scripture and given us everything that we need for life and godliness therein (2 Peter 1.3).  Let us turn to Him, submit to Him and die to ourselves so that we might have eternal life.

 

What then shall I do with this Jesus?

It has become fairly common to say, “There are two types of people in the world” and follow it up with the group who loves, does, looks like or forbids something.  The other type of people are those who hate, do not, or accepts that same thing.  There are givers and takers.  There are those who love frogs and those who hate frogs.  There are those who read the email messages on their phones and those who do not.

email

We can make the same assessment about faith, and pointedly about Christians:  There are Christians and there are non-Christians.  We all know that there are five major world religions, and countless sects and traditional/tribal belief systems, and the generalization can be made about any belief system.  Muslims would say that you are not headed to paradise unless you confess the prophet, Jews would say that you are damned if you are not a Jew.  Some of the inclusivist or reincarnation-centered religions would not make as black and white a distinction, but would consider some further along in their enlightenment than others.

But we as Christians believe that the sinful nature of humanity has separated us from God and the only way for that relationship to be established is by His grace through the work of Jesus Christ.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No man comes unto the Father but through me.”  We believe that Jesus is the way, He is the gate and the final judge who will welcome or refuse people into eternity with God.  Therefore, while we could flippantly say “There are Christians and there are non-Christians”, we recognize the fact that everyone must ultimately answer the single most important question in all of the world, “What do I believe about Jesus?”

When Jesus was on trial, the religious leaders took Him before Pontius Pilate, the governor.  He was a Roman official, and the Jews brought Jesus to him so that Jesus could be put to death.  We see Pilate in all four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ trial, and his efforts to not find Jesus guilty.  In Matthew Pilate washes his hands of Jesus’ blood, in Mark he finds Jesus innocent of plotting against the Roman Empire, in Luke we see him declaring Jesus as innocent for the conspiracy, as well as Herod Antipas, and in John he states, “I find no guilt in Him.”  Pilate did not want to execute Jesus, and his wife had a dream about Jesus and warned him not to harm Jesus.  Seeking to manipulate the crowds, Pilate brought forward Barabbas, a notorious thief, and asked the crowd which man should be released.  By direction of the priests, the crowd chose Barabbas.

When this plan was foiled, he asked the crowd,

“Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”

 – Matt 22.27

Here we see the governmental authority asking this most important of questions, the one which we must all answer.  What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?  Pilate’s response was inadequate.  He sought to keep the guilt from himself, the crowd called the condemnation of guilt upon themselves, but Pilate still handed Jesus over to be crucified – even after acknowledging the fact that He had no guilt and after being warned by his wife.

It is tempting to try to take this middle road.  Most of us are not interested in ruffling feathers and causing division or problems.  So we try to say that Jesus was a good man, a great teacher, an example for us all.  But we want to leave all of His claims and instructions at the door.  Was Jesus really God?  Did He really imply that we should love our neighbor in the same way that we love ourselves?  That is impossible!  Do we really have to put aside all of our sinful pleasures and live unto God?  Do we really have to go into all the world – even the dangerous parts – and make disciples?  Do we really have to love our enemies and forgive people?

It is easy to give Jesus a blanket approval when we do not know what He actually said.  But the moment we start reading His commandments and expectations of people, we realize that we will never be able to do the things that He expects of us without the empowering of the Holy Spirit.  The rich young man had kept all of the laws of the Old Covenant, tithing, caring for his family, giving to the poor, but Jesus knew that he loved money and to test the man’s surrender to God, He commanded him to sell everything he owned, give it to the poor and follow Jesus.  This man could not do it and went away sad.  Jesus wants our everything, and if there is nothing that we cannot surrender for the sake of following Him, then we are not saved.  This is not simply a “good idea” or example, this is a radical teaching.

C. S. Lewis argued the point beautifully:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him:  I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.  That is the one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.”

The difficulty for us today is, however, that while we often acknowledge Jesus as God and Lord, we easily walk away from Church or Bible study and forget.  If Jesus is supposed to be “lord” of our lives, if He is in charge, has final say, and determines our actions, then we should be consulting him hundreds of times each day about our attitudes, our decisions, our actions… simply:  our everything.  But how often do we go to church and sing our praise songs and walk out to enjoy our hobbies, have lunch with our friends, and keep working towards the American Dream?

We all must answer the question at least once, “What then shall I do with this Jesus”, but once we have come to faith and are seeking to live the Christian life, we must still answer this question every. single. day.

So let us ask ourselves anew.  What will I do with Jesus today?  Will I submit to Him?  Obey His commands?  Die to myself and live unto Him?  Or will I just play the game, longing for Heaven without any effect on my life here and now?

Jesus is Lord.

sheldon cooper

Last week my husband and I were watching the Big Bang Theory.  Sheldon, one of the main characters, is the son of a “good baptist woman” from Texas, but as a scientist rejects the existence of God.  When he and his friends almost miss the opportunity to buy tickets to see the new Star Wars movie, however, Sheldon dropped to his knees and began praying.  He said,

“Lord! This is Sheldon Cooper. You’re good friends with my mom. I know I’ve spent my life denying that you exist [then the guys announce they got through and got the tickets]…and I will continue to do so!”

This near prayer is poignantly accurate on many levels, spiritually.  He verbalizes what many of us unknowingly and/or unintentionally do.  We know that Jesus is Lord, but we do not submit to Him in our daily lives and we consider Him our cosmic genie who helps us out in our moments of distress and need.  Sheldon needed tickets to see Star Wars, so he turned to Jesus to make it happen, but as soon as he got what he wanted he walked away.

Now, I would venture to guess that none of us are so aware of our pettiness and if we call ourselves Christians we would never verbalize (or even realize) that we live most of our lives as though Jesus does not exist.  If we honestly look at our day-to-day lives, however, how true would we find it to be?  There are a few key points that we need to recognize here:

First of all, Jesus is Lord.  When we turn to prayer, or when we start to explain Jesus to someone else, often times the term we use is “Lord”.  Unfortunately, lord is an old-english word that we rarely use today, mostly because there is no one who functions in the office of lord in our daily lives.  Lord, generically defined, is someone who has power or authority, but the office of lord in the feudal system was one to whom a vassal owed complete sworn allegiance.  The lord had authority, as a ruler and influencer, but there was a greater bond than boss/employee, it was overarching all of life.  The vassal was dependent upon and loyal to the lord.

This is the implication of Jesus as Lord we must understand.  As a Christian, we depend upon Christ for life and sustenance, and we are loyal to Him in our daily activities and lifestyles.  He has written the moral law, the expectations and outlines of life, and we submit to and obey them, while depending on Him for the ability to do so.  Jesus is both authority and life giver.

Thus, the second point is clear:  we do not make Him Lord.  My father has a pet peeve in Christian-isms, and that is the exhortation to “Make Jesus your Lord”.  The sentiment is right, but the wording is wrong.  Jesus is Lord.  When He arose from the dead and ascended back to Heaven, He sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Mark 16.19).  He has been given all authority over Heaven and Earth (Matt 22.18).  He holds the keys to Hell (Rev 1.18).  He is the judge who will welcome some to eternal life and send others to Hell (Rev 20.11-15).  He is Lord.  He is in charge.  We do not have any authority or power to make Him Lord, we only choose to submit or rebel against Him.

Our salvation depends on our submission, however.  Sheldon was right.  Jesus is Lord, however he is sadly living as though He does not exist.  Paul teaches us clearly about salvation:

“…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…”

– Rom 10.9

Salvation is our recognition of our sin guilt, belief that Jesus paid that debt, and submission to Him as our Lord.  We cannot ask Him to forgive us and continue on in life doing our own thing.  When we confess our sins, the Holy Spirit begins the work of changing us and enabling us to kill our sinful passions and live a life to the glory and honor of God.  He actually changes our passions so that we desire to live holy and righteous lives, and we hate those things that God hates.  If you do not hate your sin, chances are that the Holy Spirit is not indwelling you, Jesus is not your Lord, and you are not saved.

In summary, Jesus is the Lord.  He has been exalted above all of creation and given all authority and power.

“Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

– Phil 2.9-11

We do not make Him Lord, rather we choose to submit to Him or choose to rebel against Him.  And our eternity depends on that critical daily decision.

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.

– Heb 10.26-27

The authority and power is not in our hands.  We cannot make Jesus our Lord.  He already is.  So let’s humble ourselves today, confess Him as Lord anew, and walk by the power of the Holy Spirit in submission to Him.  Recognize sin as how He defines sin.  Hate the things that He hates.  Love the things that He loves.  Obey the commandments He has given, to love God, love our neighbors, bless our enemies and make disciples of all nations.

If you do not obey Jesus, You are not a Christian.

People at the Cross

Many people around the world consider the United States to be a “Christian” nation.  Even though many in the public forum push back against this label, if you took a cross section of the average Joe on the street the majority will still claim to be Christian.  Research indicates, in fact, that 77.3% of Americans are professing Christians.  Many consider themselves to be Christians because their families are historically Christian.  Some claim the faith because they go to Church on Christmas and Easter, and some think that they are saved because they “said a prayer” and secured their eternity by one sentence.

Jesus, however, made radical claims and set high expectations for those who would follow Him.  If we want to be Christians or “mini Christs”, then we have to obey Him:

“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

– Luke 6.46

In order to be a Christian, in order to follow Christ, Jesus plainly said that we have to do what He said.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”

– Matt 7.21

We can call Jesus “Lord”, but in order to enter into Heaven we must do the will of the Father – and that is to obey Jesus.

Jesus gave His life up for us because He loves us (John 15.13).  God Himself is love, and we cannot know love nor can we love unless we know God (1 John 4.7-8).  It is God’s desire that we come to love Him and abide in Him the same way in which Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit abide with one another (John 17.11, 21).  And the natural response to loving Jesus is to want to please Him by obeying Him.

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

– Jon 14.15

And we learn this by following the example of Jesus.  He loved God and spent all of His energy and life seeking to obey God and fulfilling His will:

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”

– John 6.38

Scripture teaches us that when we come to Jesus for forgiveness and salvation that He actually writes His law on our hearts (Heb 10.16, 8.10), and He gives us the Holy Spirit to empower us to obey those laws (1 Cor 3.16).  Thus we see that we are incapable of obeying Jesus in our own strength, but when we become a Christian we are transformed into a new creature in which the Holy Spirit resides (2 Cor 5.17), and it is actually no longer us who are living but Jesus living in and through us:

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

– Gal 2.20

So if God is indwelling us and empowering us by the very law that He has written on our hearts, we have the conviction when we disobey, we have the desire to obey, and we look like Jesus.

What exactly, then, did Jesus command us to do?

Many go immediately to the “Great Commandment” to answer this question.

‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’

– Matt 23.7-39

Jesus gave these simple yet impossible commandments.  If you are a Christian, you will be someone who loves God with every inch of your being, and who loves your neighbor in the same way you love yourself.  Do you watch your neighbors to make sure that they have good food, nice clothes, that their cars are functioning and that they have a job?  Do you make sure that they have fun, that they have good exercise habits, that they have community and activities in which to be involved?  Do you splurge on their happiness?

Sometimes we dull down this greatest commandment and think that giving God lip service is enough and sing the mantra, “all we need is love”, and yet we truly and genuinely love no one.  What is love?  It is sacrifice.  Jesus offered His life for us.  For whom would you die?

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.  “You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’”  And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”  Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

– Matt 10.17-22

Jesus is concerned about our hearts.  This man had kept the law, given preference to others, done everything that God had commanded.  But Jesus wanted him to love his neighbor as he loved himself, and this man was unable to do so.  He could not sell his possessions and give the profit away.  He could not trust God.  Therefore he was not a believer, and he went away saddened.

We must love God with all of our hearts, love our neighbor as ourselves, and die to the deeds of the flesh.  What are the deeds of the flesh?

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

– Gal 5.19-21

If you partake in immorality, impurity (think sexual), sensuality (indulging your senses), witchcraft (think good luck charms along with spells and darkness), enmities (do you have any enemies?), strife (is there someone with whom you cannot get along?), jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes (are you in an argument?), dissensions, factions (have you just written someone off?), envying, drunkenness or carousing?  Often times we think about the big things when we think of obeying Jesus.  And yes, there are some big things listed here like witchcraft.  And while this list is not exhaustive, it reveals the heart of God being concerned with our driving force and our hearts.  If the Holy Spirit is residing within you, you cannot be jealous.  You cannot have strife.  You cannot hold grudges and break yourself away from other believers.

Sure, we will continue to fight with our sin and fail.  And Jesus understands that:

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.1-2

But these things cannot mark us as people.  We might be fighting against these things, and seeking to replace these things with those attributes which honor God:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.22-23

Jesus says that we if we love Him we will obey Him.  If you do not obey Him, you prove yourself to not love Him.  And you have not kept the great commandment.  And you are not a believer.

“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.”

– Matt 7.22-23

Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

– 1 John 3.24

Do you want to be a Christian?  Then begin with confessing your sins, asking for forgiveness and asking God to give you the Holy Spirit to enable you to obey Him.  Then begin the joyful life of following Him, loving Him, and you will begin to desire to obey Him and He will empower you to do so.  If you are not fighting sin and looking like Jesus, then you are not a Christian.  You are not a mini-Christ.  Let us all seek to become mini-Christs.

If there is a God…

“If there is a God, you owe him far more than a morally decent life.”

– Tim Keller

I have heard many elementary apologetic arguments over the years, and perhaps the most pervasive in our culture goes something like this:  I’d rather live like there is a God and find out I am wrong when I die, then live like there is not a God and find out I am wrong when I die.  Yes.  On the foundational level, I wholeheartedly agree.  Paul makes a similar argument in 1 Corinthians:

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

– 1 Cor 15.16-19

Paul is discussing specifically Jesus’ resurrection and the centrality of his defeat of death to our eternal salvation and our detriment if that for which we have lived proves to be false.

But our faith is not merely a mental assertion: Yes Jesus died and I believe it therefore my sins are forgiven.  It is assurance in your heart of His presence in your life.  It is repentance from sins through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit in your life.  It is a transformation from Spiritual death to Spiritual life.  It is making Jesus Christ the Lord of your life.

Lord?  The one in control.  The one who sets guidelines.  The one boss.  The authority.  What he says goes.  Therefore, as Tim Keller says, “If there is a God, you owe Him far more than a morally decent life”.  You owe Him your life.  He created you, He established you, and now he has saved you.  And He deserves it all.  Every breath.

Let us “strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”

– Luke 13.24

We must live in such a way that if it did happen to be proven that Jesus was not raised from the dead, that God does not exist, that we – above all men – should be most pitied.  Would people pity you if your God did not exist?  Because He does exist.  And you owe Him everything.  Much more than a morally decent life.