I was going to leave this post as a comment at a friend's blog, but I didn’t want to dominate their comment thread, so I decided to change it a bit, and post it here.
I have been struggling with frustration over several things. The first is that in my travels throughout blogland, I have come to find that so many are interested in preaching about redemption, but almost no one is teaching about discipleship. I know this post won’t be viewed kindly by some, but I think it’s about time it is said.
First, let me tell you what I currently believe. I believe that God is going to open the gates of heaven for anyone who can stand to be around Him. I say that because I believe in God’s boundless love, and in His ability to forgive every sin. Yet I also say that because God being full of boundless love, it strikes me as odd that He would force anyone who couldn’t stand Him to be around Him for an eternity. I am missing something possibly, but we’ll see. I think God wants all to come, but I don’t think all want to come. Time will bear that out by itself.
Having said that, I do not believe everyone who claims to believe in Christ is a disciple of Christ. I think there is a difference between believing, and following. I think that difference is our choice to make. I think we will get immense help from God, but I do not think He does it all for us.
Here’s why I say that. The cross was not just about redemption, which is what most of Christianity preaches. Today’s believers, almost all of them, including Calvinists, Armenians, and universalists, claim that the cross was all about redemption through the forgiveness of sins. I believe that, too. However, the cross is more than just redemption.
It is the example, the final culmination of human discipleship through love of God and neighbor. Scripture proves this to be true. Follow Jesus’ life, and you see that the journey He made had a specific goal in mind, and He reached it. Follow the lives of His Apostles, and you see the same thing. The cross we bear is not necessarily hard labor, but it is death to ourselves, and for Jesus and the Apostles, their crosses were literally physical deaths as well. Jesus led the way, and His disciples follow, and sometimes, it ends in physical death, as it did with most of His apostles.
Redemption is wonderful, it is the hope we have. But Jesus didn’t leave us with just a future hope. He left us with A Kingdom, and He gave us freedom to live in it, or to live without it. Some would say it is impossible for us to not be living in His Kingdom. I would say that thought is ridiculous. So long as we see what we see in this world, so long as we see sin, and pain, and death, we see people living outside of Kingdom life. To say otherwise is to ignore the obvious.
So why is the world still like this? Why, if Christ’s Kingdom is among us, do we still have death, sin, evil, and pain? Wasn’t everything accomplished on the cross?
Everything that needed to be accomplished on the cross was accomplished. You can rest in that. But the purpose of the cross wasn’t to fulfill everything for all time. That would make Jesus a liar when He says His Father is always at work, even to this day. If we are to do what we see our Father doing, then chances are, we will be at work as well. But why is there work, if everything was accomplished on the cross? What need of work is there if all is accomplished?
That’s the crux we find ourselves in. many are told that we need do nothing, our salvation is secure. As far as salvation goes, that is true. But our discipleship is not secure, and if we do nothing toward that end, if our intentions are not to be disciples of Jesus, we will remain living a guilty life. Guilt will plague us, because we won’t change.
Some would say God does all of the changing. I would say, in the end, that is mostly true. But if God were in the business of totally changing us into perfection all by Himself, there would be no need for us to be here. In fact, there would be no need for us at all.
God’s plan INCLUDES us, and that plan INCLUDES work. What is that work? How about doing the things Jesus did, and even greater things than these? Jesus said we would do it. Do you see it happening? I don’t, anywhere.
There is something missing in what we are learning. It’s called discipleship, and it happens through love of God, and then, love of neighbor. But love of God doesn’t just occur all at once, and it usually doesn’t occur without our hearts being actively engaged. We have a part to play, yet mostly, we would rather listen to those who tell us we have nothing to do, therefore, we should DO nothing.
In truth, we are not obligated to do anything. We can go off and do whatever we want. But as Paul said, may it never be so.
So how do we become disciples of Christ? The first step is to decide to become one. That choice is ours, and Jesus usually tells us up front that the choice to be a disciple will not always be pleasant. In fact, generally speaking, He told us this world would be difficult. The mark of a disciple is to trust that Jesus has overcome this world, and so shall we, through Him. That statement, however, has nothing to do with salvation or redemption.
By now, most of us know that real change inside never occurs through direct effort. The moment we try to change anything inside, we find ourselves failing miserably. Can we all agree on that?
So how does that life change occur? Is it all God? Or does He truly lead us, as He says He does, to peaceful waters. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink. Do you think that analogy fits us as well? I do.
Listen, I am not preaching about making direct efforts to change yourselves, that would be a waste of time. But there is a way, and usually, the means by which they are accomplished is different for each of us. That’s why Jesus didn’t leave us behind a twelve step program to successful discipleship. Strangely, that is the latest craze in the Christian world, books dedicated to the twelve simple steps on how to become a disciple.
There is no such thing as a set of steps that guarantee how everyone can follow Jesus. But there are things we can do that will lead us into the kind of love that changes everything. That kind of love that is true love of God, and because of that love, obedience becomes not hard, but a natural, consistent response to choices we face.
Direct effort won’t change us. But things that renew our minds, and cause us to change the way we respond to normal situations are available to us. What fools we are if we choose not to use them.
Redemption isn’t the end of sin, it’s the beginning of eternal life, and this life starts here, now. Since it is obvious we are faced with choices everyday, it should also be obvious that we have been given an ability to learn how to make the right choices. We don’t have to follow the flesh anymore. But we will, if we don’t learn to love God.
Some will say God does that for us, and to a certain extent, I would agree. But the fact is, again, it is also obvious that He doesn’t do it all for us, or this world would be perfection already. Clearly, God has a plan in mind, and it INCLUDES us. It includes choices, and it includes learning. It includes repentance, which is nothing more than a change of mind. The first change was done for us, and we are redeemed. But this change will come about through our cooperation, our inclusion with God’s work, which goes on even today, just as it always has.
The beauty of life in THIS kingdom is that now, we are free to do what we never could before. We are free to love our neighbor, we are even free to learn how to do it. We are free to love God, whereas before, we were slaves to sin. Surely that freedom means something, doesn’t it? Or is that freedom merely a mystical thing, a positional surrealism that we never see this side of the grave? If that is the case, it contradicts much of what Jesus talked about, when He spoke of the Kingdom among us.
I will write more about this in the days to come, but I fear I have already made this post too long. Bear with me, and do not be afraid to disagree with me openly. But if this is truth, leave your minds and hearts open to abandoning your old theology, especially since Jesus didn’t just die on the cross, He also rose from the dead. We are redeemed, and are alive now. That means we are here for something, we here not just to be recipients, but to share in the Father’s work. If we stop at redemption, we will miss the abundance of life, and the discipleship Jesus said we could have. Literally, we will choose to remain just as we are, when instead, we could have inherited a kingdom.
Don't feel guilty at all, please, after reading this. That isn't what this is about. Most of us have never been taught any of this, and how can you learn if you haven't heard?
Don’t you want to do what Jesus said we could do? Don’t you want to at least explore God, and see if you can love Him even more? I promise you, if you love God, you will obey Him. When Jesus said that, it wasn’t a command, it was a promise. Think about that promise, and see if it makes sense.