There are certain times in life where we make decisions, knowing there will be some level of commitment involved. Whether we decide to pursue a college degree, read a classic novel, renovate a basement, propose to our girlfriend or binge watch The Game of Thrones, many decisions require varying degrees of commitment. Naturally, our commitment will prompt some change. Perhaps the change will be in how we use our time, or how we spend our money or maybe even how we structure our priorities. A commitment to Christ does not merely change those elements of life, it changes much more; discipleship changes everything.
What Christ called his earliest disciples to is no different than what he is calling you and me to today. “Come follow me”, the words Christ spoke to four fishermen beside the Sea of Galilee are the same words he has spoken to countless others, over the last 2,000 plus years. People all over the world and throughout the centuries have heard Christ’s same gentle yet insistent call as they sat in their homes, or studied at school, or toiled at work, or gazed at a sunrise. Christ comes to people in their everyday living with an offer. Just as the fishermen in Galilee or Matthew sitting in his tax booth had no idea how their lives would be impacted by Christ’s invitation, many of us who have accepted the call of “Come follow me” are uncertain of the far-reaching impact of the decision and commitment, to which Christ calls. However, we make the great commitment to pursue the path of discipleship ,because we are following the deepest yearning of the human heart. Whether we recognize it or not, the greatest desire of the human heart is to experience intimacy with God.
Make no mistake, the process of being conformed to the image of Christ is not an easy one. We begin with the upward struggle, which is our earnest desire to live like Christ, while living as a flawed person in a broken world. The struggle comes as we earnestly surrender our will and our way each day, allowing God to meet us in our poverty and weakness. It is in our humility and acknowledged brokenness before God that He meets us and begins the process of lifting us upward. In the upward struggle, we begin to seek God intentionally. God is no longer an afterthought or limited to a 90 minute timeframe at church on Sunday mornings. We want the change Christ has promised. We want to display the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in our daily lives. We desire to become more like Christ.
The process of conforming to the image of Christ is one that will take a lifetime, because it is both an extensive renovation and a wonderful adventure. Perhaps we go in thinking that we want Christ to only do some touch up work to our way of living, but God wants us to adopt a whole new way of life. I think C.S. Lewis best explains the totality of discipleship in his classic book Mere Christianity. He equates discipleship to renovating a house. Whereas we may merely want to paint a room, Christ wants to build a whole new house because as Lewis writes: “ He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
Each one of us is a “fixer upper” purchased by God, who sees, not just the single rooms of our life in its current state of disrepair, but He sees the beautiful, finished structure, a palace in which He has come to live.
1. Have you truly considered what Christ means when He calls you to a life of discipleship?
2. How will you move through “the upward struggle” of life as you deepen your walk with Christ?
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As a parent and now a grandparent, I marvel at how quickly infants and small children are able to learn new tasks. Yet the learning comes with great effort and many frustrations.. Watching the intense concentration of an infant moving their finger and thumb together in coordination with one another to pick up a Cheerio, reminds me that everything, even the simple, is difficult if you have never done it before.
When it comes to discipleship, we, as adult Christians, are similar to a child, as we are also learning the way of this new world that we have entered. Just as no child is able to walk perfectly in their first attempt, no follower of Christ can avoid stumbles and setbacks in our walk with Christ. Our frustrations are often centered upon our own weaknesses and limitations. We struggle with our temper, or our pride. We aren’t as patient with our loved ones or co-workers as we would like to be. Perhaps we can not shake a nagging unwanted vice that we know is sinful. We ask ourselves, how can Christ form and grow my heart and soul, when I continually slip up?
Falling backwards is an inevitable part of the process of transformation. As an example, we will look to Peter. The same Peter, who Jesus himself selected to build His church, was also Peter who was, at times, arrogant, temperamental, impulsive and cowardly. Peter changed. And Peter, with his frustrations of falling backwards within his transformation process, represents you and me.
Peter was not a trained scholar or priest. He was an ordinary guy. A man who owned his own fishing business and was used to putting in a hard days work. Like all of us, Peter had his good traits and bad traits. He could be loyal, yet impulsive, open hearted yet arrogant, courageous and weak willed. However, Peter often let his lesser qualities get the best of him. It was Peter who swung the sword and lopped off the soldier's ear that night in Gethsemane. It was Peter who denied knowing Christ...3 times, after insisting he would never do such a thing even once. It was Peter who Jesus scolded for speaking as Satan would.
After Jesus was crucified Peter could have reacted with despair and frustration, but he didn’t. Peter remained patient and returned to work fishing the waters of Galilee. It was when, Christ returns for a time and then ascends to heaven that a change came over Peter. Through the same Holy Spirit that Christ makes available to you and me, Peter is transformed from an unsteady, impetuous man into a man of prayer, a bold advocate for Jesus and a pillar of God’s church.
Peter’s story is given to us to show us the human frailty of a man God used in a powerful way and how God changed him so that we can have hope that God will enact change in our lives, despite our shortcomings. Peter’s life is a testament of trials, tribulations and eventual triumph, His life shows that we too can overcome our frustrations and failures and live full and fruitful lives, exactly what God has intended for our lives.
1. Has there been a time in your life when “falling back” has been used by God to strengthen your faith? If so, when?
2. Think of instances in your life where you can you relate to Peter and his well intentioned but sometimes misguided approach to Christ
When we look back on our lives there is undoubtedly someone, we look to who had traits and characteristics which we admired to the point that we wanted to become more like them in certain areas. For me, the remarkable kindness, humility, and gentleness of my Uncle Gene made a strong impression as a young boy, as it still does today. Uncle Gene passed away many years ago, but his warmth lives on in my heart and mind. People like that are not easy to forget.
There are very few times in the Bible where Jesus actually describes himself. However, as Jesus is teaching in Galilee, he says,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
– Matthew 11:28-30
In this one rare instance Jesus describes his innermost being...his heart. “For I am gentle and humble of heart.” The heart, as Jesus refers to it, is basically the operating system of the individual. The heart is not simply a part of us, it is a term to describe who we are. Jesus lists gentleness and humility as who He is. Jesus, the King of Kings is not harsh, judgmental, or abrasive. He is gentle. He is not prideful, haughty, or arrogant. He is humble. When I think of my Uncle Gene, who was also gentle and humble of heart, what I think of more than anything is that he was accessible and approachable. People liked to be with him. It’s the very same with Jesus. The heart of Christ draws us toward Him and draws us to be like Him. For all His brilliant holiness, supreme power and unique role; Jesus Christ is humble. It is the humility of Christ which we must adopt as we move through the upward struggle. It is the humility of Christ that we need as we stumble and fall back. And it is the humility of Christ we reflect as we honestly approach Him as we are; flawed and broken by sin, yet desiring the great change as we are lifted by God’s grace rather than our own efforts.
As we humbly come to Christ in our anguish, brokenness, and sinfulness, we come seeking His love, grace and mercy. What is a most astounding aspect of discipleship is that our deepest wishes of seeking Christ are also the deepest wishes of Jesus, who wants us to draw on His love, grace, and mercy because that is who he is. He is gentle and humble. Approachable and accessible. The greatest desire of Christ is that we not only approach Him, but steadfastly remain connected to Him. As He told His disciples then and tells us now,
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
– John 15:5
As Christ points out, discipleship is not merely a way of thinking; it is a way of being and living. Discipleship is being connected to Christ in each moment of everyday. “Remain in me and I in you”, are not the words of a causal relationship. This profound declaration from Jesus is nothing less than a sacred shared commitment between you and Christ.
In our upward struggle to conform to the image of Christ, we will experience fall backs and slip ups. It is then we adopt the gentle humility of Christ and approach the most approachable with our emptiness. The one who is most humble and gentle of heart will take our humble and gentle approach and embrace us with His love, grace and mercy, giving to us our greatest desire, an intimacy with God, which also happens to be the greatest desire of Christ.
Who, in your life, has made an impact by displaying Christ-like qualities? What qualities did you admire in this person?
In your everyday life, how do you see yourself, in practical ways, seeking to be fully connected to Christ so that you are transformed more and more into the image of Christ?
Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus encountering people in their everyday living, just as He does today. On occasion, Jesus urges the people to leave everything and follow Him. The four fishermen from Galilee did just that. The rich young ruler did not. (Mark 10:17-31). He spurned the offer from Jesus, only to walk off the stage of history. I sometimes wonder what became of this young man. Did he live with eternal regret? Did he return to Jesus? Did he even know the magnitude of the decision he made; the decision to turn away from discipleship?
Dallas Willard, the distinguished author, and teacher wrote this powerful passage on the cost of non discipleship in his classic book, The Spirit of the Disciplines.
“Non-discipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short, it costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10). The cross-shaped yolk of Christ is after all an instrument of liberation and power to those who live in it with him and learn the meekness and lowliness of heart that brings rest to the soul...The correct perspective is to see following Christ not only as the necessity it is, but as the fulfillment of the highest human possibilities and as life on the highest plane.”
Read the account of Jesus and the Rich Young Man in Mark 10:17-31.
Reflect upon the words of Dallas Willard and how your response to Christ’s offer of discipleship can affect your life.