Forming the Gospel-Framed Mind | Forming A Gospel Culture (Part IV)
What is the Gospel-framed mind? Let’s go back to what we have said in our previous posts. The Gospel truth is the view of the world according to God. A Gospel framed mind sees the world the way God does. It has a Gospel-based world view.
This explanation may still be at too high of an altitude fly over for some, so let’s break it down a bit more into some bite-sized pieces.
Our Ethos & Ethic
We all constantly make decisions. These decisions come from a place within us that is conditioned to work according to certain principles. This is our ethos and ethic. Our ethos is our driving spirit, culture, inspiration within a group, or within a person. It has a huge impact on our decisions. Likewise, our ethic, the moral principles that have been built into our psyche by nurture and experience do as well. Our actions can be right, wrong, or indifferent. We find something that belongs to another person and return it (which is right). We can steal something or say a negative word about someone (which is wrong), and we choose and ice tea over a lemonade (which is indifferent).
Yet what drives our ethos has greater impact on all our decisions, because ethos tends to drive our ethics. For instance, our ethic can be on the whole good, but if our primary ethos, let’s say, is the accumulation of material things, of money that could have a negative impact on the whole of our decision making to make us greedy and not compassionate towards other. We might make good decisions moral on most days, but our ethos, what we actually live for, has long term consequences for how we think and act.
Gospel-based Decision Making
So what is Gospel-based decision making? Simply put, it is driving all our decisions by the claims of the truth of the Gospel. For this to happen, it means our minds must first be filled with the Gospel and its driving principles. The mind needs to first be “framed” by the Gospel. That is what discipleship does. It is the Gospel truth absorbed in community with other Christians where the mind is transformed by the Gospel truth. Look at what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 12:2:
Rom. 12:2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Let’s take a few minutes to break this down. First Paul lays out first the contrast between the way of the world and the way of God. They are two different ways of thinking and doing. Paul says “do not be conformed…” meaning to fall in line with or follow the pattern of something. In the Gospel, two patterns of life are at stake—a worldly pattern that is against God, the Gospel, and his kingdom, and a Gospel pattern which is the way of God. It swims against the current of the world, it is costly, and it is difficult.
Second, Paul command to be “transformed by the renewing of you remind…” What does he mean by this? It simply implies that the natural mindset we are not only born with but also naturally learn needs to change. It is out of step with God’s will and ways for the world. This is what we mean by developing a Gospel framed mind. Through the Gospel, our mind is being reframed from its former ways for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
While “conformed” here means to fall in line with following a certain pattern, Paul uses a stronger word for “transformed.” This Greek word (metamorphao) through which we get the word “metamorphosis” implies total transformation, transfiguration, and core change at the level of complete demolition and rebuild. It is not just the change shape is “conform” does, but it means to change nature completely from one thing into something totally other. Here we can’t not add as well that he puts special emphasis on “the renewing of your mind…” That is how this radical transformation takes place. It is not overnight, but a gradual transformation that rewrites our moral and spiritual code.
Third and finally, the purpose for this he says is, “that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” This is the critical point at issue—the will of God. As I said, there are two ways in the world—God’s way and not God’s way. The Gospel calls us to God’s way, but by nature, we choose the way of the world. The Gospel challenges this and transforms us to be able to begin to discern the will of God.
Gospelizing All Our Decisions
It also changes us at both levels, ethos, and ethics. As we learn the Gospel, we learn God’s commandments Changing the principles upon which we make our decisions. But further, the Gospel changes our ethos—that is our drive or inspiration for living. The Gospel breathes new purpose into all our decisions making some very neutral decisions into morally powerful ones. Where once we might have done something like sit and watch two hours of television by ourselves in the evening, that may be transformed into spending more quality time with children and spouse, serving, or sharing the Gospel.
Here is the big point of the matter: The goal in discipleship is to train the mind to think from a Gospel shaped orientation in life. When someone is hurting us, “How does the Gospel command me to act in this situation?” When we are unemployed or suffering financial hardship, “how does the Gospel command me to think and trust God in this time?” — Get it?
Gospel-based decision making means pouring every decision, however large or small through the strainer of Gospel truth. What this means as well is that there is no “bracketing!”
What do I mean by that? Bracketing the situation is one of the most common sins in the Church. Basically “bracketing” means to tell one’s self, “well the Gospel does not apply to a situation like this.” That is a lie! A deeply hell-filled lie. This is precisely what is destroying the Church and destroying our witness to the world because we think we can rationalize and pick and choose when we want to obey the Gospel!
Well here is the Gospel truth. You can’t! And that is how Jesus sees it. If you are Christian, you are no longer your own, but ought with a price, and you are the servant of God. We do what he says—at all times. So when that person does something wrong to you, the Scriptures give precise commandment on how to respond. Or you borrow something from another Christian and lose it. What do you do? You restitute the wrong. What if you do not have the money to? Then you find a way to work it off.
How We Frame the Mind
How then might we reframe our mind for the Gospel? That brings up back to the four major principles we already briefly outlined. These are (1) Gospel Truth, (2) Gospel Community, (3) Acceptance, and (4) Accountability.
Let’s think about it this way. The Gospel truth lived out in a community of acceptance and accountability is like soaking a shirt in a tub of dye. As it remains, it “soaks up” the color of its environment. There is no single way to do this. There is no one size fits all curriculum for this. What is necessary are these four key elements that create the context and culture through which Gospel transformation takes place. It is here we soak in and marinate in life-transforming truth that gradually replaces the old man with the new.
This leads us to some other key points that we will expand in what follows. First of all, these four elements are driven by the power of the Holy Spirit within the community. It is not in our own power, and the Spirit plays the critical land life-giving role. But know this, The Spirit is a gentleman showing up where he is welcomed. So if you begin to shape your Christian community around these key principles, they are like rolling out the welcome mat for the Spirit to enter and do his work.
The Gospel transforms the mind first. The mind leads and commands the body. When we lead our mind, then our body follows. Yes, our passions and impulses my fight back some. But again, those take place in the mind too. Our lusts, fears, anxieties, and desires are experienced between our ears. That is why Paul says we are to be “transformed by the renewing of our mind.” this is what causes the prolific life change that results in discerning and living the will of God.
Elements of a Gospel Culture Forming A Gospel Culture (Part III)
A Gospel culture is formed around four fundamental pillars arising out of the New Testament. These four pillars are (1) Truth, (2) Community, (3) Acceptance, and (4) Accountability. If we put it into a simple phrase we could say, A Gospel culture is the product of the Gospel truth lived out in an authentic Christian community. We will expound on what we mean by this phrase in more depth below.
Jesus said to his disciples before his Jewish accusers, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Truth is a defining hallmark of being a follower of Jesus. Some have also said, “all truth is God’s truth.” That is surely true, though we as fallen humans have a pretty tough time discerning that sometimes. In fact, when Jesus says here “the truth shall set you free…” he means a specific body of truth—the “Gospel truth.”
What is the Gospel truth? The Gospel truth is more than a list of fundamental statements about Jesus. It is more than mere credal formulae or confessional statements about God, the Bible, and Christian doctrine, though these play some role in it. Moreover, it is more than a belief in the concept or existence of God. So if it is not merely these things, what in fact is it?
The Gospel truth is in fact the view of the world according to God. Every person has their perspective. But the Christian by definition is a “disciple,” which means student, learner, or apprentice. As the disciple of Jesus, we choose to follow Jesus, and in taking up this cross, we are learning to follow him.
Most poignantly, being a student of Jesus means learning to see the world the way God does. It is precisely this issue, that by nature we do not see the world God’s way, that is why the world is so horribly sinful and unjust. The Gospel-learner (disciple) is a recovering sinner who is being reprogramed in the vision of God, what Augustine called the Beatific vision. As we grow as disciples we learn (ever so gradually sometimes) to see the world more and more like God—to “think God’s thoughts after him,” as one great theologian said. Gospel truth is the frame and foundation of a Gospel worldview.
This truth, this vision, this radical rearranging of priorities is what the Church is in business for. The Gospel we preach calls, sinners, to repentance because the way we think and act in the world is contrary to God, his vision, and his plan for creation. This is why Paul called the body of Christ “the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” It is an outpost and embassy of truth in a contrarian world.
In the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, God is putting things right again. The Gospel is not simply a matter of “accepting Jesus into our hearts,” or even accepting ideas about him. The Gospel calls us to radical challenge and transformation. The Church teaches, lives, and feeds upon this robust doctrine of global and cosmic transformation. If she abandons this truth, she withers and fails in her mission.
The first command we encounter in the bible is not the first of the Ten Commandments (You shall have no other gods before me). Rather the first command God gives to mankind is found in the first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1:28: “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (RSV)
This is significant because this very fist command is in fact a command to go create community. It is a charge to have children, multiply and expand the family of mankind upon the earth.
God’s original vision for mankind was a unified humanity who basked in the love, goodness, righteousness, and holiness of God. Sin disrupted this and corrupted our race as well.
It is not accidental that every despot, dictator, communist, and would-be savior has promised a better world to their followers. However, it has always been true as well that every person, people, or group who resisted that plan has been the object of persecution, assault, and genocide. The wannabe parodies on the Kingdom of God all end in violence and bloodshed. Only the true Gospel can produce real unity and lasting peace.
In the meantime, we are called into a temporary community that is a taste of the heavenly Kingdom and Church; this is called the visible Church, and as noted above, it is not the kingdom, but an embassy for exiles who are on their way to the Fatherland of God.
[Augustine’s Journey to the Fatherland]
Understanding True Community and Discipleship
Our Summary statement above only took into account the first two major ideas lying behind the formation of a Gospel culture. There is a good reason for that, and we will add them now. The reason they were left out in the first round is that they are in fact the foundation ideas underlying the Christian community itself. This is why we used the adjective “authentic” above when we started the second idea as an “authentic Christian community.”
In our discussion of culture in general, it is clear that humans create “community” or communities of some sort whenever they gather and live in proximity. But the lion’s share of human communities has little in common with what the apostolic Church and New Testament writers had in mind for a “Gospel community” or “Gospel culture.” The use of the word “authentic” is not just a modern “buzz” language or trendy jargon. In my usage, it has genuine content that forms a community along radical contrarian lines to all those ideas of the human community prevailing in the present world.
By the word authentic we here refer to our last two major ideas of the four in forming a Gospel culture. These two are Unconditional Acceptance or Grace, and Accountability. We can call them just acceptance and accountability for short, but below we will expand on what we mean by each and why it is impossible to create Gospel community and culture without them. In a word, it cannot be an “authentic Christian community” without these two ingredients. Let me restate our summary statement above with them:
A Gospel culture is the product of the Gospel truth lived out in an authentic Christian community characterized by unconditional acceptance and gentle accountability.
Let’s unpack this a little more below.
Unconditional Acceptance (Grace)
There is probably no ingredient more essential to a healthy human community as well as personal mental and emotional health that acceptance. Acceptance is the key to forming any social group. A social group cannot form where there is a rejection of parties.
Acceptance is typically rather conditional. We tend to accept people who act the way we like, behave in ways that befit the group, and so on. Some of this is absolutely essential. Those exhibiting criminal type behavior in society need to be dealt with and not tolerated so they destroy the group. The process called social controls is actually quite normal.
But within social groups, as opposed to society as a whole, the standards and social controls for acceptance can not only be quite shallow and petty, they can often be quite cruel. People with disabilities, different colors, or who are not strong or unattractive are often pushed to the edges or completely pushed out of social groups.
The Church again is an embassy and emissary of the Kingdom of God in this present evil age. It is called to inject the ethos and ethic of God and his Kingdom down to earth. This means the Church is to love like God, care like God, and express the character of God toward all his creatures. This is why the Church is called to a radically Kingdom shaped Gospel ethos of acceptance.
The Church, when healthy, expresses the profound acceptance of God. Paul says in Romans 5:6, “For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.” (ESV)
What does this mean? It means that Christ died in the place of the sinner; Christ died for the offensive, the reprehensible, for the abominable—Christ died for unacceptable. God takes what is ugly, repulsive, and unattractive and embraces it, holds it, comforts it, and takes it home with him. This is the heart of God that the Church is to express. [Ezekiel]
This radical acceptance creates one of the greatest treasures of the Gospel, something every human heart longs for, a true sense of safety and security. This is not only in the world but above all, safety and security before God.
This is the part of the Gospel community we are naturally most adverse to. What is “accountability”? Simply put, it is being in a relationship where you are answerable for your behavior, a relationship where you will gently be called out and asked to rectify it. Let it be said, without accountability, the authentic Christian community we have spoken of is elusive, if not impossible. If it is wholly lacking, it becomes entirely questionable as to whether you have a true expression of the local Church at all.
No matter how much we may not like it, no matter how much we may want to avoid it, we need external accountability to grow in our Christian lives. Accountability in the community with the aid of the Spirit is the engine of sanctification. It is the nurturing and pruning process by which we are shaped to the image of God.
Why can’t we do this on our own? It is simply because the human heart, yes for every one of us, is exceedingly dark, self-centered, and self-deluded. Our capacity to lie to ourselves, excuse our actions, and not make the changes that God requires is without parallel. We need each other to help us be honest with ourselves. That is what healthy relationships do. They require growth in one another. This is why so many marriages grow stale and bitter; this happens when we refuse the natural accountability in the relationship that calls ut to become a better self.
In the Gospel, God calls us to our best selves. That is what Gospel truth does as it searches out the dark crevices and crevasses of the heart. This process where we face and gradually conform to God’s Gospel truth in the context of community is called repentance. It is the way of the disciple—the follower of Jesus Christ. This is why unconditional acceptance is so critical. Without a sense of safety, it is impossible to be vulnerable and welcome accountability. Only when we feel truly safe and secure in a relationship are we ready to peel back the layers of brokenness to expose the soft emotional tissue beneath so we can find healing.
The Challenge of A Gospel Culture | Forming a Gospel Culture (Part II)
Ray Ortlund, in his helpful little primer The Gospel says “It is striking that Jesus began his first extended sermon by emphasizing a gospel culture.” (pg. 71.) By this, he refers to the Beatitudes which open the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5. Let’s read them:
Matt. 5:1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 5:2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
5:11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
We could of course go on. The whole sermon on the Mount played a major role in the training (catechesis) of the earliest Christians in the Matthean Christian Community (probably Syrian Antioch)
What Does Authentic Christian Community Look Like?
What is this little chain of wisdom sayings expressing? It is expressing the attitude, ethos, and ethic of what Christian community is supposed to look like. What comes through is an emphasis on gentleness, hopefulness, kindness, mercy, compassion, peacemaking, and so on.
The question that faces us today is this: Do the Beatitudes tend to describe the average Christian Church today? I will leave you to think about that for yourself. We do not need to point at one Church or another. All we need to do is ruminate on how we reflect that personally or not, and what kind of life change needs to happen to deepen the ethos and ethic of the Gospel.
I will say this though if our immediate answer to the question of whether our churches today reflect this comes out something like, “well… kind of…” I personally would take that answer as a “No!”
Why Creating a Gospel Culture is So Elusive
Now I want to put forth a more radical idea for us to consider as to why it is so hard for our Churches in general today struggle with creating the kind of Gospel culture we find represented on the pages of the New Testament. The simple answer to that question is this:
The reason we fail to have Gospel cultures in our Churches is that we allow our church cultures to not be Gospel cultures!
Now that answer may sound patently obvious right? But there is more horsepower under that hood than it seems at first pass. When I say “allow” I mean something more on the lines of “get away with” or to permit. Or more poignantly, we permit the behavior of Christians that Jesus does not.
Plenty of articles and books have been penned on the question of non-Christians who call themselves Christians. We do not need to belabor that here. Moreover, false conversion is always a challenge of the visible Church. You cannot eradicate it completely. As Paul says, “Let God be true, and every man found to be a liar.” We lie even to ourselves—and quite habitually. In today’s Church environment, this is expressly problematic. Perhaps never has the bar to be called a Christian been lowered so much. When in the early Church one typically went through months or even years of instruction before baptism, today, if you will so much as raise your hand, or pray a two lin prayer, you can be called a Christian without question. That itself is not the biggest part of the problem as much as what is expected thereafter. I believe many sincere conversions are adversely affected by simply never being trained and shown what is truly expected of the follower of Jesus.
Here is the issue though. For a Gospel culture to thrive, it must uphold the very same expectations that God and his Gospel do. People normally rise to the standard you expect of them, however imperfectly. But if a Christian community is lax or permissive in its expectations, its culture will reflect that. If it expects Christians to live as Christians, with very clear biblical precedent, then Spiritual formation can take place.
Culture Change for Life Change
Where then does true spiritual formation take place? It takes place in the context of a Gospel shaped culture. This is the point we have been leading up to from the beginning of this discussion; People shape culture, and culture shapes people. Culture is a natural byproduct of humans living in proximity. Nevertheless, we have the power to determine the nature, ethos, and ethic of our culture by the choices we make. Even unintentional and poorly thought out choices, create a culture, and rarely for the good of all.
When we encounter the Gospel of Jesus, as we observed above in the Beatitudes, we see that the Gospel gives us that ethos and ethic by which to live and create a culture in our churches and homes that reflect the grace and peace of God. it is imperative then for the local Church and its leaders to understand that (1) a Gospel culture is a choice, one that can only be obtained intentionally with a clear focus and hard work. (2) A Gospel culture while formed by our choices forms the Church. This is key to creating Churches with powerful witness socially and evangelistically.
Creating a Gospel culture is engineered through obedience to the Scripture through the power of the Spirit. Perhaps the best analogy is to compare a Gospel culture to an engineer creating a manufacturing mold. It must first be intentionally conceived and designed; then it must be formed. Afterward, it is now the mold that does the shaping of the raw material poured into it. Granted this process is far more dynamic and gradual in the Church. It takes time to form a Gospel culture, and it takes more time for a Gospel culture to form people.
So is it with creating Gospel cultures for our Churches? We must take the key elements we find in Scripture that comprise the Christian way of life and gently press them into the warp and woof of our Churches. This again takes time. It is more like carving a sculpture rather than just popping a product out of a mold. But as we build this ethos and ethic into our Churches, the nature and tone of the community positively change. Subsequently, the people inside the system change too—all for the better. And here is the really good news about a Gospel culture: Once a Gospel culture is formed, it can’t NOT change people! That is critical. A healthy Gospel formed culture in fact does the heavy lifting, not only in sanctification, but in all stages of the Christian process, from pre-evangelism to evangelism, to conversion, discipleship, and onto growing levels of maturity.
So what are these elements of a Gospel culture that are so critical to both forming Church culture and Christians? Those are the topics of discussion for our next installment.
Gospel + Safety + Time (Ortlund The Gospel pg. 72)
James 3:13-18; “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”(RSV)
Do you remember the soldier who is guarding the chalices in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? He says to the German officer, “Choose wisely”. But of course, the officer chooses the wrong cup (made of gold and very ornate). He drinks the life-giving water from the cup and is immediately destroyed. Then it’s Indiana’s turn. He chooses the unassuming cut made from Clay. After Indiana drinks from the cup, the elderly guard says “You have chosen wisely”.
Would I have chosen the clay cup? Maybe. In my younger days probably not. Wisdom is not one of my strong suits. That’s why I ask God for it so often in my prayers. I think wisdom is a gift that a person is given to enable them to visualize something that is not produced because of a past experience. One definition in my dictionary states that wisdom is the ‘ability to discern inner qualities and relationships.’ Of course, another is ‘learning (knowledge)’. I do know one thing for sure; I was and am very wise in choosing Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.
God has given us the ability to choose. Choose whether we believe in Him or not. If we choose to believe that God is the Creator, then we must choose to follow Him or not. We must choose to believe that He sent Jesus in the form of a human being to save us by telling us the Truth. So we continue to choose, again and again. If we choose wisely, the end result will be Eternal Life in the presence of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
According to James in the above reading, we receive and use wisdom from either the world or from God. We must choose which one we will serve.
Joshua 24:15; “…..But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (RSV)
If you look strictly at statistics, this previous year has been very discouraging for those who believe the killing of an unborn child is wrong.
Some of the setbacks include Planned Parenthood being awarded two million dollars in November 2019, in a lawsuit that exposed them for selling aborted baby body parts. Instead of being horrified about the practices at Planned Parenthood, the jury found the undercover reporters who brought the practice to light guilty of trespassing and fraud and fined them two million dollars.
Additionally, in June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that it is not necessary for a doctor who performs abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Though this case was being heard as a concern for the safety of the mother it was struck down because it was considered a barrier to a woman’s access to abortion.
Currently, and for the past couple of years, there have been two bills before the Senate Judiciary Committee that appear to have been put on hold, again. The first is the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act which would mandate medical care to be provided to a baby born alive after an abortion. The second bill is the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act which would ban abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization since the baby would be able to feel pain during its demise. These bills were put on hold again because there aren’t enough Senators willing to yes, that these bills are good bills to pass; that it’s a good idea to provide medical care to a baby that has survived an abortion, and yes, it’s a good idea to not kill an unborn child that feels pain.
So, yes, we, as a nation, continue to debate in the courts, “When does the unborn child feel pain? Should we save a baby who has survived an abortion? Is it okay to sell body parts of aborted babies? Some of us may scratch our heads and think “Are you serious? Or brush it aside with, “That doesn’t really happen.” But the fact of the matter is, in the U.S. alone, 345,672 unborn babies lost their lives to abortion in 2018. Though this number is staggering, it is a marked improvement from the previous year at 862,320.
We, as Christians, must continually resist the distraction that the devil thrives on, who seeks to keep us in calamity, to keep us endlessly debating in the public square.
We, as Christians, rest on our sure foundation of Jesus Christ. He doesn’t call us to be distracted but to have words and actions of love. There is no need to waste a moment in the senseless debate when we know our Creator affirms over and over that we are all precious in his sight. He knows the plans he has for each of us in his kingdom.
Our voice about abortion should be as confident as Mother Teresa’s voice, a dedicated nun whom we all know and love, who served the poor in India until her death in 1997. Pope Francis recently announced she will be canonized as a saint next month on the eve of the anniversary of her death, September 4, 1997. Mother Teresa shared her voice emphatically about the plague of abortion in our country at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994 when President Clinton was President. Her message, twenty-six years ago, is no less poignant today. “I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts. Jesus gave even His life to love us. So, the mother who is thinking of abortion should be helped to love, that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child. The father of that child, whoever he is, must also give until it hurts. By abortion, that father is told that he does not have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into the world. ”
As believers in Jesus Christ, we are called to love, love until it hurts. In the gospel, Jesus says very clearly: “Love as I have loved you.” Jesus died on the Cross because that is what it took for Him to do good to us – to save us from our selfishness in sin. We, as we live out our faith, are called to “put on Christ”, as we love our neighbor. He calls us to love, even if it hurts. He calls us to see Him in our neighbor, the lonely, the outcast, the needy.
And so, likewise, we are called to reach out in love to one who is experiencing all of the above, such as someone experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. Reaching out in kindness to someone who is feeling lost and abandoned can make all the difference.
There have been a staggering sixty million abortions in our country since Roe vs Wade was decided, in 1973, forty-seven years ago. Many of us have either had an abortion or know many women who have. It is up to us to look into the quiet recesses of our hearts and confront the pain that lingers from a time long ago. This is the opportunity to seek forgiveness from the One who died on the cross for that very reason, to forgive for a sin that cannot be spoken. If those who have carried the burden for so long could speak to the younger generation, to let them know that they too can be freed from the guilt and pain if they would lay their burden down at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ, who is the great healer, who alone has the power to forgive. We owe it to our children and our children’s children.
Let’s let love begin in our homes and radiate out from there to our neighbor. That is what it means to let Christ rule in our hearts and it is how we grow in holiness so that we look more like Christ and less like the world. We cannot, as people of God, rely on laws to force us to make good decisions. We can only change the hearts and minds of another when we believe in our own heart that taking a life not yet lived is against what Jesus would want for either of us. And possibly, one by one, we may be able to heal a daughter, a friend, maybe a neighbor, and who knows, a nation.
We cannot lose heart that much of the world supports abortion. Perhaps many are supportive because they are complicit. How does one object to a sin we ourselves have committed? Our mission from Jesus Christ is not to use our time in endless debate but to speak the truth in gentleness and humbleness. We are called to be ambassadors for Christ and shine his light of love. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn it but to save it. He wants to save the world through you. “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” We must not give up. The family is our most important asset; given to us by God. Love begins at home, in the family. We must do all we can to love it, nourish it, protect it.
Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Let us go forward with the mindset that we need to protect our prophets. Every one of them.
If we put that in really really simple, uber understandable normal people’s language, we could just say “culture is the way a group, tribe, or nation lives.” Nations, regions, cities, neighborhoods, and even families have cultures.
Culture For Better or Worse
Culture is really neutral, at least it should be. In general, there is nothing inherently moral or immoral about the color and style garments in one culture versus another. So with the style of music, food, and so on.
When we slide into the realm of government and religion, well the morality of the issue really becomes a matter of what ideas are promoted and what is practiced.
The big point here is that culture is ubiquitous. By that I mean, people cannot live without culture; this is because, in the very act of living, we create culture. And create culture we do!
The question that faces all human beings is do we foster a good culture or a bad one? The general ways we live are neutral, the clothes we wear, what we eat, the holidays and traditions we make. But cultures are also driven by ideas, and ideas have consequences. What people believe and hold to be true becomes foundations upon which decisions are made. Those underlying ideas and decisions can have profound impact, for good or evil, on people’s lives. One people group who decides that another is a problem, nuisance, inferior, etc. can lead to infighting, persecution, slavery, and even genocide. The decade of the 1990’s saw this in the Croatian crisis. Today we see reports of Communist China’ repression and forced labor slavery among the ethnic Uyghur people of Western China.
Creating and Growing Culture
The term “culture” descends to us through the French language, originally from Latin “colere” which means to grow or cultivate the earth. There is something inherently intentional in culture. We create traditions, patterns of living, recipes, music, art, sports, entertainment, worship, and tradition; and we do it all by choice. Nevertheless, it is possible to do so without clear goals in mind. As I said above, humans living in a community create culture by default.
Nevertheless, is it possible to create cultures that are unhealthy or toxic for people?—perhaps even unchallenging and mediocre cultures? Yes, it is definitely the case. In cultures where people live off of checks from the state, they tend to become unproductive, unimaginative, and unmotivated. People get paid whether they work or not, and if they work harder, they see no gains. The best life then seems to do the least work for the money one would get paid.
A culture can be created intentionally and on purpose, and with a mind to creating thoughts, rhythms, and traditions that tend toward greater mental, physical, and emotional health. An alcoholic family may have a highly abusive culture until the key drinker turns over a new leaf and commits to personal life change. The whole household is benefitted by it.
Can We Create a Gospel-Centered Culture?
The simple answer is yes—of course, we can. If being human inherently creates culture, then we can create one infused with the truth of the Gospel. But it is not easy. To do so, we must learn the Gospel, not just as a set of ideas, but as a way of life, a lifestyle to be practiced in relationship with each other.
A Gospel culture is really founded upon the two great commandments: (1) to love God, and (2) to love one’s neighbor. () The difficulty that we often encounter is that we are often unaware of how much attention that takes.
The primary ingredient necessary in a Gospel culture is primary attention to our appetites. No, I do not mean just for food (though that is a strong one) but for all our desires as a whole. These are also known in biblical terms as the “passions” or in the New Testament (pathoi) These are the lusts and desires of the heart, the self-serving tendency that abides in all of us.
It is this, “the passions” that always stand in the way of a Gospel culture. A truly loving, merciful, compassionate, patient, other-focused culture cannot be built where our own passions rule. James himself says,
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions1 are yat war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (James 4:1–3)
It is for this reason the early Christians also coined a term for the kind of lifestyle and culture where the passions were put in check. They called this “dispassion” or in Greek apatheia.
What is “apatheia”? It has been called many things, but chief among them are “mortification,” the “death to self,” “cross-bearing,” and above all “repentance.”
In our follow up Articles to this one, we will expand on this.
There are few things more puzzling in Jesus’ teaching than his radical call to non-violence and forgiveness. It seems counter-intuitive to nature to not return violence with violence. The principle of lex talionis— “an eye for an eye” is fundamentally the law of nature. In fact, in many cases, violence seems inevitable, and sometimes it is.
One is immediately prompted to ask, what about World War II and the Nazi regime? What about Napolean Bonaparte? These were clearly aggressor-dictators whom without the armed resistance of Wellington and the British Army, and the Allies in WWII, the world would not only be a very different place but clearly the worse off.
Perhaps it is appropriate to make a distinction between a restrained defensive stand and the violence that springs from vengeance. Christianity has long since Augustine possessed a well-articulated just-war theory, namely that the human has the right, albeit sometimes the duty to resist the evil person and their violence with counter-violence. This is especially true when it comes to protecting family, wives, children, etc. To not defend the vulnerable under your care would be another cowardly evil of its own kind.
The Circle of Violence
There is also a circular, if not spiraling downward process of violence that we are often sucked into. You can see it in small ways in a put-down match when folks quarrel; one biting comment is met with another until it escalates or peters out. You may also see it more profoundly in a situation like the Yugoslav Wars of the Balkans that took place throughout the decade of the 1990s. An estimated 140,000 died in what included genocidal war crimes.
There are many motivations that flow into a conflict between persons, people groups, nations, and so on. When violence is committed, on the one hand, one of the primary motivations to respond is vengeance. In this way, every act of violence instigates another act of violence, and so on—a process we watched play out on our TV sets throughout the ’90s
Love Your Enemy
It is into such situations and conflicts that Jesus’ call to “love your enemies” comes as such a shock. How exactly does one do this? Again this does not mean we are going to lay down our weapons when someone is invading our homeland our home or assaulting our spouse or kids. But Jesus’ ethic does call us to a path and pattern to stop the circle of violence.
The big question is when the initial violence has stopped, what do we do as we sit in the ashes of the aftermath? What do we do with the consequences of another person’s evil deeds? When lives have been lost, humans wounded, and rights violated, what do we do next? This is where we meet with the choice of forgiveness or to hold onto the sin and hold it against them.
A Violence of Heart
The circle of violence is the offspring of a heart that has embraced the violence it received. A violent heart is a heart of unforgiveness and vengeance toward the perpetrator. It also has everything to do with one’s long-term mental and emotional health. When we choose to hold on to the anger, we are germinating the seeds of vengeance. We must understand that revenge begins in the human heart and psyche. There it grows like steam in a pressure cooker until it explodes upon the original perpetrator, or more sadly, upon the innocent bystanders of his own family, friends, or comrades.
Breaking the Chain
One of the steepest hills in Jesus’ ethic of forgiveness is the question of justice, that is, will the perpetrator get what he or she deserves? Will the wrong be righted? This is exacerbated all the more when the original perpetrator shows no signs of repentance or remorse for what was committed.
There is an amazing thing that happens when someone shows genuine grief over their actions and begs forgiveness. It is atoning and lifts a toilsome burden from the victim. A weight is lifted making it all the more liberating for the victim to forgive. But what about when they don’t? What about when they harden themselves in their position—when they actually defend their atrocious actions? This is all the more galling. It causes us to look upward and say, “God what are you going to do about this? Really?—You are just going to let that atrocity and their arrogance go?” That is what we often think and the typical path to being angry with God as well.
The thought of the perpetrator entering into the next life, scott-free, getting a pass, and never be judged for their actions is appalling to us. And it should be. God is a God of justice. He contends that he will judge every “idle word.” The pretexts for most vengeance is a humanly attempt to balance the scales of justice by our own power. But this usually only results in tipping them all the way to the other side, making us now the perpetrator.
The God of Justice
At the heart of the Gospel is the judgment of the world. So is it for the Apostle Paul and his preaching?
“But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his works: (Rom. 2:5–6)
It stands at its very center, the very same center where you will find the crucified God. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is God’s answer to “an eye for an eye” and “life for life.” It is precisely the judgment of God that put Jesus on the Cross. It is the sin and atrocities of all of us that necessitated his death so that we might be forgiven.
The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus from the grave mean one of two things for every human who will ever walk this terrestrial ball: (1) If he hardens his heart, does not repent and believe this message, he or she will be eternally judged. (2) If she or he does repent, and embrace the forgiveness of God in the Gospel, she or he will be eternally blessed. This means nobody gets a pass. The penalty has to be paid. We will either try to pay it ourselves, or we will humbly accept payment on our behalf by Jesus. There is no other way. And above all, no evil deed will ever go unpunished.
God’s Providence and Forgiveness
The question is do we believe that? There is no way to forgive and stop the cycle of hatred and violence without the providence of God. He is either a good God who will one day set all things right, or not.
The big question is this: How can we forgive those who do evil against us if we do not believe God is just and will right every wrong? If all people are independent automatons floating meaninglessly in a vast universe of chance, how will those who hurt us pay for what they have done? How will the wrong be righted?
On the one hand, people today have a gag reflex to the idea of a just and holy God who judges sin. It is distasteful and offputting to most. But that is simply the result of not thinking it through. If we are here by chance, and there is no God of justice to set things right, then the Holocaust was meaningless. If there is nothing more, then millions of Jews who died were meaningless too and the Nazi’s like so many other butchersome warlords will get off free. It means every life, whether suffering or prosperous, is without meaning.
Deep down, none of us want a world like that—a world where there is no justice, no answering, no accountability, and no reckoning. We just tend to shrug it off when we think about it in regard to ourselves standing there. We do not like the discomfort in the thought of standing before a holy God.
The Providence of God, the trust in his divine care, and the outworking of his justice in the Gospel are mission-critical to breaking the chain of anger, vengeance, and violence. Without it, we might as well just take it into our own hands. Only by trusting that there is an eternally just and good God can we hand the anger, the wrath, and hatred over to him. We can unload our burdens upon God. When we do, Jesus shoulders them on the cross. There every wrong, every fury, every hurt, and every pain was crucified there with him and in him.
It is that the God and Father of Jesus Christ is in control which frees us to “turn the other cheek.” We then deliver all our cares to him, and he takes care of us. In the safe haven of his providence, we leave the judgment of our adversaries, oppressors, and abusers to him. It is no longer ours to carry. And whatever judgment falls upon them will be perfect justice from a perfect hand.
Today I found myself stopped at a light. Being the momentary captive audience that I was, I could not help noticing the political sticker on the vehicle in front of me. It sported a background formed of an assorted variety of revolutionary fists raised together in the air.
What was particularly interesting to me was the moniker splayed across it which read: “Vote Against Hate.” Well, who could not raise a fist pump to that?
Sign Language Signs and symbols carry more meaning than the image itself does. Moreover, a fist is also a form of body language. It says something by the very way in which it is oriented. For instance, If the top of my fist is pointed straight out facing someone else, my knuckles oriented upward, elbow down, and I make a slight motion upward and downward, we call that a “fist pump”—something we do when we are excited about a circumstance, victory, or cheering when our team scored the goal. The clenched revolutionary fist however is typically pointed either straight up or up and away from the person (ironically not so different from a Nazi salute!).
Interpreting the Signs When encountering such gestures and, it is wise to consider them, not only for what they are intended to mean but even what those who use them are subconsciously meaning that they themselves may not entirely be aware of.
The revolutionary fist is typically a symbol of power and defiance. This is why it was so widely employed as an order of self-definition against the “bourgeoisie,” capitalists, industrialists, oppressors, etc. Deeper than that, the simple clenched fist has long been a symbol of violence. It spells anger, hatred, vengeance, and an intention to inflict a wound on one’s opponent.
The “Hate” of Violence If there is one thing we can be sure of, it is that hate drives violence. We speak not here of when individuals or nations are forced to defend themselves against violence; here I speak of the ideological hatred or even the personal hatred that causes one man to perpetrate violence against another. When Karl Marx’ and Frederick Engles’ Communist Manifesto is carefully read, what jumps off the page is the passion and invective inherent in their prose.
The entire work is a call to arms—a battle cry toward violence. The bourgeoisie has committed injustice which justifies their deposition and destruction. Its pages bleed through with sweltering wrath and lust for vengeance. No doubt, Marx and Engles are preachers—preachers of their own making.
A Violent [g]ospel Every movement has its mission; that mission is rooted in a vision of a better world, its proverbial “gospel.” When Marx and Engles wrote the manifesto, they sincerely believed what they were doing was right. They envisioned a world without class struggle, one class subjugated by another, an end of suffering, and everlasting peace. They were idealists. This was their “gospel”—their “good news” message that they preached to put the right. But it could achieve nothing more than a parody status of the true Gospel of Christ, and Communism’s fruit in the 20th century bears this out.
Idealism and the Fallen Human Nature Idealists are typically naive, and social reform movements are especially naive in one particular category where the historic Gospel could help; this is the problem of human nature. Most of us figure out pretty quickly that most people cannot be entirely trusted. But the Gospel of Jesus forces a deeper question…
“Yeah, but can you trust yourself?”
Jesus’ answer is resounding No. The Gospel does not begin with a utopian vision of the Kingdom of God. It starts with the rather unpopular topic of the universal sinfulness of all mankind. No matter how good we try to be, we are incessantly unfaithful, untrustworthy, and self-centered. The Evangelist of John’s Gospel makes an interesting, but often overlooked comment on this point:
“But Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man.” (RSV John 2:24–25)
These words pay no compliment to the human race. When you couple sin nature with the homiletic call to arms seen in the Manifesto and contemporary leftist rhetoric today, you have a recipe for violence. And that is precisely what we are seeing spilling onto our streets. It is then not so surprising that while in protest against the Czarist regime’s injustices of over six thousand political executions, the Bolsheviks far outstripped them more than doubling that to over fifteen thousand political executions in only two months! All told, in the roughly eighty-year reign of communism, it’s call to “hating hate” boasts over one hundred million deaths.
Hating Hate The fist symbol in the sticker says something profound, perhaps far more than its creator meant, but quite on the mark. The fist is itself a symbol of ideological hate; in that sense, the revolutionary fist with the slogan “Vote against hate” is in fact a call to “hate, hate”—to hate “hate speech” or to hate the “hater.” We will leave off the debatable question of whether the target of this sticker (obviously President Trump and his supporters) are in fact guilty of such hate.
The sticker, like the history of communism in general, makes an exception to the rule of hating. In the ethical constellation of the radical left, “hate,” “haters”, “hateful rhetoric,” “hate speech,” and so on have become cardinal sins. It is wrong to hate, racially, economically, socially, and so on. That is the baseline ethic, which is good in so far as it goes. The problem is in the very next step, which is that it is ok to hate, hate.
Fundamentally, it is always wrong to hate, except for hating hateful people. For example, it is ok to hate a Nazi—Nazis may be hated because they are a hate group. And therein lies precisely the problem. That is precisely where every ideological revolution and communist movement turned into a tragedy of social oppression, injustice, and mass murder.
For a concrete example, as Stalin’s forces crept back across Europe towards Berlin they installed a policy of systematic gang-rape to “punish” the German people. In just a few months, it is estimated that over 250,000 German women were raped (and many many murdered) by the communist forces. This is where the ethic of “it’s ok to hate the hater” consequently leads. We are seeing this same pattern on our streets and even in our schools where new acts of violence are being perpetrated daily.
That is precisely what the raised fist in the sticker is saying—it is ok to hate those whom you deem to be a hate-filled person. (That, of course, does not reflectively answer how one arrives at an objective conclusion of who is a truly hate-filled person and therefore truly deserves to be “hated.”) By and large, this seems to be devolving into invective, slander, and violence against anyone with whom one may religiously, morally, and politically disagree.
Once that line is crossed, violence also gets a pass too. It reasons, It is never ok to hate, except a person who hates; if you however decide that this or that person is full of hate, then you MUST hate them, and you also now MAY commit violence against them because… “they deserve it.”
This ethical leap is made simply on the basis of their own eschatology? By eschatology, I mean vision of the “end of the world” or the “end result” of the cause. If the eschatological vision is a world without hatred, then the easiest way to get rid of hatred is by getting rid of all the people who hate.
Rise Up!—Exterminate the haters! Of course, the “hater” very quickly reduces to nothing more than someone who disagrees with you and your agenda. The naive conclusion is that once there are no “haters” left, then it is a world free of hate speech, hatred, and haters… right?
Wrong. The violence behind a “hatred cleansing” is hate that simply perpetuates more hate. This is precisely what communism did all over the world in the 20th century. As noted above, the Bolsheviks far outstripped the Czars in violence. In their zeal to bring in their own workers’ utopia, they brought in an eighty-year reign of violence that has seen no parallel. And for the discerning reader, this could easily be seen in the violence pumping rhetoric of the Manifesto.
Hating Hate and the Radical Ethic of Jesus Only the historical Gospel Jesus offers an ethic that can offer the world hope. The idea of “hating your enemies is not new. Jesus addressed it head-on in his own day.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matt. 5:43)
The Gospel does not call us to hate our enemies (hating the haters) but to love them and see them as an object of compassion and conversion to this same ethic. There is of course nothing easy about this. But that is precisely what makes the Gospel of Jesus so radical and so other-worldly. Hating one’s enemy only multiplies hatred and violence; the ethic of Jesus turns the first person away from hatred with the goal of possibly converting his enemy as well. The result is then the conversion and subtraction of hate-driven people in the world—yet without the use of violence.
Moreover, Jesus’ ethic is watertight. No matter how badly one may not want it to be true, it is. It cannot be punctured, popped, dissolved, or disintegrated. Jesus’ “love your enemies” ethic bears perfect balance and integrity. You cannot destroy hatred by hatred. By hating hate, you have only multiplied the collective hate in the world. When one non-hateful person begins hating the hatemonger for his hate, the world now has two people driven by hatred. The hatemonger, by his hate, has won a convert—not to his cause per se, but to a shared hate-driven way of life.
The Naivete of Would-be Reformers The problem with almost all would-be reform movements and reformers is that they are inherently hypocritical and “other-focused.” By this, I mean that their default posture is “I’m right” and their opponent is wrong. With this comes the natural self-righteousness to justify violence against one’s enemy. It’s Achilles heel is that it remains naive to the darkness in one’s own soul. That is why the reforms of communism and other socialist movements were not only such fantastic failures but perpetrators of the worst violence.
Only the Gospel of Jesus begins with the individual looking inward at his or her own soul for reform first. While social-reformers typically focus on the splinter in their enemy’s eye, the Gospel calls us to self-examination, accountability, and self-reproof. As Paul puts it, in the Gospel we judged ourselves so that we may not be judged with the world. [1 Cor 11:31–32]
Albeit we as Christians may not always do this as well as we could. Nevertheless, the byproduct of Jesus’ ethic of self-examination and repentance far outstrips any alternative in the social and civil sphere. By the revelation of and primary focus upon our own evil, the Gospel reforms the world from the human heart outward—not from the tip of a bayonet inward. The bayonet has never converted any man, but its violence sure has hardened men to make them the worse for it. Only the Gospel offers freedom from the vortex of perpetual hatred.
A Big Question on Discipleship How many of us feel we are really hitting it out of the park in our Christian growth? I think most of us don’t. And if we did, that might in fact be a bad thing. Nevertheless, most of us Christians tend to live with a gnawing sense of constant failure, insecurity, and self-consciousness.
If we are truly growing in our faith, we should be both growing in both our sense of brokenness and humility on the one hand while at the same time growing in our sense of security with the savior on the other. That is the fruit of true Gospel love, true gospel transformation, and true Gospel peace.
Raising Both Bars When I mention “raising the bar,” I do not mean the old Olympic high-bar analogy, but more like the bars in a bar-graph. When we look at a bar-graph we see multiple bars that measure some quantities in comparison and contrast.
Let’s imagine for a moment a bar graph in which there are two quantities. The first is the holiness/obedience meter. This measures our growing levels of learning to live like, obey, and reflect the character of Jesus. The second is the humility meter. This one measures our sense of imperfection, brokenness, and need for saving.
Both of these bars should (generally) go up together (i.e. If we grow in holiness, we must be growing in humility). Likewise, as we grow in humility, our holiness increases with it. If our humility increases and our holiness does not, it is really more of a show and we are a fraud who is in fact feigning humility. For instance, many of us as Christians, when called upon to own this or that fault can be heard admitting “yep, I’m a sinner…” Yet this is just a reigned humility, no different from the old “nobody is perfect…” that the most godless person will appeal to.
This is what I call the “jump into the crowd” method, where when the light is shone on our sin, we just try to get lost in the crowd by pointing out how we are really no worse than anyone else. What this does is avoid true culpability to sending up a flare the takes the focus off ourselves by pointing out the ungodliness of the rest of the human race. When the Gospel takes hold of our lives, our sin disgusts us and drives us to true repentance. We feel the sting of it as if we were the only person who ever did anything like that, we own it, and we hunger for God’s forgiveness.
On the other hand, if our obedience increases and our humility does not, we become little more than a religious hypocrite. Again if we are able to comply with the general moral expectations of God’s word, but we do not grow in humility, this is also a show. This is revealed very quickly when we are cleaned up on the outside and very quick to pass judgment on others.
So what is True Discipleship and How do we Measure It? So what is true discipleship?It is not a program, service, or event. These things can of course be part of the process. But discipleship is the process of life in the Church that shapes us more to the image of Christ. More tangibly, it raises both bars: it challenges us to deeper levels of obedience (both outwardly and inwardly) and it increases humility. This means that while we grow in obedience, we never feel like we are. Our sense of duty to obey Christ and sense of need for forgiveness and saving grow together.
This kind of discipleship is palpable. It makes a noticeable difference in our lives and relationships. It leads to an ever-growing peace within our relationships with our family, friends, and enemies.
How then may we measure discipleship? We measure it in several ways. In the most general sense, it should lead to peace. This is certainly not a perfect peace, the kind we will experience in the kingdom of God. But it is in fact a taste of it in our lives that is growing, tangible, and evident. Here are three key ways:
Discipleship works itself out in better relationships. This is one of the most obvious. When the Gospel changes us, it has the opportunity to change how we relate to everyone around us in practical ways. Discipleship mends fences; it redeems broken relationships.
Discipleship creates peace within ourselves. We no longer want to hold onto our pride, our neighbor’s faults, and so on. It creates both psychological and emotional peace within ourselves and with the world around us—a peace rooted squarely in forgiveness.
Discipleship creates a posture of repentance. We need to unpack this more elsewhere, but for now, let’s summarize. True discipleship produces repentance that leads to humility. Repentance is the process of self-examination, owning our faults, and asking forgiveness of God and others. When you repent, especially in your relationships, this refreshes, renews, and rebuilds broken relationships.
These three can be considered benchmarks and consequently provide some standard by which we can begin to measure our growth. We will come back to these more. But for now, we can use these to begin to get our bearings.
So here is a helpful exercise to start to begin applying them. (1) Set aside some time in a quiet place. A place outdoors or inspiring is preferable, especially where you can be alone without interruption. (2) Bring a pad and pen to do some brainstorming. Begin by brainstorming how you are living and experiencing each of these categories. Then review and begin praying about it. (3) Share it with a safe close relationship like a confidant, close friend, or spouse who can give you some kind of objective thought.
What is true discipleship? The question sounds obvious at best. But that is precisely the slippery little problem of discipleship in the modern church. Discipleship SHOULD BE clear; it should be obvious, it should be so well understood by the Church that its definition can be taken for granted. The difficulty is that in reality, true discipleship is in fact not so obvious.
If you were asked the question “what is discipleship?” how would you answer it? Here are some typical answers: Discipleship is…
preaching a sermon
a beginner class on basic Christian doctrine after accepting Christ
a class someone takes before they accept Christ (see what I did there!)
a bible study
a small groups
I think you get the point. If we take this shortlist of typical answers, we can make two primary observations: (1) many of these are to one degree or another contradictory, like how some would see discipleship as something that happens when we ingest a sermon during a Sunday service while others would contend it only takes place a small group, accountability group, or bible study. (2) Many of these things overlap to varying degrees and are also not entirely contradictory. For example, both a sermon and a small group bible study have to do with teaching the contents of the Bible.
When Close Enough is Too Far Away
The problem here is twofold, namely having enough truth to feel comfortably right, and enough error to never fully arrive at a holistic understanding of true biblical discipleship as Jesus envisioned it for his Church. Sometimes being close enough, in the end, leaves us too far away.
I remember watching an episode of the reality show, the Amazing Race where teams of two raced around the globe. In one episode, there were multiple clues in this particular area of the city. Somehow one team stumbled on the next clue before they found the one before it. As they stood excited they had arrived at the end of this stage first, their hopes were suddenly dashed when the host had to tell them that they missed a clue and had to return to do it. In the end, though having originally arrived first by a stroke of luck, the backtracking for the missing clue forced them to be last and they were eliminated from the race.
That is often how our attempts at discipleship are today; we are so close, living in the neighborhood, we are not on alert to look for anything deeper for something more challenging, more engaging, something pressing the soul into intimacy with Jesus and his Church.
Discipleship without Parallel
When we take the time to consider discipleship and formation of the earliest Church, it really has no modern parallel. Part of the problem of describing discipleship to you is that there are few modern parallels to point to. We cannot point to this or that Church today and say “see there it is.”
Sure this does not mean there is no discipleship going on at all. What I am talking about here is a distinction in degree.
Let’s say that the discipleship that the Apostolic disciples experienced with Jesus equaled 100%. If we say that, then we could theoretically measure all forms of discipleship by that gold standard.
Further, assuming that no Church has ever disciplined at the full 100% capacity as Jesus did with the 12, we might still say, “hey the Apostolic Church probably scored a solid 85%–95%” depending on the day of the week. Again we do not want to come off to idealistic here; no church or ministry EVER disciples perfectly. At the same time, if we are honest enough to recognize a sliding scale, then it clearly implies that some ministries will disciple better than others. Hence we can all agree that disciplining at 75% strength of what Jesus did is better than 40%, and so on.
This leads us so far to a simple question, namely… do we think there is always room to improve our discipleship? I think there can be only one possible answer to that. That is YES.
But there is more. If the Church looks very little like it once did, especially at a time when it was particularly fresh and healthy, might our room for improvement be profound? I think so too.
Some Key Considerations
This question, the level of quality or functionality in our discipleship is critical for several reasons. First Churches have a tendency to mimic the same activities, without serious assessment to the resulting outcomes. For instance, if your Church A. does X, what fruit is it actually bearing. In other words, what observable difference is X bible study, small group, fill-in-the-blank, actually producing.
Second, how does one even begin to measure such things such as “godliness,” “behavior,” “life-change? This is some food for thought, for all Christians, but especially Church leaders. We will consider these issues in our next post.