A local gym had a recent PR campaign where the slogan was “Commit to Something”. The underlying suggestion being that in the age of options that we live in, commitment is hard to come by. There was a time in human history (prior to the ease of escape via text message) where people generally just did what they said they would do. Yes meant yes. No meant no. These days the highest level of societal commitment, marriage, often carries a somewhat common understanding that it might not work. In some cases I've even heard of couples changing vows from "until death do us part" to "until love do us part". In other words, until I don't feel like it anymore. Really? Does the power of choice ever depart from us?
I read a quote from Danny Silk recently that said “I’ll try" is asking permission to be irresponsible. Confronting to say the least. We base our decisions around our values. We are the only ones in charge of our time and resources. How we behave is a manifestation of our priorities and convictions. Why have we allowed ourselves to become so... well, flaky.
Unfortunately these flaky cultural values have a way of creeping into the calling that we have as Christians to grow into maturity through discipleship. When the Apostle Paul speaks to the Hebrews in 5:11-14 he says: There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others (suggesting that all are called to disciple others). Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training (suggesting that we should be submitted to spiritual training aka discipleship) have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.” Then in speaking to the Corinthians he gives a similar rebuke: Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. 1 Corinthians 3:1-3
Interestingly, the Corinthian church had only been in existence for less than 5 years total when they received this letter. Would we be surprised to the point of rebuking someone if they had become a Christian 5 years prior and were still immature in their faith?
Could it be that Jesus is calling us to live with a set of values that conflict with our cultural norms? Could it be that the best version of humanity is not afraid of commitment at all, but embraces the opportunity to live powerful and free lives? Could what we have now come to consider "extreme or radical” just be what it means to follow Jesus? (Spoiler alert: The answer to all these questions is YES).
I used to believe that it was easier for the "strong personality types" to live with conviction until I thought about it. The entire message of the gospel is that the very ability to become like Jesus comes from the Holy Spirit anyway, not from a personality type. If Jesus came for all people then this commitment to abandon all and follow him must be equally possible for all people, not only those with assertive personalities.
A paraphrased version of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 would be: "Tell people about me, baptize them and them teach them to obey my word. I’ll be with you the whole time." Proclaim, convert and then teach. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul asks the church to “follow him as he follows Christ”. Practically, discipleship has two people involved. It's following Jesus as we follow someone... yes an imperfect human person who is teaching us to become like Jesus. There is a mutual commitment of both people:
The leader commits to do their best to point to Jesus and His truth always, to live by example, to love and encourage and to teach the truth of the Bible. Discipleship is the essence of living life together, not only for formal “discipleship meetings” but for everyday things. It’s learning how to live life in a new and foreign culture, the Kingdom of God.
The person being led commits to keeping their heart teachable and humble and commits to the process of maturity. There's nothing wrong with asking questions or disagreeing. This isn't a relationship of control. But at the end of the day there has to be a recognition that we don't know everything and as long as we are not being led into anything immoral, unbiblical or illegal we can submit in the process of learning. God really is in charge and will make sure we are not kept from anything that he is trying to get to us. It’s in this process of learning and through our submission to those is spiritual authority in our lives that we step into the purposes God has for us and obtain the ability to lead others.
So, if every believer is supposed to become mature in their faith what should we be aiming for? How do we measure maturity in our lives? What does the Bible describe as attributes of those who follow Jesus?
The Mature Christian:
has an understanding of, submission to and ongoing study of scripture
has an active and powerful prayer life
has an ongoing attitude of repentance and humility
demonstrates a sacrificial life of service and generosity
lives in obedience to the voice of the Holy Spirit
walks in spiritual authority, understanding the difference between good and evil
pursues personal freedom and internal healing
has a life that demonstrates the fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control)
is submitted to Christian community and leadership (i.e. the local church)
desires to be holy (set apart) and live a life that pleases God
personally reaches the lost and disciples them
We have to be careful that we don’t mistake things like charisma or leadership skills for spiritual maturity. Often in a church community it’s easy to do, sometimes with devastating results when true character is forced to the surface. More than likely all of us have something from this list that we could work on. Maybe it’s starting to learn how to study the Bible? Maybe it’s purposefully measuring the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives- a good way to do this is to vulnerably ask a few close friends to give you honest feedback (hard but invaluable). At the end of the day we are not expected to be perfect today. It’s a process that God gives us the grace to walk out.
The goal here is to return to Biblical Christianity. More than ever we need to return to an authentic faith of power that demonstrates the gospel and testifies that Jesus is Lord. We don’t need big churches as much as we need authentic faith and dedication. (FYI, churches were actually bigger in time periods where Christians lived this way) Does a higher standard force us to cross the line? Well yes, that’s the point. Jesus never shied away from high standards. In fact He allowed many to walk away and He never lowered the bar. Watering something down only makes it confusing and ineffective. It’s time to drain the complacency out of our faith.