Let me start off this message by making what may seem like a startling statement, but one that I truly and totally believe. Jesus doesn’t want you to be a Christian. Let me repeat that so there is no confusion of what I just said. Jesus doesn’t want you to be a Christian.
What in the world? Did the Pastor just lose his mind? He just told us that Jesus doesn’t want us to be Christians.
Now that I got your attention, let me unpack that statement a little bit before your begin to hurl fruit, get up and walk out, or start arguing with me.
All too often in our 21st century, as I have mentioned at other times, it seems quite possible to be a Christian and actually want nothing to do with Jesus. I mentioned the other week about the fact that many Christians are actually Vampire Christians, who want Jesus for his blood and nothing else. “Jesus just give me a little of your blood. I don’t actually want to be your student or take on your character or be like you. In fact, I really got to go but I’ll see you when I die.” So it is possible (not from a Biblical standpoint) but from a culturally Christian standpoint that you can be a Christian without being a disciple. In fact, it almost seems like being a disciple is an add on, for those who are really really serious about this whole Jesus thing. We have created a salvation culture, and not a gospel-discipleship culture where we can call Jesus Savior, and not actually call him Lord. But as I said before if he is not our Lord and I don’t believe he will be our Savior. To me, they are a package deal.
But how did we get here? How did we get to the point where discipleship is seen as optional? I think part of it is how we have actually defined the term gospel. To many people, both in and outside the church, if you asked them to define gospel this is what they would say, “Jesus dies on the cross for my sins so that I could go to heaven when I die.” And as I have said many times before, that yes, this is part of the gospel, but I don’t think it is the main part of the gospel.
All too often this (mis)understanding of the gospel then short-circuits the need for discipleship and actually following Jesus. Because this Jesus who died for my sins only, yes he can be worshipped but he can’t actually be followed. I would, along with the writer Dallas Willard, define this definition of gospel, as the gospel of sin management. On the right, you have the concept that Jesus died for my individual sins. On the left, you have the concept that Jesus did for systematic sins like oppression, racism, sexism, etc. Willard says this, “History has brought us to the point where the Christian message is thought to be essentially concerned only how to deal with sin- with wrongdoing and wrong-being and it’s affects. Life, our actual existence, is not included in what is now presented as the heart of the Christian message or it is included only marginally. Transformation of life and character is no part of the redemptive message (if the gospel of sin management is the only definition of the gospel). It’s like this, a gospel that doesn’t include discipleship and life here and now is like a cheeseburger without the cheese. Just like a cheeseburger without the cheese is not a cheeseburger anymore, the gospel without discipleship in the here and now, is not the gospel.
So if the gospel isn’t primarily about sin management, whether individual sin on the right or systematic sin on the left, then what is it? And if Jesus doesn’t want you to be a Christian, what does he want from us? Let’s turn to Matthew 16:24-27 and see what Jesus was calling his first followers to, and then by definition what he is calling each and every one of us to.
Matthew 16:24-27 says, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life[ will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”
To understand this a little bit, let’s look at the context of the surrounding passage. Jesus had just asked his disciple the question, “Who do people say that I am?” They had lots of different answers, but then Jesus put it to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter, ever the one to open his mouth first said “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
Now Peter is absolutely correct in his assessment of Jesus, but then he shows that he doesn’t have a full grasp of what the mission of the Messiah actually is (to be fair to Peter, if we grew up with Peter we wouldn’t have any room in our theology or belief for a suffering Messiah. The two terms didn’t go together.) Jesus begins to talk about his crucifixion and resurrection and Peter doesn’t want to hear it. And Jesus tells Peter “Get behind me Satan for you have the concerns of men and not God.”
And then we come to the verses which we just read. Jesus drops a bombshell when he says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” You see Peter and the other disciples thought that Jesus was the Messiah, and he was, but definitely not in the way that they had thought. You see at the time the term Messiah had not concept of divinity attached to it. It was very much a political term for one who was to come, kick Rome out of the land, set up an earthly Kingdom and rule from Jerusalem. And the disciples wanted to be a part of that ruling and reigning. They wanted to be the great ones. The ones who had helped Jesus kick out Rome and help set up a new rule and reign. Jesus did come to establish a new Kingdom, a new rule and reign, but not one that was established on shedding the blood of his enemies, but allowing the “enemies” to shed his blood.
Jesus is calling all who will follow after him to pick up and carry the instrument of their own death. Following Him will cost everything and give everything. There are no half measures on this journey. If Jesus, Lord and Savior went literally and physically went to the cross, and if being a disciple mans coming after and imitating the teacher, then our lives as disciples of Jesus are forfeited the moment that we begin to follow Him.
So to be a disciple of Jesus “simply” means that you are modeling your life- your thoughts, your words, your actions, your everything- on the example and teachings of Jesus.
Which means picking up that cross, and dying to yourself, so that you can live a resurrectional life and existence, living under the rule and reign of Jesus. And we love to talk about the beauty and freedom of the resurrectional life, but to get there we have to go through the pain of death. And not literal, death, but a death to ourselves, our hopes, our dreams, our ways of living. And I have to tell you death is not easy. And many days I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to wake up, strap the cross of Jesus on my back and follow Him. I want to live the way that I want to live, think how I want to think, speak how I want to speak, and do what I want, as if I am the King of my own Kingdom. But I am not and I do want to live under the rule and reign of King Jesus and that requires a daily death.
To be honest, I kind of wish (I believe we all kind of wish) that the gospel of sin management was the entirety of the gospel, because it really only requires us to believe it, say a prayer of forgiveness, and have our sin wiped clean, and then we can go on living, having that sin problem taken care of. And please don’t hear me as minimizing sin, because I am in no way doing that. But believing in Jesus as Savior is fairly easy, believing and living under the rule and reign of King and Lord Jesus is another story. Somehow we have come to believe that it is possible to “worship” Him and not follow Him. But if we follow Him we are by definition worshipping Him. When we live this discipleship life we are asking the questions, “What does it mean to follow Christ with our lives and not just our beliefs?” and “What does it mean to submit life in its totality to the claims of the Kingdom of God?”
When we become a Christian it involves more than just a mental ascent or a belief in Christ but it also involves discipleship. Faith is expressed in holy living. In Christ, salvation and ethics come together. Not only are we to be saved through Christ, but we are also to follow Him daily in obedient living. He is to be Lord and Savior. Third way faith and third way faith communities continue to teach that salvation makes us followers of Jesus and that he is the model for the way we are to live. Discipleship means that the transformation of the individual believer’s entire way of life should be fashioned after the teachings and example of Christ.
Churches are then to be committed communities of discipleship, because we can’t be disciples alone. We need others to help us become more and more like Jesus which is the process that we call discipleship. Which is the process through which Jesus turns us into people who trust and follow Him. It is here then that Dallas Willard has something else to say to us, as a community regarding being disciples and the process of making disciples. He asks this tough 2 questions, “Every church needs to be able to answer two questions. First, what’s our plan for making disciples? And second, does our plan work?” If we are seeking to be a third way of following Jesus not only individually but corporately. Being a third way faith community so to speak, we need to take the idea of being a community committed to being disciples and in the process of discipleship seriously. That is why I have been working on, reading, writing, and discussing the implementation of a missional discipleship plan within Veritas. To answer those two questions from Dallas Willard. So that we wouldn’t just be creating a bunch of Vampire Christians who want Jesus for his blood and nothing else. But begin a community that seeks to be disciples that makes disciples. We are still in the process of refining the discipleship process (our next Servants Team meeting will be mostly about the process and ironing it out. And then we’ll be talking about when we will be presenting it to the entire community. Suffice it to say this is probably one of the most important if not the most important thing that we will have worked on, because discipleship is so crucial to everything that we do. If you’d like to talk more about the discipleship process, why we are working on it and developing it, let me know. I’d love to talk with you about it.)
As we turn the corner into our time of discussion, let me end with this, which will bring us full circle in how I started this discussion. I said that Jesus doesn’t want you to be a Christian. Hopefully we have seen that he does want us to be Christians- if it means begin a disciple who seeks to follow after Him. Who will take up their cross and put out feet into his footsteps. But he doesn’t want us to be Christians who only want him to be the Secretary of AfterLife Affairs (as Brian Zahnd says).
So let’s talk together about the importance of discipleship, the call of Jesus for us to take up our cross and follow Him and how we can be a committed community of discipleship together.
1. What thoughts, insights, questions, etc.. do you have regarding discipleship, the Scripture and or/ the message?
2. How can we as a community help you grow deeper in Jesus and in your discipleship? How can the Pastor help? How can the you help? How can the leadership help?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?