What is a Faithful Disciple of Jesus Christ? Part 3

So, what’s the foundation that Jesus is alluding to and that I’ve been hinting at in the last two posts (Part 1 and Part 2)? It’s his words. And what makes a person wise or foolish is what he or she does with those words…and therefore, what he or she does with Christ himself. Both builders heard the words of Jesus. They looked just alike in that respect. But only one of them put those words into practice. Jesus called that person wise. The other builder also heard the words of Jesus. But for whatever reason, he ignored them. Jesus called him a fool.

James, the brother of our Lord, must have been paying attention to what Jesus was saying here because he wrote these words in James 1:22-25…

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. [23] Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror [24] and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. [25] But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.

If I could use one word to describe what Jesus is talking about here it would be “obedience.” Jesus wants more than people who “talk the talk” of faith. He wants people who will “walk the walk” of faith. That’s faithful discipleship.

And this isn’t just a New Testament thing. God said the same thing through his prophet, Ezekiel, in Ezekiel 33:31-32…

My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. [32] Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.

You see, the Sermon on the Mount (as well as the rest of God’s Word) isn’t just to be admired, but obeyed. Our men’s ministry, the Baxter Boys, studied a book a few years ago entitled, “Point Man.” It was about how Christian men can be godly husbands, fathers, workers, churchmen, and so on. One of the chapters spoke to our need to study and obey Scripture. Steve Farrar, the author wrote…

“The Enemy does not mind if you revere the Bible, just as long as you don’t feed from it.”

He continued…

“The danger in the Christian life comes when I listen to a sermon or go to a Christian seminar or listen to a series of teaching tapes without applying the truth I hear to my life.”

He concluded this thought with these words…

“In the Christian life the opposite of ignorance is not knowledge, but obedience. God does not want to take a new Christian and move him from ignorance to knowledge. He wants to move him from ignorance to knowledge to obedience.”

I love that! From ignorance to knowledge to obedience! You see, we don’t read or study the Bible purely for information but for transformation. Now…to be sure…we have to know and understand what the Bible says before we can put it into practice. But faithful disciples of Jesus Christ aren’t simply collecting Bible-information so they can win Bible-Jeopardy one day. We have to obey God’s Word if we would be transformed.

Well…finally…let me ask you this: Have you ever read (I mean really studied) the Sermon on the Mount? I remember what happened to me when I finally started getting what Jesus was talking about. I felt despair. And I think that’s the whole point. But maybe you’re asking why I felt that way. Well, because in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said things like…

Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” (5:19)

“Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (5:20)

“I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (5:22)

“Anyone who looks at a woman (or man) lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.” (5:28)

“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away…If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (5:29-30)

Beloved, that’s just from the first half of chapter 5. There’s still the second half of chapter 5…and all of chapters 6 and 7. So much for “Gentleman Jesus, meek and mild.”

My point is that it’s those words…and the many, many other words like those that Jesus is declaring that we are to read, study, and put into practice. That’s why I felt despair and guilt the first time I really started understanding what Jesus was talking about.

But as I said…I think that’s the point. Those feelings of despair, guilt, and hopelessness are there to drive us to the Cross of Christ. They are to drive us to God’s gracious provision in the person and work of his Son, Jesus Christ. Only Jesus put those words into practice and perfectly practiced them. And that’s why he was and is the only acceptable sacrifice to the Father on our behalf.

That’s why we are saved only when we place our trust in him and him alone… and love him as our Savior, Lord, and all-sufficient Treasure. He is the pearl of great price.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not contradicting everything I just said. We are indeed to strive to be more and more obedient to God’s Word with each and every passing day, week, month, and year. It’s how we glorify God and become more like Christ. We must put his words into practice. That’s a non-negotiable.

But the difference is that at the end of the day, you aren’t trying to obey Jesus in order to save yourself with your own good works. You can’t do that anyway. Instead, you’re seeking to obey Jesus by putting his words into practice because he has already saved you by his grace. Your obedience, while required in a very qualified sense, is evidence of a grateful and loving heart. And it will be his Spirit working in and through you that will give you a desire to obey him and will enable you to do so.

And that’s how you show Jesus and the world that you love him…by obeying him… by bearing much good and lasting fruit. Jesus said in John 14:15…

If you love me, you will obey what I command.

And in John 14:21…

Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

That’s what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. What could be better than that?

Grace and Truth,
Dale

What is a Faithful Disciple of Jesus Christ, Part 2

Yesterday we left off with Jesus referring to those who listen to “these words of mine,” meaning all that Jesus had been speaking about in the Sermon on the Mount up to that point. So the question we want to begin with today is this: Just what are those “words” to which he referred? What, in particular, are the words of Jesus?

The message(s) of the Sermon on the Mount is powerful, convicting, and even devastating. What’s in the Sermon on the Mount? Are the words and teachings found there relevant to us today…some 2,000 years later. Well…you tell me…

In chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ words focus on…

  • Our character
  • God’s blessings
  • How to influence others
  • God’s Law
  • The righteousness God expects from us
  • Murder
  • Anger
  • Hate
  • Reconciliation
  • Adultery
  • Lust
  • Divorce
  • Taking Oaths
  • Truth Telling
  • Revenge
  • Going the extra mile for another person
  • Loving your enemies
  • Giving to the needy
  • How to pray
  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • How to fast
  • Humility
  • Treasures in heaven vs. treasures on earth
  • Putting God first
  • Priorities
  • Worry
  • God’s provision for you and your family
  • God’s Kingdom
  • Judging others
  • Hypocrisy
  • Persistence in prayer
  • God’s goodness to his children
  • How to enter into heaven
  • True and false prophets and how to tell the difference between them
  • True and false disciples of Jesus and how to tell the difference between them.

So you tell me: Is any of that relevant to your life?

Now, to bring his teaching to life as well as to drive home his point about being a faithful disciple, Jesus tells us a story about two builders – one he calls wise…and one he calls foolish.

But before we look at this familiar story, there’s one part of it that may not be so obvious. It’s easy to miss. I know I did for many years. You see, Jesus is not, in this parable, comparing and contrasting a Church-goer from a non-Church-goer. He’s not comparing and contrasting a committed Christian to an outspoken pagan who’s never darkened the door of a church.

I think we would all breathe a collective sigh of relief if that were the case because we would all say, “Whew, well at least he’s not talking about me.”

Now, to be sure, Jesus has plenty to say about the “official” unbelieving world…but that’s not his focus here. In this parable…Jesus is comparing and contrasting you…and the person sitting right next to you this morning. OUCH!

Jesus is talking about two different kinds of people who, for all practical purposes, look just alike in almost every way. To put it in our own language, we could say that both people go to church. Both can recite the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer from memory. Both sing every verse of every hymn or song. And both will sit and hear every word of the sermon.

That’s the point that Jesus is making: Both houses that the builders built looked identical with this crucial exception: The foundations were completely different. One builder searched, found, and labored to build his house on a firm foundation of rock. The other took the path of least resistance and built his house in any old place…on nothing but sand. And Jesus will later share why that’s a big deal… and just how catastrophic building your house on the wrong foundation can really be.

So, Jesus calls the builder who built his house on the rock, wise. The builder who built his house on the sand was called, foolish.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look and see what the two different foundations of rock and sand stand for in our lives and why it matters. (Click here to read Part 1 of this series)

Grace and Truth,
Dale

Jesus, Salvation, and Hell (Bibliography)

You’ve heard the questions… maybe even asked the questions. At the very least you’ve thought about them…

  • Do you have to believe in Jesus Christ to be saved?
  • What about those who’ve never heard of Jesus… that innocent native in Africa?
  • Is there salvation outside of the Christian faith?
  • Do people really go to hell?
  • Etc., etc., etc.

These are tough questions and they’re asked all the time. In fact, on the Board of Ordained Ministry here in Florida, we ask a similar question or two in hopes of getting our candidates to wrestle with such things. Certainly, they’ll be asked these kinds of questions in the churches they serve.

Below is a helpful bibliography to serve you in addressing these topics. To be sure, such questions require more thought and time than is usually offered on a television talk show. Perhaps a few of the books below will help inform you for your own edification as well as equip you to share what you learn with others.

Happy Reading,
Dale

Your Jesus Is Too Handsome

Okay, I admit it, the title of this post is just a hook to get you to read it. In truth, this post is just a few rambling reflections of what was a great (GREAT) Bible study last night in our Monday evening men’s study.

I mentioned a week or two ago that we were studying The Cross of Christ (the smaller bible study version of it) by John Stott. Last night was our first lesson and it was outstanding! A real blessing!

Our focus was Isaiah 53. The eyes of our men, who had never really interacted with that text of Scripture before, were opened to the deep realities of what our Lord went through on our behalf. Those of us who were more familiar with that text were also humbled as we walked through the chapter, verse by verse, and reflected on God’s love lavished upon those as undeserving as we. I can’t help but think of Charles Wesley’s, And Can It Be that I Should Gain“…

And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior’s blood!
Died he for me? who caused his pain!
For me? who him to death pursued?

Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God,
shouldst die for me?

So, besides serving as a hook to get you to read this post, why did I say that “your Jesus is too handsome?” Well, because (and this is neither new nor profound) all too often our image of Jesus looks a little too much like us. And I don’t mean just his physical appearance. Isaiah made a point of saying that there was nothing so particularly attractive about the Servant that would compel us to desire him. I don’t think that Isaiah was painting a portrait of Jesus’ physical appearance by saying that as much as saying he was a plain and humble man. He didn’t come in power and prestige. The Lord of heaven and earth took on our flesh and dwelt among us. And though he knew no sin, he became sin for us!

If you haven’t read the whole text in a while, here it is…

1 Who has believed our message
   and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
   and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
   nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men,
   a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
   he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

 4 Surely he took up our infirmities
   and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
   smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
   he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
   and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
   each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
   the iniquity of us all.

 7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
   yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
   and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
   so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
   And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
   for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
   and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
   nor was any deceit in his mouth.

 10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
   and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
   and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
11 After the suffering of his soul,
   he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
   and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, 
   and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
   and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
   and made intercession for the transgressors.

May God bless you as you read and contemplate his word. And may he pour his grace upon you as you reflect on what Christ has done on your behalf.

One Last Thought on Men’s Ministry…

A great many men’s studies never seem to divert the gaze of the men from themselves. Now, I’m a proponent of assessing ourselves and how we are, or are not, progressing in our faith. Introspection is important. Yet I’ve realized over the years of ministering to men that while we need to take God’s Word and see how it “hits us where we live,” we also need to spend some time (quantity and quality time) reflecting on our God and the great doctrines of our faith. Only that will give us the footing we need for standing firm in our own lives. This new study is helping us with just that very thing.

Grace and Truth,
Dale