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,

Watson Martial Arts

In the spirit of integrity, I must say at the outset that this is in no way, shape or form an unbiased post. I am a huge fan of Jason Watson and his martial arts school, Watson Martial Arts.

Having been a part of Jason’s school for the last five or six years, (all three of my sons are trained there), I have witnessed firsthand Jason’s skill as a Taekwondo instructor. (Jason himself is the holder of many national titles in the sport.) The word “competent” seems to be insulting to just how fantastic Jason is.

Certainly my wife and I appreciate how much our sons have learned regarding the sport of Taekwondo. However, what we have really appreciated is how well Jason connects with the children he teaches. He learns their names immediately (There is no, “hey you,” sort of thing going on.). He encourages them. He helps them set goals… not just for Taekwondo, but for life. He teaches them life-principles to help them grow as well-balanced children… and then, hopefully, well-balanced adults. The other instructors, Oren Wilcox and Zane Murphy are wonderful with the children as well.

Children are supported as they move at their own pace, but always encouraged to move forward, building confidence through their continued accomplishments. You should see the look on the students’ faces when they break their first board or complete their first form unassisted.

Watson Martial Arts is not just another “drive thru” martial arts school… something akin to a marketing scheme. Jason and his other teachers produce national champions in both sparring as well as forms, as I have seen for myself over the last five years. While no child is forced to compete in tournaments, they are given all the tools they need if they choose to do so. And, again, you can’t imagine the pride (the good sort of pride) of personal achievement for those students who compete in tournaments, regardless of “how well” they did.

I would encourage you to check out Jason’s website to learn a little more. Better yet, if you live in the Jacksonville area, I would encourage you to stop by his school, meet Jason and watch a class or two.  I know you’ll be convinced, just as I am (click here for directions).(By the way, Jason also teaches adults if you want to learn Taekwondo yourself.)  Who knows… you may write your own blog post one day saying the same thing!

Grace and Truth,

It’s the Doctrine, Stupid

Right away, let me ask you to please forgive me for using the word “stupid” in the title to this post. My wife and I teach our kids never to use the word “stupid.” In this case I was just trying to be clever by using a phrase that was similar to one used in a presidential campaign not too long ago.

When I was appointed to my first church after seminary (back in June, 1992), I remember how popular the church growth movement was. I remember many of my United Methodist colleagues going to the latest and greatest conferences and seminars and buying the most current and “relevant” books that would solve all of our membership woes. And yet, what seemed so glaring to me, even then, was that everything seemed to revolve around “new and improved” programs and strategies. What I kept saying to myself was, “Don’t they understand that all these mega-churches they are seeking to imitate have core doctrines that they actually believe in and teach to their people.” (This was before Joel Osteen’s doctrine-free “success.”)

It seems that not very much has changed in the 20 years that I’ve been serving in the local church. My beloved UMC is still working through a “new and improved” paradigm or program every two years or so. It doesn’t seem to be working very well.

What’s so frustrating is that we have such wonderful, life-transforming core doctrines as well. (Parenthetically, I might also mention that John Wesley left us a wonderful legacy for “how” to preach the Word of God, do discipleship, etc.) However, it appears that our denomination often seems more enamored with fruit…while ignoring the root that provides it. We want inclusion, mercy to the last, least and the lost, everyone in service, etc., and yet it seems that we’re undermining the very means by which all of those things (and far more) will ever come to pass.

When I read about Scriptural Holiness, I read about inward transformation happening first before societal transformation can occur. Being must precede doing. Belief effects behavior. Confession, creed, and character shape our conduct. We ignore doctrine to our peril. Mack Stokes wrote,

“…for Wesley, scriptural holiness was seen as “inward holiness” produced by the supernatural pardoning and re-creating power of God through Christ, which impels us into “outward holiness.” The tree, being made good, bears good fruit.”

Doctrine really does matter. It shapes and forms who we are and helps us to understand whose we are. It’s with that foundation that we’re able to go out into all the world and make disciples of Jesus Christ and extend his Kingdom into every sphere of life. But we must first be genuine disciples of Jesus Christ (new creatures in Christ) who have truly had our hearts changed and who submit to his Lordship. If we aren’t, then all we will be are Pharisaical workers who will be destined to burnout and crash because, like a branch cut from the vine, there will be no life-giving nutrients and power running in and through us. If we would bear much, good, and lasting fruit, then we must abide in Christ and he must abide in us.

Grace and Truth,