The Discipleship Earthquake

I am taking a one-post break from our new identity train of thought for this exciting development.  As a geophysicist, I am familiar with the physics of earthquakes; their magnitude, the tsunamis they produce, their precursors, and their aftershocks.  Precursors are hard to identify until after the fact, but most major earthquakes give some signal that something big is coming.  In the spiritual world, I believe we are feeling the precursors of a coming “discipleship earthquake.”  This idea was reinforced by the cover headline, “A Discipleship Revolution” on the latest issue of Mission Frontiers magazine.  The publication is available online and I highly recommend it.

Over the last century, by the grace of God and the work of His servants, the gospel message has reached around the globe.  People groups of all kind from urban to rural, simple to sophisticated, religious to pagan have turned to Christ.  But this turn to the gospel has not always been followed by a continuation to discipleship; the movement to Christian growth and maturity in communities and individuals.  In many places, a new “Christian” majority has been unable to lift their country out of political corruption, family dysfunction, petty crime, or a syncretistic mix of Christianity and local religion.

But all of this is about to change.  In the Great Commission (Mt 28:18-20), Jesus empowers and instructs His followers to Go, Baptize, Make disciples, and Teach.  The “Go’ and the “Baptize” have brought the gospel to millions of new believers.  But the “Make disciples” and “Teach” is only now catching up.  But catching up it is, like a rubber band being slowly stretched over time with little movement that has now let go and is flying forward.

And the flying forward is being accelerated by love.  Our previous error, myself included, was to think that filling one’s head with knowledge was the key to Christian growth.  In “teaching them to observe the commandments” have we focused so strongly on having the “right answers” that we ignored teaching the greatest commandment of all; to love God and love others?  We move true discipleship forward when we teach believers to love as God loves.  “Let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24).

The discipleship revolution is being fueled by love.  If we love Christ, we will obey His commands (Jn 14:15).  If we love others, we will serve them (Gal 5:13).  It is really that simple, no caveats, no exceptions.  And it is taking off in a million acts of love from Jars of Clay’s 1000 wells project to home building missions in Juarez, Mexico to serving a Thanksgiving meal to your family and friends.

The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization recently concluded in Cape Town, South Africa.  The conference brought together a diverse group of mission leaders and strategists.  As always with this type of event, a statement of belief was produced.  When John Stott, elder statesman of the sponsor organization, looked over the first draft, he approved, “Evangelicals usually write statements that affirm or deny, but this is the language of love.”

A New Heart

“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jer 17:9).  The word “heart” is the most common and complete description of man’s essential essence in the Bible.  The heart is the center of our thoughts, intents, motives, understanding, choices, and actions.  In its unregenerate state, the heart is the seat of our evil thoughts, plans, and actions.

The theme of the deceptive and wicked heart continues into the New Testament where Jesus uses a debate about clean and unclean food to launch into the following discourse.  “Do you not see that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him; because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?  That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man.  For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts and fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.  All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (Mk 7:18-23).  In its natural state, prior to our conversion, our heart is aptly described as deceitful and wicked.

But that all changed when you accepted Christ’s gift of deliverance.  (If you have been following these posts from the start, you may be tired of “But that all changed…”, but I cannot emphasize enough how radically things changed at our conversion.)  In short, when you embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you received a new heart.  “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ez 36:26).  “Heart of flesh” does not refer to a fleshly heart in the spirit vs. flesh sense.  The term describes a soft warm beating heart in place of our old stone-cold dead heart.  As Watchman Nee wrote in The Normal Christian Life, “The heart, God says, is ‘desperately sick’ and He must do something more fundamental than cleanse it.  He must give us a new one.”

And a new heart we have.  Our old heart, our old self, our old nature were crucified with Christ on the cross (II Cor 5:14, Rom 6:6).  Our old heart was not cleaned up.  It was replaced by a new one, a heart no longer deceitful and wicked, but a heart with the law of God written upon it (Jer 31:33, Heb 10:16).

When believers are referred to as still having a deceptive and wicked heart, we miss the beauty and the power of our new identity in Christ.  We fall into a, “Woe is me, how can I master my stubborn heart?” mentality.  There is no wicked heart to master.  It is gone, destroyed at the cross.  This is so important to understand.  When we diminish the finished work of Christ on the cross regarding the inclination of our new heart (a condition contributed to by a misunderstanding of Romans chapter 7), we think the war with sin in our heart is ongoing.  For the believer, the war is over.  Christ won the war at the cross.  Yes, skirmishes remain in our conflict with our primary enemies; Satan and the flesh.  But they are only skirmishes, mop up duty if you will.  The war is over.

Does this characterization of our struggle with sin sound too bold?  I believe that if we could fully grasp the true implications of “the war is over”, our Christian life would move into a new realm of supernatural living.  We often wring our hands as a Christian community to understand why we look so much like the world around us.  Could it be that we have let Satan, the great deceiver, define who we are based on our patterns of failure rather than living into the promises of who we are in Christ?  The question begs for more discussion and we hope to move into what the new identity looks like in practice in our upcoming posts.

The Sin Closet

“As those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on [clothe yourselves with] a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col 3:12).  In both Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3, the apostle Paul tells us more than once to “put on” the new self along with its character attributes, and to “throw off” the old self with its sinful traits.  We often view lists of character traits to aspire to and those to avoid as somehow equal choices for the believer.  But based on the promises of Scripture, this is not the case.

The bad choices we face are not equals that we have to drum up the moral energy to resist.  They are simply clothes that do not fit our new identity.  They are clothes that don’t fit who we have become and should be tossed from the closet.  You know that shirt you still have from high school.  Stop wearing it!  It doesn’t fit!  Throw it out!

It is the same with sin.  Like clothes that are too baggy, too tight, too misshapen, or too small, sin does not fit your new shape as a believer.  The clothes of “immorality, impurity, evil desire, greed, idolatry, anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive speech, and lying” (Col 3:5,8,9) do not fit you anymore.  In fact, Paul ends verse 9 with “since you laid aside (past tense) the old self with its evil practices.”  Clean out the closet.  Throw the old sin clothes away.  Start wearing clothes that fit; “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love” (Col 3:12-14).

Not only do the clothes of sin not fit the believer, but they are woefully out of date.  “For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries” (I Pet 4:3).  In other words, the time for sin is past.  Sin that “fits” is long gone in the rear view mirror.

So go ahead.  Clean out the closet.  Get rid of those dated and ill-fitting threads and step into the clothes that fit.  They are not just clothes to aspire to, but at your core, are a picture of who you have become.

The Sin Cow

I grew up in a farming community in northern Indiana surrounded by the idyllic landscape of contented milk cows grazing in fields of green.  These cows looked pretty happy munching away on grasses of all kinds.  Cows eat grass.  Cows like grass.  It is in a cow’s nature to eat and enjoy grass.

But cows aren’t the only rural residents who eat grass.  Sometimes kids eat grass.  I remember lying in the grass of our front lawn on a summer afternoon thinking, “My, this grass looks tasty.”  So I did what every kid has done sometime in their life.  I grabbed a handful and began to chew it up.  The chewing was soon replaced by spitting as the taste settled on my tongue.  Soon I was spitting out everything I could to get rid of the awful taste of the grass.  Why did grass taste so bad?  Because it is not in our nature to eat and enjoy grass.  Our nature is different from the cow’s.  To us grass tastes funny.

Sin is the same way.  Prior to our conversion, sin was our natural response.  Sin was the driving force in our nature.  Sin’s taste was appealing.  However, after we embrace the message of Christ, sin is no longer our natural bent.  To a believer, sin tastes funny.  What do we do with things that taste funny?  We spit them out.  Throughout the New Testament, the theme for believers is this:  Sin tastes funny.  Spit it out!  And the beauty of the whole enterprise is that because of the power of your new identity, your new nature in Christ, you can do it.  You don’t have to swallow.

Mull this idea over (like a cow chewing its …well you know).  Does this concept sound foreign to you?  Does it make sense to you?  If you would like to study further the biblical basis for this idea that sin tastes funny to the believer and its ramifications, please click here for a pdf file, “Your Moral Resemblance to Christ,” Jay’s line-by-line commentary on I John chapter 3.

The Sin Dog

One of the amazing things that happened to you and me when we embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ was the beginning of a new relationship with sin.  In short, sin no longer has dominion over us.  Sin is no longer our master.  We are no longer slaves to sin (Rom 6).  (For a 7-page pdf commentary by Jay on Romans chapters 5-8 explaining the biblical basis for this concept click here.)

As for this post, let me summarize our new relationship with sin with this illustration.  Prior to our conversion, sin was the Great Dane in our life that bowls us over and flattens us every time we come home.  We hear him on the other side of the door and sure enough everytime we open it, he pounces.  Soon we are pinned under his paws.  The unbeliever has no power to resist.  Why is this so?  Because our very nature is to sin.  Both the sin nature we inherited from our father, Adam, and the sinful acts we commit enslave us.  Who will set us free from the Great Dane of sin?

Thanks be to God who sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to win our freedom.  Christ’s death on the cross delivered us not only from the penalty of sin, but from its power as well.  His death secured not just a future “not guilty”, but a present day “not enslaved.”  After our conversion, God takes up residence in our lives through the indwelling Holy Spirit, our sin nature has been removed, and the sin that controlled us is relegated to small potatoes.  Our sin is now the Chihuahua that we can kick to the sidelines when it nips at our heels.  (I apologize to all you dog lovers, but this picture helps me visualize the struggle with sin and what changed at our conversion.)

Sin has not been eradicated, just robbed of its power.  The Chihuahua can still have a nasty bite.  The Chihuahua can still be a pesky character.  In fact, to take the illustration even further based on Chihauhuas I’ve known, it may even think it is still in charge.  But this is not the case.  And while the essence of sin has not changed (it is still a dog), its power has been greatly diminished.

Are you experiencing this freedom from the power of sin or is there a disconnect between the promises of God and your own experience with sin?  Are you living the victorious life God advertises under the New Covenant?  If not, is God’s advertisement false, or do we not understand the advertisement correctly, or is there something missing in our experience?

I am a stickler for truth in advertising.  Misleading advertising drives me crazy.  I have to know, “What kind of life is God advertising for those who have embraced His gospel message?  Taking the New Testament as a whole, from Matthew to Revelation, it appears to me the advertisement is a life set free from the dominion and power of sin.  Let’s not “water down” the advertisement due to our lack of experience.  Rather than looking for a way to diminish the promise of the new birth, let us by faith embrace the promises and ask God to lift our experience to who He says we are.  Will you join me?