[This post is part of a series: How Jesus Got Hold of Me: Why I Believe and Why I Follow]
Ten weeks ago, I began this series with the statement, "If we're honest about it, the invitation of Christianity is absurd." Between that statement and this final post, I have tried to convey what it is that has convinced me that accepting the invitation by organizing the entirety of my life around it the best I know how is the best option available for how I will spend the remainder of my days. This ancient Jewish crucified and risen rabbi-messiah has gotten hold of me, and to conclude this series, I will do my best to relate his invitation to you. But please stop and pause right here, before you think you know what I mean by Jesus' invitation.
I am convinced that one of the main reasons more people do not take him up on it is because they presume they know what it is when, actually, the versions they think they know are only reductions of it. Then–understandably–very few are willing to arrange their lives around the diminished versions. My hunch is that some of you reading this are already very dedicated Christians yet may have never heard this invitation. For others of us, there are a lot of names higher on the list of things we might call ourselves than "dedicated Christian"–and some of us might even want to keep it that way, but if that's you, I also doubt that you have heard the invitation this way.
And though some will surely disagree with me, I will go ahead and claim that this is not just my own spin on the invitation, but–rather–I am convinced it’s the only invitation offered to us in the pages of the Bible. I’m convinced it’s the only invitation that makes sense. It’s the only invitation that naturally leads us into a way of life that really works. It’s the only invitation that offers hope of a life lived in peace with God, peace with those around us, and peace with ourselves.
Before trying to clarify what the invitation is, I want to clarify some things that it is not.
The invitation is not about having your sins forgiven so that you can get into heaven when you die. Having our sins forgiven is certainly a good thing. But Jesus never gave a sermon that included, “If you were to die tonight, do you know where you would go?” so I’m going to try to give an invitation closer to the things he talked about.
The invitation is not about joining a movement to make the world a better place. That’s also certainly a good thing, and should always be at the center of the things Jesus’ followers are doing. But, again, it wasn’t the invitation in the gospels, and I’m not going to make it mine today.
So, here is the invitation in a way that may sound a little bit clumsy, but which I think gets the point across: The invitation of Christianity to you and to me today is to spend the rest of our lives seeking to be with Jesus, in order to learn from Jesus, how to live our lives as he would live them if he were you or me. There’s a shorter way to put that: Spend the rest of your life as Jesus’ disciple.
We make a mistake in how we often think of being a disciple as something we’re trying to be, but probably haven’t made it there yet (and really wouldn’t know how to put a plan together for really being one if it came down to it). We often tend to think of a disciple as someone who has reached a certain level of maturity, but that really isn’t it at all. The question of whether or not you and I are disciples of Jesus comes down to something pretty simple: Is he our teacher? Are we learning from him how to live our lives, just like any student would learn any other subject matter from anyone else they’ve taken on as their educator/guide/trainer?
Is Jesus your teacher? Are you his apprentice? If Jesus is not your teacher, who else do you have in mind?
One of the shortcomings of the invitation of Christianity as we normally talk about it is that we are led to believe it’s about having our sins forgiven and getting into heaven when we die, but that we can spend the remainder of our lives until our death beds learning virtually nothing from the one we claim we trust with our eternal salvation. But–honestly–how can we really think he’s trustworthy for the rest of eternity if we don’t think he’s trustworthy enough to be the one from whom we learn to live right now?
So, again, the invitation is to spend the rest of your life seeking to be with Jesus, in order to learn from Jesus, how to live your life as Jesus would live it if he were you. The invitation is to accept Jesus as your teacher, for you to live as his disciple.
Dallas Willard said that it would be a natural thing for disciples of Jesus, people who have devoted themselves to carrying out their decision to become like their Master, Teacher, and Lord–“those who, seriously intending to become like Jesus from the inside out, [to] systematically and progressively rearrange their affairs to that end, under the guidance of the Word and the Spirit. That is how the disciple lives.”(1)
That's a great sentence: “...those who, seriously intending to become like Jesus from the inside out, systematically and progressively rearrange their affairs to that end...”
The invitation is to stop living as an apprentice of anyone else–unless you’ve decided that the person or group of people from whom you’re currently learning to live is better cut out for the job than Jesus is–and spend the rest of your life learning to live your life from him.
So that we can all make educated decisions, I want to spell out a little bit of what it means for each of us.
If we choose to accept the invitation and devote the remainder of our lives to our ancient Jewish rabbi, our crucified and risen messiah, it’s going to affect our minds. Since we understand that we live at the mercy of the ideas that are there, we are going to be careful and intentional about the things we allow into them, the things we allow them to dwell on. We’ll pay attention to what has our attention, and see if it lines up with the kind of life that our Master is trying to teach us.
Accepting the invitation is going to affect our habits. Or, another way of saying the same thing is that it’s going to affect the things we choose to do with our bodies. These bodies are the only vehicles God has given us through which we can experience life as Jesus’ disciple, and Jesus lived–in fact still lives–in one of these bodies too, so he is the natural choice for the person who can best teach us how to live life in God’s kingdom in these bodies. Our bodies inevitably develop habits, and our habits are either conducive to Jesus’ kind of life expanding in us, or opposed to it. So we’ll pay attention to our habits.
And accepting the invitation will always affect our relationships. Disciples of Jesus do not exist apart from communities of disciples of Jesus. I recently read one author who said, “Disciples are like grits. There’s no such thing as just one of them.” If you are going to live your life as Jesus’ disciple, you will need the help of other disciples. Church is a natural place for this to happen. (I’m very biased toward some opportunities that I’m always involved in, and if you ever have a chance to be a part of an Apprentice group, I cannot encourage it strongly enough. They help us to look at our lives along precisely these lines–our minds, our habits, and our relationships–and how we can shape all of those to be open to God. If you are near Midland and are interested, new groups are forming soon–please contact me.)(2)
That’s all kind of big picture, which is appropriate since we’re talking about the direction of the rest of our lives, but let me see if I can end by making it more practical. Accepting the invitation means that you will find a way to shape today as Jesus, your teacher would have you, as best as you understand that: what you put into your mind today, what habits you employ today, how you engage in your relationships today. We disciples of Jesus rarely get anything like five-year strategic plans from our Master Rabbi. Instead, he likes to focus on how we will spend today. Then, when enough of those todays of learning from him add up over months, years, and decades, in the words of Jesus himself, “a disciple, when he is fully trained, will be like his teacher.”(3)
Perhaps the best thing that any of us can to is to carve out some time to consider the invitation. Maybe you’re already living it, or at least semi-living it, and some consideration can help you be a little clearer about how to shape today, and then tomorrow and the next day. Or, maybe you’ve never understood that this was the invitation of Christianity. Some of you may be thinking, “this wasn’t what I signed up for.” If that’s the case, it would certainly be worth your while to spend some time examining your options; if not Jesus as your teacher, then whom?
Or, my hope is that some of us reading this (perhaps even you) already know we want in, and we want all-in, which is entirely appropriate. So you can allot some time for asking your teacher how he would have you shape your thoughts, your habits, and your relationships today.
Scripture Readings for the Week*:
- Jeremiah 1:4-10
- Psalm 71:1-16
- Hebrews 12:18-29
- Luke 13:10-17
A Prayer for the Week*:
Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
*Scripture readings are taken from the Revised Common Lectionary. Weekly prayers are from The Book of Common Prayer. (1) See Willard's article, "How Does the Disciple Live?" So much of what I have said in this post is heavily influenced by his teaching that I couldn't possibly footnote him every time that I gained one of these ideas from him. When it comes to these issues, I can no longer determine which thoughts are mine and which are things that I learned from Dallas. (2) Apprentice groups work through the material of the three books in the Apprentice Series by James Bryan Smith: The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community. (3) See Luke 6:40