Over on my FaceBook page, I posted a video in which I addressed the following adage: “When you choose the game, you choose the rules.” It’s a discussion of the importance of understanding that when you make the decision to participate in one of life’s games, either follow the rules of suffer the consequences. If you want more details than that, you’ll have to visit my Face Book page.
Then I went on in subsequent videos to discuss the game of American democracy. That turned into a civics and history lesson. Democracies have rules. If you want to be called a democracy, you have to stick to the rules. If you want to live in a democracy, same thing.
If playing the American citizen game has its rules, so does playing the Christian discipleship game. These two games – the democracy game and the discipleship game are the two most important games I play.
“Winners do the things losers refuse to do.” This is an adage I had posted on my classroom wall in Upham for fifteen years. It is a motivational statement, encouraging students to throw themselves into their education. In a coach’s office or locker room, it’s to motivate players to practice harder and smarter. In the office of a CEO, it’s to motivate colleagues and employees to be focused on improving the bottom line.
How about if it were posted in a Christian church? What does it mean to succeed at faith? Well, the good news is that working harder and smarter will not get us to heaven. That battle was won on our behalf on the cross. Jesus did all the work – all the heavy lifting. A believer is saved, not by what he/she is willing to do, but by what Jesus Christ was willing to do.
So, what’s left for us then, in the here and now? A believer wishing to be counted among the winners will embrace the work of a disciple of Christ. You don’t get to be a winning disciple for Christ by just showing up.
A rich lawyer approached Jesus and asked, “Rabbi, what do I have to do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus knew the lawyer’s heart and what was important to him. “Sell all you have and give the money to the poor.”
The lawyer could not bring himself to do it. He could not bring himself to have that much compassion for the poor. It was too much to ask, so he failed, and he knew it.
How do Christians who want to be serious disciples for the Master behave. What does a serious disciple think like, look like, act like? I have devised a list of eight characteristics of discipleship winners, not listed in any particular order of importance.
- Disciples have an insatiable curiosity as to the nature and will of the Triune God. This curiosity is made manifest through Bible study, daily devotions, consuming books and videos, listening to sermons and engaging in spiritual discussions. How much time do you spend each week listening to sermons, reading your Bible, attending Bible study or Sunday school, or reading Christian commentary?
- Disciples lead a life devoted to prayer, praise, worship, and confession. How much time do you spend each day in communication with God?
- Disciples have a desire to discover and hone their spiritual gifts. Every believer is blessed with one or more spiritual gifts that ought to be used to build the kingdom and edify others. Do you know yours? Do you put them into practice?
- Disciples have an aversion to wanton hedonistic behavior. The Bible has much to say about sexual immorality, the abuse of mind-altering substances, gossip, vice, and other sensual self-indulgences. Are you under control?
- Disciples embrace an ethic that prefers forgiveness, tolerance, forbearance, and patience with those who oppress you or disgust them. Do you hold grudges? Do you seek vengeance? Are you quick to judge and punish? Do you enjoy sticking it by word or deed to those who might be considered your enemies?
- Disciples have a heart for the poor, the sick, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, the weak. The Bible has more to say about charity than any other virtue other than the abstract “love.” Do you live humbly so you can give generously?
- Disciples are willing to evangelize, spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost. Do you support missionaries with money? How about Bible camps? Do you ever tell someone about Jesus?
- Disciples lead lives characterized by humility, which is the foundation for all other virtue. Humility allows us to live small so we can give big. Humility allows us to be forgiving and tolerant. Humility is what tamps down our self-righteousness and leads us to confess our sins. Humility is what leads us to serve the kingdom. Humility is what causes us to edify and magnify the other.
If I were to ask you to do a self-evaluation, giving yourself an A,B,C,D,or F, based on how well you perform in each of these areas, I suspect most of you would give yourselves mediocre grades, no As certainly because that would mean you’d have to give yourself an F on number 8, humility.
The problem is we grade ourselves on a curve, comparing ourselves to other people. We justify ourselves by looking at someone else, usually selected because of their sinful life style, and say, “Well, I’m certainly better than that guy.” But “that guy” is not the standard by which we should judge ourselves, unless “that guy” is Jesus Christ.
The New Testament shows us the standard by which we ought to evaluate ourselves. Paul writes in II Corinthians 13:6-6: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith – test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test.” FAIL THE TEST? WHAT TEST? THERE’S A TEST?
Well, there’s no entrance exam to get into heaven, the joke non-withstanding. Do you know the joke?
A guy, who has spent 47 years married to a woman who would be described as difficult, dies. He finds himself in a line waiting to get into heaven. An angel is standing in front of the pearly gates with a clip board. When the man gets close to the angel, the angel says to the woman in front of him, “Okay, you have to pass a test to get into heaven. Spell “love.” The woman spells it correctly and the angel motions for her to enter. The angel says to the man, “You have to pass a test to get into heaven. Spell “God.” The man says, “G-O-D.” “Good,” says the angel. “You mean I’m in?” the man asks. “You are,” says the angel, but I need you to do me a favor. I have a meeting. Can you take over here for a few minutes?” “Sure,” says the man. He takes the clipboard and turns to face the next person in line. It’s his wife, glaring at him. “You have to pass a test to get into heaven,” he says. “Spell antidisestablishmentarianism.”
That’s not the test Paul was referring to. You’re not going to have to name the twelve Disciples. You’re not going to have to name the tribes of Israel or all of David’s mighty men. You’re not going to have to define propitiation.
If you know enough about Jesus to have fallen in love with him and repented in your heart of your sins, and assume the mantle of discipleship, then you will be counted among the saints who will enjoy eternal life in heaven with the Father, his Son, Jesus, and the rest of the saints.
The question is, “what does assuming the mantle of discipleship mean?” In the Old Testament, the priests were identified by certain garments – ephods, cloaks, mantles. These garments were symbols of authority, power, and specialness.
When Jesus died and was raised from the dead, the priesthood was discontinued. Every believer is granted the specialness and the authority and the desire to act as a priest. The Christian priesthood is not a title; it’s a calling. To say I want to identify as a Christian, but I don’t want to act like a disciple of Christ is like saying I want to identify as a lifeguard but I don’t want to go anywhere near the water or do any swimming.
To accept Jesus is to accept the mantle of discipleship. Disciples are not identified by a cloak or a badge or a certificate or a bumper sticker or a personalized license plate or a cross hanging on a chain around their necks. They are identified by their behavior, which grows out of their faith in Jesus Christ.
Have you ever come across someone practicing their craft? Their proficiency proves their identity. If someone identifies as a sculptor, I’ll throw him a lump of clay and say, “Show me.” After enough time has passed, if that lump of clay looks like a lump of clay, I will know that what he identifies as and what he is are two different things.
The same goes with discipleship. People identifying as a Christians ought to show how they love to study God’s word, show how they are tolerant, show how they pray, praise, and worship, show how they have developed their spiritual gifts, show how they abstain from vice and hedonism, show how they are charitable to those in need, show how they love to spread the Gospel, show how they are humble.
This is hard stuff. Discipleship is sacrifice, work, a labor of love. Are we going to do this perfectly? Of course not. Far from it. Paul couldn’t do it. He wrote in Romans 7:15, “What I want to do, I do not do. What I do not want to do, I do.” But Paul lived it as best he could, and he showed it. His life was significantly distinguishable from the life of a non-believer. There’s the rub. Many people identify as Christians, but their lives are virtuously indistinguishable from the lives of their non-believing neighbors.
I thank the Lord for his bounteous mercy and grace. I pray that I can better be the disciple he wants me to be. Meanwhile, Lord, I know my behavior does not please you, but I also know that my desire to please you, pleases you.