Confession of Faith series
A wedding is a great day of celebration and it always amazes me that so much effort is put into a wedding. The reason I wonder is because a wedding is just a beginning. Now it is great to celebrate the beginning, but it is just the day when a marriage starts and the important thing is the marriage. Can you imagine a person spending months preparing for a wedding, making the wedding a huge deal and then realizing after the ceremony, with complete surprise, that their life must now change and that they are now in a committed lifetime relationship?
Last week we talked about salvation. The day we accept Christ as Saviour and are born again is a day that the angels in heaven rejoice, but like a wedding, it is just the beginning of a relationship with God that continues daily from that point on.
Our confession of faith speaks about that ongoing relationship. Let us read together the article entitled “Discipleship and Nonconformity.” You can follow on the screen or in the Confession of Faith in the pews.
“We believe that our relationship to the Saviour is to be an unconditional commitment to discipleship. Discipleship is the total life of the believer patterned after the life and death of our Lord.”
What does that mean? The Bible has many pictures which describe what an “unconditional commitment to discipleship” means and how it must be evident in “the total life of the believer” as it is patterned after Jesus.
One of the games which children like to play is follow the leader. One of them is chosen as the leader and the others follow exactly where the first one goes. Sometimes they do some pretty silly things and go through some pretty hard places, but wherever the leader goes, everyone else must follow.
One day Jesus was walking along the shore of the sea of Galilee when he came upon two brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew. They were fishermen and Jesus said to them in Matthew 4:19, “Come follow me.” The next verse tells us that “they left their nets and followed him.”
Being a disciple means being a follower of Jesus.
The invitation comes from Jesus to every one of us. Just as he called Peter and Andrew to follow Him, so He has also called us to follow Him.
Sometimes following Jesus will mean leaving other things behind. Certainly it means leaving sin and wickedness behind, but just like Peter and Andrew left their nets, which were good things, so also it may mean that we will need to leave some good things behind so that we can concentrate on following Jesus. Whatever prevents us from focusing on following Jesus must be left behind.
Following Jesus means going wherever he goes. We know something about where Jesus has gone. He has gone through suffering and sometimes being a follower of Jesus will mean going through suffering. When we look at His life we see that He was compassionate to those who needed His compassion. We see that He lived a holy life in obedience to the Father. Following Jesus means that we will follow Him to all of these places.
Can you say that you are a follower of Jesus?
Every day those of you who are between 5 & 17 and quite a number who have already graduated from grade 12 go to the school. In school, there are teachers who know the material they are teaching and work hard to communicate that material effectively. Of course students need to make an effort to learn as well. The older you are and the higher your level of education the more you must take responsibility to learn, but the teacher is always there to answer questions and help. Even a person working on a PhD. has advisors who help him learn.
Another picture the Bible uses to describe what it means to follow Jesus is the word disciple. New Bible Dictionary says that “The word disciple comes from the Latin discipulus which means ‘pupil, learner.’ It corresponds to the Greek mathētēs which means ‘to learn.” So basically a disciple is the pupil of a teacher.”
In Luke 11:1 we read, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” His followers were called disciples and they saw Him as the teacher who would teach them, in this case to pray. Matthew 28:19 tells us that we are called to “make disciples of all nations…” so we see that it is our task to be students of Jesus and to call others to be students of Jesus.
Once again, we need to look at the life of Jesus and see what He was like, how he did not sin, how he was compassionate with the repentant and hard on hypocrites. Are we learning from Jesus?
When I was young, I was told more than once not to run in church. My parents were trying to instil in me a sense that the church was a holy space. We make our churches such friendly places that we do not get a great sense of that. While attending a conference in Montreal we visited Notre Dame Cathedral. The magnificent beauty of that place gives one a sense of awe. It would seem very inappropriate to run around that church. A church is like a temple. It represents the presence of God and we behave differently when we are in God’s presence.
In the Old Testament, the temple was clearly designated as the place of God’s presence and it was a holy place. In order to come near to God, sacrifices had to be offered. The holy of holies which represented the presence of God, could only be entered by the high priest and only after extensive sacrifices had been made. It conveyed a sense of something separated from the common life.
Please turn to II Corinthians 6 and notice that in verse 16 it says, “For we are the temple of the living God.” That same passage goes on to help us understand what being a temple means. It means that we are different than the rest of the world. We live in a different way. It asks, “what fellowship can light have with darkness?” It challenges us to “come out from them and be separate.” It encourages us to “purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”
So being a disciple means being different than the world because we are the temple of God. What are the implications of that for your life?
There is something important to note as we think about being a temple. Jesus was holy and in fact the Bible tells us that he never sinned, he was absolutely perfect. Yet, he was attractive to sinners. When we act righteously, it seems that we are often seen as “holier than thou.” Why is that? It isn’t holiness that turns people off, but hypocrisy. Jesus was holy to his core and when he acted in holiness, he did so out of his inner being. There was no difference between who he was and how he acted. That was what attracted unholy people to a holy person. When we act righteously, we are not holy to the core and if we throw a veil of holiness over a body of sinfulness, people know that and see the hypocrisy. Therefore, as disciples, as the temple of God, we need to recognize this. It means that we need to accept forgiveness, live in as holy a way as we can and allow God to make us into His holy temple. At the same time, we need to be patient, gracious, forgiving and compassionate because we are all sinners. Then perhaps we can be like Jesus, a temple to which people are willing to come.
Another picture which the Bible uses to speak of what it means to follow Christ is found in Romans 13:14 which says, “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.”
I once helped a friend clean his pig barn. I didn’t know how to do it well and when I was finished, the coveralls I was wearing were so dirty that we just put them on the burning pile. You probably would not have wanted to stand beside me when I was covered with pig manure, but today you might not mind so much because I look quite a bit different.
When a person becomes a Christian, part of it is taking off the old clothes of sin and putting on the newness of Jesus Christ. As disciples we are called to continue to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
If I would come to church with a new suit, someone would probably notice. When a bride walks into a room, people notice the special clothing she has put on. If we are clothed with Christ, people will notice. If we are clothed with Christ, they will notice not us, not that we are good, but they will notice Jesus Christ. So being a disciple means putting off the old self and putting on Jesus.
Have you ever been to the zoo and watched the monkeys? Every once in a while, you can get them to do whatever you do. We even have the saying, “monkey see, monkey do.” Children will play such a game. Whether repeating words or actions, they try to do exactly what the other does. Of course, it is almost impossible to do it perfectly. The only thing that imitates perfectly is a mirror.
Are you a mirror of Christ? Ephesians 5:1 says, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children” and in a similar way, Paul speaks in I Corinthians 11:1 about imitating Christ when he says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” Being a disciple means being one who imitates Christ.
A good imitation involves accuracy. The more closely it follows the original, the better the imitation. This is what makes it important for a follower of Christ to study what Jesus is like and to begin to adopt the practices, values and lifestyle habits of Jesus.
This week the World Series in baseball concluded with a sweep by the Chicago White Sox. I didn’t watch the games, so I don’t know if it happened, but quite often in baseball a player will make a sacrifice play, it can be a sacrifice bunt or a sacrifice fly. The point is that he knows that he is going to be thrown out because his hit is easy to play, but he is willing to do it to allow another runner to advance bases and get into scoring position for the following batter. That is what sacrifice means. It means giving up something in order to accomplish a greater good.
Of course the idea of sacrifice is seen a lot in the Old Testament where people would bring animal sacrifices to present to God. The animal itself would give up it’s life. The person bringing the sacrifice would pay the price of the animal in order to worship God, to give something to God as an act of dedication or to request God’s forgiveness for sin.
Romans 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Being a disciple of Jesus means offering ourselves as a living sacrifice. Being a sacrifice means that we give up our rights in order to gain the greater good of having Jesus rule in us. In Romans, Paul speaks about a transformed mind. In order to have a transformed mind, we need to sacrifice our self will and allow God’s Spirit to change the way we think. It also means that we give up our life and let Jesus have it. Matthew 16:25 says, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”
The result is that we gain the greater good of worshipping God and doing His will and as a consequence, we find life.
I remember that when our daughter Kristen became assistant manager of the hotel where she worked in Banff, she had a new professional position and she had to wear professional clothing. The new position required a new way of conducting herself, even in the way she dressed.
As Christians, we have a new position. Colossians 3:1 says, “you have been raised with Christ.” We no longer belong to this earth, but we belong to heaven. We are heaven’s children. Our true home is in heaven. Our citizenship is not on this earth, even though we live here, but is in the eternal kingdom.
What are the changes that come about because of this new position? Colossians 3 goes on to say, “set your hearts on things above” and in the next verse “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”
Being a disciple means living with eternity in mind since that is where we belong and that is where we are going.
These are the pictures which the Bible gives us to help us understand what must follow becoming a Christians. It means that we start a relationship with God which impacts every part of our life, every aspect of our being. We are disciples, we are clothed with Christ, we are followers, we imitate Christ, we put on the new clothes of a follower and so on.
If we were to put a mirror up to our lives, what would it reflect? Would it reflect the image of Christ? When people see us, do they see the clothes of one who has just gotten out of a barn after cleaning it, or do they see the clothes of Jesus Christ. Have we offered our lives to Christ as a living sacrifice?
This is what it means to be a disciple. Of course more is required than discussion about new directions and a new way of living. There are specifics involved and we have just barely mentioned those specifics.
In the passages which we have just read about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, we have focussed on the image of change. However, all of those passages also include specific ways of living. In fact, it would be easy to find certain specific principles which repeat themselves over and over in the call to be disciples.
As disciples, it is imperative that we live in a trust relationship with God. We come to Christ by faith and we must continue to live in faith. A disciple must be known as a person who is able to put their trust in God in any and every circumstance in life.
The example of Jesus above all demonstrates that His followers must be marked by love. Do we have compassion for all others? Do we love our neighbours and so fulfill the whole law as Romans 12 says? Do we love our enemies with a love that is clearly not natural, but the mark of a follower of Jesus?
A difficult thing which is mentioned a number of times is submission. We are called to be subject to God and also to each other. How forcefully the call to submission speaks to us today in our age of individual rights and freedoms! Jesus subjected Himself to His Father and to death and so leaves us an example of submission to follow.
Holiness is something we have already mentioned. It is seen in Jesus who never sinned and calls us to a life of holiness. The wickedness of the world should be far from us and people should be able to see the holiness that comes from the heart that God is changing within us.
The life of Jesus also gives us a powerful example of one who was a servant. Jesus said in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Being imitators of Jesus means that our lives are lives of service.
It is important to know first of all that we are called to this kind of life and second of all that being a disciple means living according to the principles we have just listed. After that it gets a little more complicated. What does that mean in specific situations? As disciples we have tried to interpret this direction, which we agree upon and these principles, which we know are sound to situations that are not always clear. It isn’t always evident what being a disciple means in a certain situation.
As EMC, we are always working at trying to apply the direction and the principles to specific situations. At one time, some thought that wearing jewellery was not part of the separation of a follower of Christ. Today few would see it that way. It is important as disciples to continue to discuss the specifics of how we practice our discipleship, with grace, not with judgement. As we discuss these things, there are four things that help us discern God’s mind for those who want to follow Him. The principles of being disciples and of living in faith, love, holiness, submission and servanthood must be kept in mind in every discussion about the specifics. Furthermore, we need to ask God and seek Him about how He wants us to live. Then we must carefully search the Bible and seek to discern what God has already said about a certain issue. Finally, we need to look at Scripture as a community of faith and do the work of interpretation and application together.
In our confession of faith, there are a number of things which we have examined as a conference of churches. They have been identified as “Church Practices.” We have agreed that following these things is what it means to be a faithful disciple. You will find copies of these Church Practices in the pews and I invite you to take a copy home with you. We will not spend time examining these things, but please do have a look at them on your own and then speak to me if you have any questions about them.
Today’s message is a reminder of what we are called to be in Christ and it expects a response. Perhaps some among us have gotten off the path a little and the focus has gotten to be on ourselves and our ways instead of on following Christ. Let this be a reminder of who you are so that you can walk in the way of Christ.
Perhaps some among us have ignored one or another of the principles of how a disciple lives and imitates Christ. Again, let this be a reminder that trust, love, submission, holiness and service are basic to being a follower of Christ. Has one of these items dropped from your list of things you practice? Be reminded and encouraged.
Perhaps you are wrestling with some specific issues. Then, if that issue is covered in the confession of faith, you can go to it and allow it to help you discover what is the right path. If there is another issue that is not written about here, then go ahead and speak to someone else and search the Scripture to find out what God’s way is.
May we all look to Jesus and seek Him and follow Him.