Incentive Number Four for Discipleship:
Most Christians want a more victorious, fulfilling life, but don’t know how to get it.
I have come to give life, and to give it more abundantly! John 10:10; These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. John 15:11
The primary fruits (results) of the Spirit are love, joy, and peace; giving us a glimpse into the Christian life few ever fully experience. To introduce this month’s incentive, I would like share a short illustration. In 2Tim. 2:6; Paul exhorts Timothy that the husbandman must first be a partaker of the fruit…,what fruit do we suppose he was talking about? I’m a practical sort of person, so to me its like the farmer bringing in the fruits of his labor from the field/garden. First, he enjoys (partakes) of the fruits, keeps his portion, feeds his family, then sells or gives what is over and above. Spiritually, the same principle applies. We can only authentically impart to others what is true in our own lives. This abundant life, this love, joy, peace are fruits that need to be evident in our lives, and we partake of them..., regularly in order to make the gospel appealing and beautiful! Otherwise, we’re just warehouses and salesmen selling other people’s produce!
Here in America, the abundant life is associated with temporal blessings and prosperity. But scripture makes it clear that is not what Christ meant when He talked of abundant life! Rather, it was the life He had with His Father; a life free from bitterness, anger, self-righteousness, unforgiveness, resentment, pride, lust, critical attitudes, hypocrisy, fear, anxiety, depression, and all those other heart sins Christianity is plagued with. It was overcoming our desire to get even, to feel sorry for ourselves, to look down on other Christians; not being critical and judgmental of them, or harbor anger, bitterness, and envy. It was breaking free from the competitive spirit, the love of money, idolatry, and from divided loyalties. That is the true abundant life Jesus was talking of, not some experience in church on a Sunday morning, or a fat bank account and luxury. We all know we could have the finest banquet, most expensive houses and cars, and they will not bring lasting inner rest, peace and joy! In fact, the exact opposite is usually true. More material wealth, stuff only brings more fear, worry, and cares. That’s because God never intended for us to find peace, joy, and rest in these things, but that's a whole different topic we'll discuss in later issues.
Is it really possible for God’s people to live, love, speak, think, and act like Jesus from the heart? Those hard concepts highlighted in the Sermon on the mount…, does He really expect us to return good for evil, rejoice when persecuted, give and ask nothing in return, turn the other cheek, and pray for those who abuse us? and actually find joy in it? After all, the Bible says, I delight to do they Will O God! Doesn’t it feel much better to wish evil on those who harm us? or repay them eye for an eye? To get more money, stuff, entertainment? Don’t we intentionally want to nurse grudges and resentment towards authority figures who seem to be out to get us? or people who double crossed us? Who in his right mind feels like giving and borrowing without asking anything in return? Or talk positive about other Christians, especially those we don’t agree with? Don’t we get more satisfaction out of highlighting their faults and failures and talking negative about them? Why does the gospel appear like God wants to strip us of any satisfaction of putting others in their place or getting even? Especially when we see they’re out of line according to our thinking?... I could go on and on here, but point is made.
Fact of the matter is, we don’t know what brings us peace, rest, joy and blessings. We are so spiritually uneducated and illiterate, we’re like children gorging themselves on candy, pop, and bars, enjoying them because they taste good, but they’re harmful to our health and draining on our energy. In the same way, due to lack of Biblical discipleship, too regularly we follow our feelings in the above areas because we get some satisfaction out of it for the moment. However, we must always reap what we sow, so this principle must apply here as well, and the measure we meet is usually measured back to us in it’s full amount. Mat. 7:2 Maybe not from the same sources, but our infinite Father has no shortage of methods and vessels to accomplish His sovereign will. So He engineers people, circumstances, and events that cause us to reflect, learn, and be transformed in our thinking. Sadly, we hardly ever catch on, and so we make one trip around the mountain after another, we wander in the wilderness of anxiety, depression, emptiness, vanity, self-righteousness, critical attitudes, resentment, and self-pity year after year, thinking God is not honoring His promises. Our pride prevents us from self-reflection, and the positions we've taken block the Holy Spirit from breaking through our erected walls and veneers. However, God really does love us, and His Son really knows what will bring us the abundant life. Therefore, He gave us the instructions and often allows difficult circumstances into our lives to train us to put them into practice! He’s not trying to restrict us hurt us, or beat us up, God is trying to liberate us in order to impart the abundant life, but most of us waste half of our lives not getting it!
True discipleship focuses on the inner man, training God’s people to surrender to His will, submit to His authority, trust Him completely, and learn to love, forgive, and restore…, just like Jesus did. It focuses on the human heart condition, giving Jesus His rightful place, doing His will from the heart, and leaving the results in His hands. Many times, the way God’s people act are simply symptoms of undealt with heart issues. One can become a hermit, or join the world in the hope of finding fulfillment, and it will all be in vain. Because the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.
A fulfilling life is easier achieved than most of us believe, but to attain it, a very precise sequence must be followed, exactly like an engineer, contractor and car maker does to achieve a planned product and outcome. This sequence is what is missing in Christianity. There is almost no sequence, structure, or blueprint anywhere to help God’s people attain a life in Christ that is victorious, fulfilling, restful, and glorious! Indeed, I have read numerous great books on discipleship and learned a lot, but a book alone will never do it. Discipleship is very practical, hand-on, and can get rather unpleasant at times, and if we’re not committed to brethren who are committed to such a plan, rarely will it happen by itself. Somehow, we get the idea that it will all come together…, God owes us a good life, a life of rest, peace and joy. But God is more interested in our character than in giving us a bunch of blessings, and sadly, we often are disillusioned with God because we don’t feel He’s living up to His promises.
Every car maker, contractor knows precisely what steps need to be followed to produce an end product that is appealing, functional, and serves a purpose. So does a teacher, cook, and food producer. Everything is precisely ordered, planned, and executed through the process to bring forth a product! We find precious little sequence (aside from new birth, baptism, joining a church and submitting to some standards) in Christianity. This is equivalent of a piece of steel entering a factory, have several cuts, bends and welds made, and holes drilled into it, then placed on shelf or in storage. Not even close to a finished product! Or to paint another scenario, much effort is spent on making an outward image, nice paint and body work, with attention to details on the surface, but almost no concern with the engine, power train and other innards that make the vehicle functional.
This is precisely why the Church of Jesus Christ is 3000 miles wide and 3” deep in the Western Hemisphere. We have one side that is all about cutting, bending, shaping, drilling, and just filling the factory with parts, while the other side are the consumer mindsets who are focused on what they can get out of God, rather than what God can make out of them. They believe the car should run as soon as one becomes a Christian and that God owes them a blessed life. Little effort is invested in the shaping, bending, drilling, and finishing, leaving us with a superficial product that appears complete on the outside with paint and other finishes, but is missing critical internal components that allows car to function. Just imagine Ford spending millions of dollars producing vehicles that looks beautiful, polished, and appealing to the eyes, but showed no interest in the inner workings of the vehicle, such as engine, power-train, or other key components…, what if they filled the car lots with such vehicles? What if they then sent out hundreds of salesmen convincing people this is the real deal? Unfortunately, that is what we find in the church…, much ado on beautiful services, buildings, literature, missions, programs, outward piety, appearance, but little substance once one goes beneath the surface. This brings very little glory to Jesus! Yes, we should adorn the gospel of Jesus Christ…, it should be beautiful and appealing in every way, including all the above…, but it must be functional! It must work! There must be results produced that should be evident to all men..., and the husbandmen need to be the first to partake of it! John 13:35; Mat. 5:16; Phil. 2:15 Tit. 2:10;
Again, I understand how close to home this is, and I have been there myself. I have learned, slowly, how the Father is reaching and teaching me, and now that the wilderness journey is over, I want other Christians to embrace God’s plan. Making sense of it all took a long time, and I am convinced it doesn’t need to be this way if we understand God’s heart, and follow His sequence. The illustrations above are meant to drive home the urgency of this calling. If they don’t open our eyes, what will? But God will not wait around for us indefinitely, another generation is coming up, and God is able to raise up a people who will discover this truth and walk in it. My only hope is this generation can grasp the fundamentals and embrace them, laying the foundation and framework for those coming after us.
Reuben A Walter