Before Jesus said “Follow Me”

Matthew 4:12-23

“Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.”

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The Calling of the First Disciples

What made these men follow Jesus?  Why would they leave it all behind so quickly?  How could someone just up and follow and complete stranger?

At first glance, it would be easy to assume that Peter, Andrew, James and John, at the very first sight of Jesus, got up and left their families and businesses behind.  But there is more to the story.  

In John 1:35-42, we read that Andrew (Peter’s brother), was down listening to John the Baptist preach one day when Jesus showed up on the beach and John shouted “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  Andrew wanted to know more about Jesus so he followed him home and spent the day with him.  

After spending the day with him, Andrew had become convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, so he took Peter to meet him (see John 1:41-42).  After they meet, Jesus gives Peter a new name, which basically means “Rock.” At this point, Peter is likely very intrigued by Jesus.  The word begins to spread to others who Jesus also calls to follow him (see John 1:43-51).

Luke’s account gives us even more information.  Luke tells us that before this day in Matthew 4 when the disciples left their nets, Jesus had been performing miracles in Capernaum where Andrew and Simon lived (see Luke 4:31-37). Undoubtedly, they knew he was a great miracle worker and had observed them with their own eyes.  We know from Luke 4:38 and 39 that one day after teaching and healing in the synagogue in Capernaum, Jesus entered the home of Simon Peter and healed his mother-in-law who was ill with a high fever (see Luke 4:38-39). Peter had been blessed personally by the healing work of Jesus.

If we continue on in the Gospel of Luke we find in the very next chapter (5) Luke’s account of this text in Matthew 4. Luke tells us that Jesus actually got into the boat with Simon Peter and performed a miraculous catch of fish.  After all of this, Peter is overcome. He says to Jesus, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).  

Of course, Jesus doesn’t depart but instead calls them to follow him and he will make them fishers of men.  The rest is history. The disciples followed Jesus and went on to make more disciples and the world has never been the same.  

Follow Me

What we see at first glance in this passage doesn’t give us the full picture.  Jesus had been working in the lives of these men for some time before this moment that we see in Matthew 4. He had conversed with them, spent time with them, revealed his glory and even met personal needs.  

I would wager that such is the case with almost every true follower of Jesus.  Before he calls us to “follow him”, Jesus is present in our lives loving, working, and teaching us.  Sometimes what is needed for us to see it is not the great catch of fish but merely the eyes of faith to see his fingerprints all around us on our lives. 

Pray that God gives you those eyes today.

Fruit of Following God #13: Sacrificial Living for Christ

Frans Floris painting, The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ Son of God Gathering and Protecting Mankind

Eventually a growing disciple realizes that not only does Christ call His followers to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23), but he also calls them to live sacrificially. The self-life must die and Christ must live. Christ Himself was a sacrifice for us. Paul writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

In daily living, believers are to sacrifice themselves as an act of worship. Paul lived out this admonition in his own life and ministry. Writing to the believers at Philippi he says, “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all” (Philippians 2:17). The author of the book of Hebrews also states, “Through [Jesus] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:15-16).  Giving up ourselves, our possessions, our time, our personal rights and perceived privileges should be part of the Christian life. Each disciple must understand the will of the Lord in such personal matters and decisions but each disciple must also ask himself, “What am I giving up in order to serve Christ and/or help fulfill the Great Commission?” C.T. Studd, the missionary pioneer to Belgian Congo in the early 1900’s, once made this compelling statement, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him” (Grubb, 141). A growing disciple becomes sensitive to what he can give up for the Savior who gave Himself for His own.

The Three Questions

I have been a Christian long enough to know that none of my own ideas are very good. That is to say, if I know something really important, or if I say something that’s deep, I didn’t come up with it. My growth as a follower of Jesus Christ has been dependent on two things: listening very carefully to what the Holy Spirit says in Scripture, and listening very carefully to what he tells me through other people. In short, everything I have, I’ve received (1 Corinthians 4:7).

One thing I thank God for receiving more than most is a particular set of questions. It’s more of an idea, really. And this is the idea: we expose ourselves to a lot more goodness when we read the Bible with other people. Whatever we lack in understanding (and it’s always a lot) can be shored up by the people around us, especially those who, through their faith in Christ, have the Holy Spirit at work in their hearts to help us. Instead of trusting ourselves to know it all, believe it all, and obey it all on our own, why don’t we humble ourselves enough to let other people help us?

If you can admit that much at least is a good idea, you’ll wonder exactly what that looks like. It certainly happens when faithful and wise Christians teach the Bible to us, whether as part of our worship together on Sundays or otherwise. But knowing that the Holy Spirit is present and working in all who know Christ (Ephesians 1:13-14), and knowing that everyone who believes the gospel has knowledge of the truth (1 John 2:20), doesn’t it make sense that you don’t have to be a capital-T Teacher in order to be a good teacher? Don’t you have some insight, some wisdom, some example in your life that could really help me?

But where do you start? Enter: the Three Questions.

Technically, the Three Questions have a collective name: the Swedish Method. If you’d like to read much more about the Three Questions (including how they acquired such a weird name), this article will tell you all you need to know. (I really do recommend reading it—it’s fascinating.) But suffice it to say that, for a number of reasons, I prefer my own (highly boring and non-creative) phrase of “the Three Questions.”

What are the Three Questions? They’re three simple things to ask yourself and others whenever you read the Bible:

  1. What’s interesting about this?
  2. What’s confusing about this?
  3. What should I do with this?

Of course, you can use the Three Questions to guide your personal Bible reading to make sure that you’re doing more than running your eyes over the page. But I get much more mileage out of them when someone else asks me the questions as part of a normal conversation.

There’s no need to come up with anything impressive-sounding as a response to the question. In fact, I actively discourage people from trying to do so! Be honest. Be simple. Just answer the questions!

Here’s one example of how the Three Questions can spur good conversations that go beyond the words on the page. Today I read Ecclesiastes 1-2 with a friend at a coffee shop. In no particular order, here are some of the ways the two of us answered the first question (“What’s interesting about this?”):

  • The book doesn’t have a named author—just someone named “the Teacher.” That strikes me as interesting, even strange.
  • The first chapter has a lot of poetic, philosophical language. That’s different from the stories of Jesus’ life or the teachings of Paul. I bet it would appeal to people who aren’t naturally into those parts of the Bible.
  • In fact, the first couple chapters really seem to directly challenge what the rest of the Old Testament (especially Genesis) teaches. The Preacher really slams some biblical ideas—that life has a purpose, that God is working out a plan in the world, that wisdom has eternal value, etc.
  • In Ecclesiastes 2:8, the Teacher says that he availed himself to “a harem”—and calls the women “the delights of the heart of man”! That’s interesting, to say the least!

As you can see, the interesting things lead to lots of questions. In this passage, some of the more confusing things we saw led to questions like these:

  • How did this book even make it into the Bible?! Can a biblical book also be un-biblical?
  • Is the rest of the book going to answer that question?
  • Who is the Teacher? Is it Solomon? Could someone else fit the self-description in Ecclesiastes 1:1?
  • What does the Teacher mean by “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:3 and elsewhere)?

Finally, we asked each other the final question: what should we do with these chapters?

  • We definitely need to read the rest of the book to see where the Teacher is going!
  • We need to examine our lives—are they really “meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)? We need to compare these chapters with the rest of the Bible to figure out what’s going on here.
  • The Teacher writes that chasing after wine, women, and song is a waste of time and totally pointless (Ecclesiastes 2:9-11). Am I chasing after pleasure like he did? Am I setting myself up for the same disappointment?

What answers would you add?

The questions are short and simple—there’s no rocket science that makes them so powerful. But ask yourself: how could you use them?

  1. What if you and your spouse picked a book of the Bible to read through together? You could meet up once a week—even nightly—to share your answers (and spur each other on to even better, more personal answers).
  2. What if you used the Three Questions to discuss a passage of Scripture with your kids or grandkids? That’s what I’ve been doing this year—using the questions to talk through the Gospel of Mark with my six- and five-year-old sons. Their answers are always surprising, frequently hilarious, and sometimes shocking. It is never boring or a waste of time.
  3. What if you used the Three Questions to invite a curious non-Christian to study the life and teachings of Jesus for herself? This is my favorite form of evangelism—instead of memorizing a script, get out of the way and let Jesus speak for himself!

At the end of the day, only the Spirit himself can help us grow and learn and experience more of the grace of Jesus. The Three Questions assume that, in prayer, you’re entrusting him to do the real work. But he uses tools to do that work, most especially the word of God—and other people.

Why not use a simple tool like the Three Questions to see what he would do for (and through) you?

Disciple Your Wife

Men and women who believe in historic, orthodox Christianity won’t bat an eye when someone mentions the universal importance of Jesus’ “Great Commission”:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

—Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)

Moreover, most of those people wouldn’t object to the the biblical teaching that, within marriage, husbands have a special opportunity and responsibility to care for their wives’ spiritual health:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

—Ephesians 5:25-27 (NIV)

But do you know what makes a Bible-believing, church-going man nervous? Ask him how he actually practices these commands in his own home. The reason for the nervousness is that, while we say we believe one thing, our lives show what we actually believe and what’s truly important to us. And when the truth is dumped on the table, it doesn’t make us look good.

How do I know that? It’s not just because I have served churches where the men have failed (sometimes for decades) to “wash” their wives with God’s word. And it’s not just because I’ve seen men—good, honorable, loving men—fail to transform their guilt into change.

How do I know the nervousness that question causes? It’s because I was that man.

I was raised by a single mother in a non-Christian home. I didn’t grow up seeing what it looked like for a husband to make a disciple of his wife. Amazingly, I got to marry a woman who did grow up in a solid Christian home. Did I feel lucky? Absolutely. But you know what else I felt? Intimidated. So whenever I read passages of Scripture that call men to manage and oversee the spiritual lives of their families (see also: Deuteronomy 6, Psalm 78, 1 Timothy 3), or whenever I heard sermons that challenged men to be the gentle and loving leaders of their homes, I developed a fool-proof plan to process them: I ignored them.

Over time, God’s powerful grace overcame my idiocy. I began teaching my children every night from a faithful catechism and leading the whole family in “Bible time” before bed, and I’m amazed with gratitude that God would even change me. As I began working at a church and teaching the Bible for a living, though, a sobering thought came to me: “Am I more interested in the spiritual lives of those outside my home more than the woman who shares my bed?” Spurred on by an excellent and challenging book, I realized that I functionally cared more about the spiritual health of relative strangers more than the wife who shares my bed. In that moment, I was hit with a ton of bricks by the realization that it just shouldn’t be like that. Following Jesus meant that I had to love my wife better than that.

If my story connects with yours, let me encourage you: there is tremendous hope for discouraged husbands. For starters, God is so full of love and power that he is more willing to forgive your sins than you are willing to be forgiven. More specifically, he is more interested in the health of your marriage than you are, since a healthy marriage illustrates the truth of his gospel in hi-def clarity (Ephesians 5:29-33). In the event it helps you, here’s a step-by-step explanation of how I changed and began to disciple my wonderful wife:

  1. I started with confession and repentance. Over dinner one night, I told my wife that I was mourning my lack of love for her and my failure to care for her spiritually. I asked her to forgive me (she did!), and I invited her to offer her own opinions about how I could love her better.
  2. Together we decided that we would set apart time every week to discuss a passage of Scripture that we had been reading on our own. I have trained men and women in several different methods to read the Bible together; we settled on the COMA method (outlined in this excellent booklet), which aims for a deep understanding of the passage’s context and background. It requires a couple hours of study for each passage (the worksheets are made available for free here), but both of us are highly motivated. (Plus, we’re both big nerds who just enjoy the work.)
  3. Several days a week, we make sure to read the passage we’ll be discussing later. My wife prefers to do a little bit of studying each day; I prefer to do it all at once the day before our meeting. What matters is that both of us are reading and praying about the same Scripture (usually a chapter in length) and spending time concentrating on it.
  4. We set a date on our family calendar to share the results of our studying. Sometimes it’s a local coffee shop on a morning when the kids are in school; sometimes it’s our living room after the kids are asleep. One of us opens in prayer, asking for God’s help to transform us as individuals and as a married couple. Then we go straight through the COMA worksheet. It’s not dramatic or flashy in the least. But over the course of a couple hours, we end up sharing our discoveries and (sometimes without planning on it) connecting the passage to our current anxieties, our kids, our world, our work, and any number of other things that, unbeknownst to us, we really needed to talk about. And it all happens around the Bible.

Over the past year, these humdrum conversations over coffee have changed my wife and me. We both understand Jesus, the gospel, and ourselves so much better. I learn from her at least as much as I teach her. And we’re nearly through our long journey through all 66 chapters of Isaiah. Now I wonder how I spent the first five years of our marriage missing the time that is now more precious than any other in my life. I can’t wait to see where we’ll go next.

My Friend Grant

Last week I reacquainted myself with an old friend. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years. But the time we spent together was the most important important time in my life. Without overselling it, this friend did more for me than anyone else I know. And now that we’ve reintroduced ourselves, I can’t wait to dive back in and pick up where we left off.

My friend isn’t an old work buddy or classmate. My friend isn’t even a person. It’s a set of bookmarks.

I call it “Grant.”

Let me back up.

I first heard of Grant in 2010. A blogger I follow recommended it as the best thing ever (that’s how it came across to me, anyway). In the article (you can read it here), he explains how he had come across a Bible reading plan that actually made him want to read the Bible. Every day. And he didn’t want to give up. I had to keep reading.

The beauty of the plan is its insanity. Here’s the gist: the Bible is divided into 10 sections, and you read a chapter from each section every day. Yes—you read 10 chapters of the Bible every day. And, as he explained, you actually like it.

This didn’t make any sense to me. I had become a Christian several years earlier but had never really read the Bible with any regularity outside of church services. I was on the up-and-down see-saw of guilt when it came to reading the Bible and learning more about the gospel. So it seemed insane to think that I would go from a starvation diet to a 7-course meal . . . every day.

The only thing more insane than this plan was how well it worked for me. If I read a chapter that didn’t jump out as particularly relevant or significant to me, no problem—there were plenty more opportunities that day. The time required to read everything meant that I couldn’t slow down and meditate too much on any passage. That turned out to be fine. Since I knew so little of the overall story of the Bible, my meditations often led me to thoughts and conclusions that sounded spiritual but (come to find out) were directly condemned in other parts of the Bible! By seeing the “big picture,” I became better and wiser at seeing how all of Scripture (even the “boring” parts) were essential to God’s plan to make me more like Jesus (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Why the name “Grant”? Because the plan was put together by Professor Grant Horner, an English professor and Christian who started using it in graduate school to keep himself connected to God’s word in all its beauty. (You can read his story as well as his explanation of the system here. There’s even a snazzy set of bookmarks to print out for yourself at the end.)

How does this work itself out in my day? When it’s time to sit down and read my Bible, I open up to the first section: Gospels. I read the chapter at a brisk pace, not pausing for too much reflection. When I finish, I try to summarize the chapter in my head with a sentence or two, aiming to use the passage to answer the questions “Who is God?”, “Who am I?”, and “What does God ask of me?” Then, without further ado, I turn straight to the second section (Pentateuch) with the help of bookmarks. (My wife printed out the ones above and laminated them for me. She’s the best.) And so it continues, until I read all 10 chapters or (as sometimes happens) I run out of time. In those cases, I pick up where I left off later in the day. (Note: I also spend time every day memorizing Scripture, since it’s the best way I know to meditate on truth and work it through my head into my heart. Read widely and deeply!)

Without fail, I read at least one thing every day that thrills me, intrigues me, jumps out to me, or obviously applies to me. It often happens in my favorite part of the Bible, the Old Testament’s wisdom literature (covered in sections 5, 6, and 7). But now that I’ve got more experience with the Bible’s overall story, it also happens when I’m reading Paul’s letters or the Old Testament prophets. I have even been moved to tears by Leviticus (really, no kidding), in part because reading the entire Bible helped me see how each of its parts connects to Jesus and to myself.

Take a peek at my friend Grant for yourself. Get to know it yourself. But more importantly, get to know the God and Savior he showcases.

The Fruit of Following God – Part 11: Loves Truth

Whether they know it or not, unbelievers live under the influence and the guise of the father of lies, Satan himself (John 8:44). Satan is known as the deceiver (Genesis 3) and loves to keep people in the darkness of falsehood. Yet, the follower of Christ has now determined that God’s testimony of His Son and His verdict against the unbeliever’s sin is true. She repents and believes. With this profound realization, the disciple is now liberated to fully trust God and to watch Him work in her life. She now understands the words that Jesus spoke to the Jews of His day,

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31b-32).

She has discovered that God’s Word is truth and she agrees with Jesus when He prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17). She now knows that God’s word is true and the means to change her heart and life. And not only does she value truth, she realizes that instead of living in a world of lies, she now must make integrity and honestly a defining mark of her walk with God. God knows all, sees all and calls His people to a life of truthfulness. The ninth commandment states, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” She now wishes to hear truth, believe truth, love truth and live truthfully and honestly.

This reality entered my own life just after I became a Christian. Growing up, I had never been a big cheater in the academic world. But I have to admit that I had been a desperate cheater a few times in my life while going through the public education experience. I never felt good about it, but cheating was better than the negative consequences of failing. I cheated on exams a few times in both junior high school as well as in high school Chemistry. When I became a Christian, I was just a few weeks into a difficult transition to college and I had almost quit. A few weeks later, however, I gave (or surrendered) my life to God. Soon afterward, I faced my first exam in Psychology 101. I knew that my assigned seat was situated at the perfect angle to see the exam answers on a classmate (and dorm-mate) of mine by the name of Paul. He made A’s in everything in high school and was quite accomplished intellectually. However, I still remember praying, “Lord, I am not going to cheat on this exam. I know that you do not approve of cheating. It is dishonest, so Lord, I am going to walk by faith and trust you to take care of me no matter what happens on that exam or any other exam in the future. I must live a life of honesty as a Christian.” I don’t recall exactly how I did on that exam. I do recall that I did well and not poorly. I also know that I never cheated in school again and I always looked to God for my success in the classroom, trusting Him for the results of hard study.

The decision I faced that fall day in 1972 was a commitment to Christ’s lordship over my life, an act of obedience and a choice to be true – and not false – before the only One who was really watching, the God of Truth. Trusting God’s word, believing He is truthful and living a life based on truth is an attribute of a disciple of Christ.

The Fruit of Following God – Part 10: Grows in Holiness

The disciple of Christ has a new attitude toward their personal sin. Others’ sins might bother him and society’s ills might be personally discouraging and inflaming, but suddenly he sees that the biggest problem in the entire world is his own sin. Like David, he cries out,

“For I know my transgressions,and my sin is ever before me.   Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:3-4).

Usually, after the first light of the Holy Spirit shines in the believers heart, the sensitivity to personal sin becomes enormous. As a matter of fact, on a number of occasions, I have heard young believers bemoan the fact that they didn’t realize that they had so much sin in their lives. Others have stated that they were happier as non-Christians because they could sin and not feel so badly or be convicted by it. The growing disciple hates his sin. He begins to acknowledge his sin more readily. He begins to think, “I have more sin than I thought I did. I didn’t know that I could sin so much.”

The disciple of Christ, ultimately, wanting to please the Savior so much, does not desire to be stained or ruined by personal sins, sins that he knows Christ died for. Holiness involves dying to sin and living for righteousness (1 Peter 2:24). Growth in holiness means “putting sin to death” (mortification, see Colossians 3:5-9) and seeking all the means necessary to live for Christ (vivification, see Colossians 3:1-4, 10-14).

The Christian disciple who pursues holy living recognizes that his greatest enemies are the lust of the flesh (sensualism), the lust of the eyes (materialism) and the boastful pride of life (egoism) as well as the world (i.e., the unbelieving world and its principles that are antagonistic to God), the flesh and the devil (see 1 John 2:16). As the believer recognizes that he is secure “in Christ,” he is able to pursue the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). He knows that Christ is his victory and failure is not the end. He loves the law as a means to guide him in a life that is pleasing to God. He wants to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:14-15).

Help Needed

It’s difficult to write for an audience you don’t know. The pastor who penned the Letter to the Hebrews clearly knew his readers, since he is able to reference their circumstances and sufferings with some detail. But I don’t have that luxury in writing for you! However, I imagine that you, dear reader, know much more about deep snow than I (a Southern boy, born and bred) do. As you know (and as I’m told that), when walking through snow that’s above your knees, it’s exhausting to move over long distances. I have walked across soybean fields, where the plants grow very densely, causing me to “high-step” the whole way. After a hundred yards or so, it stops being fun!

I imagine, though, that there’s one thing that might make your walk easier. If someone has gone before you to tramp down the snow, and if you’re able to walk in their footsteps, it must make a night-and-day difference! There are still problems, but because someone else has already done the far harder work, you’d be able to make it pretty easily.

So it is with the Christian life:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
—Hebrews 4:14-16

Being a Christian is meant to be a lifelong, dedicated game of follow the leader. Jesus is impeccably qualified to be our Savior—literally! That is, he’s perfectly suited to understand and feel for us, since he is one of us. There is no circumstance we go through that is foreign to Jesus. No one “gets” the human experience, with all its ups and downs, like him.

And to top it off, Jesus was impeccable (from the Latin peccare, “to sin”). Consider how amazing it is for Jesus, having slogged through the same life as us, without sinning at all. As a young child and teenager, he never failed to love God and people perfectly. He was tempted in every way—think about that: every way—that we are. But he never gave in and succumbed to disobedience or an unloving heart. And now, as he serves as God’s appointed mediator, he can beckon to us from heaven, as it were, saying, “Where I am, you can be, too” (see John 14:2-3).

What’s that mean for us? It means that the heavy trudging through a nasty and broken world—the really heavy trudging—is finished. What we face in this world really is hard, but it’s nothing compared to what the Son of God had to do—and did. So we can come to God. It really is possible for us to follow him all the way to the end, and we really must. We cannot give in to the pressures to loosen our grip on the gospel. And while we wait to reach heaven ourselves, it’s okay that we’re needy. In fact, only the needy find help, since only they know they can approach God with confidence (amazing!) and find undeserved grace and mercy when it’s needed.

Keep trudging. The way is clear.

The Fruit of Following God – Part 9: Submissive Obedience

The growing disciple of Christ has a new standard for his life. He wants to know what God says through His word and wants to do what he hears God say.

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do,” (James 1:22-25).

This life of obedience, lived by the Spirit as well as out of gratitude for God’s grace, is a proof of love for Jesus,

“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them,” (John 14:21).

Also,

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete,” (John 15:9-11).

Learning submission to the will of God is a true sign that one is a child of God. The Apostle Paul “kicked against the goads” (resisting God’s work) and it took a Damascus Road crisis of life to bring him into not only full submission but also zealous enthusiasm to suffer whatever cost and demands were required to live for, as well as to proclaim, Christ.

Living under grace means that the disciple strives to please the Lord. He does not abuse grace in such a way as to live a life of license (freedom to sin). In my early Christian days, the student who invested in my growth confessed to me that the year before, when he became a Christian, he continued to sleep with his girlfriend. But then he clarified his statement – he had been a “pagan” (unrestrained unbeliever) all of his life, but didn’t know it was wrong to sleep with his girlfriend. Once he was told what that the Bible says sex outside of marriage is sin, he instantly repented and obeyed God’s Word. He responded wholeheartedly to the Word of God. That submissive attitude is an attribute of a true disciple!