Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Conformed To His Image

"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.” - Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20)

Here we have our marching orders from our Commander in Chief. This is about so much more than Evangelism. Rather, it is a framework for what every Christian community should be focused upon.

Where the Christian Church in the West has failed most, I believe, is in taking this mandate to heart and putting it daily into practice.

Instead, the Church has twisted this "Great Commission" from Jesus and turned it into a justification for building million-dollar structures, launching extravagant outreach campaigns, and publishing thousands of "How To" books, all aimed at creating converts while at the same time ignoring any call to make disciples who understand how to "obey everything (Jesus) commanded".

This is largely why the Evangelical Church in America finds Herself in deep decline today. Instead of inviting people to know God more intimately through an ongoing encounter with Jesus, and creating a church full of people who are intentionally seeking to put His words into practice in their actual lives, we have opted for a Gospel that does little more than provide an escape from Eternal Torment; leaving our Churches with nothing to do but entertain a growing crowd of un-transformed converts until they eventually die and move on to their promised "Heaven".

It also creates a world where the Church hardly resembles Her founder and causes many outside the faith to doubt the love of God and the power of Christ to transform the human heart.

This is not the Gospel. It's also not what Jesus had in mind for His Body.

Reading the New Testament reveals that Jesus expected to inspire a community of people who were called out and empowered to not only call Him 'Lord, lord', but to actually put His words into practice.

Essentially, what the Church needs today is to return to Jesus, renew their allegiance to Him, and begin to become Disciples (so that they can start to "make Disciples of all nations").

A recent conversation with my dear friend, Dan Notti, honed in on this missing element of Christian life. Specifically, the idea of spiritual formation is becoming extinct in our Christian faith today.

Not only is it slowly fading away as a concept, it is actually becoming an idea that is radically opposed by many Christian teachers who argue that the teachings of Jesus cannot be kept, and that Jesus never intended for us to try to follow His teachings or to put His words into practice.

This is flabbergasting. Especially when we cannot read the Gospels without being inundated by the words of Jesus crying out, over and over again, that those who love Him obey Him, and that those who put His words into practice receive life, and that those who call Him 'Lord, lord' but refuse to do what He says will be told "Depart from me, you workers of iniquity. I never knew you."

How does this happen?

Partly because, as we've already seen, the Gospel that gets communicated is the bumper sticker "Pray this prayer if you don't want to burn in Hell forever" variety rather than the "Repent! The Kingdom of God is near" version we hear Jesus proclaiming.

Another reason we see the abandonment of the Gospel of the Kingdom, however, is the rise of a more Pauline version of the Gospel which emphasizes - or rather over inflates - the message of Grace so that it begins to eclipse the teaching of Jesus.

This is not to say that Paul and Jesus were at odds. Far from it. Anyone who reads the writings of Paul, or especially the Acts of the Apostles, will see that Paul, and the other Apostles, all preached the Gospel or Good News, of the Kingdom. [See Acts 28:23; 30-31; 14:22; 19:8; 8:12; Eph. 20:25, etc.]

However, when Christian teachers and preachers overemphasize the Gospel of Grace - in a way that Paul never intended - they create the false impression that Jesus' message and Paul's message were different.

Not so. Paul preached the Good News of the Kingdom everywhere he went. Yes, he did write a few epistles where he reminded the disciples that their salvation was a work of God's unmerited favor and grace. But this was always within the context of submission to Christ as Lord - something Paul writes a lot about - and an assumption that those Christians understood the "Good News of the Kingdom" which involved complete submission to Jesus as both Lord and Savior.

One revealing verse about how Paul truly understood the concept of Grace is found in Titus 2:11-12 where he says:

"For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.."

Notice two things:

1) Paul affirms that the Grace of God "offers salvation to all people."

2) Paul also teaches that the Grace of God "teaches us to say 'No'" to "worldly passions and to live self-controlled...godly lives in this present age."

According to Paul, the Grace of God is about salvation, AND about living a godly, self-controlled life - right here and now!

The Grace of God isn't only an instant "get out of hell free card", it's also an ongoing, continual power at work in our everyday lives that empowers us to become more like Jesus.

That's spiritual formation, folks.

Grace, then, is like the small amount of yeast that enters our lives the day we respond to the sound of Jesus' voice [to save us from our sins], and that continues to permeate our entire being every moment after as we continually become transformed into the image of Christ.

What if our Church family was single-mindedly focused on cooperating with the Holy Spirit in this process of becoming more like Christ?

What if our main focus as Christians was to collaborate together with one another, and with Jesus, to ensure that everyone within our church community was actually on the path towards having the heart and mind and character of Christ formed within them? [Ourselves included, of course].

To me, that is what is missing from our Churches today. That is what would breathe new life and vitality back into the Body of Christ again.

As Dallas Willard has put it, the Church should be about "...transforming disciples inwardly, in such a way that doing the words and deeds of Christ is not the focus but is the natural outcome or side effect." (from "Renovation of the Heart")

Simply put, we as individual Christians should begin by falling to our knees - daily - and surrendering continually to Jesus, we should focus on abiding in Christ and allowing Him to abide in us, so that our lives can bear more fruit.

If we do that, everything else will fall naturally into place.


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