This Sunday we looked at the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) in relation to our recent celebration of Easter. Easter is amazing news! It gives hope through connecting us to Jesus – the personal, living, eternal Saviour. He is “God with us”. We have new life and a new relationship with God when we trust in Jesus!
I want to try to briefly discuss something that affects and infects our following of Jesus, especially in North America. It’s something I call “Contract Christianity”. This is where following Jesus is reduced really to a contract: we pray a prayer, and Jesus gets us into heaven.
And I think all of us know that praying a prayer to Jesus, just to go to heaven misses the heart of what following Jesus is about. It’s a truncated gospel. But what we sometimes miss is how this still infects our Christianity. We see following Jesus then in terms of a contract of what we do for him, and then what he does for us. We also then focus on what “breaks” the contract like the fine print in a legal contract. And this leads to all sorts of questions and comments that are in the wrong direction. Ones I get all the time in different ways about sin, church, and faith vs. works. Ones like this:
- At what point will someone lose their salvation? How much can I sin and God still forgive me? I’ll still get to heaven if I don’t tithe right, or do everything?
- It doesn’t matter if I go to church or not right? I can follow Jesus on my own, it’s a personal relationship right? Why can’t I just pray to Jesus and let that be that?
- I prayed the prayer, isn’t that enough? why do I need to love others? Isn’t it enough that I come to church, why do I need to change these actions?
But following Jesus is not a contract, it’s a covenant. So yes, it is not less than a contract, but a covenant is so much more than a contract. It’s a commitment for a lifetime based in relationship, not contractually binding arguments.
And if we ask the same type of questions above, in terms of a covenant relationship they quickly don’t make any sense. So let’s put those above questions in terms of the only covenant we have left really, marriage. And just see how much they miss the point.
Here are the same questions put in terms of a marriage.
- How far can I go with another person, before it’s called cheating? Where is the line exactly? What can I do before you divorce me?
- Why do I have to spend time with my spouse and family? We live together isn’t that enough?
- I promised to love you and marry you, isn’t that enough? What do my actions have to do with it?
When these questions are put in the context of covenant they don’t make any sense. No one truly commits to a marriage thinking about how much they can get away with, or not wanting to spend time together, or not showing their love. But for some reason we do this with Jesus. We ask questions about what we can get away with while still following Jesus (sin questions). We ask questions about why we need to commit to Jesus’ family and gathering together (church questions). We ask questions about whether our faith really needs to change our actions or whether we are still “saved”.
This is all contract Christianity, not covenant Christianity. Because as soon as you start thinking about following Jesus in terms of a covenant none of those questions make any sense. If you are committing to follow Jesus for the rest of your life, you’re not interested in what you can get away with (sin). If you are covenanting with Jesus, spending time with him and his family (church) makes absolute sense. If you are being a disciple of his, having faith in him naturally flows out with showing it. (action / works)
So all that to say is that I think we need to regain the sense of following Jesus as a covenant and not just as a contract. We follow Jesus with our whole lives, not just what happens after our lives have ended. The point is that following Jesus is to change how we live now, which will last into eternity. And I think if there is one thing in Christianity we need to regain, it’s a sense of covenant because it matters and it’s beautiful.
How do we become like the Father?
Because this is honestly one of the central parts of following Jesus. Jesus perfectly represents the Father in this parable. And we are called as followers of Jesus to become like Jesus. We are called to follow in his footsteps to become like the Father in this parable. We are called to learn to show reckless love, abundant forgiveness, and never-ending grace.
So on Sunday we are going to be exploring the hard question of how do you actually do this? How do you actually live, love, and look like Jesus? Of course it will take the Holy Spirit’s work, the Father’s direction, and the power of Jesus. But what practical steps can we take to start to live like the Father in this parable?
Because I believe this truly matters. Imagine with me if each Christian loved, lived, and looked like the Father in the parable of the prodigal son? If this was true our homes, meeting places, and churches would be filled with people drawn to this depth of love. They would be drawn into our lives, just as people were drawn to Jesus.
So this question of “how” matters immensely. And on Sunday we hope to answer it. But before we get there, why not spend sometime thinking about it yourself. If you are to become like Jesus, what next steps help you get there? What is he calling you to do? How might you go so deeply into his love, that it transforms you into a person of deep love? These are questions worth thinking about, and even more importantly worth living out.
On Sunday we’re wrapping up our series on becoming an apprentice of Jesus. We’re going to look at one last key part of following Jesus that changes lives, deepens your life dramatically and connects you to Jesus like nothing else. So I’m really excited about Sunday.
But I’m also nervous…
Because the truth is that following Jesus isn’t easy. Following Jesus has never been easy. It is simple: trust Jesus, love others, forgive enemies, give generously, and put others first. Simple things…but not easy things to live out. And so on Sunday we are going to look at the simplest and most basic part of following Jesus…unfortunately it also happens to be the hardest to follow…
But sometimes the hardest things are often the most life-giving things.
Maybe you’ve had this experience. Maybe you’ve decided to actually forgive someone, not the type of forgiving that doesn’t matter, but the forgiveness that is…work. Maybe you’ve actually simplified your life so that you can give more. Maybe you’ve given your time and life for others knowing that hurt and abuse can happen. If you’ve ever done anything like this then I think you’ll know what I mean when I say the hard things are the only things worth doing. The fact that they are hard is what makes them so worthwhile. The irony is that following in the tough stuff leads to more freedom and joy. Resisting Jesus’ leading simply leads to a dead end. Mother Theresa once said, “Whenever I see someone sad…I think that they are refusing Jesus something”. So on Sunday we are going to be looking at what Jesus is really asking of us. We are going to seek not to refuse anything to him, but to honestly ask him, “What would you have me do?”
My guess is that’s a pretty good question for today too. Why not ask him today, “what would you have me do?” Let it be a wide open question, one that you’re willing to follow. Because the opposite of what Mother Theresa said is also true. Whenever I see someone fully content, at peace and connected, I think they must be refusing Jesus nothing…
On Sunday we talked about how faith is really trust. It’s an active trust in Jesus. Brennan Manning writes this;
“If a random sample of one thousand American Christians were taken today, the majority would define faith as belief in the existence of God. In earlier times – almost nobody took that for granted. Rather, faith had to do with one’s relationship to God – whether one trusted in God. The difference between faith as “belief in something that may or may not exist” and faith as “trusting in God” is enormous. The first is a matter of the head, the second a matter of the heart.”
That’s what we explored, the matter of the heart trusting in Jesus. The point isn’t to believe that there is a God out there. The point is to have active trust in the person of Jesus as the Son of God who gives us life through his grace and gift. This is the point of being an apprentice to trust in Jesus. But this type of trust isn’t intellectual assent, or rational agreement. This is the type of trust with action, with movement, that actually has feet. Meaning that this type of trust needs to change how we live. That’s the whole point, that what we truly trust in we need to act on.
So I ended with this challenge and I think it’s a good challenge for anyone. To ask ourselves: What is one way we can actively trust Jesus this week? What is one thing we can do to act on our trust?
And depending on where you are at with Jesus what he might tell you is different. But I know he will be telling us all to take a step, and to take action. Because that’s what faith is – trust in action.
Big Idea: The heart of an apprentice is active trust
- The most crucial challenge for the church is whether or not we will become disciples of Jesus.
- The world needs more people living like Jesus
- Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. Jesus Matthew 7:24
- Can you say, “I know my next step to grow…”?
- Faith is active trust in something, or someone.
- Being an apprentice of Jesus starts with trusting in him
- The difference between faith as “belief in something that may or may not exist” and faith as “trusting in God” is enormous. The first is a matter of the head, the second a matter of the heart.” – Brennan Manning
Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What do you think the greatest challenge facing the church is? Where is your relationship with God right now – are you exploring him, growing with him, close to him, or centred on him? What is your next step to grow? What next step do you need to take to put your trust into action? What might Jesus be asking you to do? What is faith to you?
Discussion Questions for Young Families: Take a moment to talk with you kids about “faith”. Say how it is like trusting, that just as how your kids trust you to provide for them, help them, guide them, by actively trusting – asking for help – and obeying. That trusting Jesus is like that. Ask them if they would like to trust Jesus or if they do.
Challenge for this Week:
Find one way to actively trust Jesus this week