The second and final day of the BUILD Conference 2015 started and ended with I’Ching Thomas addressing the conferees about living purposeful and Christ-centered, Christ-honoring lives.
She began by talking about true discipleship and what that means for us in our modern world, and ended the conference with practical ways Christians can live out their faith in this world as ambassadors of the Kingdom of Heaven.
I’Ching pointed out that many Christians today become Christians without fully understanding the cost of Salvation. Many, in response to the question, “Are you ready to die today?” or “Do you want to go to heaven?” naturally pray to accept Jesus into their hearts, as these questions appeal to their fear of death.
“As a result,” I’Ching said, “we have many Christians who know how to die as Christians, but not how to live as one right now while still on earth. Salvation therefore becomes merely a ticket to heaven. Many Christians don’t act like Christians because we have a curtailed understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.”
So what does it mean to be a follower of Christ? How can we ensure that we do not become, as Dallas Willard put it, “Vampire Christians” who are only interested in Jesus’ blood, but not in being a student of His character?
1.The mark of a true disciple.
In the New Testament, to be a disciple of Jesus meant to live with Him, study with Him, obey Him, and imitate Him. Disciples learned how to do what Jesus did. They left everything and followed him. It was costly, but they knew what they signed up for and they were willing to die for what they believed to be true.
Do we know what we signed up for? Are we willing to pay the price for signing up for it? Being a follower of Jesus is not about joining some exclusive club with only benefits and privileges. The benefits and privileges are amazing, but the cost is heavy. It cost Jesus His life on the cross, and would likely cost us our lives too.
We are saying that Jesus is now the authority over our lives. We are no longer our own lords because we submit to the Lordship of Christ in our lives. Because we have been redeemed, our lives are no longer ours—our talents, our times, our ministry, our loved ones—none of these belong to us. We are merely stewards of these blessings.
Some ppl have mistakenly believed that growing up in a Christian home makes them a disciple of Christ. But participating in church programs and doing good works should be the second stage in our growth to be a disciple of Christ, because these programs do not make us disciples of Jesus.
Before we can do anything in the name of Jesus, we must first know Jesus. The life of discipleship is about being whole and free in Christ. Jesus has come to set us free from sin and give us life abundant. Unfortunately, spirituality and the life of discipleship have often been reduced to techniques and programs.
The danger is, when we start speaking the lingo, we think that we can safely assume that we are making progress in our walk with Christ. It’s very easy to be in a holy huddle and the sub-culture of the church— to use words like Hallelujah, and praise the Lord. But we may only be performing to what is acceptable to what is acceptable to those around us and not conforming at all to Christ in our soul, values, heart, and will.
Jesus gives us many warnings throughout the gospels against such misconceptions. In Matthew 7:21, He says “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
It would seem to imply that the will of the Father is to know Jesus. It has nothing to do with what we do in terms of acts. It has to do with the fact that once we know Jesus, we will naturally do those things.
A disciple of Jesus must have made a conscious personal decision and commitment to follow Jesus and to grow to become like Him over time. The goal to a new life in Christ is a slow change until Christ is formed in us. The Fruit of the Spirit is a set of attitudes of the heart and the mind. It’s not a list of to-dos or mere outward behavior.
2. Challenges to modern day discipleship.
When we commit to being a follower of Jesus, our view of life and reality must go through a transformation. But Satan clearly does not want us to be more like Christ. There are many voices that try to distract us and pose as dangers to us, and temptations come in all forms.
With the invention of smartphones and tablets, our time and space is occupied by an omnipresent preoccupation. We are more aware of the presence of Wi-Fi than the omnipresence of God. We swing between addiction and boredom where our hearts and minds are either subject to perpetual stimulus or we get bored.
We live so much in a world of entertainment that it has seeped into the church. The Christian life of discipleship becomes just another form of entertainment. Sunday worship services are measured against our feelings.
We’re unhappy. Our society is plagued by the myth and promise of materialism. Happiness has come to describe a state of positive emotions or feelings that we like. If happiness is only a feeling and your main goal is to seek happiness, your focus will be placed on you and your feelings.
As a result, we have a culture that is fully self-absorbed. The entire universe revolves around our needs, our wants, and our pursuits for pleasure. We are a generation where even our approach to the Christian life becomes something of consumption. Jesus becomes something that we want to add on to our basket. But Jesus does not want to be an addition.
3. How we can reclaim our hearts and minds for Christ.
If Jesus is to be our Savior and Lord, all our other gods will have to go in other to clear the way to abundant life in Christ. And we have to be alert and on guard of our hearts and minds.
Growing as a disciple will take time, sacrifice, and discipline. We must be intentional about wanting to be a disciple of Jesus. If we think that we can just sit back and magically let spiritual formation and transformation take place in our soul, we are mistaken. We have to work with the Holy Spirit towards that goal.
We may not be able to follow Jesus around the countryside of Palestine, but as we read about how He works with His disciples, we can draw certain principles that can help us practically live out a life of discipleship:
i) Interact with God’s word.
We may not necessarily be sitting at his feet, but we can read His Word. We can study and reflect and meditate on our own as well as in small groups. We can use various resources available to us.
ii) Question the world.
When the Bereans heard Paul speak, then went back and checked his word against Scriptures. We need to make it a habit to question the values and ideas of the world. We need to make it a habit to critically think about what the pastor preaches from the pulpit. Check it against Scripture.
Whenever you are engaged with any form of media— films, advertisements, movies, magazines, etc., be aware! There are many strange ideas out there. We must be alert to the thinking of our culture and the influences of its values upon our lives and our minds because few of them are true. We must be alert to trends in society in the area of ethics, arts, politics, economics, social justice, etc.
iii) Cling to God’s truth.
Counteract the influences of the world by clinging to Jesus’ teaching. We need to learn to apply and incorporate God’s teaching into every day life. It’s easy to give the right answers, but it’s much more difficult to live out.
iv) Love deeply.
Ultimately, that’s what it’s about. God loves deeply. It is easy to point out who our enemies are, but we are to love them. Being kind and gracious—it sounds easy, but we don’t see it being practiced a lot.
I’Ching concluded the morning session by saying that if Christians are serious about following God, discipleship is not optional. “If you do not make a deliberate decision to become a disciple of Jesus, your Christian life will forever be locked in defeat because you will always want to do the right thing, but find that it is impossible to do, due to your natural tendency to choose to sin.”
That night in the final session, she brought of the question of “So what?” Having been saved and transformed, what’s next? “It’s tempting to think that all this is just so we can be good people who get along,” I’Ching said, “but there is much more to it than that.”
Scripture says that we are called to be Christ’s ambassadors to preach and teach the message of reconciliation so that many others will become transformed disciples of Christ. There are no qualifiers. It doesn’t say that only the pastors and elders of the church have been given this task. It doesn’t say that only certain people are gifted.
It says that all of us are called to be ambassadors for Christ. We have been assigned to make disciples of all nations—not just converts or churchians. That goes beyond the call of evangelism. It is about teaching others so that they too will become disciples and followers of Christ.
I’Ching then went on to point out that in the Christian life, there is no distinction between work and ministry. We are called to obey the greatest commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
“This means that the Lordship of Christ is holistic.” The spiritual part of your life is not a special compartment in your otherwise secular life. The Bible draws no distinction between the secular and the sacred. It teaches that all Christians serve God full-time, in different forms that our different work allows.
Faith and life are deeply intertwined, and we cannot be faithful unless we structure our lives in a way that coheres with the faith that we proclaim. After all, we are first Christians before we are anything else.
Wherever God places us is where He will be most glorified when we cooperate with Him by doing what we are supposed to do, faithfully and giving our best. Since God and His good news have the supernatural power to change our lives, our changed lives can therefore also change communities.
I’Ching provided 3 characteristics of an ambassador.
1. An ambassador loves the nation he represents.
Since we represent God, we must love Him. One important thing to note is that Jesus instructed us to love Him with our minds. There is a misconception that faith is blind, but biblical faith is a trust that we have reason to believe is true.
The biggest battle that is going on today is to win the hearts and minds of people who being lied to by the father of lies. We need Christians who are able to refute bad thinking and flawed philosophy.
People are waiting for good reasons and good arguments to believe in God. To love God with our mind is to be committed. Not just to read His Word, but to study it, and reflect on Scriptural truth and ultimately develop a Biblical worldview.
We have also been called to love our neighbor as ourselves, as it is the distinguishing mark for us as representatives of God’s Kingdom. As ambassadors who love the God we represent, we must likewise love others.
“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (John 4:20)
No one can say he loves God and yet not demonstrate any love toward others. No one can say he loves God and yet do nothing when he sees racial and sexual prejudice or class discrimination. How are we doing with loving one another?
2. An ambassador is informed and engaged.
It would be strange if an ambassador to China knew nothing about the Chinese culture or hated Chinese food. It would be strange if he was not out there among the locals, promoting his government. After all the role of the ambassador is to promote the relevance of his government to the people he is sent to.
The Gospel of Christ is never communicated in a vacuum outside of a political or cultural climate. We often say that Jesus is the answer. But do we know what the questions are? We need to know the questions that are being asked, and how we can answer those questions with what we know of Jesus.
There is a need for us to be aware of the concerns, issues, conflicts, and confusions of the community we live in. It is only when we are aware of these things that we are able to effectively engage nonbelievers on these topics from the biblical worldview. Otherwise, we are unable to speak about anything that is relevant to the real world.
No wonder our faith seems to be irrelevant. What are the big issues here, and what can you do?
3. An ambassador speaks the truth confidently.
Christ’s ambassadors are confident of the truth of their message. They are not ashamed or incompetent to speak the truth about the triune God, about sin, and about reconciliation and redemption.
One of the great needs today is to have Christians who can confidently explain why their beliefs are true. How do you know the resurrection is true? How can you be sure that the Bible is the Word of God? Did Jesus really die on the cross or did someone else take His place?
The truth is offensive. Morality and religion are seen as fundamental, fanatical, intolerant, and old fashioned. We may be laughed at and mocked, but we should not be surprised by challenges. Jesus said that we He is sending us out as sheep among wolves, and He said that we should be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves.
As light and salt of the earth, as the community of Christ’s ambassadors who dare to speak the truth, we are offering the world around us that is living in darkness, a glimpse of what it is like in the light. In our society, right where we are, dare we speak the truth confidently? Dare we disagree with popular opinions of morality and stand up for what is true and beautiful?
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