These are too good not to include in the lesson material and should be read by the teachers. And they are welcome to cover these rather than something I wrote should there not be enough time to cover it all — and there won’t be.
First, Patrick Mead wrote an article called “Cargo Cult Christianity.” Enjoy.
Second, Scot McKnight posted an article by Lee Wyatt called “Lee Wyatt explains the gospel.” It’s a great summary of the lessons for this quarter.
Now, the theme of the quarter is that the essence of Christianity — indeed, of God’s cosmic purpose in saving us — is that we become like Jesus.
The Gospels repeatedly speak of the call to “follow” Jesus. Very typical is —
(Luk 18:22 ESV) 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
The Gospels also emphasize the idea of being a “disciple.” Ray Vander Laan explains that someone becomes a rabbi’s disciple, not merely to learn his teaching, but to become just like him.
Acts speaks of repenting and being a “Christian.” “Christian” means “Christ-like,” which really means Messiah-like, which means “like the King anointed by God.” Yes, we’re to be like the King because we were created to be kings — just like Jesus.
To repent is not only to turn from sin but to turn toward God (Acts 20:21). It’s not merely about morality but about, well, whom you follow.
Paul speaks of believing or having faith — and yet faith (pistis) refers to loyalty and commitment. To believe in Jesus is to become loyal to him and trust him, as well as to accept that he is the Son of God.
Paul says the confession that saves is “Jesus is Lord” (Rom 10:9). “Lord” is not only the Septuagint’s word for God, it refers to a king. Caesar called himself “lord.” In those days, to call someone “lord” (in this sense) was very nearly to take a loyalty oath.
Indeed, to be baptized is to be baptized not only into the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, but also into slavery to God (Rom 6:1-22).
You see, “hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized” all point toward submission to Jesus but a submission that is all about becoming like Jesus (who is like God). Indeed, everything in the New Testament points toward becoming like Jesus.
Ahh … and that’s where we mess up. In theory, we know we should be like Jesus. “What would Jesus do?” But we never really talk about how to do that. Not really.
We’d like to be like the Jesus who chews out the Pharisees. Condemning those who dare disagree with us is … just … so … much … fun! But he’s never, ever held up as an example of how to chew out our opponents. In fact, we’re repeatedly commanded to speak gently (Gal 5:23; 6:1; Eph 4:2; 2 Tim 2:25; Tit 3:2; Jam 3:17; 1 Pet 3:4, 15) (I really struggle with this one, you know). You see, we have to be more humble than even Jesus because, well, unlike Jesus, we’re not perfect. He could say some things we really aren’t qualified to say.
So it’s not merely about imitating Jesus. It’s about being like him in the ways that the scriptures urge. Jesus himself and the New Testament writers are actually quite plain. We just don’t much like the lesson. We like autonomy, independence, and self-determination. We distrust institutions, even the church, and we have no desire to submit to anyone else at all.
Rather, what we really want is a church that serves us, that meets our needs, and that calls us to be affirmed in what we already believe and never asks us to anything even a little uncomfortable. We want to shop for churches because we see religion as a consumer good.
But this would be the very opposite of following Jesus. To follow Jesus to be accountable. It’s to give permission to your brothers and sisters — not just the leadership of the church
— to hold us to the standard of Jesus, because it’s hard to do and we need the help — and we’ve committed to be humble enough to admit it.
To follow Jesus is to submit not only to Jesus but to church leaders, to the Scriptures, to new members, to the lost, even to sinners.
To follow Jesus is to serve those who don’t deserve it, expecting nothing in return.
To follow Jesus is to sacrifice our entire lives, to give up everything for him, holding nothing back.
To follow Jesus is to suffer. Do a word search on “suffer.” It’s a major theme of the scriptures. And that means, at the least, that criticism from the church down the road — or even from friends and family — cannot stand in the way of serving Jesus and living the gospel. It’s hard, but the Bible is very, very plain that persecution can be part of the package. Jesus says “Count it all joy.”
But we submit, serve, sacrifice, and even suffer for what purpose? Well, God’s purpose. Jesus’s purpose. We are Jesus’ body on earth — a second incarnation continuing the work he began on earth.
We show radical acceptance and hospitality to those whom the world rejects — even if it means we have to suffer rejection with them to do so. We eat with sinners.
We pursue God’s mission of spreading the gospel. We refuse to believe the lie that there are other paths to salvation other than through faith in Jesus. We make the same exclusive claims that Jesus made. We carry the burden of knowing that we live in a world filled with damned people.
And we help those in need because we love them. Indeed, to be like Jesus is to overflow with compassion — to touch the untouchable because no one else will.
Finally, we love each other so much that we build an alternative society within society that is so much better — because we live the Sermon on the Mount — that the lost beg to be let in. We become a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. We let our light shine, because it’s really God’s light shining through us.
And if this were to really happen, our churches would be Edens. The Kingdom would be much closer to its fullness. We’d realize the potential that comes with being new creations — re-created by God to be in his image.
And when people look at us, they’d see images of God in the midst of his temple, the Creation. And they’d be drawn to worship him because they see that, as imperfect as an image of a Deity necessarily is, the image is beautiful and so far unlike anything offered by the world that it must be from God.