February 2023: Radical Discipleship: Our Calling
Radical discipleship. Is this something good? The word radical has mostly negative connotations these days. These days, “radical” has mostly political undertones, and to be labeled a “radical” is usually not a good thing. With it, we associate words such as revolutionary, extremist, insurgent, rebellious, and militant. In this sense, few of us see being a radical as a good thing.
But radical has another meaning: relating to the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough. Synonyms include complete, total, entire, absolute, comprehensive, essential, and foundational. It’s in this second sense that we’re called to be radical in our Christian discipleship.
The uncomfortable truth is, Jesus made an absolute demand. When he said, “Follow me,” he meant leaving something or someone or some place behind. When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, we read that they “immediately left their nets and followed him.” James and John also “immediately left their boat and their father and followed him” when called by Jesus to be his disciples (see Matthew 4:18-22). Matthew, also known as Levi, left behind a lucrative living as a tax collector when he agreed to follow Jesus. Later on, Jesus warned a prospective disciple that he would often be sleeping on the ground (see Matthew 8:18-22). The Gospel writers include a number of instances where Jesus invited persons to follow him, but due to the high cost of doing so, chose not to.
To choose to follow Jesus is to choose a path which, by design, inherently puts us at odds with the norm. And that’s because there’s nothing normal—from the standpoint of the world and popular culture—about the way of Jesus Christ. It may be that the most challenging aspect of following Jesus is fighting against our tendency to order our lives in ways that feel ‘natural,’ or according to our nature. But that’s the thing—when we profess faith in Christ, we’re given a new nature. The old nature has been crucified with Christ and we’re made new. 2 Corinthians 5:17 puts it this way: “Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (New Living Translation). However, because we still have one foot firmly planted in this world, so to speak, we still feel the pull towards our human, sinful nature. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit to empower us to live for Jesus instead.
So, what’s so radical about living for Jesus? Well, consider the following commands Jesus makes of his followers, all found in Matthew 5-7: speak only the truth (and I’ll add, even when doing so goes in someone else’s favor or even puts us in a bad light); do not lust for anything or anyone even if it’s only in your heart; root out anger and rage from your emotions; forgive without measure; love your enemies (and I’ll add, this includes those whom we deem evil); give without getting recognition (and I’ll add, learn to be perfectly fine with not getting recognized); work for peace. If you do any of these things completely, you’ll quickly discover how difficult it is to do! Sure, it’s relatively easy to do any of them half-way, but thoroughly?
How about the “greatest commandment”? Is that something any of us can say we do thoroughly and without reservation? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. AND love your neighbor. It’s been said that it’s impossible to truly love God apart from loving our neighbor. Put another way, loving our neighbor is how we show our love for God. If you take the command to love your neighbor to its fullest application, you’ll quickly discover how difficult it is to do. And yet, that’s our call. My hope, desire, and what I’ll be intentionally leading us toward, is that our church might become “radicalized” in our congregational discipleship in 2023. I’m praying that we’ll discover new ways to share Jesus’ radical, live-altering love with our Port Huron neighbors. Are you willing to follow me in this pursuit?