Good morning Cal Baptist, I’m a graduate of this fine institution all the way back in 1999. I want to talk with you for a few minutes about the future of Christianity that you will be creating with your life.
I think we can all agree, even the most die-hard Christians among us, that the brand of Christianity is suffering. I can bore you with statistic after statistic, but most major denominations, including the one this college is affiliated with, is on a steady (and some would say irreversible) decline.
Your generation is leaving Christianity as a whole at an unprecedented rate. Christians are branded as racist, narrow-minded homophobes out of touch with a modern society that is far more advanced and enlightened than this archaic religious tradition we stubbornly cling to.
If you’re a passionate follower of Jesus, then there should be a part of you that’s a little frustrated, a little disillusioned, a little angry about how we’ve allowed tradition, power and politics to infect American Christianity and divert us away from what Jesus actually came to do. And so, if that’s you, the frustrated Christian who loves Jesus but looks around and says, “Come on guys, we’re better than this,” then I want to give you a voice today.
I want to make a simple case today that the institutionalized, politicized, religious establishment of American Christianity today looks an awful lot like the institutionalized, politicized, religious establishment that Jesus himself rebelled against in the first century. We read about groups like the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Teachers of the Law. These were the men in power. This was the religious establishment.
Jesus stepped into this system and blew the whole thing up. Look at the story in the gospels when Jesus went into the heart of the religious institution of Judaism, the temple at Jerusalem, and started turning over tables. Jesus started a revolution.
He taught the people a new way to live. They were called disciples. And these disciples turned their world upside down and changed the course of human history. And I would argue that if you’re a Christian today and you’re disillusioned with the state of Christianity in America, then you’re probably rebelling against the very same things that Jesus himself rebelled against.
And so I would argue that this world doesn’t need anymore “Christians.” I use that term to describe how we’re portrayed by society at large. The world doesn’t need anymore of those types of Christians. In fact, it’s those kind of religious people that Jesus came to rebel against. What this world needs, what your generation needs, is an uprising of disciples that look a lot more like Jesus, the chief instigator and rebel of our faith.
Let me give you five distinctives of a disciple of Jesus and how that differs from the stereotypical Christian out there today.
A Christian agrees with the teachings of Jesus while a disciple obeys the teachings of Jesus.
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. Matthew 23:1-3
Jesus laid into the religious leaders of the day because they preached an ethic that they did not follow. They knew all the right things. They just didn’t live them out. In their world, agreeing with the Scriptures was enough. We don’t do that today, do we? As Christians, do we really obey the teachings of Jesus or do we just agree with it? At the end of Jesus’ most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes two people, the wise man who built his house on the rock, and the foolish man that built his house on the sand. What marks the difference between the two?
24 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. Matthew 7:24
It’s not enough to simply agree with the words of Jesus. Obedience is the true mark of a disciple. Let’s just stay at the Sermon on the Mount and see how we stack up. I know as Christians we would all say that we agree with the words Jesus spoke, but are we living them out? Jesus says not to judge. How quickly do we judge others? Jesus says that we’re to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us? Are any of us praying for those on the opposite end of political spectrum from us? What about the members of ISIS, those bent on destroying our way of life? Do we pray for them, or do we focus more on defeating our political opponents and look forward to dropping a few bombs on ISIS? Just the Sermon on the Mount alone will wreck you if you truly began to live it out.
As Christians, we would all say we agree with the words of Jesus. But do we actually obey them? That’s the mark of a disciple.
2. A Christian depends on self while a disciple depends on the Spirit.
This is for all the Baptist kids out there like me. Any Baptists in the house? I grew up in a traditional, conservative Baptist church, a heritage I am thankful for, but one of the things I had to overcome was a complete avoidance of the Holy Spirit. Any time the Spirit was mentioned everyone freaked out because you start talking about the Spirit and next thing you know you’ll be like the crazy Charismatics down the street and out comes the box of snakes.
Yet what were the last words of Jesus on this earth?
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8
If you go back and read the book of Acts you’ll discover that the Holy Spirit is all over the place. The Spirit spoke, the Spirit led, the Spirit directed, the Spirit empowered. You can’t have the early church without the Holy Spirit.
And yet somewhere along the way many of us have forgotten that core truth and we’ve relied on our own strength. That’s what I was raised to do. If I was good enough on my own, if I knew enough Bible verses, my strength would be enough to see something God-sized happen. That path will only lead to frustration and burnout.
That’s why many Christians can’t live out the first distinctive and actually obey the words of Jesus. Under your own strength, it’s too much of a burden. You can agree with the words of Jesus on your own strength, but if you want to obey the words of Jesus you need the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus says it himself when he told his disciples:
63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. John 6:63
That means that as disciples we need to rediscover what it means to depend on the Holy Spirit. No matter what your religious background is, if we want to live as disciples of Jesus, we need to figure out what it means to listen to and depend on the Holy Spirit.
3. A Christian maintains uncompromising dogma while a disciple celebrates uncommon fellowship.
Growing up in church it was pretty easy to figure out who belonged in church and who didn’t. You could just tell. If they looked the part, they were in. If they had tattoos or multiple piercings, obviously no.
The religious leaders of first century Judaism were masters of this. One of their biggest complaints about Jesus were the people who Jesus chose to hang around with, whether it was Jesus’ choice of disciples or the party at Matthew’s house. It drove them crazy.
One day we’ll all get to heaven and we’ll figure out who’s right and who’s wrong. Most likely we’ll all be wrong in one sense or another. But before Jesus left this earth, he prayed specifically for us, future believers, in John 17 that we would be one:
23 that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:23
Christians dig in their heels and live as if their specific way to practice their faith is the only legitimate way to do it. Disciples celebrate an uncommon fellowship with those whom the world would never expect us to associate with. And that uncommon fellowship, which transcends race, nationality, socio-economic barriers and denominations, built around our unifying belief in Jesus is one of the most powerful witnessing tools we have to a skeptical world.
4. A Christian loves money while a disciple leverages money.
This one should make us all feel uncomfortable. When Jesus taught on how we should interact with money, here’s what Luke records:
13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts.” Luke 16:13-15
Jesus called out the Pharisees, the religious leaders, because they loved money. Jesus says you can’t serve both God and money. You have to choose.
Now, at first glance, all of us read this and say, “Good thing I’m not like those evil Pharisees, I truly love God.” And I believe you honestly mean that. You’re not being sarcastic. But my response would be, “Let me see your bank statement.”
You say you love God with all your heart. Jesus says where your treasure is your heart will also be. You show me your bank statement and I’ll show you where your heart is. Are you tithing? Are you trusting God with the first fruits of your income, or are you making excuses?
But I’m a college student. I don’t have any money. I don’t have a real job yet. I make minimum wage. When I get a good job, then I’ll start. When I make more money, then I’ll start. When I pay off these student loans, then I’ll start giving back to God.
To which Jesus would say:
“You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts.” Luke 16:15
As the old guy with the microphone, let me let you in on a little secret. It never gets any easier to start trusting God with your finances. I don’t care how much money you make, whether it’s $100 a month or $10,000 a month, you’ll find a way to spend it all before the end of the month.
I was in full-time ministry, serving as a youth pastor, I was paid to be a professional Christian, and I struggled for years with trusting God with my finances.
You want to be able to tell the difference between a Christian and a disciple of Jesus? A disciple loves Jesus enough that they literally put their money where their mouths are and they give to God like Jesus tells us to. And now’s the best time to start putting that into practice. You’re already broke. Why not start trusting God now?
Last distinctive I’ll share today:
5. A Christian withdraws from the messes while a disciples run towards the messes.
1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1-2
The religious leaders were uncomfortable with the type of people that Jesus was attracting, so they did what many Christians do today: they withdrew. The world is sinful, and dirty and broken. So we stay out of it as much as possible to try and keep from being contaminated.
So we do as many activities inside the church so people don’t have to interact with the world. We withdraw from the messes. Jesus lived the opposite. He taught his disciples to run towards the messes. In the most famous story or parable that Jesus ever told, he drove him this point: we are to run towards the messes.
In response to the religious leaders who didn’t like being around the messes, Jesus told three stories in Luke 15, culminating in the story of the Prodigal Son. The son who wished his father was dead, took his inheritance money, went out to Vegas and burned through every ounce of money his father had left for him. Then, when he was broken and broke, he decided to crawl back to dad. What was the father’s response when he saw his broken, sinful, dirty son crawling back home?
20 So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. Luke 15:20
The father rans towards the messes, and so should we. You know the problem with embracing the messes is? It’s messy. But you know what, I know that I’m doing something that matters. Courtney and her girls live 45 minutes away now but we still keep in touch. I saw her older daughter last week and gave her a big hug.
You want to live as a disciple of Jesus? Don’t run away from the messes. Run towards the messes.
As we close, let me ask you five questions:
- Do you think the world around us would be any more attracted to our faith if we actually lived lives purity, of going the extra mile, of turning the other cheek and genuinely loving our enemies?
- What would happen if the world saw an undeniable demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power lived out through the lives of Jesus’ disciples today?
- What if the world saw disciples transcending cultural and theological barriers locking arms with each other instead of raising our fists at each other?
- What kind of impact would we have if disciples began to truly leverage the wealth of the wealthiest nation in the world for the Kingdom of God?
- How many people’s lives would be transformed if we were willing to roll up our sleeves and run headlong into the mess of the world?
That’s the revolution Jesus started 2000 years ago, and it’s that same revolution that’s needed again today. What better place to start it than here?