Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Process of Discipleship

Not long ago, I was in a convenience store and saw a woman who was wearing a beautiful Christian T-shirt that described the reality and necessity of Christ’s death on the Cross.  Both the theology it expressed and the artwork truly glorified God.  I thought about complimenting her on it but, before I could do so, she stepped up to the cashier, bought lottery tickets, and left the store.  I stood there wondering if she had any idea that the message she wore on her body totally contradicted the one she held in her hand.  
What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ—a true disciple worthy of being called by his name?  The apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 5:17 calls for a change of allegiance, renouncing the past in terms of its worldview, which lies at the core of our being as well as our values, attitudes, and actions, and a full embrace of the new life that Christ offers.  This new life calls for a total and drastic change of allegiance and embraces all aspects of life.  Far too many believers fail to understand the radical nature of Jesus’ claim on their lives.
Allegiance is an issue of the heart (Proverbs 4:20-23). A true change of allegiance will greatly impact our worldview.  Worldview can simply be explained as a pair of eyeglasses in the core of our being through which we perceive reality, define values, and decide actions.  Since our worldview begins to develop the day we are born and is strongly conditioned by the environment in which we grow up, most people don’t even know it is there and seldom question it.  But because our values and actions flow out of our worldview, having a biblical worldview is a vital component of discipleship.  Without it, our cultural environment will define our values and actions. 
Although many issues could be mentioned to demonstrate what worldview is, one example will suffice.  At the core of the Anglo-Saxon American worldview is the sovereign identity of the individual person, apart from their family or peers.  The old phrase “I gotta be me,” and Frank Sinatra’s hit song I Did It My Way express this worldview assumption quite well.  From this worldview comes the values of individual rights, such as the right to do my own thing, regardless of the impact it will have on my family, friends, or society as a whole.  Actions are based on values, and the particular value of individual rights has had an enormous impact on the American church as many believers feel that they serve Christ without being a part of a local church or rise up against authority in an unrighteous manner when they perceive that the church does not meet their needs.  They may also think, consciously or not, that the church exists to serve them—the individual.  Other cultures have different worldviews, from which their values and actions flow.  Everyone’s worldview has been marred by sin—there are no exceptions. 
Since our worldview reflects the core of what makes us who we are, the implications for discipleship are enormous.  Unfortunately, much of what is called discipleship today does not go far enough and many, perhaps most, American Christians, like the lotto lady mentioned above, have a bifurcated, or two-tiered, worldview, living according to God’s values when they are around other believers and going by society’s standards the rest of the time.  The result is a compromised discipleship.  If we recognize that our actions reflect our values and that our values flow out of our worldview, we must raise the question, “how can we change our worldview in order to follow Christ more completely?”        
The first step is to pray, asking the Holy Spirit, who alone knows our hearts, to reveal God’s truth to us.  He can and will lead us into all truth (John 16:13).  Second, under the Spirit’s guidance, we need to do some self-analysis.  Why do we do the things we do?  Why do we do things we shouldn’t and not do things we should?  Don’t be satisfied with cheap answers.  Seek to know your motives.  Actions are easy to observe but motives are not so easily discernable.  This is where the Body of Christ is so critical.  We all need a trusted, mature brother or sister in Christ to speak into our lives and help uncover our blind spots.
Take the lotto lady in the story above, for example.  Since I did not talk to her, I have no idea why she bought lotto tickets, nor am I judging her.  If she bought the tickets for her own use and stopped to think about it, she might ask herself what the Bible has to say about gambling, how money should be handled, or what it teaches about God’s ability and willingness to provide for those who trust him.  If she bought the tickets for someone else, she might ask what the Bible teaches about her being a good example of what it means to follow Jesus.  But, again, we need to go beyond actions here, and discover what motivates us.  She, or a trusted Christian friend, might ask if her motivation was it the desire for riches?  Anxiety over finances and concern about meeting basic needs in the present and future?  Was it a lack of trust in God?  She or her friend might dig a little deeper and ask, “Who is really in control of the universe, God, me, or the impersonal force of Lady Luck?”  When questions like these are honestly faced, we have gotten down to the inner core of who we are at the worldview level.  Unless our commitment to God reaches the core of our being and impacts every aspect of our lives, our obedience will be inconsistent, superficial, and fall far short of the full and enriching life that God wants us to have (John 10:10).
But since the way we handle money tells more about us than we would care to admit, let us follow the example of the lotto lady a little further.  Let’s assume that she prays over the matter of buying lotto tickets, and the Holy Spirit convicts her of her sin.  Let’s also assume that she presses in further and examines why she felt the need to buy the tickets and discovers that her motivation was fear about the future.  Now she has gotten to the heart of the matter.  She begins to ask questions like, “What is the truth about God, and what is the truth about me?”  Answering these questions demands that we read, study, hear, memorize, and meditate on the Word of God.
As she continues to study she discovers that God is all powerful and that he is the owner of everything.  She then discovers that as a believer in Christ, she is entitled to the promises of God regarding his provision and that she can trust him for her future.  Her worldview begins to change and she no longer feels the need to take matters into her own hands by buying lotto tickets.  Since our worldview part of the foundation of our lives, building the foundation on the secure foundation of Christ enables us to face life without fear, and we can begin to experience a change in our values and actions.
As she prays and studies further, she will encounter passages such as Malachi 3:8-11, which teach her to act on what she now believes and begin to tithe.  She understands that tithing indicates her new understanding that God is the owner of everything, including the money she used to invest in lotto tickets, and she begins to realize that she is a steward, not the owner, of the resources that God has invested in her.  She may also realize that giving and gambling are the antithesis of each other, one being an act of obedience that places her financial needs in the hands of God and the other following the worldly system of taking the future into her own hands. 
As she studies Malachi 3:10-11 further, she also recognizes that God will cause her to prosper through working, whether on the job or caring for her family at home.  When she discovers this, she has uncovered the heart of what has been called the Protestant Work Ethic.  When she sees that all honest labor is honorable to God and she begins to see her work as something more important than simply earning a paycheck or the receiving the appreciation of her family, she will then seek to be more industrious, conscientious, and honest—doing it for God rather than men (Colossians 3:23-24).  She will then recognize that not only is buying lotto tickets wrong, it is unnecessary since she has seen that God has a better plan.
She, as an accountable member of the Body of Christ, has now come full circle on this issue.  Her actions have changed because her worldview and values have changed.  She now gives rather than gambles because she recognizes that her loving, all-powerful God, holds her in the palm of his hand, and her future is safe with him.  She is not alone.  The Lord is with her and the Body of Christ supports her.  The lotto lady has become a lady of the Lord.  Then she prays and the Holy Spirit identifies another issue in her life, and the process of discipleship continues.   

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