A recent “perspective” article appeared in our Baptist Messenger, our denominational rag. Our Executive reflected on the state of the church after reading John R.W. Stott and John MacArthur Jr. I loved the image he used. Some make commitments to follow Christ that are simply veneer. Other make commitments to follow Christ that are like solid oak – wood through and through.
Dallas Willard finds part of the problem being in our presentation. In a talk given on the subject of spiritual formation, Willard suggests when we present Jesus as the way to have your needs met a person must decide which need and then Jesus is simply another way to have a need met. He suggests an entirely different response to the gospel when a person recognizes their rebellion and discovers the mercy of God and begins to live in the grace of God. The second person tends to “go on”, the first seems to always look for ways to keep getting their own needs met.
I would like to see the oak image pushed further. We still seem to get caught up in a two phase process of coming to Christ. We profess and then we follow. The Scriptures begin with folllowing and then confession. For example, Peter began following long before we find his great confessoin at Caesarea Philippi. Discipleship is made to appear optional and so do those spiritual practices that accompany growing in grace. Yet, Jesus’ call to disciple-making does not make “going on” an option for those who would confess Christ. Even in the book of Acts, those who came to faith had been following God, they had the wrong understanding of the purpose and plan of God. See Peter’s sermon. You also find the phrase “God-fearers” these are seekers who are following God the best way they know how and then hear the gospel of Christ and the Spirit of God puts it together for them.
There really are not two stages. You follow or you don’t. I like what Willard says, “It is a matter of intentionality.” We are too fearful of souding like we are working for approval. We are not working for approval but we are following Paul’s admonitions to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” and giving to his word of having a plan for spiritual development being more valuable than a physical workout plan.
Let’s push the image further … Jesus did.