A tough call
If you’re reading this, there’s a strong likelihood that you’ve heard of – and possibly even read – the book in the Bible called John’s Gospel. It’s a book that contains some of the most famous words Jesus spoke. Phrases like ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ and ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ are both found in there (John 11:25 and John 14:6 respectively). John’s account of his time spent with Jesus also includes arguably the most famous Bible verse, John 3:16: “This is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
Many familiar and famous words. But it’s some lesser known words contained in John’s account that got me thinking today. In chapter 6, Jesus is teaching a whole host of people who’ve followed him for a little while. They’ve seen first hand Jesus work great miracles among them, but they’re struggling with his teaching. We read that “At that point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him.”
Jesus’ teachings were tough for those who heard them. So tough, in fact, that no small number just bailed. Called it a day and went back to how things were before. This flies in the face of a popular misconception that we kind of ‘add Jesus’ to our life in order to get to heaven. Instead, Jesus invites those who would follow him to come to the end of themselves and enter a new way of living. His invitation is free, but it’s also costly. You see, Jesus teaches that following him will affect our whole lives. It’ll impact upon our sexual ethics and our financial dealings with others. It’ll reframe our priorities so that we pursue and promote justice for those we find it hard to understand and appreciate. It reaches into out very ‘inner person’ and confronts our emotional life, equating angry responses with murder and highlighting the ugliness of our heart attitudes that spills out in the words we speak. Jesus’ invitation is to a life of self-denial and self-sacrifice, spurning fame and glory in preference of his repute. No longer thinking of self first, and giving a different priority to others.
As long as we run with the idea that we ‘just add Jesus’, we’ll only ever paddle at ankle deep. If you want to experience the fullness of life that Jesus promises (coincidentally, a phrase also found in John’s Gospel), it involves giving over your whole life to follow him.
I remember when I used to work in Probation (some unkindly refer to these days as me having a “proper job” 🙂), aspects of the Service were privatised. The new company who were taking over didn’t expect that working life would carry on the same, and no-one notice any difference. No, there were new signs put up, new letterheads, new names, new ways of doing things, new structures, new priorities. ‘Under new management’ meant exactly that – everything had to change. The old had gone, the new had come. For me, some of the new way of doing things felt odd because of how long I’d done things a certain way and for certain reasons. My priorities had to catch up with the new world order. The way I acted as a Probation Officer needed to change to reflect the new management.
I watched as some colleagues struggled with the changes. Some were well-intentioned and I kind of knew that with a lot of grace and persistence, they’d get to doing things the right way. But others weren’t inclined to embrace the change. The old was familiar and easy. The new required too much of them. They wouldn’t make it in the brave new world. And I watched as a whole line of colleagues over a period of time decided that it wasn’t for them. The change was too much, the price too high.
So it is with Jesus, now as it was at the time John was watching on. Jesus doesn’t merely invite us to incremental change, nor to gradual self-improvement. He invites us to live under new management. The call is a high one, the demands are beyond living up to. For some, when they look at Jesus’ teachings, they turn away and lose interest because it’s all too much. As if the list of teachings above weren’t enough, elsewhere in his teaching, Jesus repeated some words that had been spoken many years before, when he told his followers to be perfect just as God himself is perfect. Sounds quite off-putting, doesn’t it? Aiming for something that by our nature we’re destined to fall short of? Let me share some very good news. For those who genuinely trust in Jesus as their source of hope, whenever God looks at you, He sees Jesus’ perfection. Jesus performed perfectly, so that you and I with our shortfalls and imperfections could be accepted by a perfect God. And now, the changed life that Jesus requires and calls us to is the very thing he grants us the power to live. He promised that he would give the power – by the Holy Spirit – to those who sincerely wanted to follow him.
So we’re invited to a life that’s higher and more fulfilling than we probably routinely experience, but to those who will ask, God will give the Spirit to grant us the power to become more like Jesus; that we would live the way he lived, think the way he thought and love the way he loved. It’ll clash with our ingrained preference for comfortable and familiar. It’ll impinge upon our sense of being settled and in control, but we won’t have to settle for paddling, when we can fully partake in the adventure Jesus calls us to.
So, what’s stopping you? As you read this, do you recognise that part of it sounds like a good idea, but at the same time you register a reluctance? Try and put your finger on what’s stopping you diving in. What do you fear giving up or losing out on?