The good life as taught by Jesus
Willpower won’t turn a believer into a follower
Our churches are full of converts to Christianity who are not disciples of Jesus, according to Graeme Anderson, lead pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Sydney.
“We have churches filled with people who have heads filled with truths about God but lives that aren’t changed by Jesus,” Anderson tells Eternity.
“You can be someone who has accepted what Jesus has done in terms of the power of the cross over all sin and for all people. And you can step into that and remain unchanged people. I don’t think that brings our salvation into question, but I think it brings our experience of the life of Jesus into question. When this happens, we miss out on the opportunity to learn the best way of living.”
Anderson has been thinking through how to help people in church learn all of life from Jesus because only this is the path of true Christian discipleship, he believes.
Instead of “trying desperately to get it right, or at least not get it wrong,” the first step is to be confident that Jesus has the best things to say about the most important things in life.
While many of us accept that Jesus has the best things to say about death and life after death, Anderson says, “we actually don’t really believe that Jesus has the best things to say about the most important things in life.” This means that most preaching and discipleship in the modern Western church is inspired by the death of Jesus or the hope of heaven.
Discipleship is not about consciously choosing to be patient or kind, but it’s about having the Holy Spirit shape our character.
But Anderson has a bigger vision. Discipleship as Jesus taught it is not about doing right (or wrong) – something he identifies as the “What Would Jesus Do (WWJD) approach to discipleship” – but is an all-of-life formation of the person.
This means discipleship is not about consciously choosing to be patient or kind, but it’s about having the Holy Spirit shape our character as we take on the way of life of Jesus.
When a Christian realises they are not, for example, a patient person (or displaying any other fruit of the Spirit), Anderson says, “I can’t on my own become a patient person. I need the action of God in my life. I’m not going to become a patient person by focusing on my impatience; I’m not even going to become a patient person by focusing on patience. If I’m relying on my own determination, I can only do that for a finite amount of time and sooner or later everything goes to crap.
Grace is what powers the follower of Jesus every minute of every day
“I’m going to become a patient, kinder person as I allow the grace of God to shape me. And the way that God shapes me is by the Spirit of Jesus, which means that reshaping takes on the character of Jesus, and that’s the life of discipleship.
“All of that comes back to creating space for grace. What we need to do as disciples of Jesus is create space for grace. Grace is so much more than what gets us across the line from being unsaved to saved. Grace is what powers the follower of Jesus every minute of every day. Grace is God acting in life to do the things I can’t do on my own.”
There are many ways to create space for grace in your daily life, says Anderson, but it all comes back to intentionally making space for God to work in your life.
You can create space for grace through what are traditionally referred to as spiritual disciplines – prayer and Bible reading, but also silence and solitude, fasting and confession, celebration and worship and study. In themselves, these things achieve nothing, says Anderson; they just open the door for God to shape your character and you to grow as a disciple of Jesus.
And there are plenty of ways that Christians need to grow as disciples. For example, Anderson says pride is one of the biggest issues plaguing Australian churches.
“When the church is under pressure what comes out is a lust for control, not humble submitting servantship.” – Graeme Anderson
“In the West, we have this lust for control. We think we can control our lives with money and education. And then we just kind of spiritualise that in the church with trying to control our lives with rightness: right theology, right expression and right worship. But it’s still the same symptom of control, which comes back to pride.
“But the way of Jesus is the way of humble submitting servantship. We know how to act like servants and we know how to act humble, but when a church is under pressure, is it humble, submitting servantship that oozes out of the church? The whole thing around domestic and family violence recently in Australia would say that when the church is under pressure, what comes out is a lust for control, not humble, submitting servantship.”
But there is hope. First, look to Jesus. Then, says Anderson, “read the Sermon on the Mount, and then read it again. And then keep reading it until it takes root in your life. At the same time, probably read Psalm 23 and memorise it until it’s not that you know it by heart but that your heart knows it. Both those passages lead us so profoundly into the humility of Jesus.”
At the same time, Anderson encourages prayer – something along the lines of, “God, I want to experience this change; please would you lead me in the way of Jesus into that change.”
And then there are the practical ways of creating space for grace, for God to change us. Grace is not opposed to effort; it’s opposed to earning. We’ve been given an infinite amount of grace in this life, which means we can’t earn any more, but we participate with God in this life of grace.
Anderson is the author of a new book Follow: Experiencing Life with Jesus, which leads people through the Sermon on the Mount and asks the question, ‘what does it look like for me to learn all of life from Jesus?’
“The theory is that if we stop worrying about mission, evangelism, worship and community gathering, and instead place our focus on discipleship, what we will see flowing out of that is evangelism, mission, community and worship but in a renewed and sustainable way,” he says.