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Words — to live by

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Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am.
-John 12:26a

To those of us who call ourselves Christians, the words of Jesus are familiar. We’ve read them, sung them, and memorized them. We’ve made them into greeting cards, bumper stickers, and slogans. We’ve claimed our favorites, such as “I will be with you always,” and made them into life verses. We’ve taken the most powerful and condemning and used them against our enemies. But somewhere along the way, the radical words of Christ lost their true meaning. We’ve made them what we want them to be—cute, pithy sayings that make us feel good and, occasionally—when we’re in the mood for change—bring a slight challenge. Granted, the words of Jesus can bring encouragement and positive challenges, but if this is all we see them as we are missing the point. Jesus did not come to give us a pat on the back or a dagger to throw at our enemies. He came to give us someone to follow. He came, as he says later in John 12, to be a light. And if his life—the things he did—is the light, then his words are the instruction manual that reveals the point and purpose of that light and helps us to follow the light so that we can “become children of the light” (John 12:36). This means that his words are more than simple sayings, they are life-changing instructions that he meant for us to take seriously.

Jesus communicated the serious nature of his message through urgency and directness. He tells us that we must walk in the light now—while we still can—and makes it clear what will happen if we reject the message of light: “But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken” (John 12:48). In the verse prior, he defines reject, speaking of “those who hear me but don’t obey me.” Jesus expects that we actually live by the words he spoke. He expects that we put into practice the concepts that he taught. Grab a red letter Bible and read through the gospels. You may be surprised at what Jesus had to say and, if you’re like me, saddened by how little we live up to his teachings.

I think that all too often, Christians focus only on the beauty of Christ’s salvation, and forget about radical transformation. Christ did come to bring salvation, and don’t get me wrong, salvation is beautiful. Yet when I look around me I find that many Christians define salvation only as believing in Jesus, as being freed from and forgiven of sins. They feel that once a person has accepted Christ, he will have eternal life, and they seal the deal there. Yet Jesus says that we will be judged based on the words—the truth—that he spoke. These words came directly from God his father and what’s more, Jesus tells us: “And I know his commands lead to eternal life” (John 12:50a). Jesus does not say that believing he died leads to eternal life, or that forgiveness of sins leads to eternal life. He actually defines salvation prior to his death, focusing on following him. Jesus’ definition of salvation is more complete and comprehensive than the one most of us subscribe to. It involves discipleship, it involves becoming a child of light, and it means taking his words seriously. This encompasses belief in his death and forgiveness of sins, but takes it a step further, tapping into the way we live—asking that we live as he did. But we can’t do this if we do not know how he lived or what he said. And claiming to know is not enough. Many Christians claim to know but—as has been pointed out—don’t live in it. They choose the words of Christ that they like, but don’t take a close look at what Jesus true point was in those red letters.

When you look closely, Jesus point was that following him makes life messy. In John 15 he tells the disciples that the world will hate them if they truly follow his teachings. When was the last time you felt hated because you lived by the words of Christ? My personal goal is to re-discover the words of Christ, and then to set them into motion in my life. Words have meanings and when Jesus spoke, he had a point. I want to learn what his point was—not what I want it to be, or what popular opinion says it should be. My prayer is that God would help me to live as his disciple, even when it the world begins to hate me. And if I am living by the words of Christ, eventually, they will.

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Written by liferenewed

August 17, 2008 at 5:31 am

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