6 min. to read.
God has a plan for your life, but it might not be what you think.
God’s plan for you is not that you’d be real good. It’s not that you’d join a certain religious club. It’s not that you’d travel to Burundi to be a missionary, or go to a certain college, or marry that one guy.
Jesus calls you to grow up.
That’s what Ephesians 4 says, that we would mature in the image of Christ.(Be clear, if you’re listening to God and obeying, your life may take you into unexpected places, relationships and communities. But these things are not God’s big plan. They are just the context in which God shapes you.)
Galatians 5:22-23 tells us what maturing will look like. We’re going to find ourselves becoming more loving and joyful, more peaceful and patient, more kind, good and faithful, more gentle and more self-controlled.
Sound good? How would your life be if those qualities were more of who you are? Now imagine that you didn’t even have to muscle up those things. Imagine that they came more naturally to you.
This isn’t an untouchable ideal. This is what the Bible says can happen for you. So how does this happen? One clue comes in the word the New Testament uses to describe the people who follow Jesus. You might be surprised to learn that it’s not Christian.
A Christian, a Believer or an Apprentice?
The most common word used to describe the folks who believe that Jesus is God, and who try to follow His teachings, is Christian. That word is used to describe everything from churches to plumbers and music. But that is not a word that Jesus chose! Christian is only used 3 times in the New Testament. It’s a word that people outside the church came up with.
Another common word used is believer. That word is used 28 times in the New Testament. It implies that the most important part of our identity is what beliefs we hold. Beliefs matter, but this is also not the word Jesus chose.
The word Jesus chose, and that is used 260 times in the New Testament, is disciple. That’s an old church word. We don’t use it much, so we don’t have a good mental image for it, other than those of the Bearded-Men-Wearing-Robes-and-Sandals variety.
The Greek word translated disciple is mathetes. It means someone who commits themselves to a master in order to learn that master’s practical knowledge and way of life. A better English translation would be the word apprentice.
Following Jesus means being a Apprentice
For most of human history, apprenticeship was how trades and knowledge were passed down. A young boy who wanted to become a blacksmith become an apprentice to the local master blacksmith. His life radically changed.
He went to live in the Blacksmith’s house, working side-by-side with the master. He started out doing the grunt work, picking up the trash, cleaning up at the end of the day. But the most important thing is that he was always able to watch the master at work. He didn’t learn his trade in a classroom. He didn’t learn it from books and lectures. He learned it by being with the master, watching the master, emulating the master, and being taught side-by-side.
This is exactly the tone that the word disciple carries. When we choose to follow Jesus, we become his apprentices.
Jesus calls us to follow Him. He wasn’t asking us to use his name as a team flag. He wasn’t asking us to just believe new information about him. He was inviting us into a whole new way of living, where we learn and grow.
Specifically, we learn how to be with Jesus in our daily lives, so that we can learn from Jesus how to live.
Be clear on this. We’re not learning to *be* Jesus. Jesus was God and we are not. Jesus could heal people and know people’s hearts, and we generally don’t.
We are learning to live how Jesus would live if Jesus were in our shoes.[note This is not the classic “What Would Jesus Do” question. Most people take this to mean, “What should I do in this situation if I were Jesus?” That question brings up two useless answers.
First, “Well, if I were Jesus, I’d just do a miracle!” and second “Jesus would never be in this situation because…” Both of these responses fail on the question of Jesus’ Divinity and our lack of it. Instead, the question to ask is: “How would Jesus live, if Jesus were me—in my exact situation, my story, my weaknesses? How do I, in this moment, live out Jesus’ kingdom life?”] We won’t ever learn to do everything Jesus did. But we are meant to learn to do everything we do in the manner in which he did everything he did.
We follow Jesus into a new life, not into a religion.
If that was all too complicated, here’s the short version: Following Jesus means learning from Jesus how to lead my life, my whole real life.
Note that I didn’t say we learn from Jesus how to lead our religious life. That’s on purpose. The religious practices we engage in are only there to help us be more open and available to God’s work of growing us. They create space for us to hear what Jesus has to say about the rest of our lives, and the world we live in.
The obvious question, of course, is how do we do this? My next post will dig into that. Today, I leave you with this:
If your Christianity has been mostly about beliefs, it’s time to add some actions. If your faith has mostly been about what happens after you die, it’s time to live. It’s time to try on the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus said is present now.
This is not about works. It’s not about proving something. It’s not about oughts and shoulds. It’s about acting on your intention to follow Jesus, so that we can know Jesus more fully, love Jesus more deeply, and be a part of Jesus mission to bless and serve the world.