Discipleship: the call to surrender

When at first we identify as Christians, most of us have an incomplete or incorrect understanding of what it means to be a Christian. We may at first think it is a call to be good people, or an invitation to permanent happiness. We may be overwhelmed by the power of God, and expect that it will be used in our favour, or be conscious of our shortcomings, and hope that being Christians can help us improve and be our very best, possible even living perfect lives. But as the scales fall off, and we see the light of God, we begin to recognize that the call to be a Christian is not at all about our selfish desires: it is all about Christ.

Let us step back a minute, to the very beginning of time, where God made man in his own image, with the intent to have them rule over creation and be God’s representative on the earth. That was a moment of perfection – a chance for us to be the very best God wanted. But we ruined it. All of us – through Adam and Eve – ruined that moment of perfection and chose to go after what we felt we didn’t have (knowledge of good and evil), ignoring the very thing we had access to (the tree of life). Humanity became debased and the pursuit of selfish interests was born. We lost focus on pleasing God and became self-pleasers.

Fast forward several centuries and Jesus steps into the picture. He is the image of the living God: a 2.0 version of the man God had made, except this version did not fall short again. He succeeded where Adam failed. He resisted where Adam succumbed. He was the archetype of the new humanity God wanted to bring forward: the overcoming species that would fulfill man’s original purpose of ruling creation while remaining in submission to God. Where Adam tried to acquire his own wisdom by eating the fruit, Jesus rejected all advances and stayed true only to the words of His heavenly Father. Finally, the Son is here!

It was this Jesus that God set forward as an example of the new humanity. When he called men to follow Him, they often started out thinking like Adamic beings. They imagined He was another Adam – a conquering victor who subdues his enemies by instilling fear and imposing violence, who outshines his foes and obliterates his contradictors. But in a shocking act of divine irony – this Jesus surrendered himself to be killed by His enemies. The very one who had been promised as a Messiah, having manifested divine powers, allowed Himself to be crucified on a cross – the most demeaning form of capital punishment.

Hung on a cross for no sin of His, this Jesus began the path to “Saviourhood” by becoming like the worst of sinners. He laid down his life by faith, and the Father proved him to be the One by raising Him from the dead. Having risen, he again calls people to follow him and be like Him. But here lies the contradiction: we all love a powerful Saviour capable of healing the sick and raising the dead, feeding the hungry and giving hope to the hopeless. But who wants to follow, talk less of become like, a Saviour who debases Himself and serves like a slave, who takes punishment for sins he did not commit and blesses those who hurt Him?

Yet walking that path is the very essence of the new humanity. Deliverance from the debased nature within us begins from rejecting the very thing that makes us who are, so that we can embrace and begin to become like who He is. Neither our good works nor our evil actions are acceptable before God, because they all come from a fallen nature. Only the works that are done by the Son, through the Son and for the Son, are acceptable. We are not called to be better versions of ourselves. We are called to surrender our lives, take up His life and be like Him, to live by and take instructions from His Spirit. Not just once, but every day.

This is the call to discipleship: a call to surrender our lives and be like our Master Jesus. This is what it means to be a Christian – one whose life is modeled after the faith, love and service of Christ, who rejects every thought that originates outside of God, and depends on the written word of God as his daily bread. Being a Christian is not a cute thing to do or a faith to adopt in order to improve the world or our personal wellbeing. It is a call to an overhaul, a call to die daily and embrace new life continuously, a call to sacrifice, submission and service that translates to joy and hope not only for this life, but eternally.

The Home Stretch

Last Sunday, I observed my toddler drifting off to sleep on our way back from church. He’s always determined, it seems, to stay awake through the journey home, a journey of about 30 to 40 minutes depending on the traffic condition. On the drive home, I glance back a few times to check if he’s awake and believe it or not, he’s usually awake for at least two-thirds of the journey. But something ‘magical’ always happens in those last few minutes, and by the time we’re home – he’s fast asleep. It’s hardly ever more than 10 minutes of sleep that he gets, but he is never awake by the time we get home.

And that takes me to my point: finishing any effort – a marathon, a project, a course, whatever it is – always requires a commitment to see through what you started. Perseverance is a powerful virtue in the development of our character, one we must all strive for in our daily lives. It is the deliberate choice to follow through, no matter the adversity or difficulty we face. And it is often the last bit of effort we need to put in that seems to sap our energy the most. Like my son, it is those last few minutes of staying awake till we’re home that is the hardest. That is when the lure of sleep is greatest and determination to stay awake is greatly tested.

Whether learning a skill, getting an education, acquiring experience, building a relationship or working at any defined project, we must learn to persevere through the difficult seasons. Difficulties can help us persevere as we truly define what is more important to us – the ease we crave, or the goal we desire to achieve. While some efforts have a clearly defined end point, others are continuous, like building a relationship. But we must recognize that the gain we seek from nurturing those relationships do not come without persevering through difficult seasons.

As a Christian, perseverance is most important to us because the kingdom we are looking for is heavenly, not of this earth. What God has promised us are not things we can get in this world. So we wait with hope and walk by faith, trusting that what God has promised, he will perform. We look forward to the return of the Lord Jesus and the transformation of our bodies, knowing that His coming is nearer now than when we first believed. And we choose to live as strangers and foreigners in this world, ambassadors of another kingdom. We do all this, knowing that this age is rolling up to a close, and that we are on the home stretch to inheriting God’s eternal kingdom.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised (Heb 10:35, NIV)

But he who endures to the end shall be saved (Matt. 24:13, NKJV)

And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed (Romans 13:11, NIV)

Does God Understand?

Does Jesus really understand my struggles? Can he actually relate when I am torn between choices or struggling to obey God’s will? Does it make sense to Him or does He shake his head in disdain as I start to lean towards wrong choices? How do I receive His grace?

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Trusting Him in the Dark

Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God.
Isaiah 50:10 NIV

Sometimes, the righteous walk in the dark. They deal with uncertainty, feeling their way around and wondering if God has abandoned them. People who revere God and obey His word do find themselves in such places, not because of sin or disobedience, but because we live in a fallen world. But God uses those times for our good.

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Hosanna!

It’s Palm Sunday. That special (Sun)day set aside in the year to celebrate the triumphant entry of the Lord Jesus into Jerusalem, just a few days before His crucifixion. The irony of this sequence of events was perplexing for Jesus’ disciples at the time. But today, that turn of events is no longer surprising – we know it was by divine design.

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He Leadeth Me

He leadeth me, He leadeth me
By His own hand He leadeth me
His faithful follower I would be
For by His hand He leadeth me

The title of this post is drawn from an old hymn, whose refrain/chorus is the paragraph above. Today, I invite you to set your mind on the blessed thought that the Lord leads you, through every mountain and valley, through happy and sad, clear and confusing moments alike. Let us ponder together what this means for our lives and how we should respond to God’s leadership.

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Our Father

“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
Matthew 6:9 NIV

Our Father. Such grace! Faith in Jesus opens us up to a new relationship with the Almighty God – a Father-Child relationship. Before Jesus, the Jews worshipped and honoured God but never related with Him as their Father. To them, that would be laying a claim to Divinity. That claim to Divinity is what Jesus has, and offers to everyone who believes in Him – the right to be a child of God.

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Praise You in the Storm

Today’s post comes from one of my favourites songs by contemporary Christian band, Casting Crowns. The song’s theme is maintaining faith in God through difficult circumstances. Praising God is a powerful way to declare our faith especially when we go through difficult seasons. It is our way of saying “God, I trust You, and I know you’ve got me covered.”

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Songs in the Night

“People cry out under a load of oppression; they plead for relief from the arm of the powerful. But no one says, ‘Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night, who teaches us more than he teaches the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds in the sky?’ (Job 35:9‭-‬11, NIV)

The Bible verse above speaks to the struggles that people go through while often ignoring God, the One who is not only able to help them, but who has set them apart from animals by making them capable of higher reasoning. God, by this, already showed His willingness to help us in our times of need.

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Compelled by the Spirit

“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. Acts 20:22 (NIV)

Have you ever gone to a place solely on account of God’s will? Or maybe taken a decision only because you were persuaded it was what God wanted? An action without benefit or profit for you, one that you have to take at great risk to your life or possessions – would you ever take that kind of action? This is what we hear Paul say in the verse above. Let’s look a little closer…

Paul was bidding the elders of the Ephesian church farewell. Convinced he would never see them again, he gave them parting words, sharing his commitment to preaching the gospel as he went from place to place. Although he lived with a lot of uncertainties, Paul knew one thing was sure – prison and hardships awaited him as he spread the gospel. Yet he was was unwavering. He was set for the defence of the gospel, willing to complete his God-given task at any cost.

Just like his master Jesus, Paul was headed to Jerusalem, knowing the danger that awaited him there, but convinced that he was being led there by God in fulfillment of purpose. He was ready to embrace pain, hardship or even death, that could become his fate as he headed to Jerusalem. He no longer counted his life dear to himself neither did he strive to preserve it – he only lived to obey the Lord’s command and follow his bidding. Like Jesus, Paul was sold out to God – a willing slave.

The lesson is clear; the application is challenging; the demand, unwavering. God wants our all – a total commitment to obeying his commands and doing his will regardless of the cost to us. Although He works with us at every stage to accomplish his purpose, God always desires for us to become more yielded by the day, letting go of everything until like Paul, we too can say, with full devotion and complete sincerity: “I consider my life worth nothing to me”.

Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 21:13 (NIV)

Further Reading: Acts 20:17-24, 21:10-14