Christianity: Radical from the Beginning
If you are like me, you learn a lot of things that excite you about God, but following through in obedience after the initial excitement wears off proves difficult. You hear God’s clear call on your life only to discover years have passed with seemingly little progress toward that end.
Or maybe you embarked on your journey of obedience and find insurmountable obstacles blocking your path, challenging your convictions and blurring your memory of God’s working in your life. This precarious position tests your faith as the world’s siren call beckons you to return to Vanity Fair. God’s call becomes a whisper as you begin to doubt a once clear calling.
A Manageable God
Maybe the problem you or I have is that we want a manageable God. When we hear Jesus’ voice we desire to follow him, but we want to bring along a heavy burden—a bag packed with all the things we need to help God accomplish the task. We bring our own refreshments, our own entertainment and our own security blankets. Perhaps worst of all, we bring our own timetable.
But we know deep down inside our soul that following Jesus looks very different. Following Jesus requires surrender. It requires trust.
Radical from the Beginning
Where did Christians get the idea that Christianity is just one more thing to add to the “good life?” When did radical faith become quaint and eccentric and optional? How have so many of us come to the conclusion that we can follow Jesus and continue on with our usual way of life?
Christianity was radical from the beginning. When Jesus called his disciples to follow him, they left their nets immediately. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told his disciples to rejoice at persecution rather than hide the light of the Gospel so as to avoid trials. He called them to a higher standard of morality, one that went beyond actions to reveal sinful thoughts and intents of the heart. Jesus instructed them to love their enemies and to do nothing for the reward of man. He taught them to pray for God’s will to be done and to expect God to provide for them each day.
Jesus commanded his disciples to store up treasure in heaven rather than treasure on earth. He told them they could not serve both God and money. He explained why they should not worry about anything because God cares for them, but to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus admonished them to get their eyes off other people so that they could deal with their own sin. He exhorted his disciples to be among the few who enter the narrow gate and travel the narrow road that leads to life.
Jesus warned them about false teachers and how to recognize them by their fruit. He warned them that only a persevering, committed faith endures the final judgment.
Jesus calls and instructs us in the same radical way.
Ramifications of the Sermon On the Mount
D.A. Carson sums up the ramifications of the Sermon on the Mount for anyone who desires to follow Jesus:
Nothing could be more calamitous than to meditate long and hard on Matthew 5:1–7:12 and then to resolve to improve a little. The discipleship which Jesus requires is absolute, radical in the sense that it gets to the root of human conduct and to the root of relationships between God and men. A person either enters the kingdom or he does not. He walks the road that leads to life, or he walks the road that leads to destruction. There is no third alternative. Nothing, nothing at all, could have more crucial significance than following Jesus. Even if today this is far from being a universally admitted truth, yet one day all men without exception shall confess it, some to their everlasting grief.1
Should we not exhort and encourage one another to follow Jesus in a radical faith?
…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. —Hebrews 12:1
I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.
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- D.A. Carson, The Sermon on the Mount: An Evangelical Exposition of Matthew 5-7 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1978), 122. Citation is to the paperback edition, 1982.