Doctrine of the Last Things (Part 13)September 30, 2014 Time: 00:25:15
The Character of a Disciple of Christ
Today we reach something of a milestone. We come to the final class session of our Defenders course. It has taken us about three and a half years to get to this point. Now we finish out this class. So it is with a sense of nostalgia as well as satisfaction that we finally reach the end of our course. I wanted to say a few words about the class by way of reflection as we close.
The first purpose of the Defenders class, if you look at our purpose statement, is the following: To train Christians to understand, articulate, and defend basic Christian truths. All three of those words are important.
First, to understand Christian truth. We want to have a grasp as profound as we can of Christian doctrine – what the Christian world and life view teaches. So in this class we’ve tried to explain and elucidate various concepts that underlie the Christian faith. We’ve surveyed the different views that the Christian church has upon these various doctrines. If anything, I hope that this class has opened your mind to the diversity of perspectives that are represented in contemporary and historic Christianity on these different doctrines.
But it is also important that we not merely understand these doctrines but that we are also able to articulate them. We want to be able to explain them clearly. In this class I’ve tried to show you how to express these doctrines in an accurate way that will communicate them to the people that you want to talk with. I hope that some of you will take the opportunity to become teachers yourselves and to lead a Bible study group or a Sunday school class where you will be teaching this material to others.
Then also to defend these doctrines. Along the way, as we’ve surveyed Christian doctrine (from the Doctrine to Revelation to the Doctrine of the Last Things), we’ve also looked at how one might defend these doctrines. What arguments and evidence might be given in support of these various Christian truth claims? You will remember that one of the qualifications that Paul lays down for an elder in the church (in order to serve as an elder in the church), he says that you need to be able to teach Christian doctrine and to confute those who contradict it. I think we all want to aspire to that kind of maturity even if we never actually serve as elders in the church. So being able to teach Christian doctrine and confute or refute objections to it, I think, will be something that is greatly to be desired.
That is the very first purpose of this class that we’ve tried to fulfill.
The second purpose of the class, you may remember, is to reach out with the Gospel to those who have not yet come to Christ, always being ready to give a defense to anyone who should ask for a reason for our hope. I hope that many of you will avail yourselves of the opportunity to bring a non-believing friend to class. As I said earlier, this is a place where we welcome a diversity of perspectives, not only among Christians – we have Catholics, we have Baptists, we have Pentecostals, we have all sorts of Christians represented in class – but also non-believers as well.
Finally, third, to be an incendiary fellowship of mutual encouragement and care. In a large megachurch like Johnson Ferry Baptist, you are going to really get lost if you don’t have a church within the church that you can identify as a small body of people that you can get to know, that you can care for, pray for, and who will care for and pray for you. That, I think, is something that we are building in the Defenders class.
And yet, having said that, in a sense we have only scratched the surface of Christian discipleship. Someone shared some time ago with me what Jesus actually said in the Great Commission that he left his disciples with in Matthew 28:19-20. Jesus said,
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.
Notice what Jesus said we are to teach as we make disciples of the nations. We are to teach them to obey all that Jesus has commanded us. As I reflected on that, it hit me forcefully that I am not doing that at all in this Defenders class. I am not teaching you what Jesus commanded. We haven’t really looked at the teachings of Jesus about the ethical and spiritual life, about the kind of person that you are to be as a Christian follower of Christ, much less have I taught you to obey those commands. To do that you would need some sort of a discipleship group like the twelve disciples where Jesus took apart these twelve men and poured his life into them and taught them to obey his commands. He did not just teach them the commands, but he taught them what it means to live an obedient life of a disciple, of one of his followers. I haven’t even begun to do such a thing as that in this Defenders class. In that sense, I have a real sense of inadequacy, frankly. I won’t say failure, given our limited objectives, but I am just so impressed with how little we’ve really done in one sense about building disciples. We haven’t but scratched the surface of what it means to be a Christian disciple.
It seems to me that the paramount thing that Jesus has commanded us to do and that we need to remember is found in Matthew 6:33 in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” Jesus said don’t focus on your needs or these other material concerns. Focus on the Kingdom of God and its righteousness. This, I think, ought to be the heart cry of every Christian disciple – the Kingdom of God, his reign in your life, and its righteousness that attends it. What kind of character you are building. What kind of person are you becoming to bear the name of Christ as a Christian – to be his disciple?
What does a disciple of Christ look like? Turn to 2 Peter 1:3-11 where we have a very interesting list of the sort of character qualities that ought to describe a Christian disciple. There Peter says,
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.
So the goal here is to escape the corruptions that are in the world because of sin, and to partake of the divine nature – to become like God himself. So here is his advice – look at this advice:
For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue,
So, you have your faith in Christ, and now you are going to add to this certain character qualities that ought to characterize a disciple of Christ. The first one is what he calls “virtue,” that is to say, moral excellence. You should have a virtuous character; be a good person. You are to have moral excellence.
and virtue with knowledge,
So in addition to virtue, we will supplement our faith with knowledge. This is obviously not intended to be just any sort of knowledge – not knowledge of Russian literature or agriculture or quantum mechanics. He is talking here about Christian doctrine, about the knowledge of God’s truth. Look at Ephesians 4:14. Paul says, “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.” Part of Christian maturity is to have doctrinal discernment so that you won’t be carried about by every wave of doctrine or teaching that comes along. You will have a clear grasp, a clear knowledge, of Christian doctrine. Then Peter goes on to say,
and knowledge with self-control,
That is to say, self-mastery. You should have mastery over your self. What this will mean will be, for example, self-mastery over your bodily passions and appetites over the lusts and the appetites that are inherit in our fleshly body. These are so powerful, obviously, that it takes tremendous self-mastery for people to keep these bodily passions in check and to live a holy and righteous life, and also your appetites and to keep those under your mastery. Have you arrived at this point in your Christian life that you can say, “I am the master of my own body, of my own flesh; I control its appetites and its desires?” I find that these appetites and passions are so powerful that if you allow them free reign they are really impossible to control. So the better thing to do is to do what Paul says – to mortify these earthly passions and appetites that are in you by avoiding things that would arouse them and stimulate them. For men I think that would mean not going to movies that have sexually explicit material in it. If you are having a problem with obesity, it would mean not having certain foods in the house that could be a temptation to you. If you avoid these things and shun the temptation then these sorts of temptations will be easier to manage and self-control will be more feasible.
Another aspect of self-control would be control over your own temper. It is easy, especially for some people, to become very angry at others and they lose their temper. This is a loss of self-control; a loss of mastery over yourself. Also one’s tongue – how do you use your speech? Do you glorify Christ in the way you talk, or do you say things that you later regret and wish you hadn’t said? Why? Because in a moment of a loss of self-control your tongue got away from you and you began to speak in ways that you shouldn’t. Or the desires that you might have. Our desires are not to be for earthly material goods like riches, wealth, big houses, and fancy clothes. Our desires are to be spiritually oriented and to be focused upon those eternal values that will last forever, and not to be sucked in by American consumerism and materialism and greed.
Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:25 says that we should “exercise self-control in all things” in the way that an athlete exercises self-control. Undoubtedly what Paul is thinking of in the context here is the Greek Olympians. The Greek Olympic athletes exercise self-control so that they might win their event. In the same way that an athlete in training for the Olympics is master of himself and exercises self-control, so we as Christians need to exercise self-control over our lusts, appetites, temper, tongue, and our desires.
Next Peter goes on to say:
and self-control with steadfastness,
Or as I call it perseverance. That is to say, endurance. We are in this for the long run. The promise of the Scripture is that he who endures to the end will be saved. Remember Jesus’ parable of the sower where some of the plants received the Word of God, they spring up, but then they wither away because they had no root. Others become overtaken by the thorns of materialism and the desire for worldly things and are choked out. But we are to be disciples that are in it for the long run – to persevere. So Peter says add to your character, perseverance. Next he says,
and steadfastness with godliness,
That is to say, we are to have a spiritual orientation. In 1 Timothy 6:6-11, Paul says,
There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.
This is a real warning for us, especially in an American culture that is so consumeristic and materialistic and says that the dream is to have a chicken in every pot and everyone is a home owner on his own. Those are not Christian values. Christian values are godliness, to have a spiritual focus, to let your life be focused on spiritual things rather than material things and material advancement.
Then Peter says,
and godliness with brotherly affection,
Brotherly affection or kindness toward others is to be exemplified first and foremost within the body of Christ to our fellow Christians. In Romans 12:9-10 Paul says this: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” We ought to be cheerleaders for one another and to be seeking the good of one another. We are not fighting against one another or jealous of one another, but seeking one another’s good.
In 1 John 3:16-20, John says this:
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.
By this we shall know that we are of the truth, and reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
So John says we are to be liberal in giving the goods that we have to help brothers in need and caring for them in action.
The last quality that Peter says that we should have:
and brotherly affection with love.
This is the agape love that characterizes God himself. Paul describes this sort of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Paul says,
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
As a Christian, we ought to be able to put our name in the place of the word “love” there. “I” am patient and kind, “I” am not jealous or boastful, “I” am not arrogant or rude, “I” am not insisting on my own way, etc. When you do that it is really convicting, isn’t it? Because we know how fall short we fall of this standard. But this is a description of what a Christian disciple ought to be like.
There is one quality that ought to be characteristic of all of these. Peter says make every effort to do this, and this will be the Biblical quality of diligence. That is to say we are to be zealous, steady, and relentless in pursuing these things. We need to be diligent in adding to our Christian faith these sorts of character qualities that befit a disciple of Christ.
I had intended to say something more about this, but we are out of time. I will have to reserve this to next time. I have some more thoughts to share about what it means to be a disciple of Christ and how we might go about inculcating this kind of character into us.