Discipleship: Talking The Talk

discipleshipbonhoeferFourth in a series on discipleship in the church.  See part 1, part 2, part 3.

In my last post I said that the process of a disciple becoming like the teacher involves at minimum two things: talking about the things the teacher talks about, and doing the things the teacher instructs the disciple to do.  The first has to do with making sure we properly understand and pass on the central message of the teacher, the second with obedience to that message.

My guess is that while most Christians feel probably feel they are not near as faithful and obedient to the message of Jesus as they should be, they at least understand and accept the his central teachings.

I’m not so sure.

It’s not enough to talk about the things the teacher talks about, but it seems to me that a disciple will talk about them in the same proportion that the teacher talks about them

What are the the things that Evangelicals have been talking about for a long time (and still are):

  • Getting to Heaven after we die
  • Abortion
  • Homosexuality
  • Traditional family values
  • The place of Christianity in the public sphere

Maybe I left something off, but certainly all of these are high on the list.  These are all important issues and we ought to be talking about them.

But the simple fact is that Jesus didn’t talk about them. Some of the things we talk about a lot, Jesus didn’t talk about at all.

 

He could have—they were there. Both Greek culture and Roman culture were evident if not pervasive in Jesus’ day, and the Greeks and Romans weren’t exactly models of traditional family values. Homosexuality wasn’t uncommon, and abortion, child abandonment and even infanticide were practiced in the wider culture of the ancient near east (as well as other cultures around the world).

Yet Jesus didn’t address them. I’m not saying he would have supported them, just that he didn’t take the opportunity to talk about them, at least not as recorded in the four gospels.

And yet we talk about them all the time.

So what did Jesus talk about?

Well, the funny thing is that I’ve been asking Christians that question for the last few years, and the truth is that most Christians don’t seem to know. For the last few years when I’ve addressed Christian groups, I’ve asked this question: “What is the one thing that Jesus talked about more than anything else?” I’ve asked Bible study groups, I’ve asked it in my sermons, I’ve even asked groups of pastors this simple question, and I’ve never once received the correct answer.

What would you say?

And I tell them, the thing he talked about the second most isn’t even close. Jesus talked about one thing way more than he talked about anything else.

The most common answers I get are “salvation,” “forgiveness, “grace,” “heaven and hell,” “money,” or “faith”.   And while it’s true that Jesus talked about all of these things, they aren’t what he talked about the most.

The answer is the kingdom of God. (Go ahead and slap your forehead.  If that was actually your answer, then slap a gold star on your forehead.)

Jesus talked about the kingdom of God all the time, way more than he talked about anything else. In fact, whenever Jesus spoke about salvation, forgiveness, grace, heaven and hell, money, faith or anything else, it was always in the context of talking about or explaining the kingdom of God. It’s really all he ever talked about.

And we don’t talk about the kingdom of God much at all. It’s just not a part of our theology, our ecclesiology, or our missiology.

And most people, when they do talk about the kingdom of God it treat it as another way of talking about heaven.  But the kingdom of God is not a synonym for heaven. It includes heaven, but it’s not heaven. Jesus taught us to pray that his kingdom would come: that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The kingdom of God is a place of:

  • Peace and non-violence—that whole learn-war-no-more, swords-into-plowshares thing;
  • Fairness and true justice, biblical justice—not revenge, but renewal and restoration;
  • Radical forgiveness;
  • Love for God and for others—all others, including our enemies;
  • Faithfulness to everything that Jesus has told us to do.

Which leads to the second thing that being a disciple or apprentice to Jesus means: that we actually do the things that Jesus told us to do. 

More on that next.

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