“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)
I broke one of my cardinal rules the other day. I engaged in a political debate on social media. My reasons for never getting involved in these debates are two fold. One is that, while I have definite ideas and impressions about political candidates, I have to pastor everyone in the church. I’ve seen far to many good relationships turn sour over such arguments, so I tend not to get into them. I don’t mind supporting ideas and causes, but not a candidate, at least publicly. The other reason is that arguing political candidates on social media is a huge waste of time. I’ve followed many threads and not once have I seen anyone’s opinion changed. I haven’t even seen any even modified a bit.
But the other day a friend put up a post, why they were endorsing a particular candidate. One of the reasons they were supporting this person was because they considered them a Christ-follower. While I stay out of public debates on political candidates, I feel calling someone a Christ follower puts them in my wheelhouse. In short, I disagreed, my friend took offense and it pretty much went downhill as you would expect it to.
My friend argued, with merit, that we can’t judge if someone is a follower of Christ when we don’t really know them. There is some truth to that. My counter argument was if indeed this person was a follower of Christ, wouldn’t we see more of Jesus in them? While one may not be able to judge what a person believes from a distance, one can discern their proximity to Jesus by their behavior. I wasn’t arguing if they believed in Jesus. I was arguing that to be called a Christ follower, what we might call a disciple, ought to involve more than belief. It ought to bring a radical transformation of heart and life.
And that’s where many of us struggle. We are fine with belief. We believe things about Jesus and Christianity. We can stand up on any given Sunday, recite the Aposlte’s Creed with polygraphic assurance. But, as James would remind us, the devil can do the exact same thing. (James 2:19). Belief is not enough. To truly be a disciple of Jesus means we allow Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit to do the difficult, often painful work of transforming us into the shape and the image of Jesus.
I am reminded of the story Billy Graham told many years ago of a Gangster who came to one of his crusades in Chicago. Convicted by how God moved through Graham’s words he came forward and accepted Christ into his heart. Afterward he was able to arrange a meeting with Rev. Graham. As they talked, he was astounded to hear that Graham actually assumed that the gangster would leave his life of crime! It had never occurred to the criminal that giving his life to Jesus meant that he couldn’t also be in the mob and continue his illicit businesses. You see he wanted the belief without the transformation.
But, really are we all that different than the mobster? Many of us want belief and assurance of heaven without the radical transformation now. So we follow Jesus, but we follow from a distance less something might happen to us.
The people in Corinth had the same problem. while they believed, the way they lived and treated one another clearly demonstrated a lack of transformation. This is why Paul reminds them that when he came he told them of one thing, and one thing only. Christ. and Him crucified. Paul says I came to bring you the only thing that matters. Jesus the Son of God was crucified for your sins, rose from the dead and defeated all the powers of hell destroying both sin and death. Because of Jesus, you can live a different life.
This is the message of John Wesley, who went into the fields and the coal mining camps looking at the forgotten of the world, the refuse of society and preached to them a new life. Wesley truly believed that the grace of Jesus Christ could transform anyone into the image of Jesus. He championed more than belief. He championed transformation.
That’s our heritage as Christians and as United Methodists. It’s time we reclaim it again. Because what will change the world and redeem it is not a political faction, but the church radically transformed by Jesus taking his light to a darkned world.
Are you a Christ-follower? Or merely a believer? Come and follow Him again. Allow your life to change the world around you. Follow Jesus, and follow Him closely. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><