Chapter 6: RESPONSE
Why the good news means we trust and follow. Why we have help along the way. Why the good news never gets old.
It started out as a great idea but it ended up nearly stranding us on the mountain.
I was with four friends on an evening hiking trip. One of the guys kept remarking about how great the view was, and it was, but I stopped caring about the view after I stopped being able to breathe. Two of the guys hiked frequently, another was a solid hiker, and another friend and I rarely hiked. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem but we were chasing daylight.
My city is split by a mountain in the middle and there are several trails running from one side to the other. This means you can have access to real, craggy, challenging hiking trials within a few minutes drive. We decided to start our hike right after work, since a couple guys couldn’t get off any earlier. Not a problem, we thought, since we should be able to do the hike with time to spare before the sun set. We all laughed when we heard stories on the local news of people getting airlifted off the mountain. Hikers would underestimate the trail, or themselves, and they would still be up there as darkness fell. They’d slip or get hurt, or just plain get lost in the dark. We were sure that wouldn’t happen to us.
The first half hour was great. Then I started to worry.
I realized that I had a few problems: First, I didn’t know the trail and never bothered looked it up so I was totally dependent on our two guides. Second, even while I was on the trail I sometimes lost sight of the trail. This wasn’t a trail in the woods with a clear path through the trees, but a dirt trail through more dirt and rock. Third, if I went at the pace my body wanted to go I’d finish at approximately midnight. Normally I’m the kind of person who likes to have a backup plan. But as I ran across a narrow trail on the side of the mountain I realized I had no backup plan.
When one of the guys remarked that we were about to hit the halfway point I seriously thought about turning back. How reliable were these guys guiding us? They were good friends but were they decent guides? Did I trust them enough to set the pace and keep the trail, with no mistakes, so we could get home that night?
I decided to gut it out. For about the last hour I stopped thinking. I simply looked at the backpack of the guy in front of me and followed. Where he ran, I ran. Where he used foot and hand holds, I used the same holds. If they stopped for a water break, I stopped. If they sprinted through a section, so did I. As the daylight faded all I could do was focus in on where they were and what they were doing.
I’ll spare you the suspense and spoil the ending of the story: I made it.
Usually I trust people or things in life up to a point, but I often don’t fully trust them. I trust my backup plan. Or I trust I’ll figure it out another way. Many times in life you can get by doing that. But sometimes you have to trust something completely. On the hike it was simple: either I trusted my friends completely or I didn’t. There was no in between. Trusting them meant fixing my eyes and running hard. It meant giving up on trying to figure my own way back down the mountain. It meant going all in.
Jesus is one of those things you can’t trust halfway. If all that we’ve been saying about Jesus is true then our response is simple: we trust him completely and follow him.
Grace and Faith
All that I’ve said about Jesus and what he’s done is true but it’s not automatically applied to us. We must do something to receive this new life. This is a gift. But we must do what Scripture says to receive this gift.
Romans 5 says all this is “to be received by faith.” We look to Jesus. We believe that he’s the person he claimed to be. We place our trust in him for salvation.
I’ve heard it described this way: You can have a chair in your house. You can think it’s beautiful. You believe that it’s sturdy enough to sit on. You can display it for other people. But that’s all a very different thing from sitting in the chair. You must trust it with your whole weight. That’s faith. You must believe enough to sit down.
Sometimes we overly complicate what it means to become a Christian. When I put my faith in Jesus it was very simple. I thought I was a good person but in an instant God helped me see the truth: I wasn’t a good kid. I was a kid who was self-righteous toward others but still had more than enough private sins of my own to make me ashamed. I realized I was a sinner, I realized I needed a Savior, I realized Jesus was that Savior, so I said simply, “Please save me.” I couldn’t do it, only Jesus could. Faith receives what Jesus has done and places its trust in Jesus.
This receiving by faith is simple and wonderful, but it is also hard.
It’s hard because receiving the gift of Jesus means admitting some radically uncomfortable things: It means admitting that we are sinners who are clearly condemned before God. It means admitting that there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves. It means admitting the way we’ve lived our lives is useless and foolish and that we want to follow Jesus now.
But it is utterly wonderful. It means that you can finally find forgiveness from God, that your sins can be completely and totally wiped away forever. And that after all this happens our relationship with God can be restored once and for all. It means that the longings in our souls, placed there by God, can be fulfilled by God again.
If you’ve never put your faith in Christ, if you’ve never committed your life to follow Jesus, then this is the invitation I promised you at the beginning. I believe that a relationship with God is what your heart longs for. I believe that you long to know that when you stand before God you won’t be condemned but embraced. I believe that this is all possible because of what Jesus offers. Place your faith in him. Turn to follow him.
This means you let go of a lot of things and trust one thing.
When I began indoor rock climbing I had a problem letting go. I would never totally place my weight on the next hold because I was still trying to hold on to the other holds I could more easily see. There was one route in particular I could never get past. I had to let go of everything else and reach for the next hold, above my head where I couldn’t see it, but I couldn’t do it. Finally, one of the guys at the indoor climbing gym said, “You just gotta trust it. Just let go of everything else and trust it.”
Placing your faith in Christ is feel like that. It can seem scary to think of letting go of everything else and trusting your hold on Christ. But there are many who have climbed this way before. Grab hold of Christ. Trust that he is who he claimed, trust that he paid for your sins on the cross. Trust him enough to turn from sin and follow him. He will more than hold the weight of your life and your eternity.
At the very beginning of the gospel of Matthew Jesus finds two brothers who were fishermen and simply says, “Follow me” and that “immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Matt 4:19-20). We think that’s strange but we don’t know half of it. He wasn't asking them to come talk to him, he was asking them to become his disciples.
In the ancient world becoming a disciple of a Rabbi like Jesus didn’t mean registering for a series of lectures or showing up once a week for a religious service. No, being a disciple meant following your teacher 24/7. It meant that you traveled with him, stayed where he stayed, ate what he ate. You learned as he taught you and others. You would imitate his way of life, his teaching and everything about him. Your identity would change. You wouldn’t just be “Ricky” but “Ricky, disciple of Jesus.” It would become part of who you were, forever. For the fishermen Jesus called it meant walking away from their business, from their town, from all that they’d known.
This is what Jesus was asking of his disciples—that they would drop their old lives and take up a new life spent following him.
This is what Jesus is asking of us as his followers today.
When we trust Jesus for our salvation, when we come back into relationship with God, then we become disciples of Jesus. But what does this mean for us practically?
First, it means that more and more we look like Jesus in every area of life. Jesus showed us the very character of God and we are to imitate it. We are to be loving as Jesus is loving, just as he is just, holy as he is holy. In this life we may fail and fall but it should be our lifelong pursuit. More and more each year we should imitate the character of Jesus. God saves us so that we might be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). In other words, we should look a little more like Jesus every year.
Second, it means that more and more we follow Jesus in every area of life. It means we submit our lives to Jesus’ teaching. It means that we place ourselves under his authority and let him tell us how to live our lives. It means we’re not the only one calling the shots. Jesus taught about what we should do with our money, with our sexuality, with marriage, with anger, with the poor, with those very different from us. We should seek to understand what Jesus says, and what the rest of the Bible says, and commit to follow it.
Now this doesn’t mean that within a week or a month or a year we’ll have this nailed down. In this life we’ll continue to strain toward these things.
My 4 year old son’s soccer team has a chant they do before every game. They put their hands into a big pile and shout “Every day a little bit better.” They shout louder and louder until they break down giggling and laughing. At first I thought it was the weirdest sports chant of all time, but then I realized it was profound. The coaches knew that the kids needed a simple goal and could easily be discouraged. So their goal was simply to keep trying and to do a little better every practice and game. I love that. And I think in some ways this is what discipleship looks like. There will be times we fail and fall but we should have a commitment to keep pressing on, to keep following, to keep striving to look just a little more like Jesus.
Taking Up Our Cross
In Matthew 16:24 Jesus says bluntly, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Being a Christian means a beautiful eternal hope, but it also means very real sacrifice and difficulty on the road of following Jesus.
Christians aren’t immune from suffering. In fact, we should expect it. We will still struggle with sin in this life. We may be mocked or persecuted. We may encounter disaster and calamity. The Apostle Peter encourages us: “Do not by surprised by the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13). Jesus’ road ended in glory but it went through suffering. Following Jesus will mean that there will be hard moments but we shouldn’t be discouraged, this is our Savior’s path, and it leads to eternal life and wholeness.
But if we understand Jesus, we’ll follow even when the road gets rocky. We know he loves us. We know he wants what is best for us. If we doubt that, we only need to look at the cross to see it proved out. If Jesus would give even his own life for us, because he cares so deeply for us, because he sees our needs better than we can, shouldn’t we trust him enough to follow him?
Help for the Journey
If this seems a little intimidating then, good. It is. But Jesus didn’t leave us to figure out all this on our own, he sent help.
On his last night with his disciples before his death Jesus made an amazing promise. He said that he was going away but that he would not leave his disciples to fend for themselves. Instead he says, “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever” (John 14:16). This is not just any helper. Jesus said that it would actually be to our advantage for him to leave because then this Helper would come, which would be even better (John 16:7). There are sure days I wish I had Jesus in the flesh, walking alongside me to help me and instruct me. But there’s good news: Jesus says that someone else will be with us that will be even better.
Most of us know this helper by another name: The Holy Spirit.
What gets revealed elsewhere in Scripture is that the Holy Spirit is fully God the way Jesus was, but he’s with us in a different way. Where Jesus lived and walked in the flesh, the Holy Spirit is with us in spirit, but in no less a real way. The thing we’ve longed for with all our being has happened: God has come to dwell with us. While one day it’ll be true in all of its fullness, we can experience a real taste of it now. The God of stars, and galaxies, and sunsets, and salvation has come to help us and will never leave us.
As Christians, if we have placed our faith in Christ, there are two things fighting for control in our lives. One is often called “the flesh”—meaning the “old us.” But we also now have the Holy Spirit, this new helper. This means our task is to cooperate with the Spirit’s work in our lives. Peter encourages us to, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). As we follow Jesus we have a helper, we are to walk with him, and not according to our old life. And in doing so we find, strangely, that we have new power with each step.
Following Jesus in every area means we learn to love the Bible. Some people treat the Old and New Testament as if they have nothing to do with each other but Jesus believed and taught the Old Testament. Some of its interpretation changes radically once we understand Jesus, but it only brings everything into clearer focus. All Scripture is “breathed out by God” and contains something much deeper than human wisdom (2 Timothy 3:16). It carries the very power of God. The Bible is our roadmap to following Jesus.
Sometimes people pit Jesus against other parts of Scripture like the Old Testament, but Jesus loved Scripture. He didn’t throw it out, he explained it and applied it. In fact after being raised from the dead Jesus finds two disciples who do not recognize Jesus and are discouraged that he died. Jesus sees that they didn’t understand his true mission so “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). That’s an extraordinary statement. He walked through every section of the Old Testament, even the seemingly dusty and dry law books of Moses, and showed how they all pointed to him and his work. This means that in every part of Scripture there are connections to Jesus. He’s the main point of it all and as we read more and more, we’ll see more of Jesus and how to follow him.
Jesus doesn’t just save us, he brings us into a family. Once we were “strangers and aliens” to God but because of Jesus, that all changes and we’re now “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-20). When we come to trust and follow Jesus our relationship to God changes and we’re brought into his family. But our relationship to others that are following Jesus also changes as well. There are three images there that are striking:
- Fellow citizens—We once were separated by all kinds of “citizenships” and identities. We were heartland Republicans, or coastal liberals, or white collar, or blue collar, or American, or Cuban, and those things defined our identity. But now we have a “citizenship” to a new country, Jesus’ country.
- Members of the same household—We aren’t just linked at arms length, we’re brought into the same family. Now we share family meals. We laugh and cry and rejoice and mourn together.
- Built—This is all going somewhere. There’s a purpose behind bringing us together. So we intentionally embrace that and keep building with one another. And we’re being built into a “dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
This matters so much because we live in a constantly connected, but constantly disconnected world today. We long for real connection over things that really matter. We were made for that. In Christ, this begins to be restored more and more. As we draw close to God we’ll draw close to one another. After all, if we’ve found the greatest news in the world wouldn’t we want to talk about that, and dream about that, with others who have found it too?
This doesn’t mean that everything is magically easy in Jesus’ family. There will be plenty of heartache and there will be conflicts that need to be resolved. But what unites us in Christ is clear: we have the same Savior, the same path of following him, the same Spirit at work in us (Ephesians 4:4). In light of this we should be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). The Spirit is working to unite us, we don’t have to drum something up, but we should be eager to maintain that unity.
This should mean joining a real life, flesh and blood, local church. In our day we’re so obsessed with individualism that we want to simply follow Jesus on our own. Or we want to follow Jesus on our own terms. We think we can follow him just as well setting the terms for our involvement with our Christians, maybe reading an inspirational book here or there. But here’s the thing: Jesus calls us to relate to real people with real problems and to do it often, even when we don’t want to see them. Jesus calls us to hear solid teaching about him from the Bible. Jesus calls us to resolve conflicts when we have them so we’ll learn to look more like Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 12 there is a beautiful picture of the local church as a “body” that needs many kinds of people to function effectively. A Christian without a church is like a hand crawling around on its own—it’s weird and it’s probably not going to get far. We need one another.
But in the beautiful mess of Christian community, there is grace and beauty. Every Thursday, a group of people I might not be friends with otherwise, show up at my house. Bill and his wife Mary Ann drive for over 30 minutes to be there and have walked with one another and the Lord for decades. Andrew and Anna walk across the street with their little girl. Some of the people are native to my city, others are new, others are temporary. There’s always a lot of chaos with little kids running around and a lot of food. We read the Bible, pray, talk, catch up, rejoice with one another, and sometimes cry with one another. And I love everything about it. We’ve all come from different places, with different backgrounds, but we’re all on the same path. We’re all following Jesus and that makes us family.
Always Better News
The gospel is always better news than you think. The more you learn about Jesus the more you’ll stand in awe of the fact that he came to seek and save you. The more you learn about yourself, the more you’ll stand in awe of the fact that he came to seek and save you. The more you read the Bible, you’ll see it reveal Jesus. The more you walk with other believers, the more you’ll see Jesus. And the better news will just keep getting better and better.
The gospel is not just the most important thing for people who don’t know Jesus, it’s the most important thing for the most mature Christian too. In 1 Corinthians 15:1, Paul the Apostle, tells the church “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you…” He’s just spent 14 chapters telling them about the gospel but he can’t end the book without another reminder. He says it is of “first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3). It’s not optional, but essential. It’s not something you learn and move on from, it’s what the rest of your life and faith rest on.
If we really get all this then it will have one last effect: we’ll want to tell someone about it.
When I receive good news about something it’s hard for me to hold it back. I know some guys that will surprise their wife with a gift and be able to hold the secret until she discovers it the next morning or something. I totally cannot do that. If I have a gift I have to give it because I start smiling uncontrollably.
If the gospel is good news, we should tell others. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he calls people to follow him. Then at that the end of his ministry, he gives those disciples a mission. He reminds them that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). Jesus is the sovereign ruler of the universe. There’s nothing we should fear from following his commands, with him on our side.
Jesus tells his disciples, “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 behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). We, as disciples of Jesus, are to make new disciples. This doesn’t mean running around forcing people to our Bible study under threats of biblical plagues (obviously). Instead it means that we introduce people to Jesus. This shouldn’t be hard because, after all, the news about him is pretty great. Then if they follow Jesus, we help them along (and usually before long they’re helping us along too.) It also means that for the other followers of Jesus around us, we should seek to encourage them in their walk as well. We should do whatever we can to help observe all Jesus commanded.
Because this is what we know: our hearts long for this. St. Augustine once said that “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” The good news of Jesus offers a way to find that rest. So, rest in it today. Rejoice. Then tell someone about it. Our world makes a lot of claims about “good news” that turn out to be over-hyped promises that never fully come true. They always leave us restless. In the gospel of Jesus, we’ve found something better.
Read the Epilogue: Next Steps