Free From Graduations

When I graduated from sixth grade, all I could think about was would people like me in the seventh grade. When I graduated from eighth grade all I could think about was would people like me in the ninth grade.

It was a little pathetic I know…

But, hey, I wanted to be accepted. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be part of the “cool group.” And it turns out that desire to be accepted never goes away.

Whether we’re graduating from elementary school, high school, college, or entering a new career, there is always a part of us that desires to be accepted by the next group of people. We can’t help but look for approval from the “cool group.”

The “cool group” isn’t always the people who wear the best clothes or who are the most popular. As you graduate in life, the cool group is often the group of people that has something you want. Whether it is knowledge, good-looks, money, power, or the appearance of success. It is the group you want to be around because you’re hoping that some aspect of their life will rub off on you. And in turn you will be “cool” too.

The reason any of us want to graduate into the “cool group” is because we want to be valued. We want someone with some status to give us his or her approval. We want this because we believe the approval of someone we look up to will somehow show the world we are worth something too.

We’re not wrong.

Getting the approval of someone with a higher social standing will add value and worth to our lives…but it won’t last. It will only last until we meet someone else with a higher “cool” factor. As soon as that happens, we’ll want that person’s approval…that is, until we meet someone “cooler.”

It can be a never ending search for approval. A never ending search to find our self-worth. If we’re not careful, we’ll spend our whole lives trying to “graduate” from one person’s approval to another.

Thankfully, Jesus sets us free from this never-ending desire to “graduate.”

Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the King of kings, and the ruler of all of the universe. There is no one in the universe with a higher social status than him.  He is at the very top. He is smarter, prettier, richer, more accomplished, and more powerful, than any other being in existence. There is no one “cooler” than him.

Yet, despite his untouchable social status, Jesus did something for you and me that was unthinkable–scandalous even.

He set aside his social status. He came down from heaven. And he pursued you and me.

We were in no state to be pursued. We were rebels, we were gross, and untouchable. We were evil and unlovable.

Yet Jesus came and invited us into his life, into his home, and into his holy family.

Of course, in the state we were in, we couldn’t actually enter into his family. Our evil desires, thoughts, and actions made us too unclean, too imperfect. We were too much of a mess to be a part of Jesus’ “cool group.”

So Jesus again did the unthinkable. He cleaned us. But not with soap and water. But with his blood.

On the cross, Jesus, the king of kings, sacrificed himself for you and me. He used his blood to wash us clean and make us holy. He paid our entrance fee into God’s family.

It was a gift.

A gift he gave to the undeserving, the unworthy, the poor, to all of us desiring to have some kind of social status. As a result, for all those who would believe in him he gave them the right to become children of God (John 1:12).

In this mind blowing act Jesus did something amazing for all of us who would receive him. He gave you and me status. He gave you and me his approval. He made us new creations.

Jesus broke the never ending need to “graduate.”

Today, we no longer have to look for acceptance from other people. We no longer have to try to “graduate” to the next level of “coolness”. We no longer have to work like crazy to climb up the approval ladder. Because Jesus, the One at the top, has come down to us—to accept us.

Of course, now, the only question is, will we accept him? Will we accept his approval? Will we give our lives to him, and stop looking for lesser approval from others?

If we will, we will be free from the never-ending desire to “graduate”.

For all the graduates this year, may you no longer worry if the next group of people you will meet will accept you. Jesus Christ offers you his approval. Give your life and future to him.  Then rest in the knowledge that wherever you go,  you are already accepted by the “coolest” person of all.

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Believers vs. Disciples

Is a believer in Jesus the same thing as a disciple of Jesus?

I’ll admit as a pastor I’ve used the terms synonymously. But more and more I think to do so can be dangerous.

The Gospel writers did not see believers and disciples as synonymous. For them, believers and disciples represented two different groups of people. To be sure there was some overlap. A disciple of Jesus was a believer in Jesus, but a believer in Jesus was not necessarily a disciple of Jesus.

In the Gospels, what Jesus required of a disciple was different than what he required of a believer.  And because of that, the rewards Jesus promised to a disciple were very different than the rewards he promised to a mere believer.

Believers

Jesus called many people to believe in him. And the Gospel of John, frequently tells us that many people believed in Jesus”.  But it seems that out of the many who believed, many did not follow.  For example after Jesus ministered to the Samaritan Woman, her village welcomed Jesus, believed in Jesus, yet did not follow Jesus. John 4:40-42 says,

So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

But then in verse 43 Jesus leaves for Galilee and no one from Samaria followers him. In fact throughout the Gospels there is no indication that anyone from Samaria joined the crowds of disciples that followed Jesus. It seems the people physically stayed where they lived and went back to their normal life. The only difference was that now they believed that Jesus was the Savior of the world.

How will these believers in Jesus be rewarded?

 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John1:12)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned… (John 3:16-18)

All believers are rewarded with being adopted into the family of God, and receiving eternal life. These of course are great and wonderful acts of God’s grace. But they are not the only rewards offered by God. There are greater rewards for a disciple.

Disciples

When Jesus called people to be his disciple he raised the stakes from believing in him, to dying with him.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me (Matthew 16:24)

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-27)

To be a disciple of Jesus was serious business. It obviously required more than praying the sinners prayer, and asking Jesus into your heart. Jesus called people to not only believe in him, but submit to him, and physically follow him.

To be a disciple required death. Death to calling your own shots. Death to the idols of your heart. Death to other people’s opinions and expectations of you. Death to finding your security in the things of the world. Death to your version of success. Death to  finding significance outside of Jesus. Death to letting your life be about anything else other than following Jesus.

The Apostle Paul understood this when he wrote:

  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. (Romans 14:8)

So, how will disciples of Jesus be rewarded?

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it (Matthew 16:25)

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you,…everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. (Matthew 19:29-30)

The first reward for a disciple of Jesus is life. The Greek word used in verse Matthew 16:25 is “psychē” .  It can  also be translated “soul”. Jesus is saying the disciples reward is deep soul-life.

But more than life for your soul, Jesus also promises rewards in heaven. To give up something for Jesus is like making a deposit, or investment in future rewards in heaven.  And Jesus pays enormous returns (100 times) to those invest in him.

Believers will go to heaven. But to the degree that they did not invest in Jesus on earth is to the degree that they will miss out on rewards from Jesus in heaven. To be sure heaven is joyful place for everyone who is there. But that doesn’t mean that everyone’s experience is the same. Jesus is clear, what you do on earth affects your experience of heaven. And for disciples of Jesus, the experience is better.

Maybe, this is one reason why Jesus wants disciples, and not just believers.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”(Matthew 28:18-20)