The Disciplined Christian Life; Facing the challenge of this Generation
Paul Clarke, Bishop's Stortford, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
1. THE CHANGING CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS GENERATION
The past century has seen phenomenal change in society; it can only be described as a seismic shift in the environmental framework that impacts on the way we live. Technology, the means of communication, the amount and availability of information, travel (cost and time), and the proliferation of timesaving gadgets have all contributed to changes in our lives that a previous generation would have had difficulty to imagine even in their dreams. And yet, the biggest change of all has probably taken place, not in our environment, but in our beliefs and values.
Francis Schaeffer, the late Christian apologist, called this age the Post-Christian era. Modern secular writers describe the period in which this generation now lives as Post-Modern', that is, the search for rationalism being abandoned for the perceived higher ground of no absolutes and the overriding value of personal beliefs. Jim Petersen in his book, Lifestyle Discipleship, says that modern life has much more to do with 'how we think than how we behave - behaviour being only a consequence of how we think'. He describes this modern mind as 'Modernity', the three gods of modernity being:
Relativism - whatever you believe is okay - there are no absolutes.
Pluralism - whatever you are into is okay - there is no exclusive way.
Privatization - whatever you believe, keep it to yourself.
If we are going to face up to the challenge of discipieship in this generation, then we must understand that modernity's values are all based around self or 'I' and include:
* Personal Fulfilment - you owe it to yourself to achieve your full potential.
* Personal Enjoyment - the measure of whether something is acceptable or not, is how much you enjoy it.
* Personal Security - security is money, immediate peer group acceptance and enjoying yourself.
* Personal Belief - there is only the here and now - therefore do what you want now!
Alongside all this, stress levels are increasing, marriages are under threat - the UK now has one of the highest divorce rates in Europe - commitment is considered old-fashioned and loyalty in relationships, whether personal or work, is sacrificed on the altar of expediency or the altar of the god of greater profitability. We have more gadgets to save time, but time is at a premium and life seems one constant struggle to keep up and keep going. For the believer who desires to follow Christ amidst these conditions, the challenge comes clear.
How can I live a life that pleases God; a life that expresses His power,
enables me to live victoriously, and that lifts me above the morass of
spiritual mediocrity? How can I escape from the valley of despondency
and despair and live on the mountain where vision, vibrancy and
fellowship are the everyday experience?
2. THE UNCHANGING NATURE OF SPIRITUAL CONFLICT
It is important for us to understand that, although the world, we see is changing at an unprecedented rate, the character of the unseen world, where the real confrontation is, is still the same. The enemies of the believer are still the world, the flesh and the devil. Working together, their opposition to the believer is as real and intense as it always was.
FLESH We have two natures; the old nature, the flesh of sin, dominated by self, and the new nature, created according to God in true righteousness and holiness, Eph. 4. 24, and lived out in the power of the Spirit of God. These two natures cannot be reconciled and will never live peaceably together. One must dominate the other, Gal. 5. 16, 17.
WORLD There are two kingdoms demanding our commitment. We can only live for one of them. The world system or environment in which we live, its principles, life and goals are all contrary to God. In fact, its values, principles and beliefs are opposed to all that the kingdom of God stands for, 1 John 2. 15-1 7
DEVIL There are too two authorities demanding allegiance. We can only serve one of them. Satan's intention is to enslave, rob and destroy - the God of heaven and the Father of our Lord Jesus works to liberate, bless and give abundant life, John 8. 44; 1 John 3. 8-10.
Before we consider the issue of discipleship or disciplined Christian living, we must answer for ourselves the questions:-
* Which nature am I allowing to dominate me?
* Which world or kingdom am 1 living for?
* To whose authority do I submit and surrender?
3. SYMBOLS OF DISCIPLESH1P
* Discipleship is not an option. It is a description of the lifestyle of all those who willingly acknowledge Jesus as Lord and the outcome of following Him.
* The word means a 'learner' - the nearest equivalent perhaps in our day would be an 'apprentice'. The greatest accolade that could be given to a disciple or apprentice is that they have become like their master!
* Discipleship is a way of living that is the reverse of everything and anything we have known in this life before. It is an attitude of mind that dethrones 'self and enthrones 'Christ'.
* Because it sounds painful, we shy away from its implications. We think that it has to do with what we do, and do not understand that it has to do more with what
we think and are.
The Lord Jesus helps us to understand what discipleship means. He gave us three symbols of discipleship.
A CROSS - this has to do with self denial and sacrifice, and FOLLOWING CHRIST completely. The background to the challenge is the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. He has walked this path before us.
A YOKE - this has to do with meekness and submission, and LEARNING FROM CHRIST. The background is the teaching of the Lord Jesus, that men reject God's goodness through pride and will only understand God's ways through humanity and divine revelation.
A TOWEL - this has to do with humility and service, and IMITATING CHRIST. The Lord Jesus was going away, and He left them an example. How would His disciples respond in a world with values so different from His own, John 13. 1-5? Serving others is a key principle of discipleship.
Our generation is witnessing times of unparalleled change. Often this change creates its own pressures and strains in terms of relationships, time we have available for serving God and the conflicting philosophies of the age.
The real spiritual conflict has not changed, however, with each believer having to determine which nature they will allow to dominate their life, which world they are living for and whose will and authority they will submit to and obey. The outcome of this battle for the heart and mind, symbolised in the cross and following Christ, the yoke, learning from Christ, and the towel, imitating Christ, will determine how much we know of God and His power - and how much we experience victory as we seek to serve Him.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Paul Clarke Following senior executive roles within the Lloyds TSB Group, Paul took early retairement in 1998 to devote more time to teaching and pastoral responsibilies within his local church. He has been an Editor of Service since 1998.