Rediscovering Redemption

Chronicling the work of Redemption in the lives of Followers and Leaders. Articles, research and meditations from the writings of Dr. Joseph J. Bucci. Get blog updates by following Joe on Twitter @Re_Redemption

Joseph J. Bucci

What About the Change?

Steven Curtis Chapman sang about it. What about the change? I may have Christian bumper stickers, church magnets on my refrigerator, and even a bookmark with the fish emblem on it. But has there been a change my behavior since I came to know Jesus Christ as savior?

We have been considering the comparison between being a follower of Christ and simply being a fan. We tried to make a comparison of these two distinct roles in considering the life of Peter. In a previous blog (I Have A Secret, February 12) we looked at the life of the Apostle Peter, who thought that he was a follower of Jesus but didn’t know that he was actually a fan. Peter thought he was a follower until the moment of truth came.

The Apostle John became a follower of Jesus right away; but John processed his followership in greater and more intimate settings. For John, followership grew as his love for Christ grew; and his love for Christ grew as he sat and observed the Lord dealing with unique people with challenging needs. John’s followership grew as he grew more intimate in observing Christ and His tenderness towards those with whom He came in contact.

It seems from the little historical record that we have (Acts Chapters 6 and 7) that Stephen became a follower of Christ immediately. In Stephen we see a person “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). In Stephen we find someone totally focused and fully engaged. Even with this brief description that we have, we can see the characteristics that were being sought for people to do the ministry to which Stephen was appointed. People of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. Stephen was a man of character, and opponents who tried to speak against him discovered the fire and passion of his beliefs. Stephen was a follower who was firm in his faith and articulate in his beliefs. Peter later wrote that those of us who would be followers of Christ should “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15 NASB). Paul the Apostle would also admonish his young disciple Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2 NASB). So knowing the word and speaking truth are evidenced in followers.

But Paul the Apostle was different. Paul did not start out as a follower; nor was he a fan of Jesus Christ. Quite the contrary. Paul was the worst kind of devotee: he hated those following something in which he ardently disagreed. It’s like if someone dislikes the Dallas Cowboy fans and started putting them in prison and having them killed. I don’t believe in euthanasia but I might make an exception in this case (Whoops – only kidding).

We don’t fully appreciate how vicious Paul was in his attacks on Christians. Acts 8:3 – “Saul (his name prior to his conversion) began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.” This makes the moment at the home of Ananias even more compelling (Acts 9:10-17).

It’s a storyline out of one of those police shows. Here you have the person who’s been the vicious killer of close friends. He is in your grasp. He is wounded, and cannot get away. You can take him out for good and no one would blame you. In fact, you might be a hero for doing it. I don’t think we realize the stress under which Ananias replied to the Lord in his vision: “God – he’s here. I could take him out. Lord, he has hurt so many people. Please let me take him out!”

But the Lord said no. “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16 NASB).

Let me pause here and reflect. Saul represents you and me there; prior to conversion. Ok, I did not murder someone, did you? But that is justifying that my sins are “petty” as compared to his. The scripture does not qualify sin that way, either mortal or venial. That may be convenient for us, but it is not scriptural. “All have sinned…” Romans 3:23. We may not have murdered, but all of us have been guilty of being hurtful and spiteful and vicious. But just because God spares your life doesn’t make you a follower either. If gratitude was a recipe for followership then most everybody in the world to whom kindness was shown would be Christians.

Not only do we have to be grateful for the second chance; but we have to submit our will and allegiance to another. We must allow the life of the one we follow to be replicated within us. And this takes time. In Acts 9, we see Paul respond as an excited emotional fan of Christ right away; but due to threats against his life, and perhaps for the purpose of disciplining him and maturing him, he saw taken to Caesarea and then sent home to Tarsus (Acts 9:30). For Moses, the work of God to create a devoted follower took 40 years in the wilderness; for Joseph it was 13 years in and out of prison confinement. King David spent time in the wilderness as God was preparing him for leading Israel, and this was after it was prophesized that David would be King (1 Samuel 16). Some authors estimate that Paul spent three years in the wilderness of Arabia after his conversion based on Galatians 1:18 (see http://www.truthinhistory.org/tracing-the-steps-of-the-apostle-paul.html).

Most people don’t just wake up and become followers of Christ; just like most people don’t wake up and become lovers of their spouses. Interestingly enough, it is as infatuation and the “in-love” feelings wear off that the hard work of building love for a lifetime begins. Early in Paul’s ministry we are told by him that he perceives himself to be “least of the Apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:9). He does not choose to equate with the other Apostles except for his encounters with the living Christ. Later he would write that he perceived himself to be “the least of all the saints” (Ephesians 3:8). Towards the end of his writing and ministry (1 Timothy 1:15) Paul considers himself to be the “chief of sinners.” There is a good blog post describing this humble trajectory here – http://theresurgence.com/2009/09/22/pauls-downward-trajectory).

For Paul he had to move from the least of the Apostles to the chief of sinners. It was all about a greatest and richer and deeper experience with humility. For us it seems that Christian followership is like putting your soul on a diet. We are not talking about losing a few inches off the waist or one dress size. We are talking about epic weight loss here, like the “Biggest Loser” scale. Only we are talking about losing self-interest and distractions off of our souls, and putting ourselves on a strict “Jesus-focused” diet.

Remember the scene in White Christmas when the retired general sees his men again. He pretends to be giving them a hard time about their condition. He is overwhelmed that they have gathered to honor him in this way, but he begins to tease them for their appearance. He’s teasing them and he ends up saying it in love. But he says this:
“I am not satisfied with the conduct of this division. Some of you men are under the impression having been at Anzio entitles you not to wear neckties. Well you’re wrong. Neckties will be worn in this area! And look at the rest of your appearance. You’re a disgrace to the outfit. You’re soft! You’re sloppy! You’re unruly! You’re undisciplined!” [pause] “And I never saw anything look so wonderful in my whole life!” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047673/quotes?qt=qt1076259

Well, that is us. I don’t want you to be offended at this description, but like General Waverly I am teasing you to make a point. This picture of being undisciplined and unruly might be a little ingratiating to some, but for Paul the Apostle followership was a very disciplined activity. We see in the life and habits and practices of Paul the Apostle a very disciplined person. Paul often spoke of disciplined activities:
* “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9:25NASB);
* “For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things” (1 Timothy 4:8a, KJV);
* “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules. The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops” (2 Timothy 2:3-6 NASB).

Let me make an important distinction here as well. Gary Chapman in his writings describes five “love languages” and essentially supports other research (Human Dynamics) which indicates that we receive and process information on different levels. What may be simple for us to understand could possibly be confusing or difficult for someone else because of the way that we learn. We should not confuse the expression of followership with our own preference for how we best accept love and process information. As the Apostle Paul emphasized self-discipline in followership; the Apostle John as mentioned before emphasized followership be comprised of knowledge gained through devotion to Christ. I would suggest that for all followers, there are broad principles that could be applied. Here are a few:

* Turmoil is always going to separate the fans from the followers. See Peter and his acknowledgement once his heart was exposed that he was simply acting more like a fan than a follower.
* Ignorance is no excuse for not pursuing a deeper relationship and more committed followership. See Romans Chapter 1.
* Dabbling in something usually leads to more problems than it does to more knowledge. For an example of fans dabbling in something in which more power was required, see the 7 sons of Sceva in Acts 19:11-17.
* Better to be hot or cold in your commitment to Christ. Would you suggest that a follower is more committed than a fan? That appears to be so. But Christ remands us that there be no in-between. See Revelation Chapter 3.

Finally (there is more to say on this, but let us finish for now)…
Speaking about new names…it appears that as Luke writes about the converted follower formerly known as Saul (Acts 13) it seems that when referring back to his conversion he is called Saul. But when looking ahead to his followership standing, moving forward he is known as Paul. That is how we know him today. The Spirit seems to give him a new name. Does this sound familiar? It seems that in the message to the church in Philadelphia in the Revelation of John, if it can be broadly applied, the same happens to us: “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name” (Revelation 3:12 NASB).

Let us be overcomers, and receive this new name. Let us not be about bumper stickers and bookmarks, and dabbling with no power. May it be that there is evidence of a change; that we are not just fans of Jesus Christ, but passionate and devoted followers, demonstrating “Christ-life” in all that we say and do.

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Joseph J. Bucci

Biography link below: https://www.regent.edu/faculty/d-b-a-joseph-j-bucci/
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