An insightful reading of (a serious look at) the gospel accounts of Jesus' ministry allow a fact to be quite obvious. Many of Jesus' lessons to his disciples and to the multitudes centered on changes in lifestyles. Take any of the four gospels. Note Jesus' lessons. Note that they frequently center on one of two discussions. One was a change in the way people lived life. The other was the nature of God's kingdom.
Let's properly link the two together, beginning with God's kingdom. Jesus' revelations concerning God's kingdom differed from first century Israel's expectations. Jesus confronted an enormous challenge in his ministry. It centered in changing Israel's kingdom expectations. For a change in Israel's expectations to occur, a change in their understanding must occur. The typical Israelite of the first century expected God's kingdom to (1) be a physical nation, (2) be based on lineage and heritage [Israelites would be the foundation of God's kingdom because they physically descended from the correct person and they possessed the right teachings/ traditions], (3) be a king/subject system that would in some manner restore the glorious times of King David, and (4) be a restoration/purification of their understanding of proper worship of the living God, Jehovah.
If you wish to consider a specific attempt made by Jesus to refocus first century Israel's kingdom expectations, read Matthew 13. Note the parables are kingdom parables. Note the primary lesson in each parable: (1) being a part of the kingdom would depend on the heart response of the person, not lineage or heritage; (2) proper lineage/location was not proof that a person belonged in God's kingdom [the tares and the wheat grew in the same field; the issue was who "sowed" the person]; (3) the kingdom would have a tiny beginning; (4) even though it began small, it would grow though influence; (5) to some, the kingdom would be an accidental discovery of a great treasure; (6) to some, the kingdom would be something of great value to be searched for and when found obtained with great sacrifice; and (7) the kingdom in its earthly form would contain wicked people as well as godly people--the Lord knows the difference and will make the difference obvious at judgment.
If you are a bible student, these teachings may seem so common place that they are hardly noteworthy. To the Jewish person in the multitude or a disciple, these kingdom thoughts were radically different from anything they heard or were taught.
How then does the nature of the kingdom and personal behavior connect? To see the connection, first clearly see Jesus' emphasis on a change in behavior. As an example of this contrast, consider Matthew 5:21-48 in Jesus' sermon on the mount. (1) A disciple will not abuse or mistreat others. He or she will be kind in a devotion to healing instead of holding grudges. (2) He or she will not allow physical desires/needs to create conflicts between him or her and God's purposes. He or she will allow devotion to God to guide them in keeping promises and commitments rather than justifying the "do as I please" mentality. (3) He or she will keep his or her word rather than justifying deceit. (4) He or she will allow God to teach them how to be kind in stressful situations rather than being vengeful. (5) He or she will let God's behavior teach them how to love those who hate them.
Continue to read the rest of the sermon (Matthew 6, 7) and note Jesus' stress on the relationship between devotion to God and changes in personal behavior.
How then is an understanding of God's kingdom connected to personal behavior? When we understand God's kingdom achieves God's purposes through the heart response of the individual, we also must understand that this heart response to God transforms the behavior of the person.
The clear message: how a person lives must reflect his or her devotion to God in his or her daily behavior. While most American Christians quickly would declare that being a part of God's kingdom is not founded upon nationality [one's genealogy or lineage does not guarantee his or her place in God's kingdom], too many American Christians are guilty of declaring relationship with God is based on "church membership."
The point is not that the church as a community of Christians devoted to God is unimportant. The point is not that a person can "believe anything he or she wishes as long as his or her behavior is under control and appropriate."
This is the point: spiritual confidence must be placed in the role of Jesus Christ and the promises of God. Our confidence must be evidenced in our behavior. We must live and act consistently with our devotion to God. Our beliefs must be reflected in our behavior. Just as a first century Israelite must not allow the basis of spiritual confidence to be founded on nationality, neither can today's Christian base spiritual confidence on church membership.
The basic issue is not "am I on the church roll," or "am I in the church directory," or "am I on the church mailing list," or "can I attend a church assembly without fear," or "have I been disfellowshiped?" The basic issue is this: is my devotion to God evidenced in my behavior in all circumstances seven days a week?" "Yes, I am a part of the church, but does my behavior evidence my godliness?" "Yes, I am on the church mailing list, but does my behavior evidence my godliness?" "Yes, I am a member in good standing with the congregation, but does my behavior evidence my godliness?"
Discipleship is about living for God because I know God. It is about allowing knowledge of God to change behavior. Discipleship is not about inactivity. It is not about knowledge with little or no intent of doing. It is not about affirming correct knowledge while justifying ungodly behavior.
Disciples follow Jesus to learn how to live. What they learn is reflected in their relationships (definitely reflected in treatment of family members), in their commitments, in their values, in their standards, in their consciences, and in their heart responses. The disciple continually asks Jesus, "Teach me how to think. Teach me godly feelings and attitudes. Teach me how to act. Teach me how to live."
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 11
previous page | table of contents | next lesson