Here at P.O.C., our mission is the Great Commission:
“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:18-20)
While this summer we began “Going Out” in a more official way, we are always looking for opportunities to “make disciples” with each person God brings across our paths. Sad to say, those interested in even having a first conversation are few, but, of those few, we have had opportunities to help people begin or continue to walk as followers of the Way. In several cases, individuals have asked us to help them grow in their walk with God, to teach them how to study His Word and apply it in living their lives. This is something we are always happy to do…but it tends to be bittersweet. More often than not, each person invariably finds a Truth that is too hard for them, and they walk away sad. So far, each one has expressed a continued affection for us but has had one reason or another why they feel they can no longer walk with us in the Way. Similar to the excuses Jesus was given, we have heard:
I want to keep following Jesus… but first, let me marry my fiancé (who doesn’t believe the Truth).
I will follow Jesus… as long as He doesn’t interfere with my career plans.
I have always been a follower of Jesus… but I want to hold onto the hurt of my past.
I will follow Jesus… as long as He doesn’t require too much time, I’m very busy.
Jesus is often depicted as gentle and compassionate, which He was, but He was also quite stern and even aggressive when the occasion required. If we look to the Manual, we find He is most stern with those looking to be or already following Him as disciples. (See Matthew 8:19-26, Luke 9:23-26) He spoke Truth that was “difficult to hear” and resulted in “many of His disciples” choosing to no longer walk with Him anymore. (John 6:60,66) If this was Jesus’ experience with making disciples, should we be surprised if it is ours as well?
Of course, the answer is, “No,” but the first time this happened, it was still quite a shock. We were devastated. We spent much time reflecting and praying over our approach and discussing the mistakes we made that may have contributed to the outcome. We were hurt and, from that place of hurt, were sure we never wanted to experience that again! When the next person came along, we were faced with a choice: Do we avoid certain Truths or soften the Truth to make it more palatable, you know, be “more loving”? Or do we “teach them to observe all that (Jesus) commanded”?
We have come to call this our “Rich Young Ruler” lesson, as that is the example we drew from to shape our response. A rich young ruler came to Christ and asked Him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17) After a brief conversation we are told, “Jesus looked at him, loved him, and said to him…” (v21) The man’s response? “But the man was saddened by these words and went away in sorrow…” (v22) Knowing the man would choose to walk away, Jesus still loved him, and He showed that love by speaking the Truth to him.
This week, we have been reading sermons by George Whitefield during our morning coffee time. In his sermon “The Lord Our Righteousness,” he referenced this same story and made several useful and relevant observations. First, Whitefield points out that Jesus’ initial response to the young man was to test him to determine if he truly believed He was God. (v18) Then, Jesus points him to the commandments in the Law, not to say that this was the way to inherit eternal life, but, rather, “…to make the law his schoolmaster to bring him to himself; that the young man, seeing how he had broken every one of these commandments, might hereby be convinced of the insufficiency of his own, and consequently of the absolute necessity of looking out for a better righteousness, whereon he might depend for eternal life.”
Instead, the self-righteous young man responded, “All these I have kept from my youth.” (v20) He failed to see his guilt and so looked to achieve a righteousness of his own. Rather than arguing with him to persuade him of his guilt, Jesus, in love, gave him a command that revealed the Truth to him, “There is one thing you lack: Go, sell everything you own and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” (v21) Just like the Laodiceans, this young man could say, “I am rich; I have grown wealthy and need nothing.” (Revelation 3:17a) And he believed this to be true both of his physical wealth and his spiritual position with God. In reality, he was spiritually destitute, “…wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:17b) This was the Truth he found too “hard” to accept, which resulted in him walking away from eternal life.
To come back to our question, can it ever be Love to avoid or soften “hard” Truths in our efforts to make disciples? Isn’t it better to make converts first and then worry about turning them into disciples? Based on Jesus’ own example, the clear answer is, “No!” In the sermon we read today Whitefield points out that, based on God’s dealing with Adam and Eve after the fall, the clear answer is, “No!” “Then the LORD God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’” (Genesis 3:13) “What a wonderful concern does God express in this expostulation! … God would here awaken her to a sense of her crime and danger, and therefore, as it were, thunders in her ears; for the law must be preached to self-righteous sinners. We must take care of healing before we see sinners wounded, lest we should say, Peace, peace, where there is no peace. Secure sinners must hear the thunderings of mount Sinai, before we bring them to mount Zion. They who never preach up the law, it is to be feared, are unskilful in delivering the glad tidings of the gospel…we must first shew people they are condemned, and then shew them how they must be saved.” (from “The Seed of the Woman and the Seed of the Serpent”)
Going back to our Commission, Jesus did not say, “Go and make converts, convincing them at some point to become disciples…” He said clearly, “Go and make disciples…teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” As Whitefield says, “Walking with God implies, that the prevailing power of the enmity of a person’s heart be taken away by the blessed Spirit of God. Perhaps it may seem a hard saying to some, but our own experience daily proves what the scriptures in many places assert, that the carnal mind, the mind of the unconverted natural man, nay, the mind of the regenerate, so far as any part of him remains unrenewed, is enmity, not only an enemy, but enmity itself, against God; so that it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be.” (from “Walking With God”)
Enmity: The quality of being an enemy; the opposite of friendship; ill will; hatred. It expresses more than aversion and less than malice and differs from displeasure in denoting a fixed or rooted hatred.” (Webster’s 1828)
If we begin with compromise, no matter how small, we may make a few converts, but they will not belong to the Kingdom of God. If at any point we choose to turn away from a Truth that is “too hard,” we are returning to a state of enmity with God and are in danger. It is never Love to ignore this, either in ourselves or in our brothers and sisters. (2 Corinthians 13:5; James 5:19-20)
While we continue to be imperfect, I can say with confidence that we have chosen to speak the Truth in Love as we have been enabled to do so by the Holy Spirit. We have spent much time in prayer, in study, in discussion, and in tears over each person God has brought our way. As a result, we have helped some of these people progress in their walk as far as they were willing to go. Others we are happy to continue walking with, as we each follow Christ together. In all cases, God has used each person and experience to temper and strengthen our faith, to mature us as we grow toward completion in Christ.
© Bethany Huot 12/31/2022