By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
Why doesn’t everyone who calls themselves a Christian, carry out the Great Commission–the command from Jesus to tell others about him and then to go on to teach those who become follower’s of Christ? For a lot of cowboys and bull riders in the rodeo arena, it seems like their faith begins and ends with cowboy church and the prayer at the opening of the show.
So what is it that separates disciple-making Christians (those whose obvious faith in Jesus is taught to and reproduced in others) and all the rest who simply believe in God and assume they get to make heaven their eternal home but never really demonstrate much personal spiritual growth or reproduction? I used to think it was commitment – something each individual is responsible to produce for themselves; if you weren’t growing up into Christian maturity and making disciples of Jesus, it was because you weren’t committed enough. Deep down, though, I knew that even that kind of commitment was a gift from the Holy Spirit. But if that’s the case, why don’t all professing believers – those who are filled by the Holy Spirit – eventually demonstrate that life-changing commitment?
The answer to that question, I believe, is two-fold. First and most obviously, some professing believers are not really believers.
Even the demons believe in God (James 2:19), but that kind of belief – the type that denies and covets God’s sovereign kingship – won’t get a single human soul into heaven. In John 3 Nicodemus believed Jesus to be “a teacher come from God” based on the signs Jesus did, but Jesus condemned him for failing to understand that being born of the Spirit was of necessity for anyone to enter the kingdom of heaven. Pilate believed Jesus to be the king of a kingdom, yet denied that there is any type of objective truth (John 18:37-38) – you know, the type of truth Jesus acknowledged when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). None of these examples believed and were saved as a result. The point is there are categories of belief that do not result in salvation. You can believe in God and never make it to Heaven.
But that still leaves us with people who genuinely “believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God” (John 20:31) yet never mature much in their faith or join in God’s mission to spread the gospel of Jesus; what about them? Is their faith disingenuous or just stunted? Only God knows!
In The Doctrine of Justification, James Buchanan writes that there are three distinct privileges given to believers who receive the free gift of God (salvation) by faith, each increasing in value. In order, those privileges are pardon, acceptance, and adoption, all received at the moment of justification by faith, the moment we first are saved through our faith in Jesus, genuine repentance and asking to be forgiven and saved from the punishment God must pour out on unforgiven sin.
Pardon means that God’s wrath against sin is no longer upon us because our sin-debt has been paid. While a wonderful and necessary truth of our redemption, it doesn’t exactly give us feelings that motivate our commitment to the Christian life.
Acceptance means for us that we are no longer rejected from God’s presence as Adam and Eve (and everyone since) were after their choice to sin in the Garden of Eden. This brings us a little closer to motivation because it means heaven (and therefore the presence of God) is our eternal destination. Sadly, many continue to work for acceptance rather than living their lives as those who are already accepted. This demeans the work of grace for which Christ shed his blood and is therefore horribly offensive to God.
Adoption is the greatest privilege believers are given when they receive salvation by grace through faith. It is also the primary truth by which all believers should live their lives; it is the power for a life lived to the glory of God, alive in Christ and dead to our flesh. Our adoption as sons and daughters of God (and therefore brothers and sisters of Jesus) is what provides the basis for Christian conduct.
Consider the Sermon on the Mount. In it, Jesus tells us that if you follow him you are to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:44-45, 48). As God’s adopted children, we are to imitate our heavenly Father. Jesus also commends to his followers, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). God’s adopted children are to bring glory to their heavenly Father by the way they live. In Matthew 6:1-18, Jesus uses the examples of benevolence, prayer, and fasting to teach his followers that God’s adopted children live with the singular concern of pleasing their heavenly Father and not men.
So you see, the privilege of being adopted into God’s family makes all the difference in the way we live our lives. Unfortunately, most believers never grow, learn, or desire to understand anything beyond the privileges of pardon and acceptance; “I’m saved. I’m going to heaven. End of story.” And, oh, the joy, the blessing, the security, and the abundance they miss by failing to search out the implications of being a son or daughter of the Most High God! And when we finally begin to grasp this precious truth, motivation for Christian living abounds like water over the Niagara Falls!
Hello. My name is Jesse. I am a son of the Most High God by grace through faith in his son, Jesus Christ.
Who are you?