Will you only ever see yourself as a rodeo cowboy, bull rider or ranch hand or will you see yourself as an adopted son of God?

Will you only ever see yourself as a rodeo cowboy, bull rider or ranch hand or will you see yourself as an adopted son of God?

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?

Will you only ever see yourself as a rodeo cowboy, bull rider or ranch hand or will you see yourself as an adopted son of God?

Why do you follow Jesus? The answer can change everything

By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross

Sometimes my 12-year-old son picks on his six-year-old sister. Obviously, there’s a big difference in size, so he has a distinct advantage. I always caution him to be his sister’s protector and never to use his size and strength to make her scared or do what he tells her. I try to teach him that as men and generally being physically stronger and more durable, we are to give honor to the women in our lives as weaker vessels that are precious and to be handled with care.

Yet, there are times when my daughter is a pest and my son gets to the end of his patience and uses his greater strength for pest-control, or even times when he just tries to return the favor by annoying her, which inevitably leads to a squabble. I always ask him, “Son, why did you do that?” I ask because I want more than his obedience – I want him to acknowledge the brokenness of his heart and seek repentance and transformation through his relationship with Jesus Christ.

But let’s be honest – most of us don’t know why we do the things we do. It’s difficult (nearly impossible!) for us to assess the motives of our own hearts.

Nevertheless, I want to ask each of us that question with respect to our decision to follow Christ – Why did you do that? Why do you follow Jesus?

For many, the answer is that it’s what they were taught as children – Christianity was “our family religion.” In other words, Jesus and the Triune God are all you knew – that’s all your family ever taught you, so that’s what you believed. Praise God, you weren’t born to Hindi, Buddhist, or Islamic parents, or exposed to any of those various worldviews in your formative years! Traditional faith (whatever that means) is what saved you from being a pagan or an atheist.

For others who grew up on hellfire and brimstone preaching, there are only two options: “turn or burn” – give your heart to Jesus and start living right or suffer immensely and eternally in hell. The obvious choice is Jesus, so we “invite Jesus into our hearts” by praying a prayer, getting baptized, and trying really hard to live right so God doesn’t change his mind about us. Religious adherence is what saved you from the fires of hell. But keep it up! Don’t fall off the wagon into sin, or God will let you break the deal you made for your salvation! Be sure you do plenty of good deeds, because you never know when you’ve done enough good to outweigh the sin you’ve committed!

In Jesus’s “High Priestly Prayer” he says, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Knowing what your family believes about God and Jesus doesn’t equate to salvation. Making the choice to “ask Jesus into your heart” and trying really hard to live a good life won’t punch your “get out of hell free” ticket. Only knowing God as his Son Jesus Christ has revealed him brings eternal life! Religion is always about man’s path to find God, but Christianity isn’t a religion! Quite the opposite of religion, God made a path to reconcile mankind back to himself through Jesus. Christianity, therefore, is a relationship with Jesus.

I have been married to my wife, Sarah, for almost 16 years. I love her dearly. I’ve studied her. I know how tell when she’s angry, when she’s worried, when she’s sad, when she needs some space, and when she needs a hug. I know her well because I’ve intentionally pursued growing in my knowledge of her because I love her and want her to be a significant part of my life. When we come to know Jesus, we receive justification – all our sin erased, our debt paid in the blink of an eye. However, that is not the end of our relationship with Jesus. As we pursue and grow in our relationship with him, we experience sanctification, increasing salvation from the power of sin, and eternal life.

How God works out that process is difficult to understand, but I have serious concerns for people whose relationship with Jesus never grows or remains at the level of a casual acquaintance. If we love someone, we seek to deepen our relationship with them by increasing our knowledge of them so that they we can do life with them in increasingly intimate and meaningful ways.

Knowing Jesus is eternal life. How well do you know him?

Will you only ever see yourself as a rodeo cowboy, bull rider or ranch hand or will you see yourself as an adopted son of God?

We don’t have to limit what we can achieve when God has given us the ability to do more

By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross

We all do it many times every day; most often, we do it unconsciously. What we conclude when we do it says a lot about who we think we are and what we think we are up against. Toddlers learning to walk do it. Elderly folks facing serious illnesses do it. Yes, we all measure our capabilities against whatever task lies before us.

We attempt to determine our ability to manage the obstacles ahead to achieve what we consider a successful outcome. We place our abilities alongside every challenge to see which is greater, and often we avoid challenges that seem to surpass our abilities. Some look at the rodeo schedule and choose to enter a deal where they know they stand a better chance of winning because of the stock that’s there.

None of this is wrong or irrational.

It makes sense to discern whether we have the skill set, the resources, the strength, and the influence to achieve success when we face a challenge. But when we look to our own experiences, resources, and talents we fail to consider something that is drastically more important – the good news that we who are in Christ are no longer bound by our limited human nature.

Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

God is not surprised by any circumstance you have ever faced, nor will he be surprised by what awaits you in the days you have ahead. He knows every temptation you will face, every sin to which you will succumb, every sorrow and suffering that will bring you down, and every triumph and joy that will raise your spirits.

Knowing all of these things, he gave you exactly what you need so you can be who you’re supposed to be and do what you’re supposed to do even in the midst of this broken, rebellious world. What did he give you? He gave you himself! His grace isn’t insight. It isn’t a change of location or an altering of circumstances. He is the grace that he gives! That means that our potential as his children is much greater than the sum of our past experiences, our gifts and talents, our resources, and our strengths.

Our ability to overcome is infinite because the Almighty God who spoke everything into existence, who raised Christ from the dead, and who will one day make all things new and perfect again has made you his home. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). There is nothing to which God has called you that he has not also given you victory as you abide in (obey!) the love of Christ.

Will you only ever see yourself as a rodeo cowboy, bull rider or ranch hand or will you see yourself as an adopted son of God?

We obey God’s commands with more effort than we put into training the perfect roping horse

By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross

“How do we define true faith in Jesus?” From John 14:1-14 we can determine that true faith in Jesus is a gift from God, the receipt of which is confirmed by deep contemplation upon the words and signs of Jesus.

However, this is only the beginning of faith. Faith in Jesus is more than believing the right things; it’s living the right way because you believe the right things. True biblical faith is something that we live out. It reshapes and rearranges our lives. It’s more than just an intellectual ascent to doctrines and beliefs because it shows up in how we live and respond to the world.

Josh, Cowboys of the Cross’s ranch hand, has spent the last year teaching through a video series on this site about what it looks like to live out our faith. The series will continue for a few more months.

But consider Hebrews 11:1-12.

1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

Notice that the author of Hebrews doesn’t tell us what these people believed as evidence of their faith. Instead, he tells us what their faith caused them to do and the results of their doing. Abel worshiped God through sacrifice, giving his first and best to God, and was commended as righteous; biblical faith captures the worship of your heart. Enoch pleased God with his obedient walk and did not see death; biblical faith causes us to remain loyal to God in all that we say and do. Noah submitted to his calling from God and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith; biblical faith causes us to submit our lives to the call of God. Abraham obeyed God not only when he was told to leave his homeland, but he also obeyed when commanded to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, to God (Heb. 11:17-20); biblical faith generates radical obedience to God.

Worship, loyalty, calling, and radical obedience – these are collectively the evidence of our faith. How much worship does God want from us? All of it, without division or competition, and only the first and best we have will do. What type of loyalty does God want? A loyalty that never fades and does not turn to the left or to the right but seeks always to be near him and in the goodness of his mercy and grace.

What shapes the calling – the purpose – of our lives? Only God; any other calling we answer will be temporary and fruitless compared to the eternal things God has given us. How do we obey the commands of God? Think of the discipline it takes to train a horse. Think of the effort that has to go into training if you want to be a world champion team roper or bull rider. Obeying God’s commands requires a commitment even bigger than that. We obey God’s commands wholeheartedly, unreservedly, and with such intense focus that partial obedience or disobedience is unthinkable and unacceptable. When God says, “build an ark” or “go make disciples of all nations,” a “good enough” attitude is insufficient; there are no excuses; only our best effort will do because that is what faith in Jesus produces in us as we are conformed into his image: worship, loyalty, calling, and radical obedience.

Will you only ever see yourself as a rodeo cowboy, bull rider or ranch hand or will you see yourself as an adopted son of God?

We can embrace a lifestyle of complaint or gratitude

By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross

Back in my bull riding days I was a regular at a weekly event that a small association sponsored from April thru October each year. A few times, they chose to do a bull riding clinic. It was an opportunity for the more experienced riders of the association to spend some time with the new guys who were eager to learn and advance their skills in the sport. Participants usually had the opportunity to get on five bulls throughout the day and get some feedback on their rides, learn how to avoid common mistakes and receive encouragement to always fight to move toward the “sweet spot” with each jump and kick. We usually didn’t have paid bullfighters at these events, so the instructors would step in and do what they could to give riders a reasonable opportunity to get up and get out of the way after they came off their bulls.

At one of these clinics, a young rider was thrown early in his ride. When he hit the ground – not so hard – he laid there; he looked up to see that the bull wasn’t coming back for him, then he laid his head down. At this point, I sat everyone down and made this comment: “There are no bullfighters here. We (the instructors) will make one pass to get the bull’s attention and give you time to get up and get out of the arena. If you decide to lay there and get stomped and hooked, that’s on you. The only valid excuses for lying there after you buck off are paralysis or unconsciousness.” I was pretty mad because his thoughtlessness and inaction put me and others at risk unnecessarily.

It really is difficult to do life with other people. Sin not only created a rift in our relationship with God, but it has also caused brokenness in our bonds with one another. We all have our own ideas about how things should or shouldn’t be done, and we tend to value our own lives and opinions over those of others. That’s why when we come together as a group it’s beneficial to have some kind of understanding of what we can expect from one another. My son is a Boy Scout. At every meeting, scouts recite the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. These recitations remind them of who they are called to be and what is expected of them as scouts. If you are found in breach of these expectations, you may be dismissed as a member. The U.S. Armed Forces, the Masonic Lodge, the Ruritans, and most other groups all have expectations and for the good of the group and its missions, will all dismiss those who don’t follow those expectations.

The Church is no different. Yes, there is grace for when we fail – and we will fail, but there is a call on our lives to be true disciples of Jesus and expectations that go along with that call. In Philippians 2:3-4, the Apostle Paul, encouraging unity and harmony among the Philippian believers writes, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” He goes on to acknowledge how Jesus, though he had the full authority of God being equal with the Father, emptied himself of his own glory to become a servant of sinful human beings. You and I are not so important that we should expect to have our own expectations fulfilled by the group. In fact, the group’s mission should define our expectations.

So, what are the expectations of a group who professes to follow Jesus Christ as his disciples? There are many, but it begins with the commitment to follow Jesus. That commitment is defined by Jesus in Luke 9:23: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” That means my desires give way to Jesus’ mission. My life is no longer mine, but his to do with as he pleases.

That commitment has implications for how we do life together in Jesus’ Church as well. I encourage you to read Ephesians 4-6 now to see how Paul elaborates on this topic. He calls us to humility, gentleness, and patience “bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:2-3). He calls us to put away falsehood and speak the truth with one another, and sometimes truth is difficult to accept when we have been deceived. He calls us to deal with our anger quickly and apart from sin rather than letting things fester and sour our relationships with one another. He commands the thief to stop stealing and work with his hands so that he’ll have something to contribute to those who are truly in need. He commands our speech to be only that which encourages and strengthens one another, not the kind of speech that slanders and demeans. We are to reject bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice as necessary evils in our relationships with one another. Instead, we should be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving. Why? Because God has forgiven us for our sin against him, so we have no valid reason to withhold forgiveness from others – we are not God!

It is time for us to embrace God’s mission for us as individuals and for us as a body of believers. We can either embrace a lifestyle of complaint or one of gratitude. One will divide. The other will unify. One will create discontentment. The other will cause us to receive the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. Won’t you join me in pursuing peace by embracing the biblical role and the expectations of a disciple of Jesus?

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