By Pastor Jay Fleming
Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:10-12 NIV)
It is widely accepted among Christian denominations that following Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord means that we should, over time, become more like him in our thoughts, words and actions. Borrowing from the words of a hymn, someone has said that while Jesus takes me “Just As I Am,” he won’t leave me that way for long.
This process of transformation is called discipleship, after the name given to Christ’s first followers. Peter, James, John and the rest not only listened to Jesus; as his disciples they participated in His ministry, doing His work. “Follow me,” was his invitation to them. And they did, even when they did not fully understand what he was up to.
Whether picking up baskets full of leftover bread after he fed the thousands, or going out to heal the sick as they announced his coming kingdom, they joined in the work. And when they got to arguing about who was the greatest among them, he took a little child upon his knee to teach that their attitude about such things had to change if they wanted to keep following him.
Over 51 years of living in my own skin and 25 years of pastoring, it has become clear to me that the process of discipleship does not come easily to any of us. We become masters of every excuse in the book as to why our thoughts remain vile, our words callous and vulgar and our actions selfish and vindictive. Oh, we profess the faith, if pressed. But there is too often little evidence that we are being changed into the likeness of Christ.
In fact, the opposite seems to be true. The one that seems to be remade nowadays is Christ! No longer does he look at us with love and say, “Go and sin no more.” All we seem to hear is the “Neither do I condemn you.” And we merrily continue in our selfish debauchery, forgetting his further promise that those who follow him will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
Well, how do we get back to a life of discipleship? Beyond mere belief in Christ Jesus, give him your very life. Like Peter and the others, determine to follow him. Pray daily just as he taught us, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” recognizing that the first place it needs to be done is in your own daily life. Let his Word and his Spirit work within you to lead and transform. And then dare to do as he leads.
I have observed that the process of discipleship in my own life is often uncomfortable, because God does not hesitate to ask me to change. But it is always rewarding, because I have a front-row seat to all that he wants to do, both within and then through me. Will you join me in the journey?
Jay Fleming is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Goliad