The Church Jesus Is Building – Part Forty-Seven

We started looking at how you can tell if someone is a revolutionary? As Jesus taught, you look for the fruit. But what are the relevant behaviours that support the verbal intimations? Again the Bible is the best source of such measures. I believe that not only was Paul the apostle a stellar revolutionary, but his letters to the churches he mentored provide tremendous insight into the distinguishing attributes of genuine revolutionaries. 

The apostle to the gentiles, in his letter to the Romans, offers guidance in seven areas of life: spiritual practices, personal faith, perspective on life, attitude, character, relationships, and behaviour. We looked at the first two last time …

1> Spiritual practices 

2> Personal faith

3> Perspective on life

Paul encouraged the early believers to be firm and focused. Focused on what? Producing fruit! As he wrote to the Roman disciples, “I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit” (Romans 1:13)

More particularly, revolutionaries are urged to place their faith in God above all else, to be considerate of the needs of others and bless them whenever possible, and to be realistic in self-assessment. The bottom line in all of this: never lose confidence in your ability to make a lasting and positive difference in the world.

Bearing fruit is not easy. Paul does his best to describe the toughness of mind that a disciple and revolutionary will need to make a difference. He challenges the believers to turn a deaf ear to illegitimate criticism. He warns them that they will face hardships: trouble, calamity, persecution, hunger, poverty, and even death threats. And he cautions that God Himself may punish those He loves because of their offences.

Revolutionaries are, indeed, a different breed of people. They accept the fact that life on earth is all about life after earth, and they live accordingly.

4> Attitude

The attitude of a true revolutionary is assured, appropriately righteous, and upbeat.

And why not? Who would not feel secure knowing that they are connected to the omnipotent and omniscient God of the universe? That’s why Paul tells revolutionaries they ought to be confident and fearless.

And who wouldn’t be righteous, realizing that their sole purpose is to obey God, based on the clear directives He has provided? When Paul admonishes the world-changers to hate evil, love goodness, and be patient, respectful, and forgiving (Romans 12:9-21), that mind-set makes sense in the context of serving the Lord of truth.

And who wouldn’t be upbeat about their existence, given the promises of the God they serve? Encouraging the body of revolutionaries to remain happy and joyful is not much of a stretch if you can stay focused on the big picture.

More next time…

The Church Jesus Is Building – Part Forty-Six

Jesus’ test of a true disciple was the fruit that emanated from their life. He encountered numerous people who talked a good game (such as the Pharisees), but He was only enthusiastic about those who lived what they claimed to believe. Today there are many people who like to think – and make others think – that they are revolutionaries and thus part of the new movement in the Kingdom; true believers and disciples of Jesus. But their lives betray that deception.

How can you tell if someone is a revolutionary? As Jesus taught, you look for the fruit. But what are the relevant behaviours that support the verbal intimations? Again the Bible is the best source of such measures. I believe that not only was Paul the apostle a stellar revolutionary, but his letters to the churches he mentored provide tremendous insight into the distinguishing attributes of genuine revolutionaries. 

Paul’s letter the the church in Rome stands out as perhaps the most forthright commentary on what such change agents look like. This is not surprising, since it would have taken robust faith to flourish as a Christian in the nucleus of the Roman Empire. There are great similarities between the context of the early Roman Church and the contemporary church in many nations today. The apostle to the gentiles offers guidance in seven areas of life: spiritual practices, personal faith, perspective on life, attitude, character, relationships, and behaviour. 

1> Spiritual practices

Paul’s view of a true disciple and thus revolutionary is that they are connected: they have formed a deep bond with God and relate to people intimately because of that bond.

Paul highlights several specific practices for the early believers. Early in his letter, he underscores the importance of constant prayer and worship. Later on he reminds the Christians to pull out all the stops to get the Good News a fair hearing by everyone and to use supernatural abilities God gave them for acts of service.

Recognizing that no one can anticipate everything that will come their way, Paul entreats Christ’s devotees to remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit. His final exhortation regarding their spiritual practices is to do whatever they can to build up others’ faith.

One of the lessons from this letter that is most impressive was that Paul, like Jesus, was less concerned about religious ceremonies and completing a checklist of activities and events than he was about people being tuned in to God. Not once did he rant about being present at church every week or completing specific amounts of activity. His message was profoundly simple: stay in touch with God and follow your instructions as provided by God. It is all about deepening your relationship with God, not about consistently engaging in your routines.

2> Personal faith

While Paul’s key message on spiritual practices was to be connected to God, the overarching message Paul had for believers regarding the development of their personal faith was simply to be available. Available for what? Available to do whatever it takes to grow your faith stronger. Available to hear and respond to the Spirit of God. Available to see Him work through you because of your trust in Him.

Paul describes this accessibility another way by prompting believers to “give themselves completely to God” (Romans 6:13). He called disciples to surrender every dimension of their lives to God. Nothing shows your faith more irrefutably than your willingness to give away control and follow any directive given by your leader (Jesus). Surrender is proof of conviction in the life of a true disciple (revolutionary). 

The Church Jesus Is Building – Part Forty-five

We are discussing the changes that happen to the disciples of Jesus, believers today —revolutionaries – when they become involved in the revolution. Typically, four highly significant changes appear to be produced by a revolutionary’s investment in a revolution. We have looked at 3 of 4 changes; Realigning personal identity; Clarifying Core Beliefs; Being part of a community. Moving on…

4> New forms of behaviour

Modern life is an exercise in dealing with distractions. It has been argued that one reason we feel stressed, fatigues, and ineffective is that there are so many distractions in our day that we struggle to finish critical tasks, rarely focus completely on any specific pursuit, generally feel as if other choices might have been more satisfying, and compromise the quality of our performance by juggling so much simultaneous activity.

Intentional and strategic change – especially on a major scale – occurs because it has been tirelessly pushed through by believers with blinders. Revolutionaries’ extreme resonance with the cause enables them to deny the multitude of distractions and seductions that could dissipate their effect. Sometimes these people are seen as narrow-minded or uninteresting because of their laser-like focus on revolutionary ideas. Such negative characterizations are meaningless to the revolutionaries. They receive their energy and their affirmation from God in ways that the world at large will never understand.

This disregard for the world’s applause, combined with their intense dissatisfaction with the existing reality, enables them to do what they believe is right, oblivious to public reaction, are simultaneously intriguing and scary to those who uphold the societal norm. In fact, this public fascination with and resistance to revolutionaries’ behaviour serve to spur the change agents on to ever more advanced forms of transformational activity.

So, as we bring these four personal changes together in the revolutionary we see “a new person.” 

In the end, the revolution may be more about reshaping the revolutionary than it is about altering the course of society. Revolutionaries themselves comprehend what is at stake and how critical it is to model transformation so others are more likely to buy into the process and its outcomes. The ultimate desire, of course, is to influence the world for Christ. But the means to accomplish that lofty end is to be revolutionized by the revolution. 

The Church Jesus Is Building – Part Forty-four

We are discussing the changes that happen to the disciples of Jesus, believers today, when they become involved in the revolution. Typically, four highly significant changes appear to be produced by a revolutionary’s investment in a revolution. Last time we saw the first one: Realigning personal identity. Let’s move one to the second and third changes.

2> Clarifying core beliefs

There is no room in a revolution for those who are ignorant of the foundational beliefs and philosophy of the revolution. These movements live or die on the vitality of their foundational, seminal ideas – ideas about truth, justice, value, freedom, and similarly weighty matters. God’s revolution is no different. The soldiers of this revolutionary band must champion the breath and profundity of the worldview God provides. By personally embracing those perspectives, their lives are altered. 

Revolutionaries have a wholly biblical outlook on life, based on the belief that the Bible is God’s perfect and reliable revelation designed to instruct and guide all people. The core beliefs of the Christ-followers relate to the existence, origins, character, and purposes of God; the origins and purpose of people; the need for and means to eternal salvation; the repository and content of moral and spiritual truths; and the existence, powers, and role of various spiritual beings. 

Possessing a biblical point of view on all matters, and allowing it to drive your moment-to-moment decisions, enables you to distinguish yourself from conventional thinking and behaviour.

Know this: you become what you believe. Because your core spiritual convictions dramatically influence your life choices, your major spiritual beliefs shape your self-image and behaviour. The revolution, because it is based on applying biblical principles, constantly elevates and clarifies the central beliefs that facilitate sinners being transformed into forgiven, satisfying servants of the living God. 

3> Part of a community

Having a reference group as an anchor is important. Revolutionaries are often iconoclastic and frequently initiate their journey toward a new life with the intention of being fiercely independent rebels who will show the world how to do things the right way. Almost inevitably, these people discover three important things:  they are not the only ones dissatisfied with the status quo, it is difficult to sustain their rebellion when they are alone in the process, and they are having less influence on their own than they expected. The result is for them to join forces, carefully but enthusiastically, with others who seem to be on the same wavelength.

Individuals involved in the revolution of faith that is currently redefining the Church in many nations are predisposed to community activity. Why? They have been exposed to biblical preaching that emphasizes the relational nature of God and the connectional character of ministries. As much as they may appreciate the intensity and gutsiness of John the Baptist, they recognize that a solitary voice in the desert has less effect than a united voice in the marketplace. This is a major point of difference between social malcontents, who often act out their displeasures in isolated and unconstructive ways, and social reformers, who refuse to accept what is and agree to work in tandem with like-minded reformers to introduce needed transformation.

Integrating into a pool of compatible change agents has tangible benefits. Each revolutionary’s impact is multiplied by being part of a larger, harder-to-ignore group of companions. An individual’s personal skills and gifts are exploited to maximum advantage, while the community compensates for each person’s deficiencies. Affirmation from fellow transformers leads to increased strength, and being part of a larger force builds self-confidence. 

Both the cause and the individual are better off because of accountability in relation to thinking, message, behaviour, and resource use. Revolutionaries take pride in their connection to the community of fellow zealots. As in any society, it is the community to which they belong that sustains them and nurtures them through the good times and the bad. This adopted community anchors them both to reality and to the idealism to which they aspire. 

More next time….