Blast from the past: beliefs eight – following Jesus

This is part of a series in which I’m reposting old blog posts to explore my current thinking on the ‘big stuff’. They were first posted in 2011/12. I’m aiming to write a reflection after each topic commenting on any evolutions since this point in history.  

All that I’ve written in this beliefs series could be perceived to focus on the theological – or the headspace of our relationship with God. I’d also hope that it was earthed in the everyday reality of actually living out faith, but sometimes this could be little more than an exercise in thought.

What obsesses me, though, is what faith actually looks like on the ground. I try to be a practical theologian, a doer rather than simply a thinker. I’m not sure how much I achieve this goal, as the conversation often gives me more pleasure than the praxis.

I remember at ministerial college having this exciting conversation about post-modernity with my excellent Mission Tutor, Gordon Cotterill, where I was getting all excited about ministry to and with post-mods. Gordon brought me back down to earth when he began to ask the question about what this all meant to people in his church’s patch, Poplar, a deeply deprived part of east London where surviving until tomorrow is the biggest concern. Thing is, theology is great, but action is even more important.

I believe that faith must result in action. My favourite book in the bible is James, where the author writes beautifully about what faithful inaction and faithless action looks like. Have a read one day and see what I mean. His basic argument is that faith without action is not faith. We can have all sorts of beliefs, but if we aren’t living lives of love and generosity then we’re not living lives transformed by Jesus.

Let’s look at it another way. We talk about God as love, yet we become known as people of judgement, of exclusivity. We talk about God creating the whole universe and then do nothing to look after that creation. We talk about giving up everything to follow Jesus, and then talk about God blessing us with our latest gadget which is invaluable to our mission and ministry. I know I fail on every one of these.

Belief must impact every aspect of our living. Our morality, our relationships, our resources…everything. There is no sacred or secular. Giving our ten percent and then using the rest of our resources to sustain corrupt capitalism suggest we’ve missed the point. Every pound spent must be spent in a way that reflects who and what we believe God to be.

Too often we followers of Jesus have been heard shouting only about social morality, or about issues that have begun to compromise what has been perceived to be traditional Christian moral teaching – such as some of the issues around equality legislation. We’ve begun to talk about persecution when in fact all that is happening is that we’re beginning to awaken to the reality that the UK is not and never has been a ‘Christian Country’, whatever that means.

At the same time, Christ followers have been at the forefront of campaigns such as Make Poverty History, and latterly the Occupy movement, allying themselves with a broad coalition of voices – many of whom seem to understand more what the kingdom looks like than we do.

So, having a faith means thinking deeply about every decision we make every day. Asking ‘what would Jesus do’ has become something of a soundbite – but I guess that’s what it means to follow him. I love some of the stuff I’ve stumbled across online where people have asked ‘what would Jesus drive?’, or ‘what would Jesus cut?'(in terms of the budget deficit discussions going on across the world)…that’s where we need to be operating.

Asking what Jesus would do has to be accompanied with a response – it’s not enough to say Jesus wouldn’t do this or that – what would he do instead?

Which clothes retailers would Jesus be boycotting whilst supporting projects that bring about economic justice for developing world workers? How would Jesus support his local community – which campaigns would he get involved in? Would Jesus be Occupying St Paul’s or marching to save public services or part of the stop the war coalition? What would a Jesus-orientated economy look like?

I’m not trying to trivialise this – I really do believe that this is how we should be thinking. But remembering that everything is spiritual, that God’s mission is the re-creation of everything.

I know that there are some who believe Jesus is only concerned with our spiritual wellbeing – but I disagree profoundly. His whole life and ministry was about bringing hope to the hopeless, healing for the sick, food for the hungry…we could go on. Read Isaiah 61, the verses he uses to declare the start of his work and you’ll see what I mean.

The founder of The Salvation Army, William Booth realised that people couldn’t receive the gospel if their stomachs were empty. I’d even go as far as saying that the gospel of salvation means nothing if it leaves people in hopeless situations such as poverty with a trite “ah but at least it’ll be better in heaven”. I believe that, as Christian Aid are in the habit of saying, life begins before death.

That means here. Now. Poverty can be defeated. We just need to take the decisions today to make it happen…whether that means more taxes, better legislation, personal action…this is our responsibility, not anyone else’s.

Those of you who know me know that one verse from the bible is especially important to me. Micah 6v8 says: He has shown all you people what is good.And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (TNIV).

That means in every aspect of our life we have to pursue justice and mercy. That means getting involved, getting dirty. That means risking our Christian respectability, upsetting those in authority from time to time because we challenge the status quo.

Following Jesus is difficult. It’s messy. It complicates everything, turns our world upside down. But that’s the point. That’s the adventure. Jesus’ invitation to take up his yoke is for our whole worldview to be transformed to his, to see with his eyes, to love with his love.

The kingdom is here and now – that means everything is different. Everything. That’s the calling of Jesus. We follow him into the dark and the difficult and the dangerous carrying the light of his love with us knowing that it will cost. We won’t always have answers. We’ll often have to simply stand alongside those who suffer – but at least we’ll be there.

It means prayer, it means action. It means seeking out what God is calling us to be and do in any given situation and then doing it, whatever the cost. It’s being aware that we’re not in the task alone, the God is already there, we’re just following his lead. That’s discipleship. That’s faith. That’s knowing our bible. That’s kingdom living.

I believe following Jesus is life’s greatest calling. Why not have a look and see what you think.


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