In our last two posts we saw that two essential ingredients for growth in Christian discipleship are, first, meeting together regularly with other Christians and, second, increasing our knowledge of God and the way he thinks.
In this post we’ll look at a third, starting with three Bible passages from the New Testament.
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24–25)
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Paul also wrote:
“I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (Romans 12:1)
What Jesus and Paul are both getting at here is that if you want to be a Christian you must be prepared to dedicate your entire life and everything in it to God. The death and resurrection of Jesus mean that when you become a Christian, you are given a new life, a blank slate with all of your past mistakes and failures wiped away, a chance to start again and do the right thing.
However that new life does not belong to you. It belongs to God. From that point on, you must live as if everything you say or do or make or achieve is being presented to God as an offering.
In the Old Testament, the Jewish people were required to offer sacrifices to God, usually the best livestock or crops that their agrarian society could produce. As you can see from the verses quoted above, you as a Christian are expected to consider everything you own or do as if it belonged to God.
Does that sound daunting? Overwhelming? Terrifying?
What if you make a mistake? What if you say or do something that is the opposite of what God wants? What if you act selfishly or lash out in anger or deceive or betray or hurt someone?
What if the sacrifice you present to God isn’t good enough?
It never will be. And God knows that. His plan for you isn’t that you will present him with a life good enough to meet his standards. That was never his plan and it never will be.
Jesus has already offered a perfect life to God. You don’t need to. Jesus’ perfect life and willing sacrifice should inspire you to try, and then at the times you do fail, to offer God an apology and try to change for the better.
This is something that all Christians know, or at least should know, before they make the commitment to dedicate their new life to God. Yet it’s so easy to forget and to slip back into thinking that it’s all about us and our performance before God. We may feel doomed because we are aware of our frequent failures. On the other hand we may feel over-confident because we have blinded ourselves to our own faults and look only at the faults of others.
Here then is the third ingredient of growth for a Christian: remembering that our faith is not about us. It’s about God and Jesus and what they have achieved entirely by themselves for us.