As I recall, it was pastor and leadership guru John Maxwell who said, “You can’t underestimate the relative unimportance of almost everything.”
And though he was speaking primarily in the context of business and leadership, the statement is most profoundly true in the context of being a disciple of Jesus. And misunderstanding of this reality – and I’ll go so far as to say, a misdirection away from this truth – is the spring from which so much error and damage flows in the religio-political culture of our time.
The net result is that a large percentage of self-identifying Christians expend lots of energy and focus on issues and agendas that are at best, far wide of God’s clear priorities for his people, and at worst, veer into the realm of old fashioned idolatry. And between those bookends live many dynamics that are damaging, both to the disciple, and to those outside faith in Christ who we are called to love and minister to as ambassadors of his Kingdom (II Cor 5:20).
The focus of this blog series, as evidenced by the title, is to discuss the things I’ve changed my mind about as I’ve navigated my own Journey and deeply studied the teachings of Jesus and the rest of the New Testament. My perspective has changed on many things that are hot topics and go-to points of contention and outrage in our time among self-identifying Christians. Things like America, what a Christian is, what that means, guns, abortion, voting, the LGBTQ+ community, the environment, church, politics, and God’s perspective on it all.
And we’ll get to those. But I would like to start with one very important thing (and there are many) that my mind has not changed about. In fact, the conviction has only gotten stronger and deeper as I’ve navigated my own deconstruction process and continually searched the scriptures.
And that is God’s priority and purpose for us as disciples of Jesus.
In most of my “Christian learnin’”, I was taught that God’s highest priority for his people was the Great Commission. In fact, when I was a youth pastor there was a very popular youth evangelism tool called First Priority, which focused solely on helping students share their faith with friends. In mission conferences and university chapels I continually heard that the Great Commission was THE thing that God was concerned about and that should be elevated above everything else in a Christian’s life; that evangelism was God’s First Priority for us.
And the second most popular purpose I was taught was that we were to be “salt and light” in the culture. That, like salt that’s used to preserve meat, our “righteousness and goodness” was designed to help slow the “rot” of society. There are many serious problems with this interpretation of Matt. 5 that we’ll address in a later post, but suffice it to say, this idea is ubiquitous in conservative Christian circles.
The one glaring problem, however, is that neither one of those things - nor a million other things that we focus on - are God’s First Priority for us.
None of them.
Go ahead. Take a moment.
I know some of you will likely need to argue with me in your mind a little bit. Fume and “yeah, but…” as long as you need to. I understand. When you’re done. Read on.
I promise, what I’m about to say is not only biblically solid, it’s of utmost importance and foundational to everything else that touches our lives as disciples. And incidentally, it’s the deepening realization of this truth that has served as the catalyst for so many of my changes in perspective.
God’s First Priority for us as disciples of Jesus is repeated in multiple ways and through multiple layers of teaching throughout the New Testament, but nowhere is it so concisely encapsulated than in Romans 8. Most Christians are overly familiar with Romans 8:28. So much so that in isolating it, we grossly mis-apply it to all sorts of things. But rarely do we read on and put it in the greater context of what Paul is trying to express.
Romans 8:28-29 reads
28 And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified.
What’s God’s First Priority, his predetermined agenda for us?
It is our transformation.
From who we naturally are as human beings, dominated and controlled by the Fallen Self, into a being whose heart, thoughts, emotions, character and overall life reflect that of Jesus.
Stop. Don’t do it.
Resist the knee-jerk reaction of “Oh. Be like Jesus. THAT’S your big answer?”
My pastor often talks about the Goldilocks Effect, the dynamics that tends to cloud our ability to see the depth of truth in a passage of scripture due to familiarity.
And nowhere is that more powerful than in this idea of us becoming “like Jesus.” Couple that with the gross misunderstandings around what it actually means to be like Jesus in the here and now, and this foundational concept is stripped of its power to inform our lives as God intended.
You see, once we miss God’s First Priority, we’re completely off-script and building upon a false foundation. God’s intent for us as disciples of Jesus is to be a continuation of his influence in the world. (Rom 8:29) So that the focus on the Kingdom and the love for God and for people Jesus extended would not be something we just talk about or manufacture on our own, but would be a beautiful, natural, outward expression of who we are, because we are literally being transformed on the inside.
When this transformation isn’t our First Priority, we naturally and unavoidably fall prey to the the Fallen Self and its penchant for donning religious robes and “acting like a Christian.”
This transformation and the disentangling of the influence of the Fallen Self within a disciple is THE admonition of the New Testament. We’ll talk at great length about this subject in the future, but lest I be accused of overstating, I recommend reading the following passages of Scripture with this subject in mind. There are more, but this is a compelling sampling:
· Mark 8:34-35
· Luke 6:39-40
· Romans 8:1-28
· Romans 12:1-2
· Galatians 5
· Philippians 2
· Colossians 3
Our transformation is God’s First Priority and is in fact the end goal and purpose of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Modern evangelical theology has narrowed the scope and purpose of the cross down to the way God “rescues us from hell”. But it’s forgotten that it took nothing less than the cross and resurrection of Jesus to free our True Selves as humans from the bondage to the Fallen Self (Romans 6 - lots more on this in later posts.)
The assumption of our ongoing transformation is the foundation upon which every other rests and relies. It provides both the context and the catalyst for the Great Commission. It provides the validity and the testimony for any influence we may have in the wider world. Put succinctly, it’s the starting point and the “given” that’s assumed in all of the admonishments and promises in the New Testament.
And yet, it’s something that is rarely talked about, taught, or even considered in modern “Christianity”, especially within the religious context of America in the 21st Century.
Unfortunately, when our own transformation ceases to be our First Priority, then all sorts of other things rush in and vie for our focus and attention. And most often, those things conveniently focus on “others” and the way “they” sin, which is systemic and epidemic in our current religious culture.
So, indeed, it is impossible to overestimate the relative unimportance of almost everything.
And in contrast, it’s impossible to overestimate the importance of the God’s stated purpose in our lives as disciples, that is, our transformation.
And when THAT becomes our First Priority, it radically changes how we see God, ourselves, and the world around us.
At least, it has for me.
(For more on this subject, please check out our video titled “What’s a Disciple?”)