Did Jesus Come Just to Make Us Better?

Did Jesus Come Just to Make Us Better?

This time of year, you hear a lot about goals, self-improvement plans and similar objectives and resolutions to get the new year started off right. No matter how you fared last year, or what things that were in your list of achievements that never got accomplished, we view the new year as a clean slate, a chance to start over and try again (or trying something different or new.)

As I’ve tried different programs and reflected on some things that have worked in my life and didn’t work (including some real doozies of failure), I have to wonder, “Is this what Jesus has in mind for us?” To continually try to improve ourselves? Or is there something else that He wants from us? Is there a different way to go about this whole “following Jesus” thing?

Having not only done the planner/calendar approach,  the goal-setting program (I even came up with my own goal-setting challenge a couple of years ago I sheepishly admit), and others, I can say that seldom does this approach work when you’re talking about spiritual growth. There are things like spiritual disciplines that can be helpful, but only as you approach it from a relational perspective.

There are no spiritual principles that will be 100% effective. There isn’t a 4 step plan that will help you become a better Christian. I don’t believe these things even work very well when we’re talking about day-to-day self-improvement. The industries that are “built” to help you succeed (all the self-improvement programs, the goal setting workshops, diet and exercise programs) are really banking on your failure. Very few of the people who start programs like these end up with their desired results, even of the few who finish.

So does that mean Jesus wants you to step it up? Does he want you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and try harder, learn more, and (as one of my friends say), “suck it up, buttercup?”

Hardly. Jesus doesn’t offer just another self-improvement program. What he offers is new life. The two couldn’t be more opposite. Whereas a self-improvement program depends on, well, you and your self-discipline to make things different. What Jesus offers is really more of a self-crucifixion program. There needs to be less of you so that there can be more of Him.

More of His life.

More of His Spirit.

More of Him. In. You.

A number of years ago, this verse hit me smack in my spirit:

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:11)

Do you see what’s going on? I read that verse for two or three decades before it really sank in. I finally understood what was going on here.

First, think about the power that is required to raise someone from the dead. That is no natural power. If they are close to life, then CPR or a jolt of electricity (“Clear!”) might do it. But, for those (like Lazarus) who are beyond hope physically, think about the kind of power that it must take to raise someone from the dead. Jesus was like Lazarus in that it wasn’t just a near-death experience. They were both in the grave for 3 days.

Meditate on this for a few minutes: the supernatural power of God that dwells in the Spirit.

Now, what else does this verse say? “…is living in you…” So, this same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead; this same Spirit who brought Lazarus back to life; this same Spirit who caused the lame to walk and the blind to see; He lives in you! Isn’t that amazing?

All of the power.

All of the wisdom.

“…is living in You…”

The Spirit who “hovered over the waters” at the beginning of creation. The Spirit who breathed life into Adam. The Spirit who was there at Pentecost that fell on thousands of people and made them speak in other languages.

That’s the Spirit we’re talking about. This Spirit resides within every believer. And He is there to comfort, to guide, and to help.

Are you beginning to see the difference in what we think our spiritual life should be versus what God offers us? And that’s not even scratching the surface of all the gloriousness (did I just make up a word?) that Father wants for us.

When I visit with others about this – even when I just ponder and think about it – or write about it, there is something that wells up within me that wants to shout this from the rooftops.

This isn’t something that any man taught me. It’s something that God revealed to me as I read the Scriptures. It’s  another reason this truth is so special to me – Father Himself was my teacher.

I know you want to do better, to be better, to have the abundant life that He offers. The trick is, you can’t earn your way or work your way into it. It’s something that comes as a result of the Life that lives in you by the Spirit. It’s part of the self-crucifixion program that Jesus beckons you to. It’s not something that comes by effort. It’s something that comes by rest, believe it or not.

So the next time your tempted to buy that self-improvement program, ask Father what He wants of you and where He wants you to invest your time, energy, and resources. Chances are, it isn’t to plan out your next 5 or even next year.

Chance are, He will invite you to a one-step-at-a-time plan that Has you trusting in Him and leaning into Him each step of the way.

Is There a Better Way to Disciple?

Is There a Better Way to Disciple?

When I was in college, I went through a very well-known discipleship program. I met with my discipler once a week and we went through these huge notebooks of information. We would check off lists and tasks. A friend of mine was my leader. There were a couple of issues I had with the program. One, I began to dread going every week. I hung out with my friend weekly, if not daily. I enjoyed spending time with him, except the discipleship time we spent together was BOR – ING! There was no life in it – just going through a notebook and to-do items. (Snoozer!)

  • Did I read the passages and answer the fill-in-the-blank questions?
  • Did I memorize the scripture for the week?
  • Did I witness to at least one person? (The answer was usually NO – since I was at a Christian university, who wasn’t a Christian? 🙂 ).

There were 3 of these notebooks you had to get through in order to complete the program. These were not your ordinary 2-inch binders either. They were ginormous, 5- or 6-inch beasts that would put a large-print KJV Study Bible to shame.

My second issue was that it really didn’t seem to make a difference in my life or the life of my friend. We hung out together all the time, yet, his faith didn’t really seem to grow much during our time together. It just felt like something we did, checked off, and moved on. More life and relationship growth happened outside of that time – not during it.

I never finished the program. I didn’t even get through the second mega-manual. In some ways, I felt like a failure. Honestly, though, there was more life in a prayer time that another friend and I shared twice a week. I found his faith and trust in the Lord inspiring, and our time together wasn’t dry at all. I even experienced a major healing during this time. That was the kind of faith I wanted (and still want) to pursue. Not a checklist-based faith, but a living faith that learns to listen to and hear the Lord’s voice. 

That’s why many so-called discipleship programs are flawed. They are based too much on what we do, and not enough on hearing from the Lord and following His lead. I’ve tried a number of programs and read about a few more. They may have had life at one point, but many seem ineffective in creating life-long followers of Jesus. The issue comes when we try and box up what the Lord wants to do through His Spirit and His people and put it into a system of checklists and principles. He’s a living God that wants a living relationship with His children.

 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.  So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)

It is not the system or structure we use (or even the person leading us) that causes us to grow in the Lord, but it is the Lord Himself. So why do we settle for a system created by a person to help us grow in the Lord? How about we connect with the source of growth first? And then share what Father is doing in our lives to help each other mature in the Lord?

What kind of discipleship would that look like? One that seeks to encounter a living God and to live where every day is a new challenge of faith and listening and learning both from Father and from each other?

What is your experience with discipleship? What have been the most encouraging times helping you grow in your faith? What funny stories do you have about attempts at discipleship?