A Framework for Faith/Spiritual Practices
He sells the precious talents of the Gospel of Christ/and demands them back, with interest, from the pagans of Ireland.
- Sechnall, Audite Omnes Amantes (Irish, 5th century)
Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
What kind of expectations are held out for you as a disciple by the preaching and teaching in your church? And does anyone among the leadership of the church take those expectations seriously?
Patrick did not hesitate to make demands on those who wanted to come to Jesus. An early gloss on this text tells us that "talents" means "commandments." Patrick did not just preach a Gospel promising forgiveness and eternal life. He preached a demanding Gospel, a take-up-your-cross-and-follow-Jesus Gospel. He held out large expectations for those who wanted in on his Jesus, and he realized great results from their lives.
What are we afraid of when we only emphasize the things God is going to do in the Gospel? Are we afraid we'll be accused of preaching works righteousness? Did Jesus worry about that?
Jesus offered forgiveness and eternal life, to be sure. But He expected people to lay down their former lives, die to themselves, and take up the cross of suffering service to others in the name of the Lord. If they weren't willing to do that, well, there were plenty of pretenders looking for followers in Jesus' day, just as there are today.
Any preacher or teacher who does not hold out great expectations for your walk with the Lord, who does not call you to self-denial and sacrificial service to others, who does not make it clear that being absorbed into Jesus is really what it means to be saved - any pastor who omits these or downplays them is not preaching the Gospel Patrick preached. Or the Gospel that Jesus preached.
Jesus can take you exceeding abundantly beyond anywhere you've ever been in your walk with Him (Eph. 3.20). But if such a challenge doesn't capture your imagination and make you willing to give up everything to pursue it, then what does it mean for you to be a disciple? And is that the same as what Jesus expects?
Do we really want to follow Jesus? Or do we just like our church?