“Either this is not the gospel, or we are not Christians.” – Thomas Linacre
Thomas Linacre was born around 1460 and died in 1524, just after the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. He was an Oxford professor and physician to Kings Henry the 7th and 8th. In his day the Roman Catholic Church forbade the reading of the Bible in any other form than the Latin translation known as the Vulgate. After a two year stint studying Greek in Italy, Linacre returned to Oxford and for the first time read the four gospels in the Greek manuscripts. Upon reading the gospels in the Greek, Linacre recorded in his diary, “Either this is not the gospel, or we are not Christians.” Evidently the Vulgate had become so corrupted over time that it no longer taught the true message of the gospel that Linacre found in the older Greek manuscripts. Linacre saw the gap between the true teachings of scripture and practices of his own life and the lives of his countrymen.
“Either this is not the gospel, or we are not Christians.” That is a sobering thought. In Linacre’s case the gap between confession and practice was at least in part due to a lacking translation of God’s word. What’s our excuse? Hundreds of years of textual criticism and over 5000 available fragments and manuscripts have given the modern church the most accurate translations of the original New Testament writings the church has seen in at least 1600 years. To be sure there are some wacky paraphrases of the Bible on the market today. Nevertheless, when we read the more faithful translations (i.e. the NIV, ESV and others) we can be sure that we are getting the original message that the New Testament writers wanted to communicate. But if we read the gospels honestly and compare them to our lives, many of us will see a stark contrast between our confession and practice, or as one of my mentors puts it, our creed and our code.
In Matthew 28:19-20, after Jesus had risen from the dead, appeared to over 500 people, and spent forty days teaching his disciples everything that pertained to him in the scriptures of the Old Testament, he gave them this charge:
“All authority in heaven and on the earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Notice Jesus does not say, “Go therefore and make converts…” he says make disciples. What is a disciple? Dallas Willard has an interesting definition of the word. According to Willard, a disciple is “a real life apprentice of Jesus.” When I think of an apprentice, for some reason I always think of a young boy in Revolutionary America learning the blacksmith trade. The boy would usually live with the master smith. He spent his days with the master craftsman learning to do everything the master did. How hot should the fire be? At what point is the metal ready to pour? Which hammer should be used first to do the rough work, and which one is for forming the metal into a fine finish? And it’s not just about facts. You can watch someone beat molten steel for hours, but until you actually pick up the hammer and swing, you have no idea what it feels like.
Being a disciple of Jesus is no different. At first, we need to learn the facts. We need to know that all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. We need to know that Jesus died to pay the price for our sins so that through his death, we might go free. And most importantly, we have to take that step to put all our faith and hope in him. But that is the beginning of our life with him. At that point we are converts. But that is not God’s goal for us. His goal is so much greater. He actually intends to make us like Jesus. In his classic work Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis put it this way:
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.
When Jesus moves into a life, he has no intention of tolerating our own personal status quo. Being a disciple is more than confessing a truth. It is about learning from the master. Jesus told his disciples that as they made disciples of all nations they should teach them to observe all that he had commanded. Well, that’s a tall order. And in any human terms, we can’t do it. But with the indwelling Holy Spirit as our guide, we can begin to walk down the road of discipleship. We can begin to order our lives in such a way that we are actively learning from Jesus. As we come to portions of scripture which magnify the gap between our creed and our conduct, we can pause there and meditate on God’s word. Being a disciple means rather than skipping ahead to something less convicting, we remain there and ask God to close the gap.
This month’s song is based on the hymn “Thy Life Was Given for Me.” The hymn speaks to the fact that we have been bought at an enormous price. That price was the very blood of the Son of God. Jesus gave his life for us. What have we given for him? It is not a song of guilt. It is a song of reflection. We do in a very real sense owe God our lives. But discipleship is not some form of repayment to God. We can never repay God for what he has done for us. Nevertheless, how can our response be any less than lives lived to the Glory of God? The apostle Paul says: “And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Let us be real-life apprentices of Jesus, no longer living for ourselves, but for him who died for us.
Each month I’ll post a new song. This month’s song is from my album From the Shoulders of Giants, and you can have it FREE. Just right-click on the link below, choose “Save Target As,” and it’s all yours. If you want to make a donation, I am funneling all funds from this project to International Justice Mission. Visit the Donate page for more details. And please share this blog with your friends.
(if you can’t download the file, send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll email you the MP3)
Words by Frances R. Havergal – alt. by Eric Parker
Music Copyright 2008 Eric Parker/BMI
Eric Parker – vocals
Fred Schendel – keys, electric guitar, synths
Robert Streets – production, drums, backing vocals
Steve Babb – bass guitar
Rachel Beckmann – cello