Simply put, a disciple of Jesus is a follower of Jesus. Jesus told his 12 disciples, “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt. 16:24)
What does it mean to follow Jesus?
1. Live as a Worshiper – as image bearers of God, we are created as worshipers. The question is not “will” we worship, but “what” will we worship? Our worship is like a fire hose that can’t be turned off, so the question is where will we point our worship proclivity? A follower of Jesus worships their Creator and repents of any false worship, including good things like family, work, or recreation.
2. Gospel Identity – a follower of Jesus recognizes the sinful tendency to find their identity in their money, intelligence, career, education, children, human relationships, or any number of created things. Therefore a disciple turns from finding ultimate identity in these empty idols (1 Thess. 1:9), to King Jesus and His kingdom of perfect hope, peace, joy, and love.
3. Committed to Community – a disciple of Jesus has a Spirit inspired desire to live life with other Jesus followers, the church. They recognize their membership in the body of Christ and understand the weight of that responsibility by giving of their gifts, time, and money to serve others.
4. Sent on Mission – Jesus said he was sending his church in the same way in which he was sent (John 20:21). A follower of Jesus sees themselves as a missionary sent on Jesus’ mission, in their everyday lives, to restore a broken world through gospel living and proclamation.
Tebow, Calvin, and the Hand of God in Sports
“Two days ago on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” telecast, announcer Bob Costas spent two minutes weighing in on the most exciting—and polarizing—phenomenon in sports right now: the Tim Tebow Magical Fourth-Quarter Show, accompanied by the Denver Broncos players and staff.
Costas, one of the most eloquent and thoughtful voices in sports, suggested that Tebow’s recent string of performances was “approaching, okay we’ll say it, the miraculous.” Many have made similar comments in recent weeks. Costas switched to a more controversial track, however, when he went on to suggest that the God Tebow worships has no interest in influencing the outcome of games. I quote at length from the full transcript:
Again today, Tebow did next to nothing until the waning moments, and then, down 10-0 with two minutes left, he throws a touchdown pass, and the Broncos tie it at the gun on a 59-yard field goal. And then win it in overtime on a 51-yarder. The combination of Denver’s continuing late heroics, and today, the Bears’ otherwise unexplainable errors, is enough to have some at least suspect divine intervention. Except that Tebow, whose sincere faith cannot be questioned, and should be respected, also has the good sense, and good grace, to make it clear he does not believe God takes a hand in the outcome of games.
Most of us are good with that. Otherwise, how to explain what happens when there are equal numbers of believers on either side? Or why so many of those same believers came up empty facing Sandy Koufax? Or hit the deck against Muhammad Ali? Or why the Almighty wouldn’t have better things to do?
Is Bob Costas right? Does God “take a hand in the outcome of games,” or does he “have better things to do,” as Costas, a moral but not notably religious man, seemed to suggest?
God’s Providence and Your Hair Follicles
The question, currently debated in countless American bars and gym locker-rooms, is surprisingly theological and biblical. The historic doctrine of God’s providence teaches that nothing happens outside of God’s purview and ordination. John Calvin, the great 16th-century French reformer, wrote straightforwardly in the Institutes of the Christian Religion that God “directs everything by his incomprehensible wisdom and disposes it to his own end” (I.16). Over against a more deistic philosophy—a system of theology that many adopted in Europe following Calvin’s Genevan tenure—Calvin argued that “God so attends to the regulation of individual events, and they all so proceed from his set plan, that nothing takes place by chance” (I.16).
Calvin taught from biblical texts that suggest the very same. In a discourse on the need to rightly direct natural fear, for example, Jesus taught that God superintends even the death of a sparrow: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matt. 10:29). Without the Latin terms or the footnotes, Jesus was teaching the doctrine of God’s general providence. The Lord God oversees and brings to pass all that takes place on this earth, whether unseating kings or precisely placing follicles on our heads (Prov. 21:1; Matt. 10:30).
The breath-taking nature of tsunamis and earthquakes naturally disposes us to see, even in our sin, the hand of God in such events. But the Scripture speaks with equal clarity to God’s involvement in the finer points of life. “The lot is cast into the lap,” we read in Proverbs 16:33, “but its every decision is from the Lord.” Every decision, not just the big ones. God is God of the small even as he is God of the great.
This does not mean, however, that God’s work of providence should generally be understood as one long string of what is called “primary causation,” or direct, miraculous involvement. The kind of everyday superintendence that we have just covered owes more to “secondary causation,” or God’s normal directing and upholding of all that transpires according to his wise counsel. Sometimes people get hung up on this kind of technical language, but it’s really just a helpful way of saying that sometimes God intervenes in a special way—say, the miraculous causation of the virgin conception (Luke 1:30ff)—in a way that he did not, for example, when Jesus grew from a boy to a man in normal human fashion (Luke 2:40).
Reclaiming Romans 8
Having sketched these biblical parameters, the Word is yet very clear that the Lord directs believers’ destinies with specific, comprehensive providence. In Romans 8:28, the apostle Paul reminds his audience of just this point: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” All things, not just the big things. Because God takes special delight in guiding his elect children, we can work and labor and play and rest for his glory and in his strength. We must not allow prosperity-gospel types to hijack the biblical truth that God has a plan for our lives, a plan of great importance and beauty.
Instead of living each day for our own glory, Paul urges us to adopt a theocentric way of life: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). We might sometimes wonder whether the details of our lives are too small to bear cosmic significance, but Paul’s mention of eating and drinking silences such a perspective. All of life matters to God; all of life, for the Christian, is God’s.
The Hand of God in the Field of Sports
We return, then, to our friend, Tim Tebow. Does God, to use Costas’s phrase, “take a hand” in his comeback victories? Working from the biblical and theological resources we’ve briefly mentioned, we’re positioned to answer a question that, as we can see, requires more care than your average drive-time call-in show may gave it.
God oversees and ordains all that comes to pass. This includes, as surprising as it may initially seem, football games. The outcome of every football game ever been played was planned by the all-wise, all-seeing mind of God. But this is not saying what some might think. God has also planned every haircut you’ve ever had, and every shopping trip you’ve ever taken. He is lord of football, and he is lord of produce. Nothing happens outside of his sovereign direction.
We err, though, if we equate his general superintendence of this world—the falling of sparrows, the numbering of hairs—with the special working of his kingdom. This is what Costas seems to be protesting, and in a much fuller sense than he understands. God has a special interest in promoting his gospel and building his church (John 3:16; Rom. 10; Eph. 1). This is not to say that he is uninterested in the ordinary things of the world, but rather to note that the mission of salvation begun after Adam’s fall holds preeminence for God and, by extension, for his followers.
We must also say that for Tebow, the way he plays football is necessarily a matter of God’s glory. In the same way that God gains glory through the work of a faithful accountant, a sacrificial, sleep-deprived mother, and a repentant cellist, God gains glory through righteous athletes who work hard in his name and seek to be a light in dark places. God directs the life and exploits of Tim Tebow, football hero. But he also directs Owen Strachan, Boyce College professor, or my friend Colin LeCroy, a Dallas lawyer, or my friend Emily Duffus, an Atlanta schoolteacher. Tebow may reach more people in his work, but we are all working for the glory of God, who directs and blesses our work so as to magnify his name.
Most Important Story
Is, then, the recent string of Denver Broncos victories a work of “primary causation,” God’s direct and miraculous intervention, in the same way as creation ex nihilo? I am not convinced it is. Costas and other cultural commentators are on roughly the same page as many of you in making this point.
But is the life of Tebow directed by the hand of God, in the same way that the lives of Tim Keller and Christopher Duffley and Elsie Dennison and every other believer are directed by God? Yes. Every Christian exists for the praise of God. Every Christian draws breath because God gives it. Every Christian serves God as a priest, offering acceptable service in the kingdom of his gospel through the power of his Spirit (1 Pet. 2:9). As with every other believer, God’s hand is leading Tebow’s life, blessing him as he applies Christian character to the task before him. God moves in mysterious ways. As previously stated, I do not have biblical grounds for seeing Tebow’s fourth-quarter heroics as an outworking of God’s direct causation. But I do know that God often delights to spurn the wisdom of the world by the efforts of his people (1 Cor. 1:20).
And I know, lastly, that the most important story here is not that Tebow and the Broncos are winning in dramatic fashion, but that the Lord seems to have worked in this man such that, though faced with unbelievable fame, major wealth, constant attention, and the classically all-American success story, Tebow seems only to want to talk about the gospel.
That, my friends, is the real miracle, and the work in which all of us—whether church planter, pipe-fitter, or homemaker—may participate.”
We’re saved by grace, not by works. (Ephesians 2:8-9).
This is not only a scripture nearly every Christian knows and loves it’s a doctrine that the evangelical church holds extremely tightly to, and for good reason .
However it’s one that we often don’t take far enough.
It seems most of us have an intellectual belief in “by grace alone” salvation but a works driven practical theology that leads us to believe that while I “enter” the door of Christianity through the gospel, in order to make myself at home I must perform up to a certain level. In other words my position as a Christian is a work of God’s unconditional grace, but my progress or growth as a Christian is a work conditioned upon my effort.
This works driven “sanctification” (the progress of being made more like Jesus) appeals to our fallen proclivity toward rules and pragmatism.
We really love rules, as Justin Holcomb wrote recently,
“rules make sense because they give us conditions. In essence, you could say we are natural-born legalists. It goes like this: if you do a, b, and c, you will get a reward. But if you break the rules, a bad result will follow. Rules give us a sense of control because if we can make good on those rules, then we can stay in control and master our destiny. But God’s economy is different. God, in the gospel, says you get exactly what you don’t deserve. Grace.”
Christianity isn’t about rules, it’s about the gospel. The good news that while you are more sinful than you could ever possibly conceive you are more loved and accepted than you ever dared hope.
Most of us were raised with the understanding that if we obeyed we would be accepted, and if we didn’t play by the rules we would be rejected. Therefore we take this paradigm into our relationship with Jesus, thinking that if I can just obey and follow the rules I will be accepted. But Jesus’ gospel (good news) declares just the opposite; it doesn’t tell us to obey so that we will be accepted, it compels us to obey because we’ve already been accepted.
So then how do we grow? How do I take the truths of the gospel and practically work them out in everyday life. Too often this question misses the point because we’re looking for somebody to give me 3 steps to Christian growth, a “get holy quick scheme.”
So what is the point?
Simply put the point is Jesus. If our growth as Christians involves more consistent victory over sin and a lifestyle of bringing God glory with our thoughts, actions, and attitudes then it’s critical that we recognize that this can never be achieved by working hard or following the rules, because what we’re talking about here is worship, it’s about the worship of a Person not a system or a program. If I want to live like Jesus (the goal of Christianity) then I need know Him, and it starts with recognizing that as a Christian I already know Him, as Paul would say, “I’m in Christ”. It’s this relationship that then shapes my growth and progress as a Christian. Herein is the key to Christian growth, transformed affections. Once I’ve tasted of Jesus and His overwhelming love and acceptance I can then properly eschew sin not as a legalist looking for moral acceptance, but as a Christian who realizes that whatever that sin is offering me at the moment pales in comparison to what I already have in Jesus.
Here is where growth is found and cultivated. It’s about worship, we worship into sin (the lie that a person, idea, or thing will bring me ultimate satisfaction) and we worship out of sin (the truth that only Jesus can bring me ultimate satisfaction). When I grasp this reality it helps me to see the why behind the what of my sin, giving me the freedom to run after Jesus instead of any number of counterfeits.
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18)
For further reading on this I highly recommend Jared Wilson’s new book Gospel Wakefulness
You can read chapter 7 of this book, where Jared talks about Gospel-Driven Sanctification here for free!
*Thank you Dr. Tim Keller for helping me to understand many of the truths contained here.