Content – The Essential Christ
By far, the most unique and controversial aspect of Jesus’ teachings is what He said about Himself.
The rabbis of Jesus’ day taught the Law and their commentaries of the Law. They didn’t blatantly call themselves authorities, but would defer to great teachers of the past. Jesus, on the other hand, did not teach second-hand doctrine. It was not “Rabbi So-and-so said…” but “I say to you”.
After the Sermon on the Mount, the people were astonished, because He taught them with authority (Matthew 7:28-29). But as amazed as the crowds were, what Jesus said about Himself was even more shocking.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. …
– John 10:27-31 (ESV)
Whenever people wanted to stone Jesus, it was because He, a mere man as the Jews thought (John 10:33), claimed to be God.
Most other religions in the world focus on the teachings of their founders. For the sake of argument, Islam could be essentially the same if Allah supposedly revealed himself to someone other than Muhammad. If John Doe discovered the supposed path to enlightenment instead of Siddhartha Gautama, “Doe-ism” might be the same as Bhuddism.
But there could never be a substitute for Jesus Christ. Without Him, Christianity falls apart, because the focus is not just on what Jesus taught, but on the essentialness of Himself.
We Christians know this in terms of theology and salvation. Jesus made many statements about Himself that we use today in apologetic or evangelistic ways to get people to believe that Jesus is God. But we must remember He also made shocking, exclusive statements to us, His followers.
We cannot treat what Jesus said to us as mere doctrines. If we are to follow Him, we must let statements such as the following have their full, painfully piercing impacts on our hearts and minds:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
– John 15:5 (ESV)
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
– Luke 14:26 (ESV)
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
– Matthew 10:37-38 (ESV)
“And whoever of you desires to become first, he shall be slave of all. For even the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
– Mark 10:44-45 (Green)
Too many times we treat Jesus as an example for us to follow: He laid down a set of principles that we’re to follow. We spiritualize away the hard sayings, or we give lip service to them without living them out for real. I know, because I do it also. Despite all we say, this kind of following doesn’t require a real living, personal, day-by-day dependent and submissive relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s all theory and no reality.
Much of our teaching today ignores the practicalities such a relationship. We teach Bible doctrine so we can grow familiar with its contents. We teach the difference between right and wrong. We teach how to apply biblical truths to our lives. We teach lifestyle, the outward actions of keeping oneself morally pure, helping the needy, becoming active members of the church, presenting the good news of Jesus Christ to the lost, etc. Good things all, but none of this seems to require a direct relationship with Jesus. Our practice can easily become Christianity without Christ.
Of course, we also teach things that are more discipleship-oriented such as prayer. But if we’re not focused on following Jesus, these things can be practiced dryly, religiously, or even selfishly. (It’s easy to treat Christianity as a form of self-improvement – with God’s help, of course.)
New Testament discipleship is always centered on Jesus Christ: not just learning about Jesus or following His example, but following His leading. As mentioned earlier, Jesus did not say “Go in this direction”, He said “Follow me.” This requires an active, living relationship with Him, expectantly listening for His voice (John 10:27), talking to Him, and obeying Him.
Yes, we all have a heart condition that prevents us from living right. The solution is not to try live right but to abide in Jesus and walk in the Spirit as He did. Only Jesus can cure our heart condition.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
– John 15:4 (ESV)
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
– Galatians 5:16 (ESV)
Discipleship centers on Jesus. He is the beginning and the end, and everything in between. Let us fix our eyes on Him.