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On the road to becoming a disciple and then making disciples there seem to be four levels of progression. Yesterday we saw the first level-the entire world around you who is not presently following Jesus. Our goal is that by showing Jesus off we might find people who are interested.
I want to clarify a little more who these interested people are. They are not interested in joining something. They are not interested in becoming religious. They are not interested in learning a new language. Nor are they interested in leaving their culture or religious identification to become like you in your culture. BUT we are looking for those who are interested in how Jesus might fit into their culture and how their culture fits with Jesus and His teachings.
People who are interested in this way are open to knowing and discovering more about this Jesus. I call this kind of stance 'leaning in' for more. It reminds me of becoming like a little child-open, trusting and in more of a learning mode. When a person 'leans in' in this way, he will inevitably come to the point of personal faith-to be a believer in Jesus.
Being interested enough to believe is what we want. The progression goes like this: First-a person sees Jesus displayed through the lives of those who are following Jesus. Second-once a person sees Jesus displayed, there is a good chance he will become interested in knowing more. Third-when a person follows his interest in Jesus and is leaning in, he will likely become a believer.
For most of my spiritual journey I have found calling myself a believer most comfortable. It's a clean term and has little religious baggage to it. Three observations come to mind here.
FIRST-Being a believer has become a threshold experience-the very doorway into salvation. After sharing a time of counseling a desperate man in the psych ward of a local hospital, I told this particular study group that it was so exciting to see this man's attitude of fear change into a sincere seeking for God. One of our group members quickly said, "So he became a believer?" In other words, "Did you close the spiritual deal and now this non-believer is a believer?" We seem to want this magical moment that a person becomes a believer and then all will be OK.
To accommodate this thinking and to motivate people into becoming a believer, many have created tangible ways to confirm this threshold act of belief. Some urge people to respond during what is called an altar call, such as what is done at the end of a Billy Graham service. Others have what is called an "I believe" service, where a person stands to his feet and says "I believe." Still others rely on urging a person to pray a prayer of belief. Each of these sort of memorializes the time a person becomes a believer.
SECOND-Being a believer has become a time to reference as the time your relationship with God began. Remembering the day you became a believer-your threshold experience of salvation-becomes a sure sign that your faith is genuine and not being able to nail down that date means that maybe you never actually have come into a salvation experience at all.
Recently, a pastor told one of his elders that if you can't identify that specific time of salvation faith in your life, then you are probably not a genuine believer. That night the elder interrogated his wife and she could not give him a specific day, but she felt she had come into a personal faith gradually. When the elder shared this experience with a group I was leading, he was really saddened by his discovery and it showed in his countenance. Then I asked him, "When was Peter's specific day?" The elder sat there for quite some time and said, "I don't know." I said, "Troubling, isn't it?" "What about the other disciples? What was their specific day?" The elder saw what I was showing him and said, "So, my pastor was wrong."
THIRD-Being a believer can miss the point of the ongoing process of believing. To make "being a believer" so paramount, it is too easy to miss out on what happened with the early disciples and rely on man-made sound bites and clichés. Think about it! The early disciples were not "believers" in the sense that most think of it today. They were followers of Jesus and His teachings, but were a work in progress with respect to becoming believers. By the way, that process took them over three years!
So, we want people to become interested-interested enough to believe. But there is a catch here. Becoming a believer is more than a threshold experience. It's not just a moment in time where a person has expressed his belief or faith in Jesus. The act of believing is progressive and continual. It's a journey of faith. It's important to encourage those who are interested to be interested enough to believe. Just make sure that when a person believes, this believer learns to keep on believing-living this faith out in his life.
As important as it is to be interested enough to believe I want to show you tomorrow why believing is not enough to get you into a relationship with God. On the road to becoming a disciple and then making disciples, there is one more level that must be reached.