Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) | Streaming Licensing # 20105663Worship Guide Study Guide
The Marks of a Disciple: Loyalty
John 14:15 - 14:24
May 15, 2022
Reverend Jason Harris
The life to which Jesus calls us is not moralistic (rewarding those living a good and moral life), therapeutic (free of restrictions or requirements), or deistic (distant and removed until we reach out to him). John 14 reveals the contra-conditional nature of Jesus' love and how we are to respond.
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Here is the question I want to start with: What do you think is the most popular belief system in the United States today? The answer might surprise you. It's not the usual suspects. It's not Christianity. It's not Marxism. It's not secular humanism, not Eastern mysticism. No, the most popular belief system in the United States today is a worldview that you've probably never even heard of. It is what some call Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Let me explain what I mean by that.
At the turn of the millennium, there were two sociologists, Christian Smith and Melinda Dunquist Denton, who researched the religious and spiritual lives of teenagers, and then they published their findings in a book entitled, Soul Searching. They coined the term “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” to describe the core beliefs and practices of young people at the time. Now 20 years later, those young people have grown up, and this worldview has become the dominant belief system of adults in the United States today.
You might ask, so what? Who cares? The reason why this matters is because Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is essentially a counterfeit form of Christianity. Many mistake it for Christianity, but it's a counterfeit. It's a false form. It's a distorted form of the Christian faith. That's why it matters.
What do these terms mean? Some people have a moralistic view of God, which means they believe that God rewards those who live a good, moral life by taking them to heaven when they die. Some people have a therapeutic view of God, meaning they believe that God doesn't really interfere in our lives, and he doesn't place any demands on us. He just wants us to be happy, to feel secure and confident about ourselves. And people have a deist view of God, meaning God is distant and removed, and he doesn't play an active role in our lives unless we reach out to him for help. So he's there if we need him.
You might listen to that list and think, “That sounds about right. I think that's what God is like.” If that is the case, then it suggests that you have been suckered, and you have been sold a bill of goods. You’ve bought into a false form of Christianity, not the real thing. That is what led one researcher named George Barna to write,
“The fact that a greater percentage of people who call themselves Christian draw from Moralistic Therapeutic Deism than draw from the Bible says a lot about the state of the Christian Church in America, in all its manifestations. Simply and objectively stated, Christianity in this nation is rotting from the inside out.”
Last week, I said that the old adage, “don't ask a fish to describe water,'' is often used to illustrate the power of culture. The more powerful a culture is, the more you simply take it for granted. In other words, the forces that exert the greatest influence on your patterns of thinking, and behaving, and relating are invisible to you. If that's true, then that means that chances are your beliefs about life, and God, and spirituality, and any number of hot button issues have been formed, not by thinking deeply from the standpoint of the Christian faith—by prayer and careful reading of Scripture—rather, your views have been formed by simply absorbing them from the air around you without ever thinking about it. That is the power of culture. If that's true, then that means that the only way that we can resist the influence of those forces is through conscious retraining. That's what the Apostle Paul calls us to in Romans 12:2. He says, “Do not let the world around you squeeze you into its mold, but rather be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
That's one of the reasons why we began a new series, which is focused on the distinguishing marks of a disciple. We're exploring how do we actually undergo that process of conscious retraining as a disciple, meaning a student or an apprentice of Jesus and his way of life?
In this sermon, I'd like us to consider how loyalty to Jesus is a distinguishing mark of an authentic follower. We'll do that by looking at a passage from John 14, which happens to show us that true Christianity is the exact opposite of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. If you'd like, let me encourage you to open up a Bible to John 14. I'll be reading v.15-24.
15“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
18“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 22Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me.
This is God's word. It's trustworthy, and it's true, and it's given to us in love.
What I'd like to do in this sermon is to show how the life to which Jesus calls us is 1) not moralistic, 2) not therapeutic, and 3) not deism.
First of all, it's not moralistic. This passage takes us into the upper room where Jesus gathered with his closest followers on the night before his death. You could sum up the first thing Jesus commands his followers like this: Let yourself be loved by me. Now, I bet you've never thought of it like that before, but that’s essentially what Jesus calls us to—that's the gospel! Let me love you. This is what Jesus is saying when he washes his disciples’ feet in the immediately preceding chapter. This is a deeply symbolic action, and Peter immediately resists this. He refuses to let Jesus wash him. He says, “You shall never wash me.” Jesus says, “If you do not let me wash you, you have no share in me. If you don't let me love you, you can have nothing to do with me.” The call of the gospel is to let Jesus love you.
This is the opposite of moralism because what does moralism say? Moralism says that God will love you and God will accept you if…God will love you and accept you if… if you're a good person, if you live a moral life, if you treat people well. And if you fail, that's OK. There's still a chance for God to love and embrace you if you clean up your act, if you learn to do better, if you change your ways, and so it's all up to you. Both your initial acceptance and your continued acceptance by God is based on your actions, your moral performance, and you've got to keep it up because there's no room for moral lapses, or setbacks, or failures. You've got to keep your nose clean if you want God to continue to love and accept you.
I would suggest that moralism is the default mode of the human heart. Like a default setting on our phones, this is what we always fall back to. Moralism is the default mode of the human heart. We instinctively think that this is how God works. It's popular because it's flattering. Moralism is popular because it's flattering, because it says that you are in control for better or for worse. Your future destiny, your fate is determined by your own choices. It's all up to you, and many people prefer it that way. They don't want to be beholden to anybody else. They don't want to be the object of anybody's love, or compassion, or mercy. They want to be held responsible for their own actions.
In a way we're all like Peter. We're all moralists at heart. We say to Jesus, “You shall never wash me.” We don't want anyone else to wash us. We want to do it ourselves, but Jesus says, “Sorry, it doesn't work that way.” No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you can never make yourself clean enough. You can't do it. If you don't let Jesus wash you clean, then you cannot have anything to do with him. That's why the gospel is offensive. It's offensive to our pride. We not only hate the idea that we're being told that we're broken. What we hate even more is that we're being told that we cannot fix ourselves. That's the difference between moralism and the gospel. Most people think that they're one and the same but in fact, they're the opposite.
Moralism is a form of self-salvation. Moralism tells you that you can save yourself if you try hard enough, if you're good enough. It's up to you. You can get God to love you if you choose to try really hard and if you keep it up over the long haul. But the gospel says that you can't save yourself. You have to let Jesus wash you. Only he can wash you clean. It's not up to you. It's up to him. That's why God's love and his continued acceptance is a gift. That's why every Sunday when I pray for the children, I say the exact same thing because moralism is the default mode of the human heart for children as well as adults. So what do I say every Sunday? “God loves us with a love that never stops, that never ends, that never fails, that never breaks.” There is nothing that we could ever do to win this love. It's a gift. All we can do is accept it by putting our trust and faith in Jesus, and that's what we call grace.
When Jesus says, “Let me wash you,” what he's really saying is let yourself be loved by me. Let me love you. That's why his first command is, do not let your heart be troubled, but trust me. Believe me. Put your simple trust in me. All of which shows us that Jesus' love for you is not conditional. He doesn't love you because of who you are or what you've done. And his love is even better than unconditional love. He doesn't really love you as you are. No, his love is contra-conditional. He loves you despite who you are and despite what you've done. Do you see the difference? Which one do you believe? You may have thought that you were a Christian, you might have called yourself a Christian, but perhaps you really are just a moralist at heart.
True Christianity is not moralistic, and the life to which Jesus calls us is also not therapeutic. What do I mean by that? Christian Smith would say that many people have a therapeutic view of God, meaning they do not think that God places any demands on us. God is simply there to make us feel confident and secure so that we can be happy about ourselves. I can see how you could get there. If in part, we're being told that Jesus simply wants to love us, then it'd be easy to assume that he wants us to simply follow our heart. He's not going to place any demands on us. He's willing to indulge our natural impulses. He's never going to question anything that we might desire as long as it makes us happy, however we might subjectively define happiness.
But Christian Smith uses two different images to describe this view of God. This view of God is, on the one hand, like a cosmic therapist, or on the other hand, like a divine butler. When he says that some people view God as a cosmic therapist, he's not saying anything against therapy—talking to a counselor can be incredibly helpful. What he's suggesting is that if you treat God like a cosmic therapist, you're basically saying, “I don't want God involved in my life, but I do like the idea that from time to time, I can book an appointment with God to talk to him about my problems, so I can feel better about myself.” Or he says, with this therapeutic view of God, we also might view God as a kind of divine butler. I've never had a butler before, but I think the idea is that a butler remains in a separate part of the house. The butler's job is to remain discreet and unobtrusive, but if you ring a bell, then he'll show up immediately to serve you. But if there is an all knowing, all loving, all powerful God who created this world and everything in it, that is not the kind of being who brings you a fresh towel when you call. But that is the way in which many of us view God. We view him like a cosmic therapist or a divine butler. That is the difference between an ancient and a modern view of life.
Ancient people tended to think that the way in which you find fulfillment as a human being is by adjusting the self to match up with reality, but we, as modern people, have turned that completely upside down. We think as modern people that the way in which we find fulfillment in life is by adjusting reality to try to match up with our self. We've got it all backwards. We don't think that the self needs to be disciplined or denied. We think that the self needs to be esteemed and actualized. And therefore, for us spirituality is no longer about self-discipline or self-denial, it is about self-help.
The question is, how would Jesus interpret this therapeutic turn within our modern world today? Does God just want us to be happy, however, we might subjectively define that? Does he never place any demands on us? Does he just stroke our egos like a doting grandfather? The answer is no. Notice what Jesus says over and over again, in this passage. V.15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” V.21, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.” V.23, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word.” V.24, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” Do you hear that? Jesus is basically saying, “If you love me, you'll do what I say.” How can you honestly call yourself a follower of Jesus if you're not willing to listen to his words? If you love me, you'll do what I say. That's why loyalty to Jesus is a distinguishing mark of an authentic follower. If you love him, you'll do what he says.
Let's be careful because, on the one hand, we don't want to make the mistake of turning Jesus' words into a moralistic demand. We've already said that true, authentic, Christianity is not moralistic. Jesus is not saying, "If you listen to me, I will love you." No, Jesus is saying, "I already loved you, so listen to me." Listen to my words. Listen to my voice because that's how Jesus knows that we love him in response. Doing what Jesus says is how Jesus feels love from us. Have you ever thought about it that way? It's the proper response to his contra-conditional love for us.
Remember who Jesus is talking to. Jesus has just washed the disciples' feet, and he's just entreated them not to be afraid or troubled, but to trust him, to believe him, to let themselves be loved by him. Notice what happens in less than 24 hours after being told all this. One of them will sell Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver. And talk about loving Jesus! How does he turn Jesus over? He betrays him with a kiss. Talk about irony. Judas betrays him in less than 24 hours after saying these words. Peter denies ever knowing Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times. Then in less than 24 hours, the other disciples desert Jesus in his greatest hour of need—betrayal, denial, desertion. Jesus knew all that was going to happen, and yet, he still speaks these words to these people. His love is contra-conditional. He loves us despite who we are, despite what we've done, or will do. And yet these are the ones to whom he says, “If you love me, do what I say,” all of which underscores that this is a gracious invitation, not a moralistic demand.
One of my favorite commentators on the Gospel of John is Dale Bruner, and he explains it like this,
“To want to believe is an authentic form of believing; to want to love is a legitimate way of beginning to love. (All disciples want to do what Jesus says; not many of us will ever honestly feel that we fully do what Jesus says)…Jesus’ commands can all be legitimately translated…as gracious invitations rather than as imperious ultimata. Therefore, in this first of Jesus’ several ‘invitational commands’…I believe one can paraphrase Jesus’ present text in the following way and be just to its grammar and speaker: ‘When you disciples want to love me, you will, of course, want to keep my special commands’…This grace translation is reinforced by the historical fact that these same disciples…will leave Jesus completely in the lurch. Nevertheless, Jesus still gives these future derelicts the very Spirit he here promises them…If we do not understand Jesus’ commands as gracious invitations rather than legal demands, we will miss the heart of the entire Gospel.”
On the one hand, let's not turn Jesus' words into a moralistic demand, but, on the other hand, let's also be clear that Jesus does want us to do what he says because he knows how life works best. He is not a divine butler, who is there to turn on a hot bath for you when you ring the bell. No, he places demands on us. He has not come to stroke your ego or to indulge your self, but to transform your self.
I'd like you to stop and consider your life. Consider your patterns of thinking, and behaving, and relating. What do you do? What do you think? What do you say? What attitudes do you harbor? What motivates you, that is out of step with the clear teaching of Scripture? How can you honestly say that you are a follower of Jesus if you're not willing to do what he says? Showing up at church every once in a while doesn't make you a follower of Jesus. You have to listen to him.
Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, once wrote this about discipleship. He says,
“What makes you a disciple is not turning up from time to time. Discipleship may literally mean ‘being a student,’ in the strict Greek sense of the word, but it doesn’t mean turning up once a week for a course (or even a sermon). It’s not an intermittent state; it’s a relationship that continues.
The truth is that, in the ancient world, being a ‘student’ was rather more like that than it is these days…The essence of being a student was to hang on your teacher’s every word, to follow in his or her steps, to sleep outside their door in order not to miss any pearls of wisdom falling from their lips, to watch how they conduct themselves at the table, how they conduct themselves in the street…In the ancient world, it was rather more like that. To be the student of a teacher was to commit yourself to living in the same atmosphere and breathing the same air; there was nothing intermittent about it.”
Is that the way in which you approach a relationship with Jesus? Do you hang on his every word? Do you watch his every move so that you're careful to do everything he says? That's the kind of loyalty that Jesus is looking for.
The life to which Jesus calls us is not moralistic and is not therapeutic. And then finally, it's not deism. When we're talking about deism, we're not referring to classical 18th century deism. We're talking about a functional equivalent of it in the 21st century. People still tend to think that there may be some kind of supreme being behind the universe who created it all, but if so, he's distant and removed from us, and doesn't get actively involved in our lives unless we need him. And the only time that we may want God around is when we run into a problem. We only reach out to him when we're desperate. That's when we pray. Do you know what kind of prayer that is? That's called Flare Gun prayer. You know what I'm talking about? Flare Gun prayer—you shoot off the flare. If anybody is out there, if you can hear me, help me! If you help me, I'll listen to you…at least for a day. We've all prayed prayers like that, and we think that that's how God relates to us. He's somewhere distant and removed, but if he sees that flare of prayer, he'll come to the rescue.
That is not at all the kind of God that has revealed to us in the person of Jesus. In this passage, Jesus knows that his time has come, and he warns his disciples that things are about to change. He is about to go away. He's only going to be with them for a little while longer, and where he is going, they cannot come. This must have come as a shock to them. Think about this: These are the 12 people who left everything to follow Jesus. Now, Jesus says to them, you can follow me this far, but no farther. Where I am now going, you cannot come. They don't understand this. Why can't we follow you now? So Jesus seeks to encourage them by saying, “I will not leave you as orphans.” Think about what that image conveys. That captures the emotions that they must have felt. How disheartening. They felt like Jesus was going to abandon them, that he was going to leave them all alone. He was going to leave them as orphans. But Jesus tells them not to be dismayed because it is in fact to their advantage that he goes away. That must have sounded so bizarre to them. How could it possibly be to their advantage for Jesus to go away? What could possibly be better than having Jesus beside you at each and every moment? They could never have guessed, but the only thing that is better than having Jesus beside you at each and every moment would be having Jesus within you at each and every moment. That's what he goes on to promise in v.16-17. He says, “‘I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever…You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.’” What could possibly serve as another helper, comparable to Jesus himself? The answer is: only the Spirit of Jesus.
Up until this point, the Spirit of Jesus dwelt with them. The Spirit of Jesus was present in the person of Jesus. But now Jesus is saying, his very own spirit will dwell in them, and that's even better than having Jesus' Spirit dwell with them. That's why Jesus promises that he will never leave or forsake them, but he will be with us always to the very close of the age. That's why Jesus promises that those who believe in him will do even greater things than what he did during his earthly ministry. That's why Jesus promises that if anyone loves him, they will keep his word. They will keep his word because Jesus will make his home in us. He says in v.20, that just as Jesus is locked into the Father, so you will be locked in me and I will be locked in you. Do you hear that? This is not moralistic. This is not therapeutic. And this is certainly not deism. God is not distant, removed, and detached. No, the Spirit of Jesus dwells within you when you trust Jesus, when you put your simple trust in him. He wants to make his permanent home within you.
Think of the difference that that makes. Imagine I were to give you a copy of Hamlet or King Lear, and then I asked you to write a play like that. You would say, “That's impossible. Shakespeare could do it. I can't. I'm not him.” But what if somehow, some way I could put the genius of Shakespeare inside of you so that you had access to his words, his thoughts, his imagination, his creativity? Then you might say, “I can at least give it a go.” If the genius of Shakespeare could come and live within you, then perhaps you could write a play like that. In a similar way, if I showed you the life of Jesus, and I said, “I want you to go out there and live a life like that.” You would say, “That's impossible. Jesus could do it. I can't.” But what if somehow, some way, I could put the Spirit of Jesus inside of you, so that you had access to his words, his thoughts, his attitudes, his motivations. Then you would say, “Perhaps I could make a go of it.” If the Spirit of Jesus could come and live within you, then you could live a life like that. That is what Jesus promises. Let yourself be loved by me. Let me love you. Trust me, and I will place my Spirit within you. If my Spirit is within you, then you will listen to my voice, keep my commands, do what I say. That's the kind of loyalty that Jesus wants.
Let me pray for us.
Father, we acknowledge that the greatest influences on our patterns of thinking, behaving, and relating are invisible to us, and the only way that we can become the people that you have destined us to be is through conscious retraining as your disciples. Teach us, Father, to love you in return for your contra-conditional love to us so that we might be transformed, so that your Spirit might dwell within us, so that we might do what you say. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.