Thomas Chalmers, the well-known Scottish preacher, in his famous sermon “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” says it all: Seldom do any of our habits or flaws disappear by a process of extinction through reasoning or “by the mere force of mental determination.” Reason and willpower are not enough. “But what cannot be destroyed may be dispossessed…The only way to dispossess [the heart] of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one.” A young man, for example, may “cease to idolize pleasure, but it is only because the idol of wealth has become the stronger and gotten the ascendancy” and is enabling him to discipline himself for prosperous business. “Even the love of money ceases to have the mastery over the heart” if it’s drawn into another world of ideology and politics, “and he is now lorded over by the love of power.” But “there is not one of these [identity] transformations in which the heart is left without an object. Its desire for one particular object may be conquered, but… its desire for having some one object” of absolute love “is unconquerable.” It is only when admitted “into the number of God’s children through the faith that is in Jesus Christ [that] the spirit of adoption is poured out upon us. It is then that the heart, brought under the mastery of one great and predominate affection, is delivered from the tyranny of its former desires, in the only way that deliverance is possible.” So it isn’t enough to hold out a “mirror of its imperfections” to your soul. It’s not enough to lecture your conscience. Rather, you must “try every legitimate method of finding access to your hearts for the love of him who is greater than the world.
Until you’re melted by the amazing sight, knowledge, and sense of Jesus taking the fire for you, you can’t have that transformation of identity. You can’t just decide, “I think I’m going to change my identity.” It can’t be done. It has to be an experience of love.
Jesus is saying that your career can’t buy it for you. Even the best parents can’t give it to you. “Don’t give the title deed of your heart to anyone but me. Don’t have any other master but me, because I’m the only one that will never leave you, and if you fail me, will forgive you.”
So you have to have all three. There must be a living out of this new, radical mercy, which brings you into finding a new identity, which brings you into setting a new priority and thereof the peace.
Being a Disciple
Notice three practical things about being a disciple. First, discipleship is not an option. Jesus says that if anyone would come after me, he must follow me. If you want to come after me—it’s a general term—if you want to have any experience of me, any relationship with me, you have to be a disciple. There are not two kinds of Christians: regular Christians and people who are really disciples. There’s only one: to be a Christian is to be a disciple. To have anything to do with me is to follow me in the way I define it: setting a new priority, finding a new identity, experiencing living out of a new mercy.
Second, having said that it’s not an option—on the other hand, it is a journey. It’s narratively brilliant of Luke to note this. In verse 51 Jesus sets out on a journey toward Jerusalem. It’s Jesus’ journey of discipleship, “He sets his face to go to Jerusalem.” And it’s from the moment he begins his journey toward the cross that he begins all his teaching about discipleship. All the next nine chapters, all the teaching on discipleship, comes as he’s going on a journey. This is Luke’s way of saying that discipleship is a journey. In other words, on the one hand, there is a decisiveness. You have to leave. Have you left? To go on the journey means saying, “I take my hands off my life.” To go on the journey means saying, “I give up my right to self-determination.” To go on the journey means saying, “I will obey you, Lord, and I’ll get rid of all the ifs. Not ‘obey you if,’ but obey. Period. I drop my conditions. I drop the ifs; they’re gone!” Not until you say that have you begun the journey. However, after your decisive beginning, the fact remains that it’s a journey. It’s a process that takes time. You’re not going to have it all together. It’s very important to keep that in mind, because if you think that discipleship is the way you’re saved—that by being committed and focused and giving Jesus the priority you’re going to please God and that will get you saved—you’re missing the point. Look at the order. He doesn’t say, “If you follow me, I’ll go to the cross for you.” He says, “I’m going to the cross for you, so follow me.” You’re not saved because you’re a disciple; you’re a disciple if and only if you understand what he has done to save you.
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