|LIFE IN JESUS-MINISTRIES
|SUPERFICIAL RELIGION AND SUPERNATURAL REGENERATION
I AM REVEALED
Sep 08 2013
CHRISTIANITY IS RADICALLY DIFFERENT from every other religion in the world. I saw this illustrated clearly during a
recent trip to India, where I found myself working in distinctly Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and Sikh communities on different
One day I was at the Ganges River. Hindus consider the Ganges to be a holy body of water, and every year millions
travel to this river to bathe in it, stand beside its waters, or perform ceremonial rites over it. According to Vedic traditions
(the virtual basis for Hindu belief and practice), Hindus believe that the Ganges is a source of spiritual purification, so
they wash themselves in the river in order to cleanse their sins. They also believe that the Ganges is a passageway
from death to life, so they cremate deceased loved ones at the base of the Ganges and then scatter their ashes in the
river, ensuring instant salvation (some don’t even cremate the body of their loved one, but simply cast the body into the
river). When men and women leave the Ganges, they take small amounts of water with them for use in rituals back in
the villages or towns where they live. Hinduism prescribes a variety of different rituals to a variety of different gods, and
Hindus believe that the path to remission of sins and liberation from the cycle of life and death is paved through homage
to the Ganges (or more specifically, the goddess Ganga that is represented by the river).
On another day, in another part of the region, I heard calls to prayer resounding from loudspeakers at five separate
times during the day. Muslims responded by filing into mosques and completing a series of prayers that involved bowing
down with their hands on their knees, prostrating their faces to the ground, and then rising to stand. According to the
words of Muhammad in the Koran, these times of prayer are required for Muslims to honor Allah, each occurring at
prescribed times with prescribed procedures under prescribed conditions.
Yet another day, we visited a training center for Tibetan Buddhists. Over five hundred Buddhist monks live on this
property, complete with a monastery, library, training school, and two large temples. Everywhere we looked, we saw
worshipers bowing before statues of gold and stone. People walked in circles, reciting mantras and spinning prayer
wheels. Following the teachings of the Buddha, these monks believe in following an eightfold path that consists of right
views, right aspiration, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right
contemplation. If a monk is willing to follow this slow, difficult road to salvation, he believes he will experience eventual
nirvana, which includes freedom from all desire and suffering.
I asked one of the monks why he did what he did. He responded, “Because I want to find peace and rest.”
I asked, “How will you find peace and rest?”
He answered, “I don’t know; I’m still searching.”
During our final evening in India, we spent time in a Sikh community, where people were assembling to honor the
traditional teaching of the ten gurus who together established and defined Sikhism. Forbidden to cut their hair, men
wore turbans of different colors and women covered their heads. They entered the temple and bowed before the Sikh
scriptures, known as the Guru Granth Sahib. This holy book describes the way to truth and life, and it is the center of
Sikh worship. After bowing before the book, men and women then received a free meal in a small bowl, for sharing with
others is a traditional sign of the Sikh religion.
Looking back on these four encounters with four major religions in the world, I realized that they all shared one common
denominator: in every religion, a teacher (or a series of teachers) prescribes certain paths to follow in order to honor
God (or different gods) and experience salvation (however that is described).
In Hinduism, ancient teachers have passed down Vedic traditions prescribing rites and rituals for Hindus to observe. In
Islam, Muhammad pointed in the Koran to five pillars for Muslims to practice. In Buddhism, the Buddha’s eightfold path is
just one of four noble truths that he taught, alongside hundreds of other rules for Buddhists to follow. In Sikhism, ten
gurus have pointed to one body of teaching as the way to truth and life.
But this is where Christianity stands alone. When Jesus came on the scene in human history and began calling followers
to himself, he did not say, “Follow certain rules. Observe specific regulations. Perform ritual duties. Pursue a particular
path.” Instead he said, “Follow me.”
With these two simple words, Jesus made clear that his primary purpose was not to instruct his disciples in a prescribed
religion; his primary purpose was to invite his disciples into a personal relationship. He was not saying, “Go
this way to find truth and life.” Instead, he was saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”(John 14:6, emphasis
mine). The call of Jesus was, “Come to me. Find rest for your souls in me. Find joy in your heart from me. Find
meaning in your life through me.”
This extremely shocking and utterly revolutionary call is the essence of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus: we are
not called to simply believe certain points or observe certain practices, but ultimately to cling to the person of Christ as
But we have missed this. In so many ways and in so many settings, we have relegated Christianity to just another choice
in the cafeteria line of world religions. Slowly and subtly, we have let Christianity devolve into just another set of rules,
regulations, practices, and principles to observe. Hindus bathe in the Ganges River; Christians get baptized in the
church. Muslims go to worship on Friday; Christians go to worship on Sunday. Buddhists recite mantras; Christians sing
choruses. Sikhs read their holy book and share with the needy; Christians read their Bibles and give to the poor. Now
don’t get me wrong: I am definitely not saying that we should not be baptized, sing in worship, read our Bibles, or serve
the poor. But I am saying that if we are not careful, any one of us can do all of these things completely apart from Jesus.
THE BURDEN OF RULES
Think about whom Jesus was speaking to when he said, “Follow me.” These Galilean fishermen were surrounded by a
religious establishment that was consumed with rules and regulations. Teachers of the law had taken the commands of
God in the Old Testament and twisted them to become the principal means by which one could earn God’s favor.
Additionally, they had tacked on miscellaneous other instructions that people were expected to follow as devout Jewish
men and women.
For example, God’s law in the Old Testament commanded God’s people not to travel on the Sabbath. Invariably,
teachers of the law began to ask, “Well, what constitutes traveling? Can you travel around your house? Can you travel
to someone else’s house? If you travel beyond someone else’s house, how far can you go?” In response, these
teachers laid down a new law, saying, “You can travel three thousand feet from your house on the Sabbath. One
exception to this is if you have food that is within three thousand feet of your house to eat on the Sabbath. If that’s the
case, then that food is an extension of your house, and you can travel three thousand feet from the place where your
food is.” Basically, if you put food in the right places, you could spend the Sabbath traveling all over town.
Similarly, the law said that you could not carry a load on the Sabbath. But the teachers asked, “What is considered a
load? Are your clothes a load?” In turn, these teachers said that as long as you are wearing your clothes, they are not
a load. But if you are carrying an item of clothing, it is considered a load. So it would be okay to wear a jacket on the
Sabbath, but it would be wrong to carry a jacket on the Sabbath. One writer says,
thereby perform work. Nothing could be bought or sold, and clothing could not be dyed or washed…Chairs could
not be moved because dragging them might make a furrow in the ground, and a woman was not to look in a mirror
lest she see a gray hair and be tempted to pull it out (Matthew 8 -15).
In addition to such Sabbath regulations, all sorts of other rules dominated the day in which the disciples lived.
This background makes the words of Jesus all the more refreshing. “Come to me,” he said in Matthew 11, “all you who
are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and
humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29). These words from Jesus tenderly resound in
a world where every other religious teacher says, “Try harder, work harder, do more, and become better.”
Clearly our greatest need is not more regulations in order to merit salvation. We have already seen that our lives are
filled with sin and we cannot save ourselves. No matter how many times we wash our bodies in a river or pray according
to procedure, regardless of how many steps we take down a path or how many needy people we help, and despite our
most passionate attempts to pray the right prayers, repeat the right words, sing the right songs, give the right gifts, and
live the right lives, we cannot cover up the evil that is entrenched so deeply within our hearts. Our greatest need is not
to try harder. Our greatest need is a new heart.
SPINNING PLATES FOR GOD
Jesus did not come so that we might live a life of superficial religion. He came so that we might receive new life through
supernatural regeneration. Let me explain the difference.
Superficial religion consists of merely believing certain truths and doing certain things. As we’ve already seen in
discussing different faiths, such superficial religion is rampant in the world today, and it was rampant in the world of
Jesus’ day as well. Think about his conversation with Nicodemus, a leader among the Jewish people in the first century.
Nicodemus was like many professing Christians today, possessing a measure of belief in and respect for Jesus while
ordering his life around the commands of Scripture. He prayed and went to worship. He read and even taught the
Bible. He lived a good, decent, moral life, and he was an example to others. Moreover, he did all of this in an effort to
honor God. Everything was right on the outside, but something was wrong on the inside. Despite all the religious things
he did, Nicodemus had no spiritual life in him.
Do you ever feel like that? Do you ever feel like your Christianity consists of nothing more than a list of truths to believe,
things to do, and boxes to check in order to earn God’s approval? In your efforts to pray, read the Bible, give, and
serve in the church, do you ever feel like you’re never doing enough? Like the plate spinner who entertains audiences
by trying to keep all kinds of plates in the air at the same time, do you ever tire of trying to please God with your
performance? In the end, do you feel like your faith is mainly duty with minimal delight?
This is the curse of superficial religion: the constant attempt to do outward things apart from inward transformation. One
writer describes the Christian version of superficial religion this way:
patterns imposed upon you by the particular Christian society that you have chosen and in which you hope to be
found “acceptable.” You will in this way perpetuate the pagan habit of practicing religion in the energy of the
flesh, and in the very pursuit of righteousness commit idolatry in honoring “Christianity” more than Christ! (W. Ian
Thomas, The Saving Life of Christ and the Mystery of Godliness , Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988, 181 ).
prepared to dedicate to God what God condemns – the energy of the flesh! There is nothing quite so nauseating
or pathetic as the flesh trying to be holy! (Ibid, 101, 85).
A NEW HEART
So how did Jesus respond to the superficial religion of Nicodemus? He told him, “No one can see the kingdom of God
unless he is born again.” Then he elaborated on this a couple of verses later, saying, “No one can enter the kingdom of
God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” (John 3:3, 5). So what does that mean?
Jesus references a promise here that God had made to his people through the prophet Ezekiel hundreds of years
before his conversation with Nicodemus. Back in Ezekiel 36, God told his people,
idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give
you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my
laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God (Ezekiel 36:25-
Do you see the link between being born of water and the Spirit?
Jesus is pointing our God’s promise to give his people a new heart. This new heart would first and foremost be cleansed
of sin, “[cleansed] from all our impurities.” God spoke similarly through the prophet Jeremiah, promising his people, “I will
put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts…I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no
more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34).
This is exactly what Jesus came to do. The New Testament announces his coming, saying that “he will save his people
from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21). When John the Baptist first sees Jesus, John shouts, “Look, the Lamb of God, who
takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
Imagery of God washing away his people’s sin fills Scripture. “Though your sins are like scarlet,” God says, “they shall
be as white as snow.” (Psalm 51:2). These Old Testament pictures provide a foretaste of the forgiveness that ultimately
comes through Christ in the New Testament. Speaking to people who used to be characterized by sin-saturated lives,
Paul says, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
(I Corinthians 15:55-57). John writes, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse
us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9, ESV).
Such cleansing is a gift from God not based at all upon our merit, but altogether upon God’s mercy. In the words of
Paul, “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had
done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth.” (Titus 3:4-5). The clear message of the
Bible is that there is nothing we can do to make our hearts clean before a holy God. We can work constantly, pray
fervently, give extravagantly, and love sacrificially, but our hearts will still be stained by sin.
This is why the Bible teaches that faith alone in Christ alone is the only way to salvation from sin. Faith is the anti-work.
It’s the realization that there is nothing you can do but trust in what has been done for you in the life, death, and
resurrection of Jesus. Faith is the realization that God’s pleasure in you will never be based upon your performance for
him. Instead, God’s pleasure in you will always be based upon Christ’s performance for you.
From every Hindu at the Ganges River to every reader of this book, the invitation is clear: come to Christ, and he will
cleanse your heart. Hear the revolutionary truth of the gospel: we do not have to work to wash away our sins. As we
turn from our sin to trust in Christ, we receive a new, clean heart, and God in his grace remembers our sins no more.
I heard a story once about an Englishman who bought a Rolls-Royce. It has been advertised as the car that would
never, ever, ever break down. So the man bought the Rolls-Royce at a hefty price and was driving it one day when, to
his surprise, it broke down. He was far away from town, so he called Rolls-Royce and said, “Hey, you know this car that
will never break down? Well, it’s broken down.
Immediately, a Rolls-Royce mechanic was sent via helicopter to the location where the car was broken down. The car
was fixed, and the man went on his way. Naturally, the man expected to get a bill from Rolls-Royce. It was clearly
expensive for them to provide such a service (not often does a mechanic fly to where your car is broken down!), and he
wanted to get the whole ordeal behind him. So when the bill had not yet come a few weeks later, the man called Rolls-
Royce and said, “l’d like to go ahead and pay the bill for my auto repairs so that we can get this behind us.” Rolls-Royce
responded, “Sir, we are deeply sorry, but we have absolutely no record of anything ever having gone wrong with your
Consider the wonder. For all who come to Christ and receive a new heart from him, the God of the universe looks at you
and says, “I have absolutely no record of anything ever having gone wrong in your life.”
OUR GREATEST NEED
This is the Good News of the Kingdom, and it meets the greatest need in our lives. Through Jesus, God forgives our
sins and reconciles us to himself. Yet if we’re not careful, we will subtly skew this Good News and ultimately ignore our
All around the world today, people are equating the gospel of Jesus Christ with physical healing and material prosperity.
“Come to Jesus,” they say, “and you will receive physical reward.” But that is not the essence of the gospel. Yes, Jesus
is able to heal physical maladies, and yes, Jesus has authority over painful diseases, but this is not the central message
of Christ. We don’t go throughout America, saying, “Trust in Christ, and cancer will be gone.” We don’t go throughout
Africa, declaring, “Trust in Christ, and HIV/AIDS will be no more.” We don’t go anywhere, crying, “Trust in Christ, and
health and wealth will come your way.”
That is not the Good News of Christ, for the Good News of Christ is so much greater than that. The Good News of Christ
is not primarily that Jesus will heal you of all your sicknesses right now, but ultimately that Jesus will forgive you of all
your sins forever. The Good News of Christ is not that if you muster enough faith in Jesus, you can have physical and
material reward on this earth. The Good News of Christ is that when you have childlike faith in Jesus, you will be
reconciled to God for eternity.
We mustn’t be like the paralyzed man and his friends in Matthew 9, approaching Jesus as a miracle worker who was
merely able to meet immediate physical needs. To their surprise, though they expected Jesus to heal the man
physically, Jesus’ first response was “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2). In these words he made
clear that the ultimate priority of his coming was not simply to relieve suffering but to sever the root of suffering: sin. And
this is our greatest need.
For years, my mother-in-law struggled with diabetes, breast cancer, neuropathy, degenerative eye disease, hand
surgeries, and foot pain. Through it all, she would have said that she was a Christian. She believed in Jesus and lived a
decent, kind, good, generous life. Yet she was just like Nicodemus. Though she knew truth about Jesus, she needed to
be born again.
Then one day, everything changed. For the first time, my mother-in-law realized the depth of her need for God’s grace
in Christ, she turned from herself and her sin, and she trusted in Jesus as the Lord over her life. God, in his mercy,
gave her a new heart, cleansed of sin and confident in him.
Yet at the same time she experienced evident spiritual regeneration, she experienced deeper physical degeneration.
Her kidneys began to fail, and she was admitted to the hospital on various occasions. Then one night, all of a sudden,
she experienced an unexpected brain hemorrhage and died.
So what happened? Did Jesus fail her at her greatest time of need? Absolutely not. In reality, Jesus had healed her at
her deepest point of need, and she knew that she could trust in him. The testimony of her life – and her death - is clear:
you can trust Christ when you have diabetes, you can trust him when you get diagnosed with breast cancer, you can
trust him with your neuropathy, you can trust him with degenerative eye disease, you can trust him when you have
kidney failure, and you can trust him when massive bleeding takes over your brain because in the middle of it all, you
know that Jesus has met the deepest need of your heart. You know that you have been cleansed of all your sin and
have nothing to fear before him. And you know that when this body can’t take it any longer, you breathe your last
breath, and your heart stops beating, you have no reason to worry because you have united your life with the man who
conquered death, the only one who severed sin as the root of all suffering, and so you say with Scripture, “Where, O
death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But
thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 15:55-57)).
Forgiveness is God’s greatest gift because it meets our greatest need. More than we need to be healed of cancer, we
need to be cleansed of sin. More than we need a tumor removed, we need our sins forgotten. And this is exactly what
Jesus gives us in a new heart, cleansed of sin, that leaves us with nothing to fear now and forever.
A NEW SPIRIT
Yet this is not where Christianity stops. So often we put a period on this point and assume that the essence of the
Christian life is being forgiven of our sin. Many professing Christians are stuck here, believing that Jesus has cleansed
them from their sins, yet lacking true, authentic, real, radical change in their lives.
But this is not the way it’s supposed to be, for there is more to God’s promises in Ezekiel. God told his people, “I will give
you a new heart and put a new spirit in you…I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful
to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27, emphasis mine).
In light of this, Jesus told Nicodemus that to be born again means to be born of water and of Spirit. The meaning behind
these words is mind-blowing. When you come to Jesus, he not only forgives you of your sin, but he also fills you with his
Spirit. Christian, feel the magnitude of this: when you come to Jesus, he puts the source of his life in the center of your
This is the heart of Jesus’ call to follow him. When you become a Christian, you die, and Jesus becomes your life. To
paraphrase Paul, “You have died with Christ, and you’re not even alive anymore. Instead, Christ is alive in you, and the
only way you live is by faith in him.” (Galatians 2:20). Paul later writes, “If Christ is in you, your body is dead because of
sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in
you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to our mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”
(Romans 8:10-11). This is the stunning message of Christianity: Jesus died for you so that he might live in you. Jesus
doesn’t merely improve your old nature; he imparts to you an entirely new nature – one that is completely united with his.
When Heather and I were engaged in the year before we were married, we were living totally different lives. I was
finishing college and living on little income (i.e., I had no cash flow). I was eating ramen noodles for most of my meals
and struggling to get by. Meanwhile, Heather had graduated from college and was teaching in an elementary school.
This meant that she had an income (i.e., she had cash flow), and she didn’t have to eat ramen noodles.
After twelve months of waiting to be married, we finally stood in front of a crowd of our friends and family, ready to
commit our lives to each other. On that wedding day, I received so many wonderful things, the most important of which
was a beautiful, godly wife. But do you know what else I received on that day?
It was great. At one moment, I had nothing in my bank account. But the moment I said, “I do,” I had everything that was
in her bank account. And I didn’t have to do anything to earn it. I didn’t have to go to her school and teach her five-year-
olds. I didn’t have to get a job anywhere else, for that matter. Simply because my life was now united with Heather’s,
everything that belonged to her became mine.
In a much, much greater way, when you come to Jesus – when you unite your life with his – everything that belongs to
him becomes yours. Yes, as we’ve already discussed, his righteousness replaces your unrighteousness. But there’s
more. When you come to Jesus, his Spirit fills your spirit. His love becomes your love. His joy becomes your joy. His
mind becomes your mind. His desires become your desires. His will becomes your will. His purpose becomes your
purpose. His power becomes your power. The Christian life thus becomes nothing less than the outliving of the
This reality marks the critical distinction between superficial religion and supernatural regeneration. Superficial religion
involves a counterfeit “Christian” life that consists of nothing more than truths to believe and things to do, and it misses
the essence of what it means to follow Jesus. Supernatural regeneration, on the other hand, involves an authentic
Christian life that has been awakened by the Spirit, truth, love, passion, power, and purpose of Jesus.
FROM BEING DISCIPLES TO MAKING DISCIPLES
This is exactly what Jesus means in the words that he says right after “Follow me.” If you’ll remember, he told those four
fishermen, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19, emphasis mine). Notice in his invitation that
Jesus does not tell his disciples what he will call them to do. Instead, Jesus tells them what he will cause them to do.
The commands he would give to them could only be accomplished by the work that he would do in them. As these
disciples followed Jesus, he would transform everything about their lives: their thoughts, their desires, their wills, their
relationships, and ultimately the very purpose for which they lived.
And this is where things got really interesting. “Follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” Using
imagery familiar to these disciples’ long-standing vocation, Jesus summoned them to an all-consuming mission right from
the start. More important than searching for fish all over the sea, they would spread the gospel all over the world. As a
result of being disciples of Jesus, they would make disciples of Jesus. For every one of these disciples, following Jesus
would lead to fishing for men. Not surprisingly, the book of Matthew ends with Jesus on a mountainside, saying to these
same disciples, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of
the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the
very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Somewhere between Matthew 4 and Matthew 28, Jesus had caused these disciples to become disciple makers. He had
transformed these followers into fishermen, and by the time they got to that mountain in Matthew 28, they were eager to
tell everyone about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Having been forgiven of their sin and soon to be filled with
God’s Spirit, they would give their lives not simply to being disciples of Jesus, but sacrificially to making disciples of
Jesus. Fishing for men would become central for them – and costly to them.
Peter preached the gospel to thousands at Pentecost and to throngs thereafter, and because he would not shut up, as
we’ve already seen, tradition says he was crucified upside down. Similar traditions tell us that Andrew was crucified while
preaching the gospel in Greece, Judas (not Iscariot) was clubbed to death for ministering near modern-day Turkey.
Thomas was speared through his side while making disciples in India, James we beheaded, Philip was stoned, and
Matthew was burned at the stake, all for preaching the gospel. As a result of being disciples of Jesus, every one of
these men literally gave their lives to making disciples of Jesus.
Clearly, the overflow of transformation in these disciples was multiplication through these disciples. As Jesus
transformed their minds, they became convicted that people needed to hear the gospel. As Jesus transformed their
desires, they longed for people to hear the gospel. As Jesus transformed their wills, they were compelled to give their
lives proclaiming the gospel. As Jesus transformed their relationships, they loved people enough to share the gospel
with them, even though it cost them everything they had. Jesus had transformed their very purpose for living – every
disciple was sacrificially committed to making disciples – and the trajectory of their lives was never the same.
All of this makes me wonder what we’re missing. When I look at the church today, it seems like we have taken the costly
command of Christ to go, baptize, and teach all nations and mutated it into a comfortable call for Christians to come, be
baptized, and sit in one location. If you ask individual Christians today what it practically means to make disciples, you
will likely get jumbled thoughts, ambiguous answers, and probably even some blank stares. We seem to have exempted
one another from any personal responsibility to fish for men, and I’m convinced that the majority of professing Christians
would not say their purpose in this life is to make disciples of all nations. In fact, more would shrink back from this
thought, and some readers may even be tempted to close the book at this point for bringing up the very idea. This is no
longer for me, you might think.
But please don’t close the book. Think about it with me. Biblically, isn’t every single disciple of Jesus intended to make
disciples of Jesus? From the very beginning of Christianity, hasn’t following Jesus always involved fishing for men? And
doesn’t it seem like these early disciples of Jesus made disciples of Jesus not because they had to, but because they
wanted to? Those first disciples on the mountain in Matthew 28 did not have to be superficially cajoled into making
disciples; they were supernaturally compelled to do it. Not even death could stop them from obeying this command.
So what is keeping us from obeying this command today? I mean every single one of us. Why are so many supposed
Christians sitting on the sidelines of the church, maybe even involved in the machinery of the church, but not
wholeheartedly, passionately, sacrificially, and joyfully giving their lives to making disciples of all the nations? Could it be
because so many people in the church have settled for superficial religion instead of supernatural regeneration?
If Christianity merely consists of a list of dutiful dos and don’ts on top of principles to believe and practices to observe –
many of which are similar to every other religion – then we don’t have much to share with the world. Why become a
Christian when Islam or Hinduism feels fundamentally the same? Aren’t all people simply following rules that fit their
religious customs, and in the end won’t all people be rewarded for that is some way?
Further, if being a Christian is merely a matter of superficial religion, then no amount of persuasion will convince us that
we need to step out of our comfort zones, alter our priorities, sacrifice our possessions, risk our reputations, and
potentially even lose our lives to share Christ with others. We have every reason to sit back in a privatized faith that
works well and doesn’t impose upon the people around us (much less around the world). A superficial approach to
Christianity always results in a spectator mentality in the church.
However, if Christianity involves supernatural regeneration whereby the God of the universe reaches down his hand of
mercy into the depths of our souls, forgives us of all our sin, and fills us with his Spirit, then a spectator mentality is
spiritually inconceivable. For people whose hearts, minds, wills, and relationships have been radically turned upside by
the person of Christ, the purpose of Christ will reign supreme.
If you are truly a disciple of Jesus, you will be supernaturally compelled to make disciples of Jesus. True followers of
Jesus do not need to be convinced, cajoled, persuaded, or manipulated into making disciples of all nations. Everyone
who follows Jesus biblically will fish for men globally.
I think about Tom and Jordan, whom I mentioned in the first chapter. Both were engrossed in superficial religion until
Christ took hold of their hearts and transformed their lives. Immediately after he was born again, Tom began leveraging
his life to lead others to Christ. He started Bible studies at his workplace. He and his wife began investing their lives into
other couples in order to help them grow in Christ. In the years since his salvation, he has spread the gospel in
Birmingham, South America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.
Likewise, upon her salvation, Jordan committed her life to making disciples on her college campus. Then she spent a
couple of months in West Africa, sharing the gospel in a town of ninety thousand people, 99.8 percent of whom were
Muslim. After graduation, she got married and moved with her husband into a higher-crime, lower-income area of the
inner city to proclaim and live out the gospel there.
I think about Abid, a doctor who lives on the most unevangelized island on earth. Abid came from a very wealthy,
extremely devout Muslim family. He had made a holy pilgrimage of Mecca seven different times. But by God’s grace,
through Abid’s medical practice, he met Christian missionaries who shared the gospel with him. As he heard about
Christ, Abid experienced a peace that had evaded him his entire life in Islam. Knowing that the cost would be steep, he
became a follower of Jesus. As soon as this became known in his family, Abid was tied up and beaten. His wife left him,
his kids abandoned him, he lost his medical practice, and today he lives under a constant threat of death from his
But nothing can stop Abid from making disciples. Upon his salvation, Abid had asked God to use him to share the
gospel with one thousand people during his first year as a Christian. At the end of that first year, God had given him
opportunity to share the Good News of God’s grace in Christ with over four thousand people.
Or I think about Sanja in India, an impoverished mother of two little girls. When she became pregnant with her second
daughter, her husband left her because he didn’t want to have to pay the price for a man to marry his girls when they
were older. In shame, Sanja was forced to live once again with her parents. Having spent her life as a Hindu woman,
she was surprised to discover a church that reached out to pregnant mothers in her community. Through interaction
with church members, Sanja heard about the unfailing love of God in Christ. Though it would cause her further shame in
her community, she repented of her sin and trusted in Jesus. Now she helps lead the outreach from her church to other
impoverished pregnant mothers, and she is sharing the gospel with every Hindu she knows.
If you were to ask Tom, Jordan, Abid, or Sanja why they make disciples, I am confident that none of them would say it’s
because they want to. God has given these brothers and sisters a new heart, a heart that is forgiven of sin and filled
with his Spirit, and spreading the gospel is the natural – or supernatural – overflow, not of a religion they adhere to
called Christianity, but of a relationship they have with Christ.
HAVE YOU BEEN BORN AGAIN?
So what about you?
Are you engulfed in superficial religion, or have you experienced supernatural regeneration? Are you concentrating on
Christian principles and practices in your life, or are you clinging to Christ as your life? Are you confident that you’ve
been forgiven of your sin, and is it clear that you are filled with his Spirit? Ultimately, have you been born again?
The fruit of following Jesus is a new heart with a new mind, new desires, a new will, a new way of relating to people
around you, and a new purpose. “Follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” This is not some
solicitation to tread a path of superficial religion. This is an invitation to taste a pleasure that can only be found in a
supernatural relationship with Jesus. He beckons you to let your heart be captivated by his greatness and your life be
changed by his grace. Turn from your sin and yourself and trust in him as the all-sovereign, all satisfying Savior of your
But do not be mistaken. This does not mean that you are making Jesus your personal Lord and Savior.
FOLLOW ME: A CALL TO DIE. A CALL TO LIVE., by David Platt, Copyright 2013, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.