Return to BibleToday Homepage
Was Christ's Standard of Discipleship Too High?
Was Jesus' requirement of a true disciple unrealistic, especially in light of today's easy presentations? Many preachers would have received the young nobleman who wanted "eternal life" on much easier terms. They would say to him, "You have come to the right place. All you have to do is, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved'" (Acts 16:31).
This is what the Philippian jailer was told when he asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30) Why didn't Paul give the same answer that Jesus gave the rich nobleman? It may come as a shock to many, but the jailer asked a different question than the rich nobleman. The nobleman asked for "eternal life," whereas the jailer asked to be "saved" from his sins. The two questions differ. One may be justified and be granted remission of sins instantly. However, "eternal life" requires the gift of "forgiveness of sins" or "justification" as a starting place, to be followed by a life of discipleship in the steps of Jesus even unto death.
Paul Turns to the Gentiles
It was not until the Jews had become belligerent toward Paul and Barnabas that they stopped their exclusive ministry to the Jews and turned to the Gentiles (Acts 13:50). Paul's message to the Jews had been very direct. He said, "Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:38, 39). Because of a poor translation, the context seems to support the thought that "justified" is synonymous with "eternal life." Acts 13:48 reads, "And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained [Greek., tasso, appointed, ordained, disposed, addicted, and set] to eternal life believed."
The thought the translators wished to convey is that "as many as were ordained" to eternal life believed. This translation suggests that "eternal life" is divinely ordained and quite irreversible. The word "tasso" is used eight times in the New Testament with a wide variety of meanings. Rotherham* (*Rotherham Emphasized Bible, by Joseph Bryant Rotherham, published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI, 1984 Edition.) perhaps gives the most accurate reading, saying, "And they believed-as many as had become disposed for life age abiding" (Acts 13:48).
If "eternal life" was something that was predestined or ordained, Jesus might have told the nobleman, "No use inquiring about eternal life, for you are not predestined for it." Or he might have said, "You have no need to inquire, because you are predestined to eternal life." He gave neither answer, but allowed the nobleman to make the choice. The harmony between the "predestination" and the "free grace" controversy is simply resolved.
"Predestination" is not personal, but rather speaks of the requirements for "eternal life"-in other words, certain rigid standards were determined for those whom God foreknew (Rom. 8:29). They must be "conformed to the image of his Son."
"Free grace" pertains to the unmerited favor that comes to persons who are drawn by God to the Son. None are "called of God" because of good works.
"But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence" (1 Cor. 1:27-29).
"The High Calling of God in Christ Jesus"
Something has developed making the "high calling of God" into nothing more than an escape hatch from a "burning hell." The "flames of hell" have been quenched in most religious preaching today. Heaven is the only place remaining for the deceased to go. Apparently Paul had not learned of the new easy salvation.
In Philippians 3:13, 14 Paul says, "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, … I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Paul's prayer is, "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead" (Phil. 3:10, 11). However we may interpret these verses, it remains that Paul was very much engaged in pressing toward "the prize of the high calling of God." It was indeed a "high calling" to the Apostle.
Today many "born again Christians" confidently boast that they are "saved" and going to "heaven." How does this compare with the Apostle Paul's description of himself as a runner using all his energy to pass the finish line? The idea of unconditional acceptance of sinners by God not only before they accept Christ, but afterward as well, no matter what their sins may be, has serious dangers. It is born largely of modern psychology rather than a sound Biblical basis. Such a concept lowers the standards for which Christians should be striving in their efforts to follow in the footsteps of their Lord.
Peter preached the same high standard, as did Jesus. Peter said, "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Pet. 1:4). This indeed is a "high calling" because it speaks of becoming "partakers of the divine nature." The divine nature is the nature that God himself possesses. It is the highest nature, one in which death is not possible, immortality.
Paul says, in speaking of God, "Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see" (1 Tim. 6:16). Some believe every person has an immortal soul within him. However, one would be hard pressed to find scriptural support for this allegation. It is borrowed from Greek mythology, not the Bible. The Bible says, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Eze. 18:4). A host of scriptures speak of "soul death" but none, no, not one, of "soul immortality."
Paul tells us that Christians seek for "immortality." He says in Romans 2:7, "To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life." You do not seek for what you possess. Hence, it is clear that those who seek "immortality" must do so "by patient continuance in well doing."
Such a "high calling" will require a transformation of heart and character. Peter tells us what this transformation of character entails: "Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity [love]. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 1:5-8). These are transforming works of the holy Spirit in the lives of disciples which should be evident in their conduct. As Paul says, "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Cor. 3:18). This is required of all who hope to share "God's holiness."
Go to next chapter