I have been involved in youth ministry and have had the privilege of working with young adults for a little over twenty-five years. One of my favorite things about “doing life” with this demographic is the passion and authenticity so many of them demonstrate in their walk with Jesus. Over the years, I have heard a great deal of talk about living the “radical Christian life” or being “ruined by God” (in a good way), and I absolutely love the heart behind phrases like these. In fact, I have used similar expressions from time to time, typically when trying to accurately convey a strong desire to grow closer to God and live a life that is marked by extravagant devotion to Jesus.
The only issue is, these phrases mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
Defining “Radical Christianity”
I truly believe that when most Christ followers speak about living a “radical Christian life,” they do so as sincere, well-meaning believers who genuinely love God and want their lives to make a difference in seeing His Kingdom come to earth. God wants us to live radically abandoned to Him and for Him, and most of us, at least somewhere deep down in our spirit, genuinely desire to do just that. That said, we have to be careful about uttering such phrases without any real definition behind them.
My hope here is that I can help give some meaning to this idea of “radical Christianity” so that we can evaluate our lives and ensure that we are pursuing the right thing. Being boldly outspoken about our faith and using words like “radical” and “ruined” is not enough. We don’t want to be guilty of living in fantasy or accepting the pervasive Christian culture’s definition of “radical,” lest we lull ourselves into spiritual dullness and boredom. Instead, we want our minds to line up with truth, and to live lives that are in fact “ruined for God.”
The Sermon on the Mount Delineates the Radical Christian Life
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus defines what it means to be “ruined for God” and the way to be great in His Kingdom. What He tells us in these chapters is not just the best way to be great and live radically — it is the only way.
At the same time, the Sermon on the Mount lifestyle is not just something to be pursued by “radical Christians.” It is Christianity 101. A brand new believer is empowered to begin pursuing this lifestyle, just like someone who has been following Jesus for decades. And both should make it their life goal to live out Jesus’s teachings, as God gives grace to do so.
The Constitution of God’s Kingdom
The Sermon on the Mount is the “Constitution” of God’s Kingdom, both in this life and in the life to come. It defines what life looks like in that Kingdom and helps us develop a true and healthy perspective of what it means to be a citizen there.
- The Sermon on the Mount is the only legitimate means by which to gauge our spiritual development.
No matter how much time we spend in Bible study, how many prayer meetings we attend, or how loud and expressive we are in our worship, if we are not seeing an increase in our desire to live out the Sermon on the Mount lifestyle, that is a good sign something may be “off.”
I am not saying we have to get it right all the time and never fail — not at all! We are not so much evaluating our ability to carry it out as our desire. God is gracious beyond our wildest imagination, and if we truly have a desire to be obedient, He will empower us to make that desire a reality!
- The Sermon on the Mount is the only legitimate way to measure our ministry.
Ministry is not just something that is left to “professional Christians” (as though there is such a thing). There is a temptation in the Body of Christ to forget that we are all called to ministry. However, for many of us, there is also a temptation for us to judge our impact in ministry by the wrong metrics.
So many of us are prone to getting discouraged and discounting what God is doing through us when people aren’t coming in droves to hear us speak, sing, share the Gospel, etc. Even worse, if for some reason people are coming by the hundreds or thousands, we have a tendency to think those numbers somehow validate our ministry.
The only reasonable measure of our ministry impact is to observe the degree to which those we influence are growing in their desire to walk out the Sermon on the Mount. We must consistently ask ourselves questions such as these: Why do I want God to anoint my ministry? Why do I want more influence? Why do I want more people to come and listen to me preach or sing? Why do I want more people to read my blog or listen to my podcast? The answer to a “why” question reveals motive, and our motive for ministry should always be helping others take the next step in developing their Sermon on the Mount lifestyle.
- The Sermon on the Mount defines how disciples best relate to Jesus and the world around us
In Matthew 7:24-25, Jesus tells us that a wise man “builds his house on the rock.” In this context, our “house” refers to our life and ministry, and building that house on the “rock” speaks of building our lives and ministry on the truths that Jesus has just shared in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Whoever hears these sayings of mine (Sermon on the Mount), and does them (secretly, as well as openly; consistently), I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, and it did not fall.”
Life inevitably presents each one of us with rain, floods and wind. Nobody breezes through life without challenges. However, Jesus is clear that when we choose to build our lives on His truth, specifically those He has shared in the Sermon on the Mount, we will emerge from the storms of life still standing strong.
In closing, I want to emphasize again that the Sermon on the Mount lifestyle is doable for every believer, and it is the only lifestyle God views as radical. In fact, it is the only way to truly experience the Kingdom of God in fullness. It is not something we can do in our own strength, but God will give us the grace to walk it out if we set our hearts to cooperate with Him. The power to live holy (set apart; dedicated to the Lord) comes from God, but we must “build our house” by actively participating in His process.
So you want to live radically for the Lord? You want to impact the world around you and see Heaven come to earth?
Build your house.
(Proceed to Part 2 of series)