There are people who have made a mark on this world, not because they were powerful or wealthy, but because they were faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Often they shook the structures of their time for the single reason that they were people who belonged to the Kingdom of God instead of the kingdoms of this world. And even though many of them faced (and still face) the persecution of this world and the fate of martyrdom, they are the heroes of their stories. Their discipleship was stronger than earthly might, and their lives shine brighter than the candles of kings and kingdoms.
The difference is discipleship. And Paul pleads with us to be disciples of Jesus Christ.
“I appeal to you, therefore, brothers.”
Paul’s appeal is strong. This is Paul’s deep desire for followers of Jesus Christ. This is, in many ways, his life’s work for them. What Paul wants more than anything else for these followers of Jesus Christ is that their lives would reflect the image of Christ to an ever increasing degree.
When Paul writes to the Roman Christians he appeals to them to be disciples in a culture not made for Christian disciples. The empire of Rome was not built around making it easy for Christians to deny the state gods and religious practices. When someone converted to Christianity, the rest of their lives became harder. And, of course, we all have the images of Christians in the Coliseum in our minds as we think of Rome and religious tolerance. And yet, Paul pleads with them to look more like Christ instead of less.
While Paul pleads with Christians to become disciples, he tells us it happens by the mercy of God. Discipleship is first and foremost a matter of engagement with God. We do not strive and achieve to make our way into discipleship and the image of Christ by fixing the small, loose ends of our lives or tidying up the messy corners of our personality we haven’t gotten around to fixing yet. Discipleship is a lifestyle of engagement and surrender to God. The disciple surrenders what is destructive and engages with God in order that his Holy Spirit can, by his power, build in him the virtues of Christ. It is complete surrender; it is constant engagement. The disciple learns to turn their attention to Christ more often than not, and in the end, their attention can be completely occupied and colored by the presence and wisdom of God.
Discipleship is not a 12-step program or a formula that can be applied in each and every situation. It is a daily decision to belong to God; and that daily decision can turn into a lifestyle, and that lifestyle really can turn into the life of Jesus Christ. Paul has already told us and the Romans that God has predestined each and every believer to be conformed to the image and likeness of his Son, Jesus Christ. Paul now pleads with each and every one of us – present yourself to God so that you may begin to look like, act like, and think like, Jesus Christ.
Discipleship is a new life and it is a life available only through the powerful mercies of God. Please, I ask of you, follow Jesus Christ.