Discipleship in the Life Advice Age

Today’s post from Jeff Patterson is part of the blog series Discipleship: Re-Imagining Our Calling From Christ. To receive future posts from the series in your inbox head HERE. Engage with the writers and community of readers using the hashtag #DiscipleshipBlog.

Plant your hope with good seeds.
—Mumford & Sons, “Thistles & Weeds”

Keep-calm-and-carry-onLife advice is the currency of our culture. Everywhere we go, someone is selling a better take on life, a better way to be awesome.

Recently I asked our little church plant to share what life advice they’ve come across. A small sampling of the adages in our culture:

-“Make yourself proud.”

-“Whatever makes you happy, do it. Whatever doesn’t, don’t.”

-“Don’t look back, you’re not going that way.”

-“Keep Calm and Carry On.” (And a million other variations.)

What strikes me most about these sayings is their positiveness. These are positivisms: ways of thinking and living that ignore the hard parts of life. (And yep, I’m positive I just made up that word.) They’re over-simplistic answers for life’s complex questions. Yet despite all its promises, I am positive this way of thinking doesn’t always work. Every mantra fails us at the moment we need it to work the most.

These sayings are life advice aimed at success. People want to succeed, to win. Disciples of Jesus are no different, but we define “success” oh so differently, when we accept the call to abandon our lives, die, and find a whole new life in Him (John 12:20-33).

Jesus re-defined success according to God. He re-imagined our calling for us.

I’ve noticed most people want to add Jesus to their lives. No hard research behind this stat. It’s that the mindset of our age? We want Jesus as a Savior from Hell, to cover us with some Eternal Life Insurance. Perhaps if we’re serious, He gets the go-to role of Life Coach or Personal Spiritual Trainer. “God is a big part of my life” we say with our status updates on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebrag. Oops. I meant Facebook. Trying to get noticed: Look at how awesome God is for giving me this awesome life! #blessed

Pause for a moment: Ever wonder why Jesus became so popular?

In the week leading up to Jesus’ death some Gentiles (non-God-knowers) asked to see Him. In classic form He replied to his press agents Philip and Andrew:

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”
—John 12:23-26

Up until this point Jesus has consistently “discipled” His disciples, by loving, rebuking, forgiving, and teaching them the words, will, and ways of God. God in a Bod has shown them who the Father is, and what He wants for His children. How to truly to live well, which means they must first die. That’s a total paradigm shift for what it means to be His disciples. Get this and the rest of life will make sense.

Jesus responds to a request for an interview by saying “Amen” (“Truly, truly…”). Whenever the Son of God begins His words with Amen — the same way we end our prayers — we know something big is about to come our way. Listen up. This is important. Build your life on what comes next.

Because Jesus built His life on these words, we must too.

What follows “Truly, truly” is sorta vague. What is this kernel of wheat He’s talking about? Is it us, or did Jesus go all third person a-la-Bob-Dole on us while talking about the first person of Himself? It seems He’s vague on purpose. Yes, and yes. It’s both: He is The kernel of wheat, and our lives are too. Unless we become like Him, and are willing to fall into the ground and become nothing, our lives simply won’t matter. He’s calling them to repentance and faith. Stop thinking like that and start thinking like this.

Jesus didn’t try to “add God” to His life. He gave it all up, disappeared into the ground, planting all His hopes in the Father who could raise from the dead.


Is that the message of Christianity you were told? Doesn’t seem to jive with the modern jingle of “accept Jesus and go to heaven when you die” we sell to kids and teenagers. You know, taking care of their last problem, since they have everything else they want (food, shelter, clothing, friends, acceptance, comfort) let Him take care of that one last problem: death.

Jesus is telling them to die before they die, just like He did.

The call to plant ourselves in the ground and “die” means in part that for however long God decides, our lives may look unfruitful, unproductive. There are no immediate results to measure, but consistency and longsuffering over the long haul. Seeds have exponential potential for life, yet only as long they remain buried. Nothing awesome to Facebrag, Tweet, or Instagram.

With an aversion to the negativity of dying — it seems like poor “life” advice — we’d rather substitute good things in its place. New Christians are zealous to pay God back for His kindness, so they do whatever it takes to tip the scales of good in their favor. Join a bunch of Bible studies, try to pray lots, serve, “get involved” with their churches. All good things, even godly things. Then someone comes along and says, “You don’t have to try so hard. Relax.” Then over time the energy for those new activities fades. Why? I think it’s because of the Gospel message we’ve been “sold,” and what we’re told being Jesus’ disciple means.

Notice what Jesus is telling us about His death on the cross. At least three things:

  1. The scandal of it.
  2. The beauty of it.
  3. The challenge that comes with it.

The cross is no fashion accessory; it’s message is offensive. It’s God lovingly criticizing us to say we are full of darkness and need the Light to shine on us. Yet He is affirming our worth: Jesus is willing to suffer the loss of His Father to rescue us and renew a relationship with us. Unless you feel some of the sting of the offense you cannot be His disciple.

Yet as you see the beauty of the cross, of who Jesus is and what He has done, it compels you to give it all up to follow Him. If you don’t feel that way, you cannot be His disciple. If the cross offends you more than compels you, it won’t change you.

How can you get past the scandal to see the beauty?

By accepting the challenge. (Or do we believe that He’s only offering life advice?)

The challenge is to become like Jesus by dying with Him. There is power in losing your life, of being buried into the ground — becoming invisible — and then producing in time a greater yield than that one seed could ever imagine.

If you want Jesus to call you His Disciple, you must abandon your life. Don’t invite Jesus into your life. It’s a mess. His life is better. The risen Son of God invites you into His life! Neverending, amazing, full of adventure, and purpose. Unless your life falls into the ground and dies it remains just a lonely seed. That’s planting your hopes with good seed. Don’t live for yourself. Die with Him.

Jeff Patterson is a minor character in the big Story, where Jesus is the Hero. He’s husband to Kari, father to Dutch and Heidi, and pastor with Renew Church in Oregon City. A native Oregonian, Jeff regularly runs, recycles and reads people and books. He blogs intermittently at deTheos.us and tweets in spurts as @deTheos.