Thursday, March 2, 2017

Conviction: The Hallmark of True Christian Discipleship

By:  Michael Kaplan, author of "7 Pillars of an Unshakable Christian Faith"

It’s a challenge that plagues modern Christianity: how can two people that claim to believe the same things act so differently? Two believers, of similar age and background, attend the same church. They both believe in Christ, and they both profess to adhere to the same doctrine. Yet for some reason, they’re very different. 

One is filled with joy, is prayerful, and looks for ways to help other members of the church. The other is bitter, resentful, and tends to divide the church. The issue is their respective levels of conviction, something Jesus taught about continually during His earthly ministry.

Jesus often spoke against the Pharisees and Sadducees of His day, chastening them for the hypocrisy of their legalistic system. In short, the words they spoke regarding their beliefs didn’t match their actions in the world.

He taught His disciples to recognize this behavior in themselves and, through the example set by Him, alter their exterior behavior by changing their level of conviction. Jesus understood those who followed Him – even His disciples – would not be equally convicted. Through His teaching and example, Scripture reveals Jesus dealt with this issue preemptively. 

There are three basic levels of conviction appearing in Scripture: public, personal, and fundamental. Jesus’ mission during His ministry was to change the disciple's convictions at a fundamental level.

1. Public Conviction: This is the level of conviction claimed by someone in public. It may be true (as in the case of Jesus), or it may be a lie to further a personal agenda. A good example would be Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus to the authorities (Matthew 26:14-16). Judas concealed his traitorous nature so well, the remaining 11 disciples had no idea of his true intentions, even after 3-1/2 years.

Jesus knew this would happen – and allowed it to happen – so that Old Testament prophecy could be fulfilled: “Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?” (John 6:70).

2. Personal Conviction: This is a level of conviction a person claims to hold, and really believes it to be true. It may be true (as in the case of Jesus), or it may be found to be false, failing under the pressure of certain conditions. A good example of this would be Peter, His primary disciple, who promised Jesus he would stand by Him under any condition: “Peter said to Him, ‘Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You” (Matthew 26:35). 

After Jesus was arrested, the disciples fled the Garden of Gethsemane, and Peter denied knowing Jesus three times (Luke 22:54-62). Jesus knew this was going to happen – and allowed it to happen – to teach Peter a lesson and strengthen his conviction.

3. Fundamental Conviction: This level of conviction is the most powerful; whether it’s claimed or not, the person never violates it. People demonstrate their fundamental convictions through actions that come as naturally as breathing. For example, most rational people hold the laws of physics to be true, and won’t walk in front of a car traveling at 75 MPH. They don’t have to think about it; they simply know it to be true, the same way Jesus knew God the Father. 

A good example of this is Stephen, the first martyr in the New Testament, based on his words and actions as he was being stoned to death: “But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55).

All three levels of conviction were congruent in Jesus. He knew the level of faith leading to Salvation is fundamental, and worked to cause that transformation in His disciples. Jesus wanted them to have faith in Him, but also wanted for them to have His level of faith in God the Father. 

At the end of His earthly ministry, and from that time forward, the disciples viewed the world through the same lens as Jesus. That’s the hallmark of good discipleship.

Holy Father, keep through Your name
those whom You have given Me,
that they may be one as We are.

~ John 17:11 ~

I pray that the Holy Spirit guides you in your studies, and brings you to a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.  Be Blessed.

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