These five smooth stones, presented in Deuteronomy 6 as God’s methodology for discipleship, were clearly modeled for us by Jesus Himself.
In this final blog of the series, the focus is on Jesus and Response. For Jesus, Response was the foundation for a godly life.
Years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Sears Tower (now the Willis Tower) in Chicago.
When you are on the top viewing floor and there are high winds off Lake Michigan, the building can sway up to six feet. This causes people to experience a very strange sensation.
On that viewing floor the tour guides explain the construction of the building and especially the foundation the building was erected on.
The strength, and even the elasticity of the enormous structure is all dependent on the foundation. The same is true for the Christian life.
A proper foundation is essential for building the life God intends for children.
Our response to God’s Word is the foundation for the Christian life and is why Jesus gave so much attention to responding to God’s Word.
Truth, in Jesus' Ministry
Jesus taught the truth and urged His followers to respond to that word.
And Jesus was clearly concerned about people who know the Word but do not practice what they know:
"The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So, you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” (Matthew 23:2-4)
Acknowledging that the Pharisees were teaching the truth, Jesus called the people following them to do what they taught.
The problem with the practice of their faith was not a knowledge problem; it was a response problem.
Knowing but not doing is the definition of hypocrisy. Jesus wanted people to respond to the truth, not just talk about it or merely store it up as head knowledge. God’s Word demands some kind of response.
Several passages in Scripture could be chosen to support this point, but we will focus on two.
John 14:23-24 is the first:
“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:23-24)
One of Jesus’ disciples had just asked, “Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” (v. 22).
But showing Himself to the world was not Jesus’ goal, and He reiterated His earlier explanation of the means to that end: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (13:35).
Jesus declared that the loving relationships and actions of His disciples would help the world recognize who He was.
Jesus went on in John 14 to set up His relationship with His Father as the model for His followers’ relationship with Him.
In fact, God the Father gave Jesus the very words that He spoke (v. 24). In addition, not only did Jesus come to earth at the behest of His Father, but Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Him (John 14:5-14): He and the Father are one (John 10:13; 17:20-26).
Their relationship is characterized by mutual love and Jesus’ obedience (John 15:10), the exact model of what Jesus seeks from His followers.
If you love Jesus, you will obey Him; in the negative, people who don’t love Jesus will not obey Him.
Clearly Jesus’ teaching style called for a response. In fact, He tailored His teaching to elicit people’s responses.
Sometimes they misunderstood, were confused, and required more teaching. The point is, Jesus was looking for their response.
The disciples’ response revealed their understanding of and commitment to the truth.
A response is crucial, but that response seemed a matter of choice then, and it still is today. The disciples had experienced the love of Christ, had heard the truth He taught, and now had the opportunity to respond with obedience.
This choice is apparent in these contrasting statements:
- “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.”
- “Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching.”
The disciples were free to choose to love Christ and to obey His teaching or to not love Him and not obey Him.
Jesus can express His love to us, teach us the truth, and urge us to respond, but we must choose whether to respond by loving Him and obeying His teaching.
God doesn’t force us to respond with love and obedience. The choice is ours; the choice is an act of our free will. And this is a crucial truth to hold onto in our ministry to children.
We can express the love of Christ and teach them God’s Word, but their response is an act of their will. Therefore, a children’s ministry worker’s success cannot be judged solely on the children’s response.
We are successful when we love the children and teach them the truth of God’s Word in the most compelling fashion possible, while praying continually that they will choose to love and obey Jesus as Lord of their life.
Responding to Jesus: Living Out His Kingdom Truth
As we consider the second scriptural example of responding to Jesus, we note that when children (like adults) respond with love and obedience, they begin to build the kind of foundation that characterizes their new life in Christ.
To illustrate this, Jesus talked about building a house on a solid foundation:
“The one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed, and its destruction was complete.” (Luke 6:49)
Here again we see both the importance of responding to Jesus’ teaching and the fact that we have a choice about how we will respond.
Also, other translations look slightly different from the NIV’s translation “hears my words and does not put them into practice”:
- “heareth my sayings, and doeth not” (KJV*) *If Nike had used King James English, we would be told “Just doeth it!”
- “has heard and has not acted accordingly” (NASB)
- “hears and does not act” (NRSV)
- “hears and does not do them” (ESV)
In this illustration, Jesus contrasted people who listen to Him and obey with those people who listen but then don’t do what He teaches.
The latter do not act on the message; they do not “practice” what He preached. The word practice suggests an ongoing action, effort, or habit.
As we respond to God’s Word again and again, we build a solid foundation for our life, so we will be able to withstand the trials, tribulations, and storms that come.
This foundation for life, however, is not in just the hearing and the knowing. Yet too many teachers today believe that proper doctrine and right biblical thinking are the sole foundation for a deep spiritual life.
Both are essential, but Jesus taught that living according to that truth and responding to that doctrine is what sinks deep the pilings of a strong and vibrant spiritual life.
A transformational children’s ministry is all about helping children respond to God’s Word and put into practice what they have learned.
As children learn the truth (Know) and respond to it by obedient action (Do), their lives become more Christlike (Be). Becoming more like Jesus every day is our goal as we disciple His children.