Jesus and Paul are the two most quoted figures in the New Testament. They’re also the least exemplified. While folks are quick to quote these two, few actually discipline themselves to be able to live out the quotes. Most don’t realize it’s necessary, thinking God’s grace is sufficient for all spiritual growth.
Put another way, attempts to live like Jesus and Paul by reading and quoting their words, rather than discovering their words through the disciplines they practiced such as fasting, solitude, prayer, and service will fall short.
This isn’t a criticism of Christians. I fail miserably, and often, at such disciplines, but I’ve also had some success. If a former drug addict, atheist, and God-hater can experience what Jesus and Paul taught (living in the grace and flow of the kingdom), then there is hope. However, we have to get beyond what the bible says to how the folks in the bible were able to do what they did.
How were they able to respond with such power and grace in such trying circumstances, challenges, and pressure? The answer: just like our Olympic athletes, they practiced.
Dallas Willard discusses the process and practice of living like Jesus in his book The Spirit Of The Disciplines.
What happens, then, is all the talk of following Jesus – or of Paul’s example of following him – is emptied of practical meaning. It does not express an actual strategy of living our day-to-day existence but at most concerns only certain special moments or articles of faith. This in turn makes it impossible for us to share their experiences and consistently carry through with behavior like theirs. That behavior rested, after all, on their experiences. And the experiences in turn resulted from how they arranged their lives. Since we do not share their behaviors, we are left with much talk ‘about’ them and an occasional application of some of their language to our experience.
This is a powerful indictment of current attempts to live a Christian life. The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak. One can’t expect to do even greater things than these, as Jesus expected of his followers, if they do not train their mind, flesh, and spirit in the same disciplines of Jesus.
The great news is that it can be done. Willard continues with, The only way to overcome this alienation from their sort of life is by entering into the actual ‘practices’ of Jesus and Paul as something essential to our life in Christ.
So what would practicing what Jesus and Paul did look like? A simple example might be one’s struggle in a relationship. Rather than rush off to a counselor, or dive into heated discussions, time in solitude and prayer prior to “working it out” may yield some interesting results. Again, just a simple example, but a great reminder to seek the kingdom first.
Reading the Bible is key. There are no better words than the Word of God. But expecting the words to jump off the page and transform us into the likeness of Jesus and Paul is foolish. It would be like trying to learn how to ride a bike by reading its manual. It certainly helps, but one must eventually pedal.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson