Biblical teachers often make a big deal about the examples set by Jesus’ apostles. I think we can all understand why. Those courageous followers are the heavyweights of Christianity– the captains of the team we all aspire and look up to. Sometimes, they’re given so much admiration that it can even be a bit intimidating. The status of faith they achieved can easily seem unattainable for our own spiritual journeys sometimes.
I’m honestly as guilty as the rest. I read Peter’s two letters to the church in Jerusalem and I think to myself, man this guy had it together… how can I possibly ever be like that? I read John’s letters and am so amazed at the wisdom and faith on display.
Viewing the apostles this way is accurate. They really are the heavyweights and the original “captains of the team,” so to speak. But I think we miss a far more amazing aspect of their obedience and spiritual maturity if we don’t also look for where they each started from. That’s when we find the encouraging fact that these guys started out right where each of us did.
Jesus’ apostles were each an incredible illustration of God putting His power on display through otherwise weak individuals. That’s always been His style, and He’s not shy of revealing His reasoning: it’s how His message of grace and love becomes even more amazing and newsworthy.
Each of the people we read about in the Bible were at one time about as normal and unassuming as they come. In Peter and John’s cases, they were just fishermen. I’m not discrediting fishermen, but back in that day, you probably wouldn’t think of heading down to the docks in search of the guys who would help you start the most successful social movement in human history. The guy at the tax collector booth was probably near the bottom of your list of ideal candidates.
When Jesus came by and invited those guys to follow Him, their main concerns were focused on the market fish prices and how to make as much money as they could. They weren’t looking to give up their lives and live the rest of their days in fellowship with the man they would eventually believe was the Son of God. In fact, I would guess that if you were to tell either John or Peter on that first day that they would eventually write a series of letters that billions of people through the course of history would read, study, talk about, and encourage each other with, they would think you were crazy.
“I’m just a fisherman,” they would’ve probably said.
It’s important to remember that, even for those guys, it wasn’t an overnight conversion. They honestly didn’t have a whole lot of natural talent for what Jesus was asking them to do– just like most (or all) of the rest of us in the days since.
Every single one of them underwent a long process of decisions, confusion and downright anguish before they ever arrived at the level of faith we’ve immortalized them with. They were just normal people like you and me, even while they lived with and talked directly with Jesus for three years.
So many times throughout the gospels, Jesus seems more like a preschool teacher than a man containing the true spirit of God. He spent so much time talking about the very basics of faith, and encouraging His rough-and-ragged disciples to really lean into what He was teaching them. And they were often extremely hesitant. They didn’t trust Him right away. In fact, they still didn’t seem sure even after they were told that the tomb was empty. We know Thomas wasn’t.
My point is this: Being a Christian has always and will forever be about taking the next step of faith.
Faith doesn’t start out with total trust in God’s ways over our own. That’s the goal, yes; but no one reaches that conclusion as soon as they hear about who Jesus was and what He did for us. There’s a lot to work through, and the path of the disciples was not so different from the paths we are on ourselves.
It starts off with simply wanting to know more– choosing to drop your nets and start to follow. Then, after observing and gathering enough evidence to make a confident decision, it becomes a matter of basic belief. That’s when you decide that there’s enough reason to let this be a long-term commitment. And then the hard part– processing through the implications of how the single event of Jesus’ death and resurrection needs to impact your daily life. What does it mean for your values and habits? How does it alter the way you think of yourself and others?
It’s a long road of developing independence from our own way and putting our trust in God’s way. There are many additional steps that are different for each of us– full of sacrifices and really tough or even painful circumstances. But all the while, we are learning how to be more “Christian”– that is, how to trust and love God with more of ourselves.
There is no shame in recognizing that you’re not quite where you want to be in your faith. Can you imagine how Peter must have felt when He realized He had denied simply knowing Jesus after being his disciple for three years? Talk about a step in the wrong direction. But Peter resolved to recover and continue making steps toward the truth He believed existed in Jesus.
None of us can be like Paul with his instant conversion. In fact, not even Paul underwent the kind of conversion we think Paul went through. Because Paul was a highly trained Jewish scholar, which takes a long process in itself. We don’t get to read about Paul’s early years, when he was a young man wrestling with how to apply the difficult Jewish laws and teachings he was being taught by his own rabbi. By the time Jesus made him a believer, Paul was already a zealous man full of faith and conviction– Jesus simply redirected that zealousness, which was packaged and ready after years of training and practice.
Being a Christian takes daily decisions to advance forward in faith, acting on this terrifying concept of trusting God more than ourselves. It means moving away from any addiction we recognize in our hearts so that we can be just a little closer to God at the end of the day.