At the edges of society there are radicals, those who are committed to change, who aim at provoking revolutionary transformation. The ‘radical right’ aims to dismantle the social welfare structure; the ‘radical left’ uses the state to redistribute wealth. Most Americans do not care for radicals, finding their fiery words and uncompromising positions disturbing which is exactly what any radical tries to be. The passionate belief of a radical makes him a servant to his cause, usually without much regard for the cost to himself. Some radicals we come to admire. William Wilberforce, a radical in the English Parliament in the 18th century, almost singlehandedly stood against slavery for 30 years, until he had convinced enough people to bring about the abolition of slavery in most of the British Empire in 1807! He was hated by the power establishment in the late 1700’s, considered an intemperate fool by most, but we revere Wilberforce and his passionate radicalism today. Adolf Hitler was a radical, too. His policies found wide support in Germany and much of the world as he took a nation ruined by the first world war and restored her economy and prestige. But, his radicalism was shaped by hatred and today we despise him for the millions of murders and the horrors he created.
Jesus calls us to a radical Christianity! Yes, read that statement again. The tepid kind of faith that is the normal state for many Christians may win the approval of those we leave undisturbed but the Lord wants more from us. John heard these words from Jesus. They are not warm, fuzzy, comforting words of a ‘gentle Jesus.’ They are a slap in the face, a wakeup call, surely words for a comfortable Christian in the 21st century as much as they were for the disciples in Laodicea in 95 A.D. “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:14-20, NIV)
When we refuse to dig in, to become servants to the Lord, to love Him radically, His reaction is revulsion. The literal meaning of ‘spit you of my mouth’ is “You make me want to vomit!” Radicalism is a dangerous thing. As my two examples show, radicalism needs the right direction and focus. If we confuse radical service to Christ with alliance to a political party we fail Him. If radical Christians hate people instead of evil, they fail terribly in their mission. Christians are to be radical in love! They will hate the destruction of a unborn baby but they will love the pregnant woman profoundly. They will hate the greed of the rich that exploits those in miserable poverty, but they will love the rich man who needs to know the grace of Jesus. They will hate the ugly perversion of pornography but they will reach out to the pornographer with the hope of redemption. They will call out the racist for his bigotry but love him out of his ignorance.
Radicalism is not simple, cheap, or without cost. How else do you read these words of Jesus? “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?” (Luke 14:25-31, NIV)
Yes, a real disciple must consider the cost of abandoning his life for the sake of gaining the Kingdom. I love and I am disturbed by the words of a radical Christian who died the same year that I was born. Jim Elliot wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” And, he died a martyr, attempting to bring Christ’s gospel to a Stone Age tribe in the Amazon.
A Christian radical is protected by deep humility. His passionate love for Jesus and others is always focused away from himself. In the instant that he becomes radically concerned for himself, his rights, his safety, his security – arrogance creeps in and the commitment to Christ’s cause is overtaken by the commitment to my cause.
Here is the word from the Word.
“On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said.
Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”
Jesus said to another, “Follow me.”
He said, “Certainly, but first excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have to make arrangements for my father’s funeral.”
Jesus refused. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”
Then another said, “I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.”
Jesus said, “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.” (Luke 9:57-62, The Message)
A Charge To Keep I Have (Boylston)
A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify.
A never dying soul to save
And fit it for the sky.
To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfill.
O, may it all my powr’s engage,
To do my Master’s will.
Arm me with jealous care,
As in Thy sight to live,
And, O Thy servant, Lord prepare;
A strict account to give.
Help me to watch and pray
And on Thyself rely,
Assured if I my trust betray,
I shall forever die.
Charles Wesley | Lowell Mason
Words: Public Domain