In the last few years, I have learned more about how to become more Jesus centered focused. It has become a top priority for me. I hope this article will also benefit you as well.
The term Christian literally means Christ follower. One who commits to following Jesus. In order to truly follow Jesus we need to become Jesus centred focused.
In order to become more Jesus centred, we need to see Jesus in action, discuss the differences between acceptance and agreement, as well as discernment and being judgmental. We need to understand when church discipline and not associating with someone comes into play so that we are continuously and appropriately building bridges and not walls between relationships. Lastly, we need to know and practice the difference between living “for” the Kingdom of God (a kingdom not of this world) verses living “in” countries (with physical boundary lines – earthly kingdoms run by state affairs). I will conclude how all these things relate to the Jesus centred kingdom love ethic we are to live by.
Jesus And The Samaritan Woman
John 4:7-9¹ (Jesus and his disciples walk through Samaria on their way back to Galilee. They stop by a well.)
“Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.
The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”
Why did Jesus ask this Samaritan woman for a drink? It was common knowledge and practice for Jewish religious leaders not to talk to Samaritans, women (other than family or wife), and those living sinful lifestyles. It had become important for Jewish religious leaders to keep ritually pure so they wouldn’t be excluded from doing their religious duties. Thus, their personal status (being looked up to) became very important to them. They thought that this was the way to being a light to the nations.
Yes, God wanted them to be a light to other people (other nations). God wanted his people to build relational bridges. But, it turned out that the religious leader’s focus on religious observances became more about themselves which in turn built walls between them and others. It became self-centred focused rather than other centred focused. So, how Jesus treated the Samaritan woman was an other centred approach. To Jesus followers this is known as being Jesus centred.
There also had been a large thick relational wall between the Jewish community and Samaritan community that went back hundreds of years. The religious people on both sides of the wall hated each other, and both thought they had the right religious teachings. So, they had nothing to do with one another.
So, that sounds like so many of us today. We want to be pleasing to God. So, we start listing and following a bunch of religious do’s and don’ts (i.e, follow specific denominational teachings or doctrinal stances for specific ways to do or not do things). And if we are not careful, we become legalistic about it (telling others they must follow the same do’s and don’ts or we will not associate with them – look down at them). Followers of Jesus are to be relational bridge builders to other people who don’t agree with our lifestyle, our worldview, our opinions, and/ or our decisions.
Acceptance And Agreement
John 4:10-18 (Jesus replies to the Samaritan woman’s surprise that he is even talking with her)
Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”
“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”
Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”
“Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.
“I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.
Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband— for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”
As we have read, we see Jesus is demonstrating acceptance full well knowing this woman’s distinctly different (even opposing) cultural background. He even knows the sinful lifestyle she is living. Even though, he isn’t in agreement with her lifestyle, and cultural religious beliefs, he shows her acceptance.
The cultural norm as a religious Jew, was to keep his distance – never mind talking with her (which would have been easier to do and come more naturally to those who think of themselves as righteous or better than those they disagree with). He was to avoid her and not associate with her which is a form of unacceptance. Jesus stepped out of the norm, and has shown us a new way. His way. The Jesus centred way. But, still after 2000 years, we followers of Jesus still struggle with this concept.
Today it’s really the same thing. Many Christians (and others with opposing political agendas, worldviews, beliefs, or opinions) will automatically default to not accepting anyone they disagree with. Even those who preach politically correct tolerance demonstrate they are not accepting of others that disagree with them. That doesn’t seem very tolerant. The more extreme one’s viewpoint (no matter the side of the fence they are on) the less accepting they are.
Let us define acceptance and agreement to show how different the terms really are.
Acceptance: when one person or a group offers another a sense of belonging (made to feel like they fit in or belong).
Agreement: when one’s opinion harmonizes with another’s worldview, lifestyle, decision, or conviction (opinion).
There is a saying in my church, “Acceptance is not agreement. When we confuse acceptance and agreement we will withhold our acceptance in order to be clear about our disagreement. This is needlessly hurtful and emotionally juvenile. Jesus shows us a better way.²
People, regardless of their differences, will often confuse the two terms and the result is wall building between disagreeing people. The bigger the wall the less each person hears from the other side. And if this is the case, followers of Jesus will not be good witnesses for the kingdom of God if we are not heard.
Accepting while disagreeing does work in family settings all the time. We accept our close family members, even when we disagree. I want to put this into practice with family, friends, coworkers, peers, and even with people who don’t like me or disagree with me.
How can we be accepting if we need to discern truth or judge immoral actions or lifestyles? Very good question. Let us move on to judgment and discernment.
Judgment And Discernment
Jesus reveals that he knows about the Samaritan woman’s lifestyle. “Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband— for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!” But, he doesn’t judge her for it. Instead he allows the conversation to continue so he can correct her on her misunderstanding of the nature of worship in Jesus’ Kingdom (which I will expand on later). So, we take a cue from Jesus’ response to help others with discerning God’s truth.
Here is also an area with which many Christians take two different words and infuse them together. We tend to treat discerning and judging as the same thing. They are different words with different meanings.
Here are definitions by David A. DePra in his “Judging vs. Discerning” article.
“[T]here is a big difference between judging someone, and discerning evil. The two are not the same at all. In the Bible, the word “judge” is often a woeful translation of the Greek word “katakrino.” This word literally means “to judge against.” In other words, it really means “to condemn.” But there is another Greek word, “krino,” which is often translated “to discern.” “Krino” literally means “to separate.” Or, to put it more clearly, it means “to separate the good from the bad…
“To judge” means to condemn. It means to render a sentence against someone as if you are God. And “to judge,” the way Jesus forbade it, is always a product of a bad attitude. It stems from never having seen that you are as needy as the one whom you are condemning…
“To discern,” however, carries no desire to see someone “get what is coming to them.” True discernment doesn’t condemn at all. It simply sees things as they really are, with the mind of Christ.”
So, to discern is to distinguish the difference between right and wrong (to know that which is truth, right and moral) for oneself.
To judge is to condemn someone else for doing or believing that which isn’t right. The harsher we judge, the larger the wall we build between ourselves and that person or group. The bigger the wall, the less they will be able to hear and see our witness for Jesus.
If we are not to judge people, how does church discipline work or who do we discipline? Another great question.
Church discipline is not used as a condemning judgment, but as a restorative measure to draw back the unrepentant to a repentant state – to restore them back into fellowship.
Jesus explained how church discipline should work (Matthew 18:15-17).
“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.”
Church discipline are for those who sin against other believers which in turn could disrupt and or divide anyone or everybody in the local church. They are the church goers that are purposely disrupting and breaking up the local body of Christ or disrupting individual believer’s lives to get their way about doctrinal or lifestyle matters. This could involve some kind of harassment from one believer to another.
If we see this happening in our local church, we are to follow Jesus guideline in hope to restore the unrepentant sinner back into fellowship. We are not to judge/condemn the accused as individuals. To disfellowship a disruptive or divisive believer is strictly left to the church leadership. This is the only time the local church body will practice that “we will withhold our acceptance in order to be clear about our disagreement” until the accused repents of their disruptive or divisive sinful behaviour. Then they are to be restored.
We have learned the differences between acceptance and agreement, as well as judgment and discernment. Withholding acceptance to be clear about the disagreement is a last resort decision made the local church body leadership for restorative purposes.
Living The Kingdom Lifestyle
Now back to Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4:19-24).
“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”
Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
Jesus demonstrated acceptance while not agreeing with her lifestyle and cultural differences. He did not judge and condemn her though. Instead, he helped her discern truth from error. He changed her perspective on his kingdom way of thinking. And she knew he had the authority to speak the truth, because he knew her heart and he knew the truth.
The Samaritan woman’s belief was entrenched in a physical earthly kingdom (where is the proper place of worship?). Jesus corrected her saying a time will come when a earthy kingdom perspective will not be the focus. It will be a spiritual kingdom focus.
Jesus is the King of his Heavenly kingdom (not of this earth). The kingdom of God will provide a new perspective that will be very different than to how an earthly kingdom would be run. Consider what Jesus said about his kingdom:
Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”
“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.”
“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.”
“Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword.”
Unlike an earthly kingdom. We don’t use earthly weapons to fight for Jesus’ kingdom.
Paul said, in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4, ”We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.”
For the first 300 years of Christianity, it was better to die for a cause then kill for a cause. Then Constantine was the first emperor to believe in Jesus. Christianity then became a state religion. This then infused earthly state matters with living for Jesus’ heavenly kingdom values.
We are to be representatives or ambassadors of this spiritual kingdom of Jesus to the earthly kingdoms of this world. Our values are upside down or inside out compared to those who hold to earthly kingdom values. Jesus’ demonstrates this in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7). We have to be careful not to mix earthly kingdom values with Jesus kingdom values because they oppose each other.
” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.
In Matthew 5:46-48, Jesus said, “If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
If we are to love our enemies, who is left not to love? To demonstrate love, let us learn and practice acceptance with those we disagree with. Let us learn and practice discernment so we can distinguish between earthly kingdom values and Jesus centred kingdom values. Leave judgment up to God, and the last steps of church discipline to the leaders of their local church body.
1. Please reflect on what was said. Really take it in.
2. Pray to God about the changes you need to make that reflects Jesus’ kingdom values.
3. You cannot unlearn past behaviours, but you can learn and practice Jesus centred behaviours that will replace the old ones with enough practice (until they become the new natural or automated thinking).
The Case Study for Reflection
This case study is to help us reflect on what we have learned in this article, and be able to start putting Jesus centred kingdom values into practice (learning to accept people we disagree with).
You are a believer who holds to the traditional view of marriage (a man and a woman become one in marriage). A homosexual person who holds to the progressive view of marriage (the focus is on the oneness of marriage, not so much on the man and woman), starts attending your local church regularly every Sunday. He believes in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. He sits quietly in the back and doesn’t speak about or is disruptive about his lifestyle.
1. Do you withhold your acceptance in order to be clear about your disagreement? Or
2. Show acceptance (give a sense of belonging) while discerning and disagreeing with the lifestyle and progressive belief? Or
3. Set the church discipline in motion to have him banned from your local church if he doesn’t repent or believe like you do?
May God bless your walk with Jesus, as you become more focused and centred on him.
¹All Scripture quotations in this article are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved.
²Bruxy Cavey, Teaching Pastor of the Meeting House in Ontario, Canada.