The term ‘radical’ is not one that we associate with good character qualities as much as we once did. Growing up, ‘radical’ meant something was the best, coolest, and most awesome it could be. However, over the years we have seen this word used more and more used to describe much darker characteristics. We have seen the rise of ‘radical’ fundamentalism where people calling themselves Christians have done great harm in the name of Christianity and ‘radical’ Muslims where, in the name of Islam, thousands have been killed like we saw on 9/11. In both cases, the very darkest use of this word ‘radical’ is being expressed, and these are only a couple of the bad examples of ‘radical’ we could name. Therefore, the word ‘radical’ today often conveys a negative, and even frightening, message.
My definition of this word is a little different. I see ‘radical’ as being completely sold out to something, being authentic, genuine, and passionate; really being something so important it is worth living and even giving one’s life for in a positive way. That’s how I view the call of Jesus upon the lives of his followers. To me, this calling is one of the single most intriguing and exciting things for me in my relationship with Jesus. To be honest, I don’t believe scripture even gives space for a person to be a follower of Christ and not be radical. Jesus calls for radical-ness in all sorts of areas of our lives; radical love (Matt. 22:37-39, John 13:34-35), radical service (Matt. 20:26-28), radical sacrifice (Rom. 12:1-2, Mark 8:34), radical focus (Mark 8:35-37), radical commitment (John 6:60-69) and radical lifestyle (Matt 6:19-34).
Here is a confession. While these radical calls of Jesus to following him is so attracting and inspiring to me, I’m not sure it is as true of me as I’d like it to be. I would have to say they used to be truer of me when I was single, when I didn’t have a house, stuff, a family. At that time in my life, I saw living for Jesus in radical ways to be perhaps the greatest adventure I could ever hope for, even to the point where my own safety wasn’t a concern. I can recall on one mission experience walking in the jungle area of Thailand along the Cambodian border. During that time Cambodia was in the middle of a civil war and the relations between the countries was not good. We were along the border going to see a family who had made a commitment to Jesus, living in a jungle area in what could best be described as a cave. We could have gone further into this area, but our guide and missionary said it would be dangerous and we could be captured. My response was, “Let’s go for it!” I thought it would be great even if we did get caught.
Over the years, as God has blessed me with more of the gifts of life, my radical-ness and willingness to live out his radical call on my life seems to have subsided. Now before I jump to what I feel He may be calling me to or asking of me, I find myself asking, “But wait, what will happen to my family if I do this?” or “How could I ever live with less again?’. It embarrasses me to say it, but it is true.
So, here, I think is the challenge…all of us have some level of radical-ness in our lives. We radically pursue building our lives. We radically pursue raising our children and providing more than they need. We radically pursue our own hobbies and vacations, doing all of these things with great passion and even sacrificing to achieve them. So, if someone were to look at our lives and guess what we are truly radical about and passionate for, would following Jesus even be on the top 10 list? Would they see the kind of love and passion we have for Him, that would give up all else, live a lesser lifestyle, focus on the eternal instead of the temporal and go any place at any time for the sake of taking His transformational love to others? I want to say a clear and loud ‘Yes’ to that question, but I’m afraid the answer is closer to ‘maybe’.
I believe it is possible for us to live the radical life of a follower of Jesus in the 21st century in North America, but something has got to give and things have got to change inside of us. The first place to start is to acknowledge the truth of where you really are in your life in relationship to Jesus, and then to confess your lack of being ‘sold out’ to him. The next step is to begin seeking ways in your life to be more accessible to Him. This might include things like downsizing, paying off debt, and simplifying your life so that you have more time and resources to say ‘yes’ to His claim and calling upon your life. Three great books on this subject that can help you think through and make this transition in your life are Let the Nations be Glad by John Piper, The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Radical by David Platt. All three of these can be purchased at www.amazon.com .
Being radically in love with and committed to Jesus isn’t the idealistic dream of discipleship. It is discipleship!
That’s how I see it from where I sit.