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“Do as I say, not as I do.” This is a phrase, I would wager, that most of us have thought or said at some stage or another. We realise that we often do not live up to our ideals, whether they be moral, physical or otherwise.

Part of being human is falling short. We know this, and the truth of the statement should temper our expectations of others. Having said that, one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control.

In Christ, believers are freed from the penalty (punishment) for their sin. They are freed from the power of their sin, and they are looking forward to the day when they will also be freed from the presence of their sin in heaven.

Whereas, when we were unbelievers, we were dead in our trespasses and sins, and enslaved to our passions and desires, in Christ we are made alive—free to serve God in righteousness.

Recently, at an evening service, we prayed that God would help us to be more aware of discipleship by example. We prayed that we would not be hypocritical in our lifestyle and undermine the message we preach with the incongruous actions we practice.

As I was reading Deepak Reju’s book on children’s ministry—Building on Jesus—I came across this statement: “To a child, watching a Christian adult is like watching the gospel turn into a movie—kids see Christianity in action in all kinds of ways.”

If you are anything like me, you may have wondered why God chose to send Jesus at the time in history that he did, rather than in a time like today where the message of the gospel might have travelled far more quickly. Or perhaps you have been labouring to read Scripture in your time of devotion, and wondering why God didn’t make a movie instead of revealing himself through the written word.

As I read that quote by Reju, I was struck by the thought that perhaps the reason that God didn’t give us a movie is because he intended his followers to live out the gospel, to live out the truth in a live action drama. God intends us, his people to be the movie!

Indeed, Scripture suggests the same idea when it speaks of the church in terms of a body, and the members as body parts. In other words, the church and her members give hands and feet to the truth of the word!

Discipleship happens all over the place in a healthy church. Parenting demonstrates the discipleship dynamic in the most obvious way and serves as a sort of microcosm by which discipleship can be analysed and examined, but discipleship by example applies to any sort of interpersonal interaction.

What is discipleship by example, exactly?

Discipleship by example is not a call to live a perfect life. The chances of that happening are quite slim. Among other inscrutable things, God uses our own sin and temptation to remind us of our need for him, and to demonstrate his grace. Christians who pretend to live lives of moral perfection are a part of the problem. They speak as if the struggle against temptation is no factor in their lives, but their actions show that it really is, and thus they anger and frustrate those who are watching the movie of their lives by claiming one thing and living another.

Discipleship by example is quite simply a conscious realisation that teaching and discipleship are primarily learnt by example and secondarily explained or formalised with words.

To use a parenting example I have read somewhere, when your child carelessly gesticulates and breaks your best ornament, the lesson they are learning from their mother in that moment is more of how a Christian responds to someone who has wronged them and caused them to suffer harm, than that they should be more careful with their arms.

This discipleship by example concept may seem like a tough reality, because of the ongoing struggle with sin that we all face. But discipleship by example means that those who watch our lives are learning more through how we respond to our own sin and failure than they are by our speaking about holiness.

Confession and repentance lived out are far more powerful than simply speaking about them. On the other hand, words about confession and repentance lose all their meaning if we keep refusing to confess and repent of our sins against our neighbours.

The temptation in conversations like this is always to pit words against actions. That is far from my intention. To return to a parenting example: We are told raise children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). This calls for both words and actions. So the encouragement is not to abandon words in favour of actions, but rather to remind us that actions often speak louder than words, and that words can easily be smothered by actions which contradict those words. On the flip side, words backed up by actions, or actions explained by words (1 Peter 3:15) are more powerful than any Christian book by some famous author.

How are your actions contradicting your words? What are those watching the movie of your life learning about your love for the Scriptures? What are they learning about your faith in the power of prayer? What are they learning about the value you place on actually gathering with the saints? Your need of the Lord’s Supper? Your love and respect for your spouse? Or your belief in the all-wise sovereignty of God?

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ,” Paul told the Corinthian church. This should be the backbone of our discipleship too.

In summary, the gospel has both and audio and video components. As you live your life, may your life movie play in sync with the gospel soundtrack to the glory of God.

Anton Beetge - 2 September 2022

Gospel Motion Pictures

BBC Shorts

The gospel has both and audio and video components. As you live your life, may your life movie play in sync with the gospel soundtrack to the glory of God.

From Series: "BBC Shorts"

Occasional pastoral thoughts from the elders of Brackenhurst Baptist Church.

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