Most people have perceived the word radical to mean severe, drastic or extreme and have missed out its most important and distinctive meaning. Its true meaning has to do with the concept of a root. A radical change is one that comes from the root; a radical politician is one who wants to change the roots of the political system; and a radical Christian is one who is rooted in Christ. St. Paul highlights the importance of our root in his letter to the Colossians: “If you have accepted Christ Jesus as Lord, let him be your doctrine. Be rooted and built up in him; let faith be your principle, as you were taught, and your thanksgiving overflowing.” (Col 2:6-7) So how can we be radical?
Jesus describes it in the parable of the sower (Cf. Matt 13). Just like plants, every aspect of our health and growth is determined by the nourishment we get from our roots. A plant with no root will die. Likewise, a Christian who is not rooted in Christ will only last for a short time. It is as simple as that. A radical Christian hears the radical call of Jesus and obeys, not because he manages to persuade himself that it’s the best thing, or out of a sense of duty, but because his root is in Christ and so following the call is the obvious, natural thing to do. The call of Jesus is as demanding to us today as it was to his first disciples two thousand years ago: “If anyone wants to follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt 16:24) However, being a radical Christian is very different from being weird. Some Christians come across as weird when they are trying too hard to be someone they are not, to force themselves into a spiritual or cultural mould that does not fit their real identity (i.e. being unauthentic). But being radical means being true to the identity that God has given us.
Being a radical Christian is not a special, higher calling that is just reserved for a few special people. It is what God desires for each of us, expects from each of us, and has equipped each of us for. There is no real alternative. The Apostle Paul gives us his own definition of the Christian life in Galatians 2:20. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Here he is not stating something special or peculiar – a “high level” of Christianity. He is, we believe, presenting God’s norms for a Christian, which can be summarised in the words: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” We are a new people – God has given us a new root. Now he expects us to live from that new root instead of continuing to live our old lives from an old root. Doing this is nothing more than being true to what we believe.
St. Paul tells us how important it is to live a life that is rooted in Christ in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15: “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.” We must not sing the hymn “O Lord, you are the centre of my life” and then make Him peripheral, one item among many in our lifestyle. If we inventory our lives and find that the list goes: work, family, entertainment … and lastly God then something is not right.
Treating Jesus as a “lifestyle accessory” may be the greatest obstacle to our evangelism. When we evangelise, do we tell people to “ask Jesus to become part of their life” or do we tell them to “surrender their lives to Jesus”? Jesus never offered himself to be the superfluous part of our lives. In the Gospel of John, He says: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25) When we present the gospel in terms of “here’s something nice you should add to your lifestyle”, we misrepresent God, deceive our hearers and waste our time. Can there be Christianity without the cross? Do we love the life of this world so much that the cross has no part in it? Should we deny or hide the cross to win more “believers”?
A radical Christian must love God more than anyone or anything else, and works hard at the work God has given him or her to do. St. Paul told the Philippians: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you.” (Phil 2:12-13) Here, the motivation to work hard is that God is already at work in us, and has already worked in us; but our response to that is not laziness but a determination to respond to God’s work in us by working at what he has given us to do. This emphatically does not mean that we work to earn God’s approval. Quite the converse: we work hard as a response to the fact that God has already given us his approval. We’re not trying to earn love, but to please someone who already loves us. The radical Christianity that God calls us to is expressed differently in different persons. That is because God deals with each person individually. Not everyone is called to be a missionary in Africa; but everyone is called to live a radical Christian life with Jesus at the very centre of it.
In Jeremiah 29:13 God says: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” To become radical Christians we must first realise that we are “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked”, just like the Laodicean church mentioned in Revelation 3:14-17. Next, we must want Jesus to be the centre (or root) of our lives, and this desire should come from the hunger for God that Jesus described in the Sermon on the Mount (Cf. Matt 5:3, 6). Hopefully, by the grace of God, we will hunger for Jesus when we read the Bible, listen to Christian Music or spend time in payer. Anyone who became a Christian in response to an invitation to “ask Jesus to become part of their life” is probably misled. The call of Jesus to us now is the same as it was two thousand years ago, that is to surrender our entire lives to Him, nothing less. The Apostle Peter has warned us that there will be false teachers among us, who will take advantage of us with deceitful words for the sake of money, and many, nonetheless, will imitate their vices and because of them the Way of Truth will be discredited. (Cf. 2 Peter 2:1-3) So beware!
Let us ask the Lord to change our hearts and minds with the song “Change Our Hearts” by Rory Cooney: