Foreword: Invitation to the Jesus Life

Invitation to the Jesus Life, by Jan Johnson. Navpress, 2008.

Confidence in Jesus himself, an awareness that he truly is the Master of the Universe and knows with absolute clarity what is real, good and right, draws us to him as Savior, Lord and Teacher, all in One. That is whole-life faith in Christ. It naturally leads us into longing to do what he says, and, so far as possible, to be what he is, by receiving his life in us. For many professing Christians, however, that only leads to a life of frustration and disappointment, for they lack adequate practical teaching on how to go about it. Many simply give up and wait for heaven after death, developing a theology of sin and salvation to meet the failures they perceive as a necessity. Others struggle onward, but with small progress judged in terms of the clear bench marks of the New Testament—say I Corinthians 13. Still others turn aside from faith in Christ, convinced that it just “doesn’t work.”

The familiar question, “What would Jesus do?” is by now notorious for failing to lead people into routine, easy obedience to Christ. Most of those who could sincerely ask the question already have a pretty good idea of what he would do in given circumstances, though there are cases of real doubt. Often they clearly know the answer to this question, but have no idea of how to put it into practice, or of how they could live with following it in practice. Indeed, it would be instructive to pay attention to what is really on the mind of one who asks that question; but it is, in any case, certain that the question, “What would Jesus do?” will be of little benefit to serious seekers until they link it to the deeper question, “How would Jesus do it?” Answers to the former question will prove baffling, and very likely disastrous, if put into action without detailed answers to the latter.

Finding out how Jesus would do what Jesus would do is the gift that comes to us as we go to what Jan Johnson calls “soul school” with Jesus. There we learn through patient practice with him the inner texture of the experiences involved in becoming and in being one who reliably does what Jesus said and did in the manner he did it. The “manner” is, of course, everything, and it alone, when right, can save us from life-destroying legalism and Phariseeism, by opening the founts of intelligent grace in our souls and bodies. In soul school with Jesus we learn what actually goes on in the person who is receiving the grace of God as they do the things Jesus told us to do. And we learn specific ways of becoming one who does that. It isn’t impossible, and, indeed, it isn’t even particularly hard, except for those who try to do it without integrating Christ the Savior and Teacher into the occasions and moments of action. For them it is impossible. But his yoke is easy and his burden is light, and under them one finds rest through goodness and strength. So he invites us to come to him and learn of him.

An unsuspecting reader of the New Testament might think that this is precisely what the Christian life is all about. You might get the same idea from looking at those who have actually found their way into effective Christlikeness. The witness is clear to those who will consider it. But the “how” of it all is currently obscured. Thus, what we routinely do “in church” is not, to say the least, emphatically focused upon the transformation of attendees into Christlikeness, from the inside out. While we have, for the most part, just “drifted” into our distracted condition, moving out of it and making such transformation our overriding aim is a choice we can make. But we need specific, practical instruction as to exactly what we are choosing.

Jan Johnson is a careful student of the biblical texts who knows how to lead us into the experiences that make the Christ-life real in the concrete circumstances where we live. What is it like in our real life, for example, to attend to people as Jesus did, to live without fear, to serve as he served, to die to self, and so forth? She has a deep knowledge of scripture, on the one hand, and of spiritual life in Christ, on the other. The first application of this knowledge is always to me, the individual, drawn to Christ and intent on becoming like him as his student in kingdom living. But of course this student status is necessarily a life in community with others, some of whom may have other things on their minds or may care nothing at all for Christ, regardless of what they profess. As I learn to open my moments and hours to him, he intermingles his life with mine in all contexts and shows me how to orient every aspect of my being toward him, no matter what is going on around me.

But we are also called by him to lead others into discipleship and then to teach them how to live that same kind of life: “Teach them to do all things I have commanded you,” he said. Really! It seems to me that, today, very few people know how to do that, and perhaps fewer still see that as the task of God’s people in our world. You can judge for yourself concerning this matter by observing what our various Christian gatherings and churches actually do or try to do. If in our Christian group, whatever that may be, we were to decide to actually do what the “Great Commission” says (Matt. 28:18-20), we would need to know how to go about it. We would have to deal with the fine texture of the inner life, the spiritual, psychological and social dynamics that actually move us in what we do and do not do. How, then, could we set up our Christian activities actually to accomplish what the Great Commission calls for?

Jan Johnson gives a substantial answer to this question, and one that I think is without parallel among contemporary writers. Many older writers, such as Jeremy Taylor and Richard Baxter, to name only two of the most outstanding, also provided answers to this question, in a day when it was assumed that Christian ministers would do so; but they are almost totally inaccessible to the contemporary reader. Jan Johnson has written a Holy Living (Taylor) for our time, and anyone who understands and does what she says will find such living, as promised, to be easy and light, full of goodness, grace and strength—regardless of circumstances

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