Jonathan Edwards preached during the first Great Awakening, the greatest revival in American history. God used him uniquely, and many people came to faith in Christ through his ministry. But several years later many believed that some who claimed to have become Christians during the Great Awakening were not true disciples. There was no change, no transformation. The lives of many of those supposedly converted appeared to be the same as before the Great Awakening. In response Edwards wrote his famous Treatise on Religious Affections to address the issue of deficient discipleship, of inauthentic faith. In his writing he coined the phrase “holy affections” as the distinguishing mark of true discipleship. He wrote: “The supreme proof of a true conversion is holy affections, zeal for holy things, longings after God, longings after holiness, desires for purity.”
The distinguishing mark of Christian discipleship is a transformed heart, transformed affections. When someone becomes a true disciple, Christ radically changes the person’s appetite.
When I was in elementary school, I craved McDonalds. Often I begged my parents to have a McDonalds hamburger for dinner. If someone had told me that a day would come when I would have the freedom and resources to eat McDonalds every day of my life, I would have thought you were describing the new heaven and the new earth. McDonalds every day sounded like pure bliss.
But my affections changed.
In college I had two taste-bud-altering experiences. First, while visiting another country, I was overjoyed to discover a local McDonalds. However, after devouring lunch one day, including the lettuce washed in unpurified water, I became very sick. My stomach was in an upheaval for twenty-four consecutive hours. And with each hour I lost more and more of my appetite for McDonalds. When I returned home and drove past a McDonalds, all desire was gone for their burgers or fries. I was actually repulsed by what I formerly craved.
Second, someone took me to an expensive restaurant and introduced me to prime steak. Until that moment I was unaware that there are three distinct grades of steak: “select” is the lowest, followed by “choice,” and then culminating in “prime.” Less than 3 percent of all meat carries the distinguished and well-deserving title of “prime.” When I first tasted a prime filet mignon cut of meat, I knew eating McDonalds would never be the same again.
It has been nearly fifteen years since I have eaten at McDonalds. I am not anti-McDonalds. My taste buds have just radically changed. I now have no desire for what I thought was the apex of culinary delights. What I once loved has lost its appeal. I love now what I once did not know. Granted, I could still eat McDonalds, but it will not satisfy as it once did because I have tasted much better.
The same has happened to believers on a much deeper, more spiritual level. Formerly we craved the created things rather than the Creator. We continually longed to taste that which was never meant to satisfy us. We ate the less glorious until our stomachs were full instead of feasting on the Glorious One. But because God is rich in mercy, Christ changed us and awakened us to the goodness that is in Him. We tasted the goodness of God, and our taste buds changed. We can still eat the things of this world. We just don’t want to as we once did. He has transformed us; thus we prefer Him and His goodness because only He satisfies.
Don’t settle for information or behavioral modification. Aim for Christ-centered discipleship that brings about true transformation.
Adapted from Transformational Discipleship (B&H Publishing Group, 2012)