Right now I’m reading a book called Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight: Cassius Clay vs. The United States of America. It is a story of the attempt to draft Ali into the United States Army during the Vietnam War. When Ali was drafted into the Army he refused induction by claiming that he was a conscientious objector. The book is centered on the roughly four years of legal wrangling between Ali and the US government.
Central to Ali’s claim was that as a Muslim, who followed the teaching of the Koran, he was not allowed to fight in any war unless he fought on the side of Allah. While claiming objection to military service on grounds of conscience was not new, and was done in both World War I and II, Ali’s claim was unique in its particular religious expression. The statutes allowing objection due to conscience required that a person be opposed to war in all circumstances, and not particular circumstances. Ali was agreeable to fighting a war for Allah, but he wouldn't participate in any other war.
And that got me to thinking a bit about living each day as a Christian and what it means to follow Jesus as a disciple in our culture. Does it mean that I follow Him all the time, or just most of the time? Am I obedient to His leading, to His teaching, every time I hear it or only when I remember it? And if it suits me at the moment? Are my eyes and my heart open to seeing His truth every time I open my Bible, or only when I am reading my favorite parts?
To adapt Ali’s claim against the Army, when it comes to being a disciple, am I a conscientious follower?
The truth is that I fall short, time-and-again. All disciples do. I am aware of some of my more persistent shortcomings, things that our culture may accept but ones which I know are wrong when the Gospel is the measuring stick. And I am thankful that God is rich in mercy and forgiveness, waiting for me each time I return to the foot of the cross.
In his letter to the Galatians Paul gives words of guidance and encouragement to those following Jesus as His disciples. He writes about this in Galatians 5:16-26, with the heart of his wisdom in verses 22-23:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
These words speak timelessly, to both the Galatians and to those of us following Jesus today. May they form both you and me as we seek to be conscientious followers of Jesus Christ each and every day.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.