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Jesus' Call to Adventure Christian Bargholz
Towards the beginning of every great story is a ‘call to adventure’. This is a literary technique which sees a character, called forth from their present circumstances into an uncertain future, faced with a choice of how to respond.
An iconic example is found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. At the beginning of the story, Bilbo Baggins — a wealthy, comfortable hobbit — is called to step out of his home by Gandalf, a wizard who invites him on a perilous adventure. ‘I have no time to blow smoke-rings this morning’, says Gandalf to Bilbo, ‘I am looking
for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging…’
Without this call to adventure, many stories wouldn’t be worth telling. After all, adventure is what ultimately turns a set of facts about the world into a compelling and meaningful narrative. Every great story — from The Hobbit to Harry Potter — hinges on this small but incomparably significant moment because every story, ultimately, is the result of responding to adventure’s call.
When we talk to people about what it means to become a Christian, we seldom conceive of it as responding to a call to adventure. We invite people to ‘have their sins washed away’, ‘avoid eternal damnation’, and ‘receive the gift of God through faith’. While those are crucial elements in becoming a Christian, they describe a future outcome of a present decision. Becoming a Christian, therefore, becomes conflated with buying spiritual life insurance — at the end of the day, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
The problem of conceiving the Christian life in such a way is that we miss the other half of the picture: what does being a Christian mean for the life that we lead now?
In the midst of Matthew’s Gospel, we find Jesus’ answer to this question. On one occasion, Jesus says to his disciples: ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’ (Matthew 16:24)
This passage occurs at a key point in the story. It’s sandwiched between two important moments that reveal Jesus’ identity: Peter’s great confession of faith that Jesus is the Son of God, and God’s confirmation of that identity in Jesus’ transfiguration. The placement of this passage is significant: Jesus’ identity demands a response. Jesus challenges his would-be followers to respond to him by denying themselves, taking up their cross, and wholeheartedly following him. Hence, this invitation is Jesus’ call to adventure.
The reason why we’re drawn to adventure stories is, at least in part, because of their potential to transform the adventurer. The process of stepping out into uncertainty, and bearing the responsibility that comes with it, changes the adventurer into becoming more of the person they could be. Without the adventure, the person would remain stagnant, having missed the opportunity to flourish further.
That’s why adventures make great stories. They involve struggle. They envision great difficulties. But they move characters forward in a meaningful and transformative direction if they will boldly take the first leap.
When Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him, he’s inviting us to embark on a unique adventure with him. It’s the kind of adventure we read about in great works of fiction. The difference is that this a real adventure. It’s the adventure of our lives – one that will transform us into the people that God created us to be. We all have the potential to become God’s chosen image-bearers who will one day rule a new world with him.
By responding to Jesus’ call to adventure, we adopt the biblical narrative as our own. We take our place in its pages as a character in the footsteps of Abraham, Moses, Elijah, David, and Jesus. We take God’s story into the future.
However, this adventure is not without cost: it involves sacrifice, trial, and temptation. But the meaning of our lives is discovered the moment we voluntarily shoulder the responsibilities of following Jesus. We begin to flourish not when we indulge ourselves, but when we deny ourselves. True life is experienced along the narrow road, not the broad one. It’s the difficult path, not the comfortable one, that will ultimately take us where we want to go. Following Jesus doesn’t just involve an outcome at the end of all things; it means a radical, transformative change to a disciple’s life here on earth.
To follow Jesus is to have the truest, greatest adventure of our lives. It’s the adventure of becoming the people we are created to be. This journey involves self-denial, discipline, and radical trust in Jesus and his teachings. The road will be narrow, the obstacles many, the journey hard. But that’s precisely what we should expect. If it wasn’t difficult, it wouldn’t be an adventure.
Christian Bargholz is an associate editor of InterSections, and a member of Eastside Church of Christ in Sydney. firstname.lastname@example.org
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