A “touchstone” in the scientific realm is a stone created by the interaction of earth, air, fire and water that is used to test the purity of gold and silver. In practice, “touchstone” has come to mean anything which is used as a “standard or criterion to test the quality and genuineness of things.”
By that definition, then, “touchstones’ are not limited to the realm of science. There are “touchstones” in the business realm—standards or ideals by which a business (or its leader) is judged a success or failure, and in the medical field—by which a doctor’s treatment and technique are labeled helpful or put him in danger of a malpractice suit. Students of all ages are aware of the academic “touchstones” they face because their teacher’s standards and expectations on tests and classwork determine if they pass or fail. As parents, we have certain “touchstones” for our children—criteria and expectations that we want to see them live up to.
“Touchstone”—those standards by which we determine the quality and genuineness of things, performances or people–are present in the area of faith as well. Regardless of our denomination affiliation, the method by which we baptize, our view on the charismatic gifts of the Spirit, or how we feel about women in the pulpit, there are certain “touchstones” central to our Christian faith. No matter what label we wear, there are “tests of discipleship” by which we are all measured. The “touchstones” that test the quality and genuineness of our Christian commitment.
The LIFE of Jesus
The depth, quality and “real-ness” of our Christian life is tested by the touchstone of the life of Jesus Himself as He walked this earth. None of us is perfect. But we must always be asking ourselves, “How does my life measure up to the life of Jesus?” As we read and re-read the Gospels that record the events in His life as He lived among us, we begin to realize the many facets of this touchstone by which we must measure our discipleship.
The apostle Peter shed some light on this touchstone of our faith.
Jesus was the WORD MADE FLESH—God in human form. He was the personification of perfection, the standard by which our lives are judged and the criteria by which our actions are measured. We who bear the name of Christ are expected to act as Jesus would act. Indeed, we are His official representatives in this world—“His ambassadors” as Paul told the Corinthians.
Our Life Touchstone
Did you ever read the 1896 classic Christian novel by Charles Sheldon entitled In His Steps? This fictional account shows what might happen if our lives were seriously tested by the touchstone of the life of our Master.
Following a series of events that began with a homeless man dying in the church during worship, the Rev. Henry Maxwell confronted his congregation with this challenge. For one year, they would do nothing without first asking themselves, “What would Jesus do?” Those who accepted the challenge vowed to live for one year under its maxim. They found their lives profoundly altered and affected when they began to seriously test the quality of their own lives by the touchstone of the life of Christ.
The life of Jesus was pure, holy and sinless. As the author of Hebrews declared, our Lord was one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.3 Jesus understood the subtle power of temptation—and by His life, He showed us how to remain strong in the face of it and how to overcome it.
Jesus was open and honest with everyone. He did not mince words with the Pharisees. He didn’t try to butter them up or get on their good side. When they distorted the Scriptures and interpreted them to their own advantage, Jesus chastised them—frequently calling them “hypocrites” and even “whited sepulchers”.
In spite of His conflicts with the Pharisees, Jesus was filled with love for the common people. In several places in the Gospels we read that the common people heard Him gladly. They felt comfortable in His presence and came to Him for instruction and healing. Some even brought their children to Him simply for His blessing.
The FAITH of Jesus
The faith of our Lord in His Heavenly Father was TOTAL, pure and untainted by the doubts of this world. When Jesus laid hands on the lame, the blind, and the possessed, He prayed knowing they would be healed. When He spoke to the tempestuous sea, Jesus was not surprised when it calmed down. It was the disciples who questioned among themselves. 4
Over and over again, Jesus told His disciples as He told the father of the epileptic boy in Mark’s Gospel, “All things are possible to him who believes.”5 And over and over again, His disciples had their doubts, fears, lack of self-confidence…faith.
Jesus cursed a fig tree for not bearing fruit. The next morning, the disciples were amazed it had withered. Jesus, however, was not shocked and He tried to explain it to His followers: “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, “Be taken up and cast into the sea” and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it. And it will be yours.6
Not only did Jesus try to teach His disciples how powerful pure faith could be, He demonstrated it. In spite of the doubts of His followers, Jesus was able to work miracles—multiplying loaves and fishes, healing the sick, freeing the possessed, raising the dead.
Our Faith Touchstone
As followers of Jesus Christ, our faith in God needs to become that certain as we measure our faith against the touchstone of Jesus’ faith to test its quality and purity. Then we need to work at building up our faith, practicing praying and believing. Our faith needs to grow until, as Paul wrote, we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature to manhood, to measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. 7
The DEATH of Jesus
In His final sermon to His disciples before His crucifixion, Jesus declared, greater love has no man than this—that a man lay down his life for his friends.8 But Jesus did more than just talk about it—He DID it. He offered Himself as a sacrifice on Calvary’s cross for us. This is the ultimate self-sacrifice—the ultimate touchstone by which our discipleship is measured. All too often our discipleship is woefully weak when tested by this touchstone of faith.
We affirm our faith, then complain when we are asked to serve on a particular committee or to take on an extra office. Wholeheartedly, we sing, I Surrender All, then protest when we are asked to give a little extra for missions. We declare our willingness to serve our Lord in foreign lands yet demonstrate our reluctance to minister to the least of these, His brethren in our own neighborhood and community.
When Jesus commissioned the twelve disciples, He told them the disciple is not above his teacher nor a servant above his master; it is enough for the disciple to be like is teacher and the servant to be like his master…He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Mr. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for Me will find it.9
Our Death Touchstone
Jesus Christ laid His life on the line for us. He believed in us and what we could become by God’s grace so much that He went willingly to the cross—to suffer a humiliating and brutally painful death—in order that we might live. As people who bear the name of Christ, we are called to follow in His steps. We are called to lay our lives on the line daily for our Lord and for His children. Maybe not in the physical sense—but we are called to die to our own wants and desires in order that His will might be foremost.
Our pride must be put to death so that His Spirit of humble service might shine through us who call Him Lord. We might have to sacrifice a little sleep or a little TV viewing time in order to get into His Word or to be available to listen when one of His children is hurting. We might have to give up that steak dinner in a snazzy restaurant so that we can give a little more to feed the hungry and dying in our world. Our prejudices must be crucified before we can be one with our Lord and those who are our brothers and sisters in Him.
Touchstones. The standards by which we test the quality and purity and genuineness of other things. The touchstones of discipleship—the life, faith and death of the one we call Savior and Lord. How do you—how do I—measure up?
- Is my life as pure and open and as honest as Jesus’ was?
- Am I able to live each day, in each situation, content with myself—knowing that I am the best I can be?
- Can I accept criticism as well as praise—without threatening to get even?
- Am I honest with everyone—shunning the temptation to lie or cheat or cover-up?
- Is my faith as strong as it could be? As it should be?
- Do I know enough about God and His Word and His will to have my faith remain unshaken by the doubts and pessimism of those around me?
- Am I willing to go out on a limb for God—strong enough in my faith to say, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it forever?”
- Am I willing to lay my life on the line for what I believe?
- Will I be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ in this world of mixed priorities?
- Am I strong enough to put other first and to put their needs and desires above my own?
- Will I sacrifice my luxuries so that others might have some of the basic necessities of life?
- Am I willing to let go of my pet peeves and prejudices and ideas so that I might truly become a disciple of Jesus Christ?
Let us pray:
Lord, we sing I Surrender All, but we don’t always mean it. We declare, “I believe,” but our faith is often shallow. All too often, we proclaim, “I am a Christian,” but our lives don’t always show it. We confess that we are not what we should be, and we are not yet all we could be. But, we thank You that we are not what we used to be either. Test us by the touchstone of Your Son, Jesus. Burn away the impurities that keep us from being what we should be. Strip is of the imperfections of our faith that prevent us from being all we can be. And make us truly disciples of Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, in Whose name we pray. Amen.
Scriptures Used in Today’s Message