Not Opposed to Effort: The Work of Discipleship

steel worker

Grace is not enough.

That sentence alone will send the reformed crowd into orbit, and it just might make the rest of you scramble for Bible verses that refute works-based righteousness.

But when I was recently asked to comment on Christian discipleship today, I could not help but think that grace is not enough.

Obviously the truth of that statement relies on one’s definitions of “grace” and “enough.”

If grace is defined as God’s unbelievable act of reconciling humanity and all things to himself through the work of his Son, Jesus[1], and if enough means sufficient for accomplishing that which we are utterly helpless to accomplish on our own[2], then bingo – we’ve nailed it. Grace is enough.

Unfortunately, those definitions of grace and enough are not the definitions we American Christians typically think of when we hear the phrase, “grace is enough.”

Too many of us have been trained to believe a flat and incomplete definition of grace and to carry an anemic picture of what is enough. We’ve whittled grace down to a one-time act— Jesus died on the cross for my sins. And we’ve reduced the definition of enough to a fuzzy picture of the after-life—I’ll go to heaven when I die. Add them together and you get a partially true, but grossly underweight version of the gospel: Jesus died on the cross for my sins (grace) so I go to heaven when I die (is enough). The acceptance of this narrow definition of grace and shallow description of the Christian life offers a disservice to Christians and non-Christians alike.

Being a follower of Jesus is much more dynamic and encompassing than that. Much more.

Discipleship to Jesus—both in the Bible and today—must be more than mental ascent to shallow definitions of grace and what is enough[3]. After all, to be a disciple is to be an apprentice. It is not just being taught by another, it is the act of trusting the teacher so completely that it reframes the way life is actually lived[4].

Long ago I began to learn what I continue to learn every single day: coming to Jesus requires nothing, but walking with him requires much. As Dallas Willard said so well, “grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” He expands this thought by writing, “Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.”[5]

And today, as a man whose heart is bent by God toward becoming more like his son and helping more people do the same, I am passionate about discipleship. That is to say, I am passionate about being a man who submits more and more of his thoughts, actions, desires, and focus to the risen Christ, all because of who he is and what he has done. And I’m committed to helping others experience an actual relationship with God—not just establishing an intellectual collection of religious tenets—by doing the same.

As Willard so succinctly pointed out, that requires effort.

And it is in this idea that a relationship with God actually requires something of us, that we as the Church have fallen dramatically short of the mark in our efforts to pass on the faith, to make disciples[6], and to define grace and enough.

This topic could be (and has been) discussed from a myriad of angles, but in the following blog posts, I will give two reasons why our churches struggle to make disciples of Jesus and two steps we can take to change that.

Here’s a snapshot of the two roadblocks we have to meaningful, Biblical, life-changing discipleship:

  1. We believe facts are the same as acts. Our churches have put so much emphasis on simply knowing the truth that few are taught how to live out the truth. Truth isn’t real if it doesn’t move us to act on it.
  2. It’s too easy to be good. Everything good requires effort. But our approach to making disciples is often so easy, so watered down, and so void of actual meaning that it is no longer valuable.

In my next post I’ll unpack these two roadblocks.

And don’t worry, I am not advocating a new kind of works righteousness at the expense of God’s overwhelmingly beautiful grace. Rather, I am advocating a return to Good News that is so good that we are moved to become disciples who actually take up our crosses and follow Jesus[7] because of it.

“Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.”

Your turn: What comes to your mind when you read this quote by Willard? Think he’s right?

[1] Colossians 1:19-20

[2] Ephesians 1:4-9

[3] James 2:19-20

[4] Matthew 7:24-29

[5] Dallas Willard, The Great Omission, 66

[6] Matthew 28:18-20

[7] Matthew 16:24-26, Luke 9:23-25

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3 thoughts on “Not Opposed to Effort: The Work of Discipleship

  1. […] the first post of this series (Read it here) I argued that the American church’s misunderstanding of the phrase “grace is enough” causes […]

  2. […] the first post of this series (Read it here) I argued that the American church’s misunderstanding of the phrase “grace is enough” causes […]

  3. […] post is the 2nd in a series about the nature of discipleship in our churches today. Click here to read the first […]

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