Not Opposed to Effort: Two Roadblocks to Discipleship

sheep in the road

(This post is the 2nd in a series about the nature of discipleship in our churches today. Click here to read the first post.) 

In last week’s post (Read it here) I argued that our misunderstanding of the oft-used phrase “grace is enough” causes us to misrepresent the Christian life and miss out on what it truly means to be a disciple of Jesus.

We have a shallow view of grace and an incomplete definition of discipleship. In our addiction to “the easy life” we have eliminated the rigor of discipleship and simultaneously cheapened the grace God has given.

Dallas Willard’s phrase, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning,”[1] is good news. Though a life devoted to God in Christ is more difficult than we have often heard, it is also much better than we have often experienced.

To right the ship, we need to understand two roadblocks that prevent us, and others, from following Jesus into the life of discipleship we were created for. 

Roadblock #1: It’s Too Easy to Be Good

The “accept Jesus into your heart and you won’t go to hell when you die” approach to making disciples is too easy to be good. Let me explain.

Two of my friends, a couple in their early thirties in NYC, don’t understand what Jesus has to do with being good. “After all,” they say, “I’m already good.” And by all outward appearances, they’re right. They are moral and lawful. They love their friends and family, they are good parents, and they are responsible human beings. So…what else is there? They wonder, “What’s the point of believing in some guy who died for my sin so I can go to heaven if I don’t have any giant moral failures that would bar me from heaven anyway?”

We could recommend many a Bible verse and books on theology to help sort them out, of course. But the problem is, they will never be interested in what the Bible and theologians have to say until they are intrigued by what the church has to say (and does!).[2]

And unfortunately, what they hear from the American church is too easy to be any good.

The way many American church-goers live as they claim to follow Jesus is no different than the ways my friends live who don’t follow Him. So, what they want to know is this: if following Jesus looks just like not following Jesus, and if the reward for claiming to follow Jesus is only realized after your dead, then what’s the point? Jesus is worse than irrelevant, he’s a moot point.

In his book Unapologetic, Francis Spufford puts it well. “There’s obviously no necessary connection at all between belief in God and virtue. [Our world] is stuffed with atheists and agnostics doing devotedly benign things, acting on ideals of compassion and dignity and mutual aid, relieving suffering, working to save or improve the planet. There are a lot of paths to virtue, mercifully, and absolutely no way there could be a religious or Christian monopoly on it.”

Spufford then includes a very important remark: “The point of Christianity is not that it produces virtue.”Nor is it getting into heaven.

In all our attempts to make the gospel palatable, to highlight God’s generosity, and to help people escape hell, the Church has too often ignored vital portions of Jesus’s teaching.

In John 15, Jesus described discipleship:

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

In Mark 10 Jesus paints a picture of heaven in terms we aren’t used to preaching:

“But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.” (Mark 10:29-31)

And in Matthew 10, Jesus talks about life today in terms we don’t often value:

“If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” (Matthew 10:38-39)

How many of your non-Christian friends and family would define a Christian as someone who

  • is deeply and intimately connected to God in Jesus
  • forfeits personal glory for heavenly reasons
  • and clings more closely to Jesus’s life and teaching than to their own?

 

We’ve edited and replaced Jesus’ message of discipleship with something vastly different. We have told people they can commit virtually nothing to God, live virtually the same as everyone else, and for all their lack of trouble they will be rewarded with blissful immortality.

And they can smell fraud instantly. This message—which we think is palatable, easy, and hopeful—reeks of triviality.

When grace is cheapened and enough is trivialized, the gospel is no longer good news, and any thoughtful recipient of that kind of message realizes it’s too easy to be good.

Check out next week’s blog for the second roadblock to successful discipleship in the church, then stay tuned for two ways to eliminate these roadblocks in the final posts of this series.

 

[1] Dallas Willard, The Great Omission, 66

[2] John 13:35, Acts 1:8

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2 thoughts on “Not Opposed to Effort: Two Roadblocks to Discipleship

  1. Scott Sholar May 22, 2015 / 11:41 am

    Hopefully, a twenty-first-century revival will remedy all of this.

    • Christopher Greer June 6, 2015 / 1:49 pm

      From your mouth to God’s ears! Glad to have you as a reader and a fellow follower of the King.

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