(This post is the 4th blog in a series about the nature of discipleship in our churches today.)
In the first post of this series (Read it here) I argued that the American church’s misunderstanding of the phrase “grace is enough” causes us to miss out on what it truly means to be disciples of Jesus.
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: The church presents a Christian message that is too easy to be good. You can read about it here.
- Roadblock #2: True discipleship is obstructed because we believe facts are the same as acts. Read more here.
Two Ways Forward
I once had a friend who quipped, “No solution, no problem!” It was his funny way of dismissing critics who had a knack for opining about what was wrong but never offered ways to make things right. I’m always thankful for those who are bold enough to articulate the problem and propose creative solutions. I hope to do the same here. After all, what good is it to point out two major problems with the church’s view of discipleship if I will not wade into the murky waters of solutions?
With that in mind, the final two posts in this series will give two approaches for knocking down those two major roadblocks to authentic discipleship. First, we must tell the full story and second we must reintroduce rigor in knowing and doing.
Solution #1: Tell the Full Story
For so long we have told only part of the story: Jesus died for your sins and because he did, heaven is available to you. These things are true, but they are only part of the story, and we’ve cheated our listeners by leaving out the rest of it. If we hope to be disciples who disciple we must be people who articulate better the full cost of discipleship and the full reward of it.
At the risk of quoting Dallas Willard too often (is that even possible?), his words from The Divine Conspiracy make the point:
“We who profess Christianity will believe what is constantly presented to us as gospel. If gospels of sin management are preached, they are what Christians will believe. And those in the wider world who reject those gospels will believe that what they have rejected is the gospel of Jesus Christ himself – when, in fact, they haven’t yet heard it.
To counteract this we must develop a straightforward presentation, in word and life, of the reality of life now under God’s rule, through reliance upon the word and person of Jesus. In this way we can naturally become his students or apprentices. We can learn from him how to live our lives as he would live them if he were we. We can enter his eternal kind of life now.[i]”
We must stop preaching a gospel that has little to do with actually knowing Jesus Christ and becoming like him. We must instead preach the gospel that includes Christ crucified and Christ resurrected and alive, ready and willing to commune with those that follow him. It must include His desire and ability to lead them and empower them to live the kind of life he lived in the kind of Kingdom he rules.
Jesus did not try to woo people with lofty promises of an easy life. A rarely preached passage in Luke captures Jesus’s words of truthful warning:
A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.
“But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’
“Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him? And if he can’t, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away. So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.
“Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? Flavorless salt is good neither for the soil nor for the manure pile. It is thrown away. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” (Luke 14:25-35 NLT)
Do you remember the radio personality, Paul Harvey? He was famous for saying, “Now…the rest of the story.” Well, if the first part of the story is John 3:16 (“God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him will have eternal life.”), the rest of the story is that passage from Luke 14.
Because of our willful rebellion against God and the things of his kingdom, we need a savior. Which Jesus (thankfully!) is. But we also need to accurately count the cost of following him and living life in His kingdom while surrounded by a world that might want heaven, but doesn’t really want Jesus. And that, my friends, is hard work! Nobody should tell you differently.
But—and this is an important “but”—that work does not earn you God’s love. Rather, it helps you to know God deeply, resist sin powerfully, live in community selflessly, and love others passionately. That is what being a disciple is truly about and it is in this that we discover the joy, peace, power, and satisfaction of walking with our Savior today.
[i] Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy. 58