I always thought that discipleship carried with it the implication of justification as its starting pistol, although I’m not sure why, considering Judas was discipled along with the eleven other apostles throughout the duration of Jesus’ ministry, and (although I suppose this is a disputed issue) I do not believe that he was a regenerate Christ-follower. We also see, in John 6:66, that many so-called disciples “turned back and no longer walked with him” when they realized that Jesus wanted to be followed for who he was more than for the benefits he gives.
You can be a “disciple” of Barney or Psalty The Singing Songbook, I suppose, if you’d like to sit under their teaching. In defining a Christian disciple, then, I would think that he is one who has been invited into the story of God, who responds to the gospel and seeks to know it more explicitly so that the righteousness of Jesus imputed to him would remake his very being, that his being would be imaged in community along with other redeemed reflections of Christ who mirror the diverse oneness of our Trinitarian God, that they would worship Him for who He is, and that they would be attractive to those that don’t know Jesus because of the love that they posses for one another, and the world.
What does that mean, and how does it happen? We must first define the gospel, which is a whole lot more glorious and magnificent than, in my rash generalization, it is often presented to be: God saves sinners. I would add: God continually saves sinners. What is implied in “being saved” is that we need saving, which is either welcomed or fiercely opposed, and at any rate, makes us out to be blind, deaf, rebellious, and in need of a miracle. In need of a Savior.
When my friend and elder at my church first encouraged me to begin studying doctrine and theology, he did so under the conviction that it would both help me make sense of things and be the spark to give vision and purpose to everything to come. Four years later, while I have sought to purpose my life in lieu of the revealed purposes of God, I do not always have the answers which help me make sense of things, because God’s purposes are often accomplished through the very opposite of what I would deem necessary, or desirable. For example, my dad commits suicide and God uses the action which Luther the Reformer would call “alien” to His nature to result in action that “belongs” to His nature: namely, my family’s deepening dependance upon Jesus to be our treasure and unshakable foundation. We are given “the privilege to suffer for [Christ]” (Phil 1:29). This seemingly backwards “foolishness” is first and foremost seen at the cross, where God the Father wills the suffering of God the Son, for his ultimate glorification and our redemption.
For discipleship that does not result in being crushed to nothing beneath the weight of the law, it must be understood that our relationship with Jesus is contingent upon Jesus, and if he chooses to call us, his love and grace will not fail or falter, but will do exactly what they promise to do: work in us, change us, and mold us by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus must be our identity. “In love he predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Eph 1:4-6). As people, our inherent worth and value is found simply in being made in the image of God - however broken by sin - and as disciples, our broken image is being renewed more and more into a true reflection of Christ.
I am convinced that true behavioral and life change is the result of worship alteration as opposed to behavior modification. Theologically, I think that’s what I’m supposed to be learning, but I don’t necessarily believe or reiterate it just because dead guys that held to the same reformed convictions said so. I was “addicted” to (although not the victim of) pornography for ten years. Behavior modification said “just try harder to stop, and get accountable to someone, and, you know, ‘just say no’” - as though a life lived checking abstinent days off on the calendar were any more free than marking an “F” for the days I’d failed to be obedient. What I am not saying is that effort or accountability are bad things, but what I am saying is that obedience empowered by the grace and gospel of God is the difference between taking joy in the opportunity to worship and consider Him more desirable than sin, and the heaviness of what might feel more like compliance to restrictive boundaries that feel inevitably unavoidable, and lead to either pride or condemnation, depending upon how you performed that day. Ultimately, I simply grew to love Jesus more, and my desire for him replaced my desire for pornography (in which there is no place for pride or boasting because here too, the desire is a gift of God.) “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain… it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor 15:10).
“The gospel empowers its own implications” and “being precedes doing” (Jared C. Wilson). We as disciples have been justified, are being molded into the image of Christ, and because of gratitude for the blood spilt on our behalf, and what he has done for us, and the Holy Spirit with which he has gifted us, we are not only “saved for good works” (Eph 2:10) which we long to participate in out of love for Jesus, but we can see boundaries as they were designed before their distortion in Genesis 3: opportunities for obedient living in alignment with the will of God, for His glory and our joy, as worship.
Bill Clem defines worship as responding to God for who he is, what he has done, and what he is doing. I’ve been wrestling over whether or not he is specifically tying this definition to a Christian disciple, or to a general audience, because we are all natural-born worshippers, and even a Christian’s view of worship gets distorted in relation to his view of God (all the more reason to be explicit in who God is so that the view is in conjunction with scripture). For instance, I am Christian, but if I view God as the bumper-sticker “co-pilot” in my story (as opposed to the Author, Perfecter, and Finisher that He reveals Himself to be in His story), and He ordains or allows something (like my father’s suicide) that I don’t like, then I can respond to God for who I perceive him to be, what I see that he has done, and what I perceive him to be doing through my finite lens, decide that He is not a very good co-pilot, and turn to worship myself through pridefully assuming that my narrative is better.
So perhaps that is a good general definition of worship, because if Christ is preeminent, then even when someone or something other than Him is being worshipped, said praise is still a rejection response to the Creator of those things, whether due to spiritual blindness or hard-hearted refusal of submission.
At any rate, all of life is an opportunity to worship - to mirror God in praise and mission. Continuing the same line of grace-thought, God seeks out and creates worshippers (which is encouraging, because although He uses current worshippers as a means of proclaiming His gospel, He gives us assurance that there will be responders who believe). We worship in truth, which (although we, like Moses, are not designed to wrap our minds around mysteries such as the great “I AM”) does exist. We worship in Spirit, by which the Holy Spirit compliments and affirms the truth in us, empowering such things as holy living and relationships. We worship in love, not as clanging symbols, but “as one with the object of our worship” - the One/Trinitarian God, the covenant maker and keeper, the lover who lives “life at one with another life”. We worship in glory, because ultimately, God is about God, and although many have decided (in the wisdom of men) that a God about glorifying Himself is conceited at best, the truth is that God’s glorification and my satisfaction go hand in hand. God wants glory, and I want hope, life, and joy, and when I worship Him who is those things, the culmination of my satisfaction in simply who He is results in my joy, and His receiving credit for it. Bill Clem goes on to say that “the glory of God is something that people are to be aware of, to experience, and to express.”
I have been trying to develop this thought of “eating breakfast to the glory of God.” It started as I was preparing to elaborate on Pastor Mark Driscoll’s sermon Jesus Preached The Word for the young adults at Mars Hill Students a few weeks ago. My wife and I serve there each Wednesday. The idea is that all of life is sacred. All of life is an opportunity to image God or our idols, to worship Jesus or our functional saviors, to live by the Spirit or by the flesh. It could get going into a pretty lofty train of thought, I guess, except all I really want to say is that you can eat breakfast to the glory of God. My mundane morning meal (MMM) can be eaten in praise; here’s how:
There is a huge difference between gospel centralization and gospel prioritization. If Jesus is only a priority, then He becomes a section of your day - a half hour on your calendar before or after other priorities. But he is not the well-spring of life by which you live out those days. Throughout middle and high school, I remember being hammered by my youth leaders week in and week out about whether I had been having my “quiet times” or not. Quiet times were supposed to happen immediately after I woke up in the morning, and they were to be the first thing on the agenda for the day. If my quiet time didn’t happen before breakfast, then breakfast was a legitimate cause of guilt.
Of course we need to be disciplined in our pursuit of God, as we don’t naturally drift toward holiness (and now I think that spending the beginning of my days with Him is quite preferable), but in seeking to be a disciple-making disciple, I want the youth of my church to be able to eat their cereal without fear of condemnation for not having checked off the “Jesus box” on their to-do list before they get coocoo for Coco Puffs.
Clem says that “to live life without Jesus at the center is to live life as an idolater.” The world sees a whole lot of Christians who pray to God for His grace to worship their idols (Disciple, pg. 158). The world wants to see authenticity. People are drawn to it. If you’ll remember what Jesus says to the lukewarm in the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3, so does God. Although we can be authentic persons, we are designed to be authentic people. Plural. Life lived in gospel community is an imaging of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit who are three distinct persons living in perfect, complimentary community as one God. Community belonging is attractive, and nurturing a belonging community is an assignment we are given vital to the health of those involved in it.
I can’t help but think of this truth in the context of where I have spent the majority of the last four years of my life: the music scene - specifically, hardcore. We talk about he “scene” as a whole. It gives us a sense of identity. We are active participants in the scene, we invest into one another’s lives, we hit each other and all kind of hardcore things, and we feel a sense of belonging. Unity, standing together, brotherhood and local support are common lyrical threads throughout, interwoven on tours, in homes, venues, streets, friendships, etc. I can see a hardcore kid and know that he’s a hardcore kid. Hardcore preachers (which is exactly what they are) exhort audiences to oneness within the scene, and we rally around it, taking ownership as members. It is a passionate, authentic scene.
Point being: communities are pictures of what defines them, and we join based upon what we want to be identified with, or what is enticing about them. The hardcore community is distinct.
So also, the gospel is to be lived out in community, and that community is to be distinct. “And he said to him, ‘If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?’” (Exodus 33:15-16) Moses understood that the presence of God is the distinct qualifier for people that bear His image, and he knew that others would see it, and he was not willing to move forward without it. A gospel community is devoted to truth and prayer, to living life together, to interacting with those outside of the gospel community authentically and without false pretense, so as to love others practically by partnering with them and simply allowing them to experience Jesus in us.
That word “partnering” is very important, because a gospel community is not exclusive, it is inviting and inherently missional. We are not separatists. However, we are also not to be syncretists. Let me attempt to give an example:
In the “Christian” (which is a terrible adjective) hardcore scene, we are at little to no risk of separatism, but we are at risk of being indistinguishable from the “nonChristian” (also a terrible adjective) hardcore scene. (Just follow me, because the point is not that we would be separate “scenes” - which is more like clique-ism and pharisaism than Christianity). What I am saying is that a lot of the Christian music community that I have experienced is built more on the sand of autonomous license and opinion than on the rock of Jesus and scripture. This is why you have bands get on stage and preach more about why the church sucks and how we don’t have to go to church anymore because we are our own church and, by the way, Jesus loves you - than they do about how Jesus loves you. In his sovereignty, God has used a scene whose foundation is often a wobbly rejection of the bride whom He loves to draw many to himself, but I would love to see more and more folks who have been “burnt by the church” image Jesus’ model of reconciliation by seeing that He didn’t seek out community or build his church based upon the timid hope that they wouldn’t fail or “burn” him, but because of the love that he has as a missional God. It is confusing to hear about a Jesus who forgives and reconciles us to God the Father immediately after an unforgiving rant on an irreconcilable stubbornness of heart.
Sometimes, I think that this bent is birthed out of a legitimate desire to see others who would never step foot in a church, but are sympathetic to the story, come to know Jesus. I get that. But firstly, it is Jesus’ gospel call that is effective, not our contextualization of it. Second, a “gospel” community divided among itself seems to me more along the lines of that which “God hates… one who sows discord among brothers” (Prov 6:19). Jesus becomes more of a sidenote spirituality whose name is mentioned between songs in the scene’s story than the central Savior of designed redemptive history.
The cross is offensive. It is “folly to those who are perishing, but to those of us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Might I add that it will be the power of Godto those who will be saved, as well? Gospel community must be one devoted to gospel truth if it is to be truly missional, as is its purpose. “The people of God expressing the grace and mercy of God declare the glory of God and, in so reflecting God and his kingdom, they become ambassadors of reconciliation.” (Disciple, pg. 166)
My prayer is that Jesus would define what our community looks like. That we would be devoted to truth, love, care, hospitality, repentance, forgiveness, kindness, submission, honesty and compassion for one another, and that our communities would grow and replicate as more and more people see authenticity, vulnerability, humility, transparency, time with and devotion to one another, and Jesus, as his distinct presence perseveres in and molds us more into his likeness. That we would be a people whose gratitude and joy radiates off of us like the sun because of the weight of our sin lifted by the depth of Christ’s mercy. As Clem says, “If people are going to dismantle idols and recalibrate worship from self to Jesus, they are going to have to see others doing it to be convinced of its reality and benefits.” That is going to require selflessly displaying the kingdom of God now, which is eternal life “as qualitatively different.”
Therefore, lastly, missions and disciple-making are at their best pursued and developed relationally, because the Bible doesn’t call for conversion-numbers but for Jesus-followers. I wrestle with this on tour, because I have prayed with many people who have made decisions for Christ on the road, but after that emotional evening, I have no idea whether or not the decision has developed into a disciple (I suppose I praise Jesus for the opportunity to be his hands and feet and trust him with the soil on which the seed of His word lands.) “To go into the world and call others to make decisions is to take on the challenge of selling a product called ‘Christianity.’ To go into the world and make disciples is to take on the challenge of partnering with God as agents of grace, introducing people to a lifelong journey of following the life, truth and way to reconciliation with God… Relationships are the Velcro strips that allow benevolent acts to stick as kingdom deeds.” (Disciple, pg. 212)
Imaging our trinitarian God looks like interacting with his body. A Christian is connected to the church. If you call God your Father, then you are inevitably a brother or sister connected to your Father’s sons and daughters. It is amazing to me that professing Christians - Christians who acknowledge their depravity without Christ - somehow think that the church’s sin is reason not to participate in it. But a loving community works best when people are able to bring their weaknesses to the table, and, as Bill Clem has said, offering forgiveness is one of the most profound ways of incarnating our declaration of the gospel. If community were not necessary, Jesus would not have sought it out, and He would have not commissioned us to meet together as different facets of His body to declare His living Word in all of life, that others might truly live through it.
My pastor dubbed this kind of living “reformission participation evangelism”. In essence, we don’t refer to “people” as “outreach projects” kept at an arm’s length until they’ve prayed a prayer that acts as an access code to be allowed into our clique. Instead, we love them, and hang out with them, and become friends with them, and pursue them, and eat with them, and live life with them, and love them more because they are people that are valuable as made in the image and likeness of God. My friends and I got to see the fruit of this living and the prayer poured into it recently when one of our best friends, who has been devoutly atheist for years excitedly told us that he is a Christian, he loves Jesus, and Jesus changed his life. That friend has never been our pet-project. He has never been a box on a checklist that I now get to put an “X” through. Rather, he has been a fellow disciple that has gone through the ebbs and flows of life with us and now shares in a joy-filled, redeemed sonship of saints that are continuing their discipleship as imperfect community being molded into the likeness of Christ, from one degree of glory to another. It is phenomenal, and nothing has made me more excited than seeing his joy, hope and transformation over these short weeks. I am brought to tears imagining what his life will look like after a lifetime of Jesus’ grace.
Jesus creates disciples. He builds his church. He says it himself in Matthew 16:18, and in John 10:16 assures us, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” Although He has chosen to use us as proclamations for the mission of His story, only He can render the call effectual. I used to hate the thought of a predestination and election, but in reflecting upon the hardness of my heart and the fact that God is not all about me, now all I can do is weep at the unmerited grace that Jesus has and continues to extend to me. In reflecting upon the hopelessness in my father’s eyes before his suicide, all I can do is weep at the grace of God in saving him, persevering with and for him, remaining faithful to him even when he was unfaithful, and taking him home. Jesus Christ cannot fail, and knowing that he will not is what makes missions hopeful. It gives us assurance that our efforts are not in vain. It gives us assurance that Christ will fulfill his promise. That more and more people will know the love and grace of Jesus. That more and more people will be transformed by Christ through his love that never ends and “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, [and] endures all things.” (1 Cor 13:8)
“If we are to follow Him, we must follow Him as redeemed image bearers, as worshipers, as a community, and as missionaries.” (Bill Clem)
This is a disciple.