The Mission of God: Grace and Discipleship

In a previous blog post I wrote about the equal need for both proclamation and demonstration as we live on mission with God.*  However, living in word and deed as witnesses of Jesus Christ requires an equal need for grace and discipleship.

Discipleship is all the rage right now among Christianity.  Look up any number of Christian conferences, journals, and blogs and it won’t take long to find something about discipleship.  This is not too surprising as it has become more and more obvious that in general, Christianity in America is lacking in discipleship (with some notable exceptions).  In fact, this is why I believe Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who coined the phrase “cheap grace,” remains ever so popular and relevant today — especially among ministers.

Discipleship, as I understand it, simply means learning to live our lives as Jesus lives his life.  This is who followers of Jesus Christ are.  While that seems simple to understand, it is a difficult challenge to live into.  Part of this challenge involves learn to believe about God and life as Jesus believed and embrace the same values Jesus embraced.  This is one area where preaching and teaching is resourceful.  However, even though cognitive teaching is important to our development as disciples, we also learn through hands on practice.  Thus learning to live as a disciple is like learning to become an electrician or pilot which involves both instruction and practice as a learning-apprentice.

Our call to live as a follower of Jesus and develop followers of Jesus is great but it’s impossible apart from grace.  Following Jesus always begins with the invitation of Jesus, “follow me,” and is therefore an offer of grace.  However, the offer of grace does not end there.  Beginning with the coming of Jesus to his eventual dying on the cross for our sins to the sending of the Spirit who is our Advocate through whom we are sanctified and to the eventual second coming of Jesus, we are recipients of grace.

So discipleship must always be bathed in and pursued within a deep understanding of grace.  While grace without discipleship becomes cheap grace, discipleship without grace becomes lends itself to legalism.  Discipleship apart from grace is just as much of a distortion of God’s will as grace without discipleship.  So as a church, we must always attune our eyes and ears towards both the grace of God in Christ as well as the call of God to live as disciples of Christ.

This is where we must remember that we don’t become disciples of Jesus to earn God’s approval and acceptance.  Rather, we become disciples so that we can live the life God desires to bless us with as our Creator and Redeemer.  When from the deep well of God’s grace we live as followers of Jesus, we are on our way to becoming a church that is both an attractive and committed community of Jesus followers.

——————–

* This is a slightly modified version of an article of the same title that I wrote and was published in Connecting 28 (March 6, 2013), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.

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3 responses to “The Mission of God: Grace and Discipleship

  1. Have you seen James Nored’s series on “Why Churches of Christ are Shrinking” over at Missional Outreach Network? His most recent post hits on this as well- the CoC is heavy on “right” practice but light on grace. Both yours and his are important reads IMHO.

    • Frank,

      Thanks for the comment. I have read James’ post and as a “lifer” among the Churches of Christ, I think James is hitting the nail on the head. Historically, the Churches of Christ read the New Testament as a second Torah to reproducing the assumed ecclesiological pattern of the first century church. This approach ended up wrapping the salvation of God up in getting this doctrine correct. While I am for “sound doctrine” (in the best sense of that phrase), this approach became an unsound doctrine that produced legalism. Consequently, it was not until I was a young adult when I heard words like “grace” every spoken of from a preacher or teacher in Bible class or during the sermon. Further more, this approach to discipleship produced faithfulness to a dogma rather than following Jesus meaning that the primary concern was not learning to live life as Jesus lived but strictly adhere to a dogma.

      The seeds of a grace-rooted approach were planted years ago and have taken deep root in some Churches of Christ. Gone is the rigid dogma, the legalism, and the sectarianism which has been replaced with a more grace rooted and Christ centered faith while retaining the best of Churches of Christ (a more simple attempt at Christian community that retains a deep love of God with high view of scripture and doing good works). Yet old ways die hard and so the legalistic approach still remains among other Churches of Christ.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  2. Basic Christian asceticism has always involved-fasting, prayer, vigil and almsgiving. Christians with Tradition are in Lent now, which used to involved vigorous ascetic effort to the end that grace be attained; we strive through grace to attain more grace. The Orthodox Tradition still has the ancient rigor. There is, however, a continuum of asceticism that goes beyond those basics, most of which are in almost total disrepair in the West, and the whole world. The most saintly, graced-fill, miracle-working, believers in Eastern Orthodoxy, however, find grace for continuous prayer, and this way down the road from the attainment of outer stillness, of radios, television, frenetic activity. In addition, as for example, St. John Maximovitch, only slept two or three hours a day; there are a few who ate nothing but parched bread and that sparingly, reminiscent of John the Baptist’s diet of locusts and wild honey. These ascectisms often led believers into spiritual gifts of miracle working, and prophecy on the order of Old Testament prophets. These asceticism are on the ascetic continuum which in pursuit of the ‘angelic life,’ the life of the age to come, even in this life, being transfigured in partial ways to the energies of eternity, lived in the present. I think of the Daniel the Stylite born on my birthday of Dec 11, who was a miracle worker, a grace attained within the Spirit-led ascetic calling of stylitism.
    The discipleship of the Faith is received within the unvarying Tradition of the Apostles which has been preserved in the Faithful from generation to generation.

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