Session Five: Discipleship
“You need to get the horse before the cart!” It’s true in many things, including theology and the Christian life. We need to get things in the right order, the right sequence – or things will get seriously messed up!
There’s a story about a boy who wanted to play Little League baseball, in spite of the reality that he actually had never played the game or had even SEEN a baseball game. His father, who was a bit of a baseball star in high school, trained the boy in the basics: throwing, hitting, fielding – but never engaged the boy in an actual game. They showed up for tryouts, and sure enough, the boy was first up. The pitcher threw his best fastball, but the boy swung hard and connected powerfully – the ball practically went into orbit! And the boy ran – FAST – right to third base! He tagged that base, ran onto second and tagged that, then on to first, and finally to home – all just beating the ball! But instead of cheers the boy heard laughter! The coach went up to him and said, “You’ll do fine, son. You just got to remember to go to first base first!” Order matters.
In the last session, we learned about the glorious Gospel of salvation! We learned that Jesus is THE Savior – we aren’t, even in part – not now, not ever, not a bit. Salvation and the spiritual life we now have are a result of what JESUS did/does; life (physical and spiritual) is always a gift – the gift of God. We don’t cause ourselves to come to spiritual life anymore than we caused ourselves to come to physical life. It’s a gift. We are but receivers.
But our birthday (our coming to physical life) is not the end, it’s the beginning of growing, maturing! The beginning of a life-long journey, hopefully one of growth, hopefully becoming more mature, more responsible, more ethical, more giving/serving, more “other centered,” more loving. It’s a process, a life-long process to which God and society call us. In the same way, our salvation, our coming to spiritual life, is not the end, it’s the beginning! The beginning of a life-long journey, hopefully one of growth, becoming more Christ-like, more spiritually mature, more ethical and loving. We call this process “sanctification” or “Christian discipleship.” It is a process in response to our salvation. It’s not HOW we are saved, it’s HOW we live as ones who are saved. When we were born, we were fully human. Nothing is going to change that. But at that moment, we begin a lifelong, progressive journey of ACTING human, as living as the people our parents call us to be and society needs us to be. When we fail (and we do daily!), we don’t cease to be human – we just fail to live as humans should.
It’s important to get the horse before the cart or all kinds of crazy (and often heretical!) ideas result. If we confuse justification with sanctification, we can end up with the “terror of the conscience” or “prideful Phariseeism” (addressed in the last session) or still worse, we end up rendering Jesus irrelevant and wandering out of Christianity, either declaring ourselves not needing salvation or declaring ourselves as the savior of self. No! God loves us – THEN we live and reflect this love. God adopts us as His people – THEN we live as His people. It’s important to not confuse Gospel and Law here. BOTH apply! God loves us – unconditionally. God saves us – fully. Gospel! But God also calls us to great things – and such is not a mild suggestion, it’s a divine mandate! Law! NEITHER should not be “watered down” or mixed together, they are both fully true.
Let’s carefully look at the Scriptures….
“A new commandment I give to you: Love, just as I first loved you.” John 13:34
“By this will all the world know that you are my disciples: if you have love.” John 13:35
“Do not let sin reign in you, to make you obey it.” Romans 6:12
“Since we live by the Spirit, let us now walk by the Spirit.” Galatians 5:25
“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and therefore obey His commandments.” 1 John 5:2
“God is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13
(Paul writes) “Not that I am perfect, but one thing I do, I forget what lies behind and I strain forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14
The “marks” of a Christian are his love and his morality, his heart and life. Neither are “perfect” or complete this side of heaven (remember: sanctification is a process!), but we “press on” to make it more and more so. It’s “growing up.”
Our love and life are a “reflection” of Christ. Our life is not a flawed effort to get God to love us, it’s a joyous sharing of the love He first poured into our lives. We love and forgive and care and more – BECAUSE we have received all that, in full measure, right from God Himself. We don’t give so that we might receive, we receive so that we might give.
This is known as “sanctification” and it refers to the whole of our lives in response to our justification. It is our sharing, our applying of what is ours – however ‘faint’ our sharing might be. Justification (salvation) is sudden and complete – done on the Cross of Calvary, but Sanctification (our life response) is gradual and incomplete, a process never perfect this side of heaven. Justification is God’s work (Jesus is the Savior, we’re not) but sanctification is a “cooperative” process – God empowers it but we need to actually do it.