A Big Question on Discipleship
How many of us feel we are really hitting it out of the park in our Christian growth? I think most of us don’t. And if we did, that might in fact be a bad thing. Nevertheless, most of us Christians tend to live with a gnawing sense of constant failure, insecurity, and self-consciousness.
If we are truly growing in our faith, we should be both growing in both our sense of brokenness and humility on the one hand while at the same time growing in our sense of security with the savior on the other. That is the fruit of true Gospel love, true gospel transformation, and true Gospel peace.
Raising Both Bars
When I mention “raising the bar,” I do not mean the old Olympic high-bar analogy, but more like the bars in a bar-graph. When we look at a bar-graph we see multiple bars that measure some quantities in comparison and contrast.
Let’s imagine for a moment a bar graph in which there are two quantities. The first is the holiness/obedience meter. This measures our growing levels of learning to live like, obey, and reflect the character of Jesus. The second is the humility meter. This one measures our sense of imperfection, brokenness, and need for saving.
Both of these bars should (generally) go up together (i.e. If we grow in holiness, we must be growing in humility). Likewise, as we grow in humility, our holiness increases with it. If our humility increases and our holiness does not, it is really more of a show and we are a fraud who is in fact feigning humility. For instance, many of us as Christians, when called upon to own this or that fault can be heard admitting “yep, I’m a sinner…” Yet this is just a reigned humility, no different from the old “nobody is perfect…” that the most godless person will appeal to.
This is what I call the “jump into the crowd” method, where when the light is shone on our sin, we just try to get lost in the crowd by pointing out how we are really no worse than anyone else. What this does is avoid true culpability to sending up a flare the takes the focus off ourselves by pointing out the ungodliness of the rest of the human race. When the Gospel takes hold of our lives, our sin disgusts us and drives us to true repentance. We feel the sting of it as if we were the only person who ever did anything like that, we own it, and we hunger for God’s forgiveness.
On the other hand, if our obedience increases and our humility does not, we become little more than a religious hypocrite. Again if we are able to comply with the general moral expectations of God’s word, but we do not grow in humility, this is also a show. This is revealed very quickly when we are cleaned up on the outside and very quick to pass judgment on others.
So what is True Discipleship and How do we Measure It?
So what is true discipleship? It is not a program, service, or event. These things can of course be part of the process. But discipleship is the process of life in the Church that shapes us more to the image of Christ. More tangibly, it raises both bars: it challenges us to deeper levels of obedience (both outwardly and inwardly) and it increases humility. This means that while we grow in obedience, we never feel like we are. Our sense of duty to obey Christ and sense of need for forgiveness and saving grow together.
This kind of discipleship is palpable. It makes a noticeable difference in our lives and relationships. It leads to an ever-growing peace within our relationships with our family, friends, and enemies.
How then may we measure discipleship? We measure it in several ways. In the most general sense, it should lead to peace. This is certainly not a perfect peace, the kind we will experience in the kingdom of God. But it is in fact a taste of it in our lives that is growing, tangible, and evident. Here are three key ways:
- Discipleship works itself out in better relationships. This is one of the most obvious. When the Gospel changes us, it has the opportunity to change how we relate to everyone around us in practical ways. Discipleship mends fences; it redeems broken relationships.
- Discipleship creates peace within ourselves. We no longer want to hold onto our pride, our neighbor’s faults, and so on. It creates both psychological and emotional peace within ourselves and with the world around us—a peace rooted squarely in forgiveness.
- Discipleship creates a posture of repentance. We need to unpack this more elsewhere, but for now, let’s summarize. True discipleship produces repentance that leads to humility. Repentance is the process of self-examination, owning our faults, and asking forgiveness of God and others. When you repent, especially in your relationships, this refreshes, renews, and rebuilds broken relationships.
These three can be considered benchmarks and consequently provide some standard by which we can begin to measure our growth. We will come back to these more. But for now, we can use these to begin to get our bearings.
So here is a helpful exercise to start to begin applying them. (1) Set aside some time in a quiet place. A place outdoors or inspiring is preferable, especially where you can be alone without interruption. (2) Bring a pad and pen to do some brainstorming. Begin by brainstorming how you are living and experiencing each of these categories. Then review and begin praying about it. (3) Share it with a safe close relationship like a confidant, close friend, or spouse who can give you some kind of objective thought.