Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Discipleship is a lifestyle

We make a mistake when we see discipleship as a point of conversion. For a long time, I equated "becoming a disciple" with "being baptized and received into church membership." While I will not judge the reality of an individual's relationship to Jesus, it is obvious that many who profess Christ and are baptized really do not entrust themselves to him in genuine faith. Jesus said, "Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things I commanded you? Practice does not match profession!

A disciple is one who seeks to become like their teacher. In ancient Judaism, the rabbis had their disciples. It was understood that the disciple wanted to replicate in themselves the life of their teacher. They wanted to think like their teacher. They wanted to act like their teacher. They wanted to teach like their teacher. They wanted to live their lives as their teacher would live it if he were them. It was a struggle for each disciple attempted to integrate what they saw and heard with their personalities, interests, perspectives and desires. They had the advantage of spending quality and quantity time with their rabbi. Jesus' disciples were with him 24/7 and they could see him, study him, touch him, and learn from him (see 1 John 1:1f). Biblical discipleship is a relationship so intimate that the lifestyle of the teacher is integrated with the life of the disciple.

By practice rather than profession, today's church teaches that faith, confession before an audience of sympathetic hearers, and baptism makes one a disciple. You will notice that I left out repentance. I did so on purpose. I do not think we sufficiently emphasize repentance nor am I certain we understand it.

In the New Testament, repentance means "a change of mind that leads to a change of life." Alexander Campbell believed that you may profess a change of mind without a corresponding change of life. In an essay in the 1833 Millennial Harbinger, Campbell stated that true repentance indicates not only a sorrow for wrongdoing but calls for restitution as well. If a person professes repentance but demonstrates no corresponding effort to make right his previous wrongs, how can one's repentance be considered genuine? We are told that the old law was a tutor to bring us to Christ. In the old law, we are told that we should not steal. In the provisions of the Mosaic Law, the thief was to restore what was stolen plus an indemnity of five percent. The illustration for the believer is that when we come to Christ we seek to make right what we did wrong. We seek to make restitution.

We tend to treat Christianity casually as if it were equivalent to joining a club. I was a Rotarian for years and I found the fellowship and friendships stimulating. I believed in the principles of Rotary and approved its worldwide benevolent works. Many Rotarians joined because it helped their business. Rotary, however, did not call for any change of lifestyle. The current trend in the church is to "sell" the idea that Jesus can help one build a successful marriage, family, or business. As long as these principles can be communicated in an attractive and palatable fashion without requiring much commitment they are accepted. When someone else presents a better product such individuals leave.

Discipleship requires a transformation of life. It is a process that begins when one "enrolls in the school of Christ" and continues until death. It calls for more than casual attendance at worship or small group. It calls for establishing a daily relationship with Jesus through Bible reading, Bible study, prayer, and the practice of spiritual disciplines. It also means the church must do all it can to assure the establishing of a biblical worldview in its members. Discipleship means living according to a Christian worldview. Therefore, there must be some way to communicate "sound doctrine" to new believers so they can build their edifices (the lifestyle of a disciple) on solid rock rather than shifting sand.

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