The Dress Code of Discipleship

Easter morning, still dark outside, my alarm goes off, and I drag myself into the bathroom and begin to get ready for my long morning as a church accompanist. I reach for my new dress, the one I got on clearance and stashed away for this beautiful morning, but something’s wrong. I look inside the sheer dress. The inner liner is missing. I’m house sitting, and it must have fallen out at home, thanks to the help of my three-year-old who’d been playing with the hanger. Deciding against wearing my black Friday clothes, I rummage around my mother-in-law’s closet and pull out a pair of pants and pink sweater. Thankfully, we’re the same size.

It felt weird to be at church in someone else’s clothes. I felt a bit guilty that I borrowed without asking. But isn’t this what our life in Christ is all about?

This is the dress code of discipleship: we wear another’s clothes. We wear the grave-clothes of Jesus as we are baptized into his death. We wear the white robes of resurrection as we live in his life. We dress ourselves with his character. We put on his armor. The Spirit adorns our abilities with his supernatural power and we go about the work of the kingdom of God – not in dirty rags – but in royal splendor.

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

Luke 15:22-24

Christian, the Father has put the best robe around your body, a ring on your finger, and sandals on your feet. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.

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The Rewards of Discipleship

When you drop your nets on the shore, and follow Jesus, what can you expect?

I’ve already written about the costs and difficulties of discipleship. I’ve mentioned the grace that compels us to continue down the hard, narrow path. I haven’t mentioned the rewards yet, and on this joyful Easter weekend, I think it appropriate to highlight the numerous blessings of discipleship.

Eternal Inheritance

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

1 Peter 1:3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade– kept in heaven for you”

Hebrews 9:15, “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance– now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”

Forgiveness

Acts 10:43, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Joy

Psalm 4:7, “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.”

Strength

Nehemiah 8:10, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

Isaiah 40:31, “…but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Peace

John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Hope

Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

A New Heart

Ezekiel 11:19, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.”

The Holy Spirit

John 14:26, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

A Community

1 Corinthians 12:12-13, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.  13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body– whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free– and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”

Hebrews 3:13, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

Gifts

1 Corinthians 12:4-7, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.  7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”

Romans 12:6, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”

 

Pictures of Discipleship

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“Mom, you know what sin is, so don’t do it.” She says this to me after I’ve lost my temper. Failure, again. When I apologize, I can’t help the tears. The kids have hardly ever seen me cry. I’m not a public crier. “Mom, you teasing?” asks my three-year-old. No. Mommy’s sin struggles are no joke. Making good choices is hard, I tell them.

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And this is discipleship: the working out of our salvation that happens within the community of a family. It’s like lifting a stick that’s three times your body length. It’s heavy. Your hands are pierced with splinters. You’re thrown off-balance by the weight of it.

 

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. . . sometimes you just fall off. But you climb back up, because the narrow way is the right way. The way of eternal reward. The way of joy.

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The way of freedom. Boulders are thrown aside. Weights are lifted. You run without growing weary. You walk without growing faint. Your feet are like those of a deer on the heights. The sun does not harm you by day nor the moon by night. Ten thousand may fall, but “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him.”

May you know his rescuing power today and always.

The Grace of Discipleship

“I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death” (Romans 7:10).

Paul spent his early years striving after perfection, but the avenue through which he sought life, actually delivered a death sentence. Why? Because the law points us to Christ. It cannot save us. It was never intended to save us. It cannot bring life. It cannot cleanse from sin. Seeking life from the law brings only death. It slaps us in the face with our failures, short-comings, and utter lack of discipline.

How often we play at discipleship like a game of Simon Says. “The Law says . . .” And we seek our acceptance through perfection. “The Law says . . .” and we rush to find our identities through obedience.

When Paul sought life from the law—as he did for years before Christ knocked him off his donkey with the light of grace—he only experienced shame, frustration, and death. Likewise, when we embark on the journey of discipleship in our own strength, seeking to follow “law” instead of Jesus, we experience shame, frustration, and death.

I know this. It is my tendency. The lure of the law as a means to life is irresistible to my follow-the-rules personality. I have this need-to-be-right mentality that finds grace a hard pill to swallow. Yes, I understand grace for my sins. Salvation by faith alone is not a questionable doctrine.

But what about personal, daily grace? Grace that frees from inner condemnation. Grace that encourages my best and covers over my worst? It’s the step-by-step grace of discipleship that I desperately need.

“Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

These words of Jesus, to the woman caught in adultery and nearly stoned, are words that we must remember every day. They are words for us. Grace words for the moments when law mocks our efforts at godliness.

“There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus.”

Words of Paul, and more grace words for us. A disciple walks in continuous forgiveness, mercy, and righteousness. I need this grace reminder. I need to live in the eternal reality of the cross stretched over my life like giant wings of freedom.

I remember a girl from college. When she was a freshman, her face was a spring of joy. By the time she was a sophomore, after experiencing intense mentoring from a graceless church, her face relayed struggle, condemnation. She told me, “I’ve lost my joy. Everything’s just so hard.” Yes, I wanted to say. The Christian walk is hard when it’s should’s and must’s and need to’s.

Discipleship that flows from law only brings “death”. The death of joy. The death of grace. And sadly, some churches present discipleship as a character checklist, a do’s and don’ts journey, or a “good” vs. “bad” battle.

Discipleship that flows from grace brings life. Life through freedom. Life through Spirit-empowered obedience. And thankfully, many churches present this view of discipleship.

Here’s the trick. God calls us to obedience. “If you love me, you will obey my commandments,” Jesus told his disciples. How can I be sure I’m obeying out of love and not duty? If law is my motivator, my obedience is duty. If law merely points out my failure and increases my gratitude for my Savior, my obedience is from love.

The Hard Work of Discipleship

Following Jesus is hard. The road of discipleship is a road of obedience. “He cuts off every branch in me that does not bear fruit,” Jesus said to the disciples, explaining the work of the Gardner, his Father.

Becoming like Christ means getting pruned: sharp, pinching cutters, clamping down on sin patterns, severing unfruitful branches of our lives. When we commit to Christ, we sign ourselves up for his maintenance program. It doesn’t take long before we realize that the power to follow him is beyond ourselves. “Work out your own salvation,” Paul instructed the Philippians, but he was quick to assure them, “It is God who works within you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

When we work in concert with the Lord, his Spirit changes us. That does not mean we can sit back and relax. Numerous stories in scripture point to the importance of obedience and action. Joshua had to march around Jericho. David had to command his armies. God supernaturally cleared the way for Nehemiah to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, but Nehemiah still had to do the hard work. He had to withstand ridicule and threats. God spread the Gospel through the first apostles, but they had to go out, travel far from home, and withstand hunger and opposition. They had to preach when they probably felt like silently praying in the shadows of a large tree.

Our choices for forgiveness, unity, love, compassion, kind words, purity, or honesty sometimes require great strength of will and are often accompanied by little emotion. Living God’s way is a spiritual workout, and our hearts, minds, and souls come away sweaty and sore.

And sometimes we fail.

Paul wrote, “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15).

Friends, this leads us to grace. Without grace, the grinding work of discipleship becomes unbearable. How easily the walk of discipleship turns into the march of condemnation. Next time, we’ll consider this freeing grace that carries us through the hard work.

The Cost of Discipleship

Following Christ is like joining an exercise club. There’ll be dues to pay, sweat to shed, and a reward to reap. Discipleship is expensive, hard, gratifying work.

For today, let’s consider the expense of discipleship.

It’s easy to think grace is free. It’s far from free. We throw around that term—grace—like it’s a warm-fuzzy pat on the back to which everyone is entitled. This is cheap grace, grace that says, “Do what you want because you’re forgiven,” or “Live how you want, God is a God of grace.” Grace has become an excuse to reject moral absolutes, to feel good about our struggles, and to make those who stand up for truth seem stodgy and unloving.

Consider these words from The Cost of Discipleship, by German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ as which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.

Do we need to say more? We must guard the expensive nature of grace. We must not water down such a precious gift from God. We must not cast grace to the world like a safety net for personal wellbeing. The church has the privelege of being entrusted with grace, all of its cost and depths included.

Union with Christ: The Root of Discipleship

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Romans 6:1-4

Our union with Christ is the foundation of our discipleship. All our growth, our following after, our conformation, is rooted in our union with Christ. He died, he was raised from the dead, and we are baptized into that death and resurrection, in order that we too may live a new life.

Living the new life. This is discipleship. It grows out of the work of Christ, and out of our entrance into that work, namely, our union with him.

Shall we keep sinning? Paul asks the Romans. If grace covers our sins, why should we stop sinning? Why not keep sinning to show how powerful is grace?

Because we were saved with a purpose: to live a new life. Union with Christ cuts us off from the old life, the way of sin. How can someone united with Christ continue to live a life of sin? It doesn’t make sense, Paul tells us.

This does not mean the disciple is perfect. We struggle with temptations. We sin. But we do not walk in the way of sin. We do not let a sin go unchecked within us.

Unfortunately, some people who claim to follow Jesus, follow sinful patterns. Christians engage in premarital sex like it’s the new kiss, the status quo of relationships. Christians practice dishonesty in their businesses. Christians use foul language and think it’s not a big deal (after all, language doesn’t break up a home, does it?)

Brothers and Sisters, as I mentioned yesterday, we follow a person, Jesus Christ. Discipleship is not a salad bar of beliefs, at which we can pick and choose our lifestyle to suit our tastes. Discipleship is not even about following rules. We make the hard choices to reject the ways the Bible tells us are sinful and destructive for us—not because we must follow the rules of Christianity, but because of our union with Christ. We are one with Christ, how can we live in ways that snub this oneness?

Let us hold to the union we have with Christ and the new life which that entails. His new life, his way, for our good.

Follow Me

“Follow me,” Jesus said.

The first words spoken to his disciples, and our first words to consider this March.

My children like to play “follow the leader.” That doesn’t mean what you think it does. There is no leader, no follower, no imitation. Their idea of “follow the leader” is to grab a jump rope and prance around singing one of their Bible songs, “Follow the leader, Jesus Christ, our King.”

Literally, to follow is to go after, to chase, to succeed. When Jesus said, “Follow me,” he meant it literally. His disciples left behind their businesses and careers, and followed after him. The externals of their life changed.

But “Follow me,” meant more than going after.

“Follow me” meant “Conform to me, imitate me, commit to me.” The disciples were called to shift their ways of thinking. Instead of calling down fire on Samaritans, as any good Jew would not hesitate to do, they were asked to pray for their enemies. Instead of seeking to be first, the disciples were asked to serve. A disciple follows with his whole self, not only with his external actions.

Jesus calls us to a lifestyle, not a system. You can’t put in your hours and then take some time off. Claiming Christ as your Savior is more than confessing your sins and receiving eternal life. It’s committing yourself to a person. It’s entering a covenant in which Christ is the leader and you the follower.

This means, when we enter into a discipleship relationship with Christ, all areas of our lives are affected: what we t and drink, how we talk, entertainment choices, the clothes we wear, our relationships, how we treat one another. Every part of life matters when you become a disciple of Christ.

Therefore, “Follow me” is not only a “yes” to Christ, but a “no” to the ways of this world. “Follow me” means in order to gain, you first lose. So if you are to go after him, you must be willing to undertake a radical life change.

Welcome, March. Your word is…

It's a little early for tulips, but this picture, taken by Nick Krantz, reminds me of discipleship. Growth, beauty, and a variety of colors.
It’s a little early for tulips, but this picture, taken by Nick Krantz, reminds me of discipleship. Growth, beauty, and a variety of colors.

January’s word was REST.

February’s word was HUMILITY.

March’s word is DISCIPLESHIP.

Green is the color of spring, which is peeking around the corner in spite of the flurries swirling outside right now. Green is also the color of growth. New life. Nourishment. Flourishing.

What comes to mind when you think of discipleship? Boot camp, sweat, toil, and tears? The cross? The Holy Spirit? Joy?

Admittedly, I feel drained when I think of discipleship. Sometimes spiritual growth can feel like studying for a test. A lot of effort with uncertain results. But this isn’t the biblical picture of discipleship. The Bible paints a disciple as someone who follows the teaching of another, who is committed to the way of another. And the process of discipleship? It’s a road of joy and sacrifice. A road that leads to eternal life.

Come explore the road of discipleship with me this March.