Last time I shared with you my working definition of a "disciple" and what a disciple actually does. Here they are:
- A "disciple" is someone who has taken up the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus.
- What does a disciple of Jesus do? A disciple recognizes and responds to what Jesus is asking of them.
When I am a disciple of Jesus doing what a disciple does, I am then, by definition, living missionally. Jesus is our missional God. When I have taken up His teachings and lifestyle and am recognizing and responding to Him in my daily life, that's missional living with our missional God.
Last time we also made the important distinction between generally keeping the morality of love and specifically recognizing and responding to the prompting of Jesus. We said that morality (keeping the law of love) unconnected to relationship with Jesus and the leadership of Jesus is not really discipleship. The Pharisees could do this as could those who were "God-fearing" in the book of Acts. But these people were not yet disciples.
And in our day, many people are living out love without living in relationship with Jesus or responding to what He is specifically asking of us... even earnest Christians often substitute general morality for specifically watching for Jesus and responding to Him.
In the days ahead we will continue talking about that distinction and how it affects the discipling process we choose to utilize. Will we disciple people to be leaders unto themselves living lovingly or followers of Jesus loving specifically? Stay tuned.
Today, I want to be sure we address a couple of blind spots that many American Christians have in their understanding of being a disciple of Jesus.
Two friends of mine (one from Wisconsin and one from Colorado) brought them up after reading the last blog.
My Wisconsin friend asked, "On defining 'disciple' and what a disciple does, how does 'receiving God’s love and grace' fit in? The reason I ask is that usually when I am struggling to live as a disciple, it coincides with my struggle to receive God’s love, grace and forgiveness. So for me it’s hard to focus on what disciples do without also focusing on both the basis and motives for being a disciple."
This is a great point and shows why our discipling process needs to be more complete, less complicated and intentional. This friend struggles to reconnect doing what a disciple does and God's grace. And yet, the first thing a disciple is invited to do by Jesus is not to take some moral action but to receive His grace and the good news of His Kingdom having come. The definition of taking up the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus is centered and sourced in the good news of the Father's presence, grace and leadership. That's what Jesus taught and that's how Jesus lived... in deep and personal relationship with His Father. This is not separate from what we do as disciples, but the center of it.
So, the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus are not reflected primarily in His morality (conformity to the moral law as we often presume in American Christianity) but in His living in the love and grace of the Father (from which a new life and lifestyle flow). So, for example, Jesus' sermon on the mount is not a new and tougher morality, but a teaching of what happens to our inner life and outer actions when we live
in the love and grace of the Father all the time.
My Colorado friend pointed out a second blind spot in American Christianity, "Great post! I would add one thing to your working definition of a disciple: A disciple is someone who has taken up the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus, and is sharing it with others (emphasis mine). I have found that a disciple is someone that is being discipled (i.e. the apostles where discipled by Jesus) and also is in the process of trying to disciple someone else."
This is a another great point and again shows why our discipling process needs to be more complete, less complicated and intentional. This friend recognizes that in American Christianity, we have a blind spot to the priority Jesus placed in His teaching and lifestyle on the discipling of more disciples.
One of the predominant practices of Jesus was being "discipled" by the Father and then turning and discipling the 12, who He then sent out to disciple others! This practice multiplies disciple-making in a way that we have not seen in the US in a long, long time. Therefore, our discipleship is simply incomplete if it does not show those we are discipling how to disciple others.
The bottom line is that when we say, "A disciple is someone who has taken up the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus," that is, in fact, saying that the person has a priority on discipling other people even as he is being discipled. That's what disciples do. However, we've had a persistent blind spot to it.
All this brings us to an important question for next time, what is your discipleship process and is it producing disciples according to Jesus?