I’ve mentioned previously how I was so impressed with More Than a Sunday Faith that I got a group of men together to read through and discuss it with one another. We had our first breakfast meeting last week and some helpful discussion took place.
Everyone was in agreement that the book would be a helpful tool to focus our conversation together. We also agreed that the topic of fostering a deeper relationship with Jesus as we work to follow Him and become like Him on a daily basis was worthwhile and that practical tools to help in that endeavor would be welcome.
Then, as postmoderns are wont to do, we went meta. While we all agreed that the SET FREE NOWWW process outlined in this book will be helpful, we pondered together the likelihood of it becoming just another checklist of spiritual to-dos. That led to a more general discussion of the value of discipleship models altogether.
There are many, many models out there. Just about every well-known personage in Christianity has written one or more books that describe a path or a routine or a process to follow that will lead to the rich, vibrant life Jesus promises His followers (John 10:10). I suppose so many such books are written because so few experience that sort of life and wonder what it is they are missing.
One of the men in our group drew a diagram that showed us on the left, all manner of different models in the middle, and Jesus and His powerful, abundant life on the right. The thinking, he said, is that we use the methods outlined in these different models to get connected to Jesus. They are conduits that help connect us to Him. As such, there are no right or wrong models, and there are so many of them because we are each unique and there are different pathways that work best for different people.
This was very helpful. Nonetheless, we all agreed that what was really desired was Jesus Himself and the power of the life He gives us — His undying life in exchange for our own sin-stained and decaying one. So, we want to eliminate the methods from the different models (all the stuff in the middle of the diagram) and just connect directly to Jesus. Because the tendency is to shift our focus from the goal (Jesus) and onto the means (the methods). This is how these “means of grace” become life-killing to-do lists. This is the “form of godliness but without power” that Paul mentions and that is so prevalent today.
Despite this desire for Jesus directly and the potential downside of these methods or practices or disciplines becoming mere routine, we acknowledged that there is a real danger of falling into a sort of “vague spirituality” if we claim Jesus’ life but have no actions to reinforce that claim, no bones to give the body structure. Faith without works, after all, is dead! (James 2:17)
Without making any claim to have resolved this dilemma, this is how we left things at the end of our brief discussion together: The truth from Scripture is that we do have Jesus’ life if we believe Him and take Him at His word. So we start with Jesus. Connecting with Him and acquiring His life in ourselves is not the goal; it is already a fait accompli. Rather, becoming like Him more and more each day in every facet of our lives is the goal. We have His life, His example, and His Spirit to help us along this path of discipline, but we must nonetheless grow up into Him and who He created us to be. The methods or practices or disciplines espoused by all these different discipleship models and frameworks, then, are merely descriptive — not prescriptive! — of the sorts of things that disciples do as they follow the Master and learn to live His way. And we engage in them not as a duty or an obligation, although at times this may be how we describe our experience, but as a time-tested way to mature in Christ (Ephesians 4:14-16).
And if one practice becomes mundane, we are completely free to shift to something else! It is not the method that brings us life and growth. That is the work of the Spirit alone. So we are not bound to any certain practice or discipline. But we are bound to Jesus as His servants, and His Spirit will guide us into the practices that will best help us today to mature. Those disciplines may be different tomorrow. We are not able to develop a stale routine if we start with our vital connection to Christ and let Him lead.
As we say here in the Thrash Can, “test everything, hold onto what is good, and throw out everything else (at least for now)!” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
I’m really looking forward to our next group discussion!