Building a Culture of Discipleship
“Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ."
Those words, penned by the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, capture what has all too often become the norm for the Christian view of grace and discipleship in the church today. The grace that God puts on display in His Word is a grace of unfathomable riches that has come at the unfathomable cost of the cross (I Cor. 1:18, Gal. 6:14) . And yet, God has delighted to give it and will delight in showing it off to the world at the consummation of all things (Eph. 2:4). In this in-between season, Jesus has called anyone who would come after him to deny himself, take up his cross and follow him (Mark 8:34). The sound of the words still come with great shock. Yet, if we forfeit the cross, we forfeit our Savior whose entire life and ministry had the cross in view. Only through it could the grace that this worlds hungers for actually come.
One of the classic Christian hymns says, “Beneath the cross of Jesus, I fain would take my stand, the shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land, a home upon the wilderness, a rest upon the way, from the burning of the noontide heat and the burden of the day.” The irony of the cross is that as we live our lives underneath it, we find that although we are marginalized by this world, we find power to live for the world that is coming. For the Christian, life lived out under the cross is what discipleship is. It is assessing this world and our lives through the lens of the cross of Christ.
While each of us are called to take up our cross, we are not called to live out the Christian life alone. Jesus’ grace is meant to be showcased as a community of redeemed people are forged together to actually live life together in such a way that to the watching world, it can only be explained by Jesus (John 13:35; Eph. 3:10). This is the great glory and power of the church. The truths upon which the church stands and the privileges that have been purchased for those within her boundaries are of inestimable worth. And yet, too often Christians engage in relationship with each other in such a way that these great privileges are taken for granted.
The church is a supernatural institution bought and birthed through the blood of Jesus. The minute those of us in the church act as if what we are a part of is ordinary or simply what our culture does is the very moment we begin to forfeit the great privileges Christ has secured for us. To guard against this danger and to go after all that is now our’s in Christ, we want to pursue our Lord individually and together in discipleship. Pursuing our Lord together is done as we gather each week to hear the Word and give praise to God, and it is also done as we scatter throughout the week and intentionally seek each other out to do each other spiritual good. This is how we go about the work of discipleship. This is how we help each other live up the great privileges that are our’s in Jesus.
A culture of discipleship is a culture in which we help each other grow in the grace of the cross and our Lord who went there. We intentionally meet together and point each other to Jesus, all that he holds out to us and help each other grow in our love for him and obedience to him. We want to spur each other on to keep living life under the cross. We want to help each other grow in understanding the greatness and glory of the cross. We want to be arranging our lives together in such a way that we are positioned to do each other good spiritually and this can only be done when we intentionally live life together making much of all that God has done for us in Christ. As we do this, we not only increasingly learn how to take our stand underneath the cross but also as the close of the hymn says be “content to let the world go by to know no gain or loss, my sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.”
If this is the big, overarching framework and theology for discipleship, how do we as a body practically go about it?! Here are a few suggestions:
- Meet up before work for prayer, to read a good Christian book, or the Bible together.
- Moms, schedule a playdate for the children and intentionally pursue spiritual conversation during that time. Apply the sermon or Scripture to each other’s lives. Be working through a book together.
- Have a regularly scheduled lunch with another brother or sister in the church in which you share your joys and struggles and seek to intentionally point each other to Christ.
Discipleship in this way has been described as nothing more than one beggar trying to tell another beggar where to find bread. As pilgrims on the way, we need each other to keep pointing us back to the bread we need in this life. May the Lord grant us deep, gospel-centered relationships in which we pour into each other and seek to care for each other spiritually.
Recommended Books: Knowing God (J.I. Packer); Big God (Orlando Saer); What is the Gospel? (Greg Gilbert); The Cross Centered Life (CJ Mahaney); Evangelism (Mack Stiles); The Gospel at Work (Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger); Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms (Gloria Furman);