Friday, January 9, 2015

Relationship based discipleship vs. obedience based discipleship

Discipleship.  In many ways, this very important word has become quite common to us.  Jesus commanded us to "make disciples of all nations."  This morning I've been thinking about how many different way that word is applied in Christianity today.  What did Jesus really mean when he told us to "make disciples"? 

Discipleship and mentoring are often seen as similar.  Others see Discipleship as a program one goes through or the teaching of Christian disciplines to a new believer. Some feel they are making disciples if people come and attend their church services regularly. In church planting movement circles, we often throw around the phrase "obedience based discipleship."  We talk about the importance of teaching the commands of Jesus, making disciples who make disciples, who make disciples.  All these things are valid to consider and work toward. Becoming a disciple is certainly more than sitting in a chair in church every Sunday.

This morning however, I have been thinking about the crucial importance of relationship based discipleship NOT obedience based discipleship.  Sometimes an emphasis on obedience based discipleship seems to return us to a following of rules, doing certain duties or to something that is more law based than based on grace, something more old, rather than new covenant.  Jesus came to set us free, not to put us in bondage to a set of rules, not even the rules we call the 7 commands of Jesus (interesting that He never, ever, defined them that way!)  He came giving us his unconditional love, acceptance and grace, his unearned and undeserved favor.  This is what we offer a new (or old) disciple of Jesus. Grace...undeserved, unearned, unmerited.  So why do we emphasize obeying commands in our early discipleship of new believers?

I'm more and more convinced that somehow we are "missing the boat" here.  Before teaching people to obey all these commands we need to teach them how to believe & receive Father's love and grace and to enjoy the gift of their incredible new identity as his son or daughter.  Maybe then, loving Him would flow more naturally, more organically...and more relationally.  Jesus said "Freely you have received, freely give."  (Matt. 10:8).  Because of what they had received from God, they could freely and easily give. They freely healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, raised the dead, drove out demons.

I'm not saying obedience isn't important.  It is absolutely crucial.  We can't swing the other way and make pew/bench warmer Christians who receive and receive and are consumers, not disciples.  But the power and grace to obey Jesus comes out of the overflow of the love, relationship and identity that comes from being connected to Him.

Maybe after teaching "Repent and Believe"  we need to teach "Accept and Receive" then "Be Healed and Abide".  I don't know.  I'm just sure of one thing.  In the midst of an emphasis on obedience to Christ, if we do not emphasize at least as much His grace and what it means to be his child, and the joy of walking in real relationship with an alive and living God who loves us...well, we will just see a lot of performance driven, discouraged and condemned believers who are often defeated and failing at following a new "religion" that in some ways is just as hard as whatever they came out of.

The first step in becoming a disciple is to get to know the Master-the Guru and let Him love you, heal, forgive, and transform you.  Lets not rush over that step and jump straight to a set of rules to follow as we disciple people.  Lets keep relationship with Jesus in the forefront, connecting people to Him, teaching them to receive His love, hear His voice, be made whole, experience His goodness to them, and encounter His amazing love for them on a daily basis in their every day life.  This will lead to disciples of grace, who live in love with Jesus and can't help but pass that joy and privilege on to others.

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