When did you last take a survey or a test or questionnaire where you had to fill out the personal identity section? You know the ones where you have to check the box on your gender, ethnicity, economic range, etc. Did you know that a few years ago in England the census had a write-in space for the category of religion, and enough people put "Jedi Knight" that the government legally had to recognize it as a religion! Interesting tales in the world of identity...
If you are a Christian, how often, if ever, do you think of your primary identity as "disciple". One of the last things Jesus ever said to his followers before he left the earth and ascended into heaven was, "make disciples of all nations". He wanted his disciples to make more disciples. The intentional life lived as a follower of Jesus, i.e. a disciple, i.e. a Christian, is aften called discipleship. When most Christians hear about "discipleship" there is typically one of two reactions: The Monty Python Reaction, or The Pat Benatar Reaction. The first reaction is embodied by Graham Chapman's King Arthur in , "Run awwwaaayyyy!". The second reaction is embodied by the hit 80s song, "Hit me with your best shot."
The first reaction is often the most common because most people, at the end of a long day don't want another list of "do's" they have to be subjected to. So when the crazy demon bunny jumps at their neck with a laundry list for being a good Christian, they 'Run Away."
Then there's the second reaction. It springs from the person who views discipleship as a list of accomplishments, so "hit me with your best shot," as in, I can take it. Like Happy Gilmore in the batting cage getting ready for next year's hockey season their Christian faith is lived out with rigorous devotions or even spiritual disciplines with the understanding that the more you do the better you become.
Both reactions derive from viewing discipleship through the Law. Discipleship is about doing a list of things (that list changes depending on who you talk to, BTW). Not that any of these things, like prayer, studying Scripture, meditation, or fasting are bad, but discipleship does not begin nor end with them.
Most answers to the question "What is a disciple of Jesus" focus on what to do. That is to say, the task of making disciples involves tips on better Bible study and prayer and ideas for outreach or worship. If you do these things then you are a disciple, if you get better at them that is called discipleship.
There is certainly plenty for disciples of Jesus to do, and really ought to do - this is what I call "doing disciples". But there is another, more important dimension called "being disciples." In the Christian life all doing, if it is to be good 'doing', must flow from a right being. A disciple of Jesus is first and foremost a receptacle of the Gospel of Jesus, that is, being justified (set right) by God's grace alone through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). All disciple 'doing' must come from this.
In Philippians 3:3-6 the Apostle Paul is describing his life under the Law. Granted, he is referring to his status and behavior as a devout Jew before his conversion on the Damascus road, but he is not lifting that life up as the way to be a better Christian. Quite the opposite, in fact. He notes his (former) confidence in his lineage of the right people and right tribe and his zeal for what mattered most: keeping the mandates of God (i.e. keeping the Law)
But then he discovers, or rather it was revealed to him, that what he thought mattered the most in fact mattered the least. His status, standing, and pursuit of the law, he realized, did not matter. Why? If you give me a list of things to do and I am able to do them, what happens in my mind is that the list becomes the source of my goodness. You gave me all these things to do, I have done them (or at least think I have done them), and on the basis of that list do I begin to think of myself as good and righteous.
But for Paul this was the worst place to be in, because in the end, when someone relies on the Law for righteousness, they will eventually see themselves as the source of their own righteousness. Furthermore, life continually presents you with failures not success. To think that one can consistently keep God's Law and be righteous in His sight according to the Law is a serious case of denial. What Paul realizes is his need for a new source of righteousness.
In Philippians 3:7-15 Paul talks of discipleship under grace. He counts everything as a loss compared to knowing Christ. That is to say, he rejects all other sources of righteousness apart from faith in Christ. He considers all other sources as dung (the original Greek is actually more explicit, but you get the picture). He wants to know the power of Jesus' resurrection and to share in Jesus' sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, not in His success. This new way of looking at his life blew all of Paul's old performances out of the water. And what did that produce in him? Joy!
In the end, then, all discipleship "doing" must be things which redirect you to the things in the preceding paragraph, and must flow from them. Worshipping, serving, studying the Bible, and inviting others with this Gospel message are the "do's" of discipleship, and they are good. But unless you understand and are redirected, daily, to God's grace in Jesus Christ you will implode.
Let me close with this one last thought. When a crisis hits, what you and I need to know is that we are loved, not evaluated. I recently watched a movie called "Relative Strangers" with Kathy Bates, Danny DeVito, and Neve Campbell. Great cast, absolutely awful movie. I actually couldn't finish it because the acting and the story were soooooo bad. Not profane or gross, but just really bad (see trailer). The main character plays a self-help psychologist who's message (and recently published book) is "Ready, Set, Let Go!". While on a radio broadcast he leads his listener audience through this simple mental exercise to "let go" and the scenes cut to people screaming in traffic and family members fighting. They are listening to the broadcast, go through his steps, and find calm. And then two seconds later get cut off by another car and start screaming all over again. It actually makes you laugh, but only because we all know how true it is and have been there ourselves. The point is this, that peace does not come from within, by following steps, but from without - from Christ. Thus discipleship is first and foremost no what you can do (with five easy steps!), but what Christ has done and being connected and reconnected with Him.
[In the next part of our discussion on discipleship, "Disciples of Grace", we'll take a look at this dynamic between the madness within and the remedy without, and just how radical grace really is]