The Promise of True Discipleship: A New End Point
This is part of The False Promise of Discipleship blog series from The Bonhoeffer Project. Read the blog that came right before this one by clicking here.
The Human Paradigm asks, “How am I doing?” This is not a bad question, but if it’s your primary discipleship question, then you’re probably building discipleship on a false promise—a sandy foundation, so to speak. Discipleship that’s based on “getting closer to God” and “arriving” at some level of Christian performance is not what Jesus was about. The Human Paradigm overly focuses on “me,” sacrificing discipleship along the way.
Discipleship born out of The Human Paradigm will fail because it is a closed system that doesn’t reproduce. It fails because no one ever arrives. In fact, striving for a certain level of performance breeds self-contempt; the longer you try, the more you fail, and you know it. Usually this leads to what author and theologian Dallas Willard called “sin management” (The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God by Dallas Willard. Harper Collins. San Francisco, CA. 1998). Christianity becomes about trying to manage your most difficult sins until death. No wonder so many of our discipleship processes have no strength: They are built on the wrong question and the wrong assumption.
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The Jesus Paradigm moves us into a new question: “God, how can you be this good?!” We are reoriented to a new reality in which the X we were striving for is, wonder of wonders, brought near to us! We are already there. We have to learn to abide in that reality, where the focus is not on ourselves and “how we are doing,” but instead centers on the amazing goodness and nearness of Jesus. The reason for Christian practices or spiritual discipline is to develop your awareness of this gift of salvation. Asking the question, “God, how can You be this good?” is a vast improvement and movement in the right direction. But left to its own devices, this wonderful question will also fail you.
God sure does appreciate our appreciating Him (just as we love being appreciated by those we love), but it’s not His end point for us. Appreciation and awe are always meant to lead us into obedience, into a new way of being people. God’s mission for us, in short, is to become like Him, which means learning to love and serve others with the same heart of authentic mercy, compassion, and love that He has. “Be perfect,” Jesus said, “just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
In his seminal work, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes, “The command, ‘Be ye perfect’ is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command” (C.S. Lewis Pte, Ltd. 1952). “Being perfect” is an impossible task for us, and yet Jesus will make us perfect if we will orient our lives around the next question.
The next question is“How am I doing with loving the people that God has already put in my life?” Jesus was a man for others, and the church is really the church when it exists for others. When we follow Christ, like our leader, we live for others (Letters and Papers From Prison Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 8, Dietrich Bonhoeffer). Real discipleship—Jesus-styled discipleship—has a very different end point than being close to Him. If we’re already close, then everything changes, and most especially, the goal of discipleship changes. What did Jesus define as the end point of discipleship? Very simply, loving others. Of course, we should expect nothing less from a God who is the very heart of Love itself.
*Stay tuned by coming back to our blog for the next blog in this series, which will be coming soon!
This is an excerpt from the free eBook written Bill Hull and Brandon Cook of The Bonhoeffer Project. You can download the full eBook on their homepage here.
Bill Hull is a Co-Founder of The Bonhoeffer Project. Bill’s passion is to help the church return to its disciple making roots and he considers himself a discipleship evangelist. This God-given desire has manifested itself in 20 of pastoring and the authorship of many books. Two of his more important books, Jesus Christ Disciple Maker, and The Disciple Making Pastor, have both celebrated 20 years in print. Add his third in the popular trilogy, The Disciple Making Church, and you have a new paradigm for disciple making.
Brandon Cook is the lead pastor at Long Beach Christian Fellowship and a co-founder of The Bonhoeffer Project. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he studied at Wheaton College (IL), Jerusalem University College, Brandeis University, and The Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. He worked as a professional storyteller before joining a transformational training organization and moving to SoCal in 2006, becoming a pastor three years later. Over the course of five years of pastoring, he became convinced that his work—and the work of the church—is to become fully committed to discipleship and making disciple-makers. The Bonhoeffer Project is for him a quest to live into the question “How are people transformed to live and love like Jesus?”
Bill Hull and Brandon Cook, authors of this blog and eBook, will be teaching at this year’s Forum. Meet them and get more content like this in person at the 2017 National Disciple Making Forum.
This is one of the largest gatherings of disciple makers in North America with 65+ workshops, 15+ speakers, and 10+ tracks. Join us to learn practical ways to make disciples of Jesus this November 9-10 (Thursday-Friday). Register for the 2017 National Disciple Making Forum here.