Why (good) discipleship matters

Mahatma Gandhi once said,  “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only one to have had a bad experience with professed Christians.

This is a supplemental post to my series, Jesus’ Subversive Kingdom. It’s more a commentary on the state of Jesus’ church today than about His subversive kingdom, but it is relevant to why we should pay attention to His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.

According to recent surveys, most people still have a high regard for Jesus but a low one for Christians. What’s wrong with that picture! Shouldn’t we stop what we’re doing and honestly deal with the over-stuffed elephant in the room? We say we’re following Jesus, yet we don’t look or act like Him.

Apparently, Jesus isn’t driving people out of churches…we are!

I believe part of the reason is because of a lack of discipleship…or bad discipleship. Unfortunately, I have to make this distinction because the word “discipleship” has been pretty much evacuated of its biblical meaning. “Bad discipleship” would include things like filling peoples heads instead of teaching them how to open their hearts, studying about Him instead of knowing Him. We remain unchanged, oblivious to the Kingdom in us and around us. We become hypocritical, legalistic, ignoring or hiding our own sin while appearing righteous on the outside to others. I don’t really think we’re fooling anybody, do you?

Okay, cheer up…coming out of denial is the first step to recovery. 🙂

Like bad theology, bad discipleship is also like pornography. “The imagination of a real relationship without the risk of one. It tends to be transactional and propositional rather than relational and mysterious. You don’t have to trust Person, or care for Person…” (Bad Theology is like Pornography). Pornography is about sexual self-gratification, it’s a delusion that masks objectification with a false sense of intimacy. Bad discipleship is trying to follow Christ without actually being intimate with Him. That’s also a delusion.

I’ve talked to too many people over the years who got turned off to Christianity because of their negative experience with Christians and the church. This is a very sad commentary to me.

Sure, we “go to church,” we’ve learned the right lingo, we have our Bible studies, hear lots of messages, listen to worship music, and even know how to lead someone to Christ…yet there’s very little evidence of Christ-like transformation.

Can’t we just admit this thing is broken?

True discipleship is about the inner transformation of the soul. Without this transformation, we risk driving people away from God because we will project Him to them through our own wounds, fears, and insecurities, judging their weaknesses according to our strengths. We will hurt them thinking we’re serving God. And then we will disciple others to be just like us! Jesus called this the hypocritical “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees”…

15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. (Matt.23:15)

Only Christ can free us from the log-eyed blindness that causes such wreckage in our relationships. And He’s very happy to do that…if we will trust Him.

I find myself agreeing with G.K. Chesterton when he said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” And this gets to the point of this series. To say you’re following Christ must mean you’re actually doing what He says.

And I’m not talking about some legalistic, rule-following, outward behavior modification. It’s about Christ re-formation working in us from the inside-out.

True discipleship is the continuing cooperative process with Christ that allows Him to work in and reshape the deepest and darkest parts of us, bringing us from glory to glory, cultivating a renewed mind and an open heart, becoming more like Him in this world (Rom.12:2; 2 Cor.3:18; 1 John 4:17).

With this in mind, we’re ready to look at the second question Jesus addresses in the Sermon on the Mount, “What is a good person?”  next time.

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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 36 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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4 Responses to Why (good) discipleship matters

  1. Oh,a big amen to this! You really nailed it here,”Apparently, Jesus isn’t driving people out of churches…we are!” Than people try to justify it by saying silly things like, the “truth is offensive,” or “His message is foolishness to those who are perishing.” Uh,no I seem to be staring at your heart, not Jesus Christ’s. Also, put that thing away, its kind of ugly.

    Love the porn reference, too. Accept no cheap substitutes, no empty calories. The real deal is incredible. Don’t be deceived by the shallow and superficial. It really helps to keep our eyes on Jesus Christ, to seek His favor and approval over and above the approval of people. It’s really sad to me when people leave the church, even faith itself, because of the behavior of people. Of course we should all behave better, of course we should love one another, BUT people can’t hurt you if your eyes are on Him, and what He says comes first. We aren’t called to worship people-favor.

    I think that’s a blight on the potato of the Western church, because the early Christians,and Christians all over the world, understand pretty well that faith is likely to make you a persecuted outcast. In the West, we’re far more focused on social status, the approval of people. We’ve gone from follow me and people will hate you, to I’m not going to follow you, because some people are hateful. Wut?

    • Mel Wild says:

      Amen, IB. You said a lot good stuff here, too! I wrote this because I find myself appalled by the average Christian’s level of spirituality and, like you said, excusing dysfunctional behavior as being persecuted, when it’s actually just plain bad behavior. The sad thing is, no one believes us when we use this excuse.

      I believe this “blight” is because we don’t emphasize what Jesus emphasized, getting the log out of our own eye and letting Him work below the surface so that we can grow up, relationally speaking. This is also the fault of our transactional version of discipleship (instead of relational). It only makes us shallow and hypocritical.

      You said, “Of course we should all behave better, of course we should love one another, BUT people can’t hurt you if your eyes are on Him, and what He says comes first.”
      Exactly. And if our eyes are on Him, we will love like He does. The glue is this other-centered love and grace. We should have lots of grace for a “two-month old child” who can’t feed himself, but when he’s 20, we shouldn’t have to tell him to eat and clean himself up! I think it’s time for us to act like grown ups. 🙂

  2. Cindy Powell says:

    Wow! There is so much great stuff in here! But this one simple statement: “Bad discipleship is trying to follow Christ without actually being intimate with Him” about sums it up. That is what it’s all about but we have made it about just about everything but that. I’m going to steal a few quotes for a class I’m teaching tonight 😉 (wrapping up the five week series I’ve done on intimacy with God). I’ve always loved (and hated) that Ghandi quote. Time for that to change!

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks Cindy. As Jesus told Peter, if we don’t allow Him to “wash” us, we can have no part of Him. Intimacy, as you know, is “in-me-see.” I don’t hide anything from Him (as if I could!). and I let Him deal with my broken stuff. Every place where He’s allowed to touch in us becomes healed and whole and radiates with love. The result is spiritual maturity, which is when we become totally human! :We are free to love others and not project our issues on them anymore. Then, I think the “Gandhi’s” of the world will finally see Jesus in us! As Bill Johnson said,“Everybody wants a king like Jesus. If we represent him well, they’ll want His body too.”

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