I just checked out from the public library Deitrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship. It's one of those books that I have had on my to read list for years and yet never had the time to get to it. Even in the first chapter I find myself drawn to this man who suffered and died to live out the Gospel among his own people. He was a German pastor during the Third Reich and he stood against the Nazis. Even when his friends offered to get him out of the country, he stayed believing that his duties as a pastor and a leader in the country required him to suffer with his people. He died in a concentration camp just days before liberation.
I have been thinking about discipleship a lot recently. Partly because my internship with Jews for Jesus is directly related to discipling their interns. Partly because it has been of particualr interest to me over the past few years. And mostly because no matter how academic I get, it comes down to what the Lord is doing in my own heart. I cannot pretend to be above the Lord's correction in my life. Goodness no. Indeed this past week I have been confronted by the Holy Spirit about my overwhelming fear of man. He is so good and faithful to not let me go on my own. But instead His hand is always gently correcting me and calling me to repent and turn to Him.
So what is discipleship? First we need to know, what is a disciple of Christ? The most basic answer is one who follows Christ, who is being conformed into His image. This concept is so richly tied into all the beautiful biblical theology I have loved over the last year. Adam was created in the image of God. He was above all the other creation, was created to be God's representative here on earth, stewarding the rest of His creation. But as we know, Adam failed and humanity fell into a rebellious animal-like state, no longer truly reflecting the beautiful image of God to all of creation. But Christ is changing that. He was the new Adam, the perfect one who lived sinless and died for the sins of those chosen in Him before the foundation of the earth. And for what we were chosen? Just for heaven? Just to be "saved" from hell? NO! Well, yes, but that and SO MUCH MORE! We were chosen to be new creations in Christ, to do good works through the power of His Spirit alive in us, and to be that image that reflects his beauty here on earth. Adam was created in the image of God, and now through the power of the Holy Spirit, by the blood of Jesus we can live as his images.
How does this educate us on the issue of discipleship? Disciples are those who are being conformed into the image of Christ. Colossians tell us that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, and we read in Romans 8 that we have been chosen to be conformed unto His image. What does this look like? This has been the question I have spent the past few weeks reflecting on. The more I think about it, the more I think it has everything to do with relationships. Every fruit of the Spirit named in Galatians deals directly with our relationship with either God or another person. There is no fruit that is experienced outside of relationship. Even the two greatest commands that Jesus summed up the whole of the Law in are directly dealing with these two kinds of relationships. So a disciple of Christ is someone in relationships. And not just with God, but with the body of Christ and humanity as a whole. I think a disciple of Christ loves others with a heart brimming over with joy. A disciple of Christ considers others above himself, and yet rests confidently in the peace of God. There is a gentleness in disciples of Christ. There is hope that flows through every action of a disciple of Christ. In our western culture, with our intense love for knowledge, have we replaced these qualities with bible trivia skills? I would never discourage anyone from studying the bible, but how do we measure spiritual maturity? How do we judge someone's relationship (or our own for that matter) with God? Is it based on how many bible stories we can quote? Is it how often we go to church? Or is it seeing the depth of a person's desire to serve the lowliest? I think someone's spiritual maturity is harder to measure than just how many bible studies they have completed. A disciple of Christ will be seen by their love for their brothers. The Lord is working this out in my heart, and in the process I am seeing more and more His Spirit transforming my life, breaking me over and over again and reforming me into His image. Wow, He is amazing.