Salt & Light

One of the most enjoyable parts of our pilgrimage to the Holy Land this summer was a visit to the Dead Sea. For those who do not know, the Dead Sea is the lowest spot on earth, over 420 meters or almost 1400 feet below sea level. The Dead Sea is so salty, that virtually nothing can live in it or on its near shores. It is in the midst of a desert—one of the least hospitable places on earth. The Dead Sea is near where John the Baptist ministered and where the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

IMG_0154The Jewish fortress of Masada, built by Herod the Great, is near the Dead Sea, so it is almost always on tours of the Holy Land. It is extremely hot, often over 100 degrees. Interestingly, few people get really bad sunburns. Because sunlight has to travel the extra 1300 feet, more ultraviolet rays are blocked. Therefore, the sun gives a good tan, but if you are careful, not much of a burn. (It does require sunscreen.)

I have been to the Dead Sea before, and did not like the experience. The sea is salty, so that you cannot really swim. You float on top. It is also oily, and there is sometimes a pitch-like substance along the shoreline. This time was different. I came to enjoy being at the Dead Sea.

Salt and Light are things we take for granted. However, in the ancient world, they were not taken for granted. Salt was and is valuable. Without electric and other artificial lights, oil lamps were the primary way of lighting homes. Jesus uses Salt and Light to express to his followers what it means to be a disciple.

Text of the Day

I don’t have a really good memory. If I could memorize any part of Scripture, however, I think it might well be Matthew 5-7. We know this part of Matthew as “The Sermon on the Mount.” We are told that Jesus preached this sermon on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Today, there is a lovely Italian church on the site. He walked up the side of a hill near the sea, sat down, and began to preach. As Matthew tells the story, Jesus began with the Beatitudes. Then, he spoke these words:

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:13-16).

The Importance of Salt

Most of us spend at least a part of our life trying to limit our intake of salt. We know that too much salt can cause hardening of arteries and other health problems. We tend to have too much salt in our diet. In a culture where there is too much salt in the diet, it is hard to remember that there was a time when salt was expensive precisely because it is necessary to life. Without enough salt, we die.

For about a decade of my life I was a Camp Counselor in the summer time. A good bit of the time, I was a hiking instructor or otherwise had to take campers, most of whom were out of shape, on 5, 10, and 15 mile hikes. One of the things were told to do is to be sure that the campers took salt tablets during the hikes.

I suppose everyone knows that there is salt in our bodies and in our blood. Salt is necessary for the good functioning of our minds and muscles. When we sweat, we naturally lose salt. When we exercise or lose an unusual amount of salt, it needs to be replaced. Otherwise we take in water without salt and lose the correct balance of salt in our bodies. The result can be weakness, dizziness, or even death.

We take salt for granted. Most of the food we eat has plenty of salt in it. However, if were to go back into history just a few years, we would find that farmers and others desired to find land where there were “salt licks,” or natural deposits of salt. A farm with a salt lick would have abundant hunting, because animals (like deer) come to a salt lick to meet their salt needs. Salt would also meet the needs of their family, and salt could be sold to others. Salt is necessary for life.

One of my memories of my father has to do with salt. Every year, just about Christmas time, Dad would salt a side of beef or a ham. It would sit in our garage for a few weeks, and then we would eat ham and eggs and salted beef for weeks. Salt is not only necessary for life, it is a preservative. Salt can be used to prevent disease and decay.

As I learned some weeks ago in Israel, salt can be a healer. Early on, I noticed something interesting: I have a problem with two of my toes due to an old running injury. The persistent infection wonderfully began to heal while we were there. The salt in the Dead Sea is a healant.

There is an old saying that something is like “salt on a wound.” This is because salt can be used to treat infection. It stings when applied, but heals. Some time ago, I had an infection in my gums. The doctor recommended that I use a salt mix as a mouthwash, and sure enough, the infection went away. Salt is a healant.

Finally, salt is a spice. Many foods taste a bit better with salt in them.

When Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth” (v. 13), he is saying that as we are filled with the Spirit of God, as we live out the life of discipleship, as we connect with others, we become a preservative, a healant, a spice, and a source of life for others. When Jesus says “What good is salt if it loses its saltiness?” he is reminding us that if we dilute our discipleship, if we do not take it seriously, if we fail to live on the basis of the faith we proclaim, we are really not very good disciples.

The Importance of Light

Jesus goes on to say, “You are the light of the world.” Light is one of the most interesting and important theological ideas. In Genesis, God creates light first of all things. John says, “God is light” (I John 1:5):

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:5-7).

Many times in Scripture, prophets, wise men, apostles and others speak of the light of God and the light of Christ. Jesus says, “I am the light of the world (John 8:12). At the very beginning of John, the apostle writes:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1-5).

In today’s reading, Jesus says of his disciples and us: “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). It is as if Jesus is saying, “The Divine Light of God which dwells in me also dwells in my disciples. If I am in you and you are in me, then my light will shine into the world through you.” Paul makes this point when he says, For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). The very light of God shines into the world through us.

Once again, light has some very interesting properties, many of them similar to the properties of salt. Light illuminates darkness and is necessary for life. In addition to illuminating darkness, and, therefore, being an ancient symbol for truth, light is a preservative. One can dry fish and fruit in the sun. Light is also a healant. This summer, after our trip to the Dead Sea I continued to wear sandals a lot of each day—and my toes were eventually healed (almost). For a long time, doctors have understood that certain psychological disorders are much improved by being out of doors in the sun. Every one of us knows how relaxing a week at the beach can be!

When Jesus says that we are the light of the world, he is saying that, as we are filled with his Spirit and the Light of his presence, we become light for this world of darkness. Our presence can expose darkness in our culture. Our presence can preserve things that are decaying. Our presence can heal lives and neighborhoods that are sick.

This is a small example, but every pastor, Cindy, Don, and I included, can tell you many stories of visiting a person in the hospital, where the very fact of our visit made an improvement in things. We have friends whose acts of kindness and friendship have been instrumental in saving marriages and families. In every city in America there are Christian people who are making a difference in the quality of life in their community. The fact is we are the light of the world.

As I was thinking about this blog, I was thinking about how relaxing a week at the beach can be. Suppose our life goal was just to be as relaxing for our families and friends, just as healthy and life restoring as a week at the beach? Could there be any better ministry?

The Being of Every Day Disciples

salt and light_everyday discipleshipThe title of these lessons is “Salt and Light: Everyday Discipleship for Everyday Christians.” Last spring, God convicted me that much of my teaching about evangelism and discipleship implicitly indicated to people that to be a good disciple of Christ you needed to be “radical.” There are a lot of Christian teachers out there who emphasize this aspect of Christian faith. A negative of this approach is that it implicitly implies that ordinary people who have ordinary lives and spend most of their time with family, at work, and among friends must completely alter their lives and change what they are doing in order to be true, disciple making, followers of Christ. This is not true! Wc can incorporate being a motivated disciple of Christ into our everyday way life—and we should!

This does not mean that we do not need to change some things about how we live, work, and relate to others. We need to be filled with God’s Spirit, live wisely, love others unconditionally, and follow Jesus. As we follow Jesus, our lives will change and take a different direction. This probably won’t mean that we change our careers, friendships, location, and the like. In fact many, if not most, Christians, will continue to live where they now live, in the career and occupation they now have, supporting and sharing God’s love with their family, neighborhood, community, friends, and fellow-workers. We are and should be Salt and Light wherever we are. [1]

This brings me to the last part of what Jesus says in our text:

A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).

We have to be filled with God’s Spirit, otherwise we will have no light of God to share. This is the work of God’s grace. However, we also must shine. We must allow that Grace we have received and the power of God’s wisdom and love to shine in our lives and not hide what God is doing and has done for us. We should not hide our faith under a bucket, we should let it shine into the world.


Copyright 2015, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Those who have been following my blog will see that this is from “A Sower has a Way of Life” (Sunday, August 9, 2015).

Come Follow Me


All the Gospels portray the calling of the disciples in one-way or another. They have this in common: Jesus called them into a personal relationship of obedience to him. “Come and me” is the refrain.

Matthew describes it like this:

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him (Matthew 4:18-22).

Jesus found Peter, Andrew, James and John in the midst of their ordinary day-to-day lives. He did not say, “Stop what you are doing for a few moments and accept me as your Lord and Savior.” He did not ask for an intellectual commitment. He said, “Come, follow me.” In other words, he asked for a life commitment. He might as well have said, “Stop what you are doing. Leave your old accustomed way of life. Make your hobbies, families, and work secondary, and follow me.” He even offered them a new occupation: From now on they would not fish for fish; they would fish for people.

Sometimes, we think it must have been easier for the disciples than for us. We think that if we saw Jesus, if came and asked us personally to follow him, we would and we would find it easier than to hear a pastor, evangelist, or friend share what God has done in their lives and ask us if we are ready to follow Jesus. This is a mistake.

The disciples had it just as hard as we do. They had families. They had friendships. They had hobbies. They had occupations. They already had a religion. They probably went to synagogue in Capernaum if there was one. They had homes and responsibilities. One day, when they were out fishing or getting ready to fish, a man came up to them and asked them to follow him and become fishers of human beings. Our text tells us that they heard the invitation, left what they were doing, and followed Jesus.

Deciding to Follow Jesus

Somehow, amidst the hustle and bustle of earning a living, caring for spouses, parents, and children, the disciples saw something in Jesus and they decided it was worth the risk of following him. They did not have it easier then we do. In fact, they may have had it harder. We can look back at the generations of lives changed, of people healed, of ministries and missions of compassion and care. We can see the examples of people like St. Francis of Assisi and Billy Graham, and hosts of others. We have reason to know what God can do with one ordinary life. When Jesus called the disciples the cross, resurrection, and spreading of the gospel, the birth of the church, the example of the martyrs, the evangelization of the world, had not occurred. It was all to come. They had to look in the traveling Rabbi’s eyes and answer the question, “Will I follow Him or not?”

We have to ask and answer the very same question: “Are we going to respond to the call to follow Jesus?” As we ponder the question, we need to ask ourselves the same questions they must have asked. We have to ask are we willing to be committed to follow Jesus. When we ask another person if they are ready to become a Christian, we need to be careful not to make it sound too easy. We probably should not say, “Are you ready to accept Christ in your head as your Lord and Savior.” We should say, “Are you willing to be follow Jesus?” Eternal life, the forgiveness of sins, membership in the family of God, citizenship in the kingdom of God is really dependent upon our being willing to follow Jesus, not tell people we believe in Jesus.

The Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard puts it this way, “Jesus does not need admirers. He needs imitators.” As we shall see, in the ancient world a disciple was more than just a learner. A disciple followed his master and imitated his master. Jesus asks us to follow him because he intends to have us become little Christ’s living as he lived and doing the same kind of things he did. A follower of Jesus will have certain characteristics, the most important of which is that followers of Jesus try to become like him.

Counting the Cost

One of the most famous Christian books of the 20th Century is by the Christian teacher, pastor, theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It is called, “The Cost of Discipleship.” DSCN0254He begins his book with these words, “Cheap Grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for for costly grace”. [1] If these words were true in Europe in the years leading up to the Second World War, they are even truer today.

Bonhoeffer describes cheap grace in this way:

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principal, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian “conception of God.” An intellectual assent to the idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure the remission of sins. [2]

He later describes the calling of the disciples in these words, “The call goes forth and is at once followed by the response of obedience.” [3]

The call to be a disciple is a call to follow Jesus. It is a call to respond by committing one’s self to God in such a way that we follow Jesus, learn from Jesus, imitate Jesus, and grow to become more like Jesus. This includes cross bearing. This is why Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” Matthew 16:24).

Crosses are not difficulties. Crosses are not the consequences of our own behavior and choices. Crosses are the decisions we make to suffer for others though we are not required to by law, or compulsion, or some inner brokenness. Jesus went to the cross because God loves us, and Jesus was sent by God to bear our sins and brokenness on the cross. Being a disciple means bearing the sins and brokenness of others, loving them unconditionally.

The Role of Faith

From the beginning, Jesus warned his disciples that faith was required. Mark begins his gospel with Jesus proclaiming the good news and telling his hearers to “repent and believe (Mark 1:14)

In Galatians, Paul speaks of the Gospel that can only be accepted by faith. He speaks of the fact that people cannot earn their salvation. We cannot be justified by our moral behavior or following the law (Galatians 2:16). Paul goes on to say, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Responding to the cross means dying to self and selfish desire (“I have been crucified with Christ”) and then living by the power of Christ (“it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”). Faith means responding by giving our whole selves to God, turning away from our selfish, self-centered ways, and living out of the power of the Holy Spirit.

imagesThere is a lot of confusion in our society and in our churches about the nature of faith. Is faith merely recognizing who Jesus is and calling upon him so that you can go to heaven when you die? Is faith simply believing Jesus is who Jesus is? The answer is, “No.” The Bible is the story of faith. The story begins with Abraham, who is told by God that he will be the father of many nations and have an heir if he goes to the land of the promise God will show him (Genesis 12:1-3). The Bible tells us that Abraham believed and went. In other words he trusted God not just with his mind (“OK, God I know you can to this”) but also with his heart, soul, mind, body and strength. Abraham went and followed God in the wilderness for years because of his faith. As James reminds those who think faith can be divorced from works, Abrahams faith was revealed and completed by his works (James 2:14-26). A faith that does not change the way we think, live, act, and feel is not a faith at all.

When Jesus says come and follow me, Jesus means just what he says. He wants us to follow him because we believe that he holds the secret to our becoming the people we were created to become. Our faith is shown in our discipleship.

Discipleship and Discipline

The word “discipleship” and the word “discipline” have the same root. A discipline is not something that comes naturally. A musician does not become a great guitar player naturally. There is natural talent, but that talent has to be disciplined by years of practice, of learning from teachers, of emulating those who are masters at the craft. imgresAn athlete has talent, but that talent has to be developed over years of practice and workouts. A musician may believe that they can become better. An athlete may believe he or she can play at a professional level, but there are years of discipline between the idea and mental conviction and the reality of being a professional.

One of the great mistakes of modern Christianity is the idea that being a Christian is easy or makes life easy. It does not! When we follow Jesus we have to learn to love when we desire to be selfish. We have to learn to be wise when we desire to be foolish. We have to learn to live simply when we would rather have everything we desire. We have to learn to serve others when we would rather serve ourselves. None of this comes naturally, nor is it easy. Like Abraham, we have to wander through life with God, gradually becoming a friend of God, becoming more like God in the way we think and act. We will make mistakes along the way. There will be unforeseen consequences.

The author of Hebrews wrote to encourage Christians to remain devoted to Jesus when life is difficult. In Chapter 11 he outlines what real faith is, and then gives examples from great heroes of the faith. Then, he talks about the discipline we undergo in the process of discipleship.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

 “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

If we are to be real, athentic children of God, we must recognize that our heavenly Father is going to discipline us. In fact, if he did not discipline us he would be a poor father. If he left us in the same condition as he found us, with the same sins and shortcomings, it would be a sign that he really did not love us. If we do not respond by enduring the discipline, it is a sign that we do not love our heavenly father. God’s discipline, just like any human discipline is not pleasant at the time. No one really desires to endure it. But we do because we believe that our loving Heavenly Father is disciplining us for our own good.

Almost every day, I run, walk, swim, lift weights, or engage in some form of exercise. I have been doing this for years. A man in his mid-sixties does not look forward to this in the same way that a young man in his twenties might. I often hurt. Running uphill is hard. My muscles can be sore from swimming. Why do I go on? Is it just a habit? The answer is that every year I have an annual check up. The doctor checks my blood pressure, my heart rate, my blood sugar level, etc. IMG_0150When it is over he says, “For a man of your age you are in good condition.” I endure the pain of daily physical exercise because I know that in the end it is good for me. The same is true of the discipline of our heavenly father. We endure it because we know that we are becoming children of God, followers of the Son of God, members of God’s family, and citizens of God’s kingdom. Loving others, denying self, remaining faithful in a fallen and sometimes unfriendly world is just the discipline we need to become the people God intended us to be, not just in heaven, but right here on earth.

We Are Not Alone

When Mark describes the calling of the first apostles, he tells of the calling of Peter, Andrew, James, and John (Mark 1:16-20). Then, Mark describes the calling of Levi (Mark 2:13-17). Finally, in Chapter 3, there is recorded the calling of the Twelve:

Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”),  Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot  and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him (Mark 3:13-19).

It is striking that the call is not to one, two, or four. The disciples have been called together into a fellowship, a little community of those called “that they might be with him” (v. 14). They are also called into that community so that they might go out into the world to share the gospel and heal the demonic fallenness of God’s creation (v. 14). This is not abstract group of people, “the disciples.” It is twelve concrete human beings.

It is the same with us. When we are called to follow Jesus, we are called not be alone, not to live separate Christian lives as is so often the case today, not to be a part of a kind of ethereal thing called a “Church.” We are called into a concrete community of real human beings, some of whom may even be traitors to the Lord who calls us together.

Once again, we were not called to be Christians alone or to do our good works alone. We have been called into the community of God (Ephesians 2:11-22). We are called into the family of God, the fellowship of his disciples, the kingdom of peace, the “ekklesia,” the called out, the Church of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. [4] When Jesus speaks to our hearts and says, “Come follow me, he calls us into a community of faith.

Responding to the Call

In his letters, the Apostle Paul makes constant reference to the Gospel, the Good News of Christ. The Good News is what the disciples were called to learn about and then to preach “to the ends of the earth” (Matthew 28:16). At the root of the gospel is the cross. Paul sometimes refers to the Gospel as “the word of the cross.” This word of the cross is that God has acted against all human expectations to rescue the human race from sin and death and to reconcile the world to God by the sacrifice of his Beloved Son (I Corinthians 1:13). The gospel is not a word of wisdom. It is not a special kind of knowledge only a few possess. The Good News is the faithful retelling of what God has done in Christ. Our response is to accept what God has done.

In Ephesians, Paul speaks of the “word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation” (Ephesians 1:14). He goes on to speak of the power of God at work in those called to follow him in these words:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:1-5).

Our response to the Gospel is first and foremost to thank God for our salvation, to recognize that we were dead in our sins, and to deeply understand and accept God’s great mercy shown to us in Christ.

Paul specifically tells us that our salvation is not our own, our call to follow Jesus is not our call. It is God’s. God called us to change us, from a people dead to God and dead to the world in ceaseless self-centeredness to a people alive in Christ, reaching out to the world, doing the works of love that God has called us to do (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Called to Go

The Great Commission calls on disciples to “go into the world.” The fact is, we are all called to Go and we are all going somewhere almost all the time. We go to work. We go to school. We go shopping for groceries. We go on vacation. We go to church. We go on social engagements. There is no end to the places Christians go when they follow the God-given command to “Go.”

Normally our going takes us in a pretty predictable circle made up of clse friends, family, and co-workers. Nevertheless, there is no guarantee. We may be “going” about our day to day lives, sharing the gospel occasionally, meeting with our small group, taking on small jobs in our church, and then one day, we must take a plunge and go forward. I had been a Christian for about fourteen years when the call came to go further than downtown to the office.

Called to Share

The Great Commission does not stop when it asks us to “Go.” It asks us to do something else: make disciples. This means we must share our faith, our lives, our church friendships, our time, our talent, our energy, even a bit of our money. Sharing is a part of being a Christian. Of course, there is one particular kind of sharing that we all fear the most—sharing our faith and the Gospel. About a half of this study is going to be taken up with the business of sharing the gospel. For now, it is enough to know that sharing is a part of being a disciple. Jesus shared his life with the original disciples, and we are called to share our lives with the disciples in our church and with those disciples we make.

There are a lot of evangelism materials that concentrate on faith sharing. They cover a lot of important information. In this study, we have chosen to place faith sharing in the context of being in a discipling relationship ourselves in our church and small group. One reaason we chose to organize this study in this way is because it seems to be the way Jesus did it. He called the disciples. He shared his life with the disciples. He taught the disciples, and then he sent them out to share the gospel. If it worked for Jesus, perhaps it will work for us as well.

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York, NY: McMillan, 1937), 45

[2] Id.

[3] Id, at 61.

[4] The Greek word, “ekklesia” literally means, “those called out.” The early Christians adopted this word for themselves because they were those called out of the corrupt life of the Roman world into the fellowship of the saints, the kingdom of light, the family of God, the ekklesia of God.

A Disciple Spends Time in the Word

IMG_0174Today is a busy day in our household. Tomorrow there will be a wedding. Today, there is a rehearsal and other activities. Kathy is outside on the deck reading her Bible and doing her devotion. I have already completed my time in the Word for the day. Both of us have had the habit of daily time in the Word for longer than we can remember. It is just a part of our daily routine. This fall, we will be part of a small group Bible Study. We try to do this every year. Spending time in the Word is just a part of our daily lives.

A characteristic of a committed disciple is commitment to spend time in the Word. To be a disciple is to be centered in Holy Scripture  and on the One of whom Scripture speaks. Most of what we can know about about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Christian life we learn by listening to the voice of God in Scripture.

In Acts, Paul leaves Thessalonica for Berea. Initially, the Thessalonians were resistant to the Good News and did not want to hear Paul’s message. Later in Berea, things were different. Luke records: “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men” (Acts 17:11-12). Those who earnestly hear the gospel of Christ are almost always eager to study their Scriptures.

In perhaps his last letter, Paul underscores the importance of Scripture as he writes young Timothy:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

images-4We read our Bibles not to memorize verses or to understand Jewish or Christian literature, but to hear God speak to us, to give us the kind of minds that are “wise unto salvation,” to be taught, convicted of our sins, rebuked for falling short, corrected when we have gone astray, and trained so that we can be representatives of Christ. When we become disciples, we are like little children: We need to learn how to survive the Christian life. It is the Word of God and God speaking to us through Scripture that will accomplish this task.

Transformed By the Word

As Christians study Scripture and meditate upon the One revealed in its pages, we encounter the God who is revealed to us in the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. As Paul says in Romans, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Later, in Colossians, Paul urges Christians to, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). As we listen to others in a Bible Study or Sunday School Class, God’s word enters our hearts through the window of our minds. Slowly, but surely, we are transformed into “little Christ’s,” participants in the life of God and vehicles through which his Wisdom and Love enters the world.

Having a Good Bible Study

There are many ways to center your growth as disciple on Scripture. There was a time when there was a lack of good small group Bible Study materials. This is no longer true. There are many, good printed Bible Study guides ranging from Sunday School materials; guides to the study of books of the Bible; topical Bible study guides in areas such as prayer, marriage, finances, child raising, coming to Christ. All of these help a group to center itself on Holy Scripture. Any good Christian bookstore has many studies. Not only do resources exist in printed form, but there are many ways to use materials to be found on the internet or in electronic media. Some of thie material is free. [1]

Most of our Christian growth will not come from sermons or large, lecture-oriented Bible studies. The key to a good Bible study is its personal character. This is why small group Bible studies are so important. They give us time to share with others what we are learning in Scripture. We can ask questions, give our opinions, be corrected in our understanding and correct others. I have been a Christian pastor for a generation and led countless Bible studies over thirty-five years. Even today, most of my growth is in a small group study. They mean more to me than any number of Greek word studies or words of commentators in my private time of study.

A life transforming Bible  study has  three basic characteristics.

Group Discussion. People remember about 10% of what they hear and about 80% of what they say. Therefore, lecture is not the best method for Bible Study. The best method for life transforming Bible study involves/personal interaction among people. This means conversation not didactic teaching.

Open-ended Questions. It is always best in leading the study to ask questions that enable group members to answer correctly whatever their relative level of Biblical knowledge. Questions like, “What did this passage mean to you” are always better than questions like, “What does Calvin say this passage means?” The term “Open Ended Questions” means questions that lead a person to disclose their understanding without embarrassment or discouragement.

Focus on Application. One of the most important things to remember that, as disciple-makers, we are more interested in what people put to work than we are in what they remember. It is always a good idea to end the study of a passage with a discussion of the question, “How am I going to live differently now that I have studied this passage?”

EXAMPLE: Don leads a Bible study. The study uses Serendipity resources, a relational Bible Study material. searchDonna, a member, remarked one evening, “I love this study. Most of my life, I listened to a Bible teacher. I never asked questions and no one ever asked me what I thought. In this study, I get to give my opinions and ask questions. And, it is practical.”

Basic Bible Study Rules

Here are some helpful rules in developing your Bible study skills:

Use the Bible. Everyone must have a copy of the text the group is studying. In some Bible study materials the text will be reprinted. In others, people must have a Bible as well as the guide. It is also helpful if everyone is using the same version of the Bible.

Read the Bible. Much of the Bible began as an orally transmitted message of faith. Therefore, it is always a good idea to begin by reading the selected passage aloud. This allows the modern hearer to experience soemthing of the oral tradition from which Scripture emerged. Stick to the text at hand. Avoid cross-referencing other biblical texts unless it is absolutely necessary.  Too much cross referencing confuses people, takes up time, and tends to make people shy about expressing their opinion.

Opening Question. Think out before hand the first question you will ask. The first question is always the most important of all. It will open the discussion and will often determine the character of the group’s interaction for the evening. This kind of question most often can take the form of, “What aspect of this verse made an impression on you?” or “What did you find most interesting about this passage?”

Reflective Study Questions. In reading this passage of Scripture or book, here are some questions you may want to ask yourself about the text as you prepare to lead the group:

What immediate message do you hear?

What feelings are you having in reading this?

What was helpful?

Prepare more questions than you’ll actually need. This will help you overcome a fear of not having enough material to use the time allotted.

Let Questions Guide the Study. Ask questions which are clearly tied to the text and build logically upon one another. If a question is not understood, restate it in different words. Limit initial comments to key information and definitions. Focus on the most important aspects of the passage. Try not to answer your own question. If a question does not gain response, move on to another next question. After the first response to a question, ask if anyone has a different or additional response. Don’t exhaust a question before moving to the next verse or question. Let the group set the agenda.

Involve the Imagination. One of the most important techniques that a teacher can use is to the whole person: sight, sound, touch, thought in the study. For example, as the text is read aloud, have the individuals visualize the scene. Ask the group to imagine how they would have reacted if they had been present.

Share Personal Meaning. In a small group Bible study, the most important thing to know is what the text means to a person. This does not mean ignoring commentaries or historical understanding. It just means that what changes a life is a personal experience of the power of the Word.

Don’t Be Afraid. One of the greatest barriers to some people exercising gifts for leadership in Bible Study is a fear of not knowing the answer. “I really do not know” is always a good answer. If you do not know, offer to study the question next week and give an answer at the next meeting. Even pastors do not know all there is to know about the Bible. Therefore, you should not be afraid to say you don’t know.

Stay in One Passage. One common mistake is to play “Bible Hopscotch.” Most people do not have a ready familiarity with the Bible and flipping pages makes them nervous. Sometimes to get a clear idea of what Scripture means, we need to study more than one passage. Much of the time, however, this is not ncessary.

Use Various Methods. Any Bible Study method when overused gets old. Variety is the spice of life, and we should use a variety of teaching tools and methods.

Sample Study Questions

There are some basic kinds of questions that laypersons can use to help others connect with the Bible and learn from the text. Some of these are:

What does the Text Say? The first level of any text is a rendering of what it literally says. Some questions that will help get the basic meaning out are as follows:

  • What did you hear the author (or character or Jesus) saying as the text was read?
  • What is the context where this is said?
  • What was frustrating, unclear, or difficult?

Personal Involvement. The next stage is to help people get personally involved in the text. Some helpful questions here are:

  • With whom or what do you identify with in the story?
  • What past feelings does this restore?
  • What personal experience does this bring to mind?
  • What pain or hurt does this bring to mind?
  1. Personal Application. Remember that personal application is the most important thing in any small group Bible study. Therefore, we should always leave adequate time for application. Some personal application questions are:
  • What is God asking you to do?
  • What hope does this give you?
  • What relationship does this impact?
  • What will you do differently because of this study?

Let God Work

Leading a home Bible study or a study in a Sunday School Class can be nerve racking for some people. It is good to remember that the Holy Spirit will be attending your Bible Study! Times of silence, disagreements, uncertainties about the text, questions that cannot be answered, they are all part of the way in which people learn. Years ago, I participated in what would be one of the most important Bible studies of my life. It was not perfect. Not everything that was said was totally correct. However, God worked in the text and in the relationships being formed to change lives.

People who study small groups often note that it the relationships people have in the groups more than the information that is shared that matters. Sometimes, people say this as if it exposed a weakness in small groups. Actually, it is not surprising that a God who exists in community created human beings who learn best in communities. It is not surprising that the community can often be more important than the text. God is  busy building a community–the kingdom of God–and he uses Bible studies as one of the ways in which that Kingdom is built!

The goal of our Bible studies is not to create hundreds of Christian Bible scholars but to help make disciples living together in a community of love, sharing that love with others, and expanding the reach of God’s Kingdom of Wisdom and Love. Bible study is not an end. It is a means. It is one of the ways God brings us into a life changing relationship with Him through his Word.

IMG_0160Copyright 2015, Chris and Kathy Scruggs, All Rights Reserved.

We miss our friends and look forward to being with you soon in our Salt and Light study!!



[1] When downloading materials from the internet it is important to remember that not all the materials found on the internet are sound. Many individuals put up materials that does not reflect either the spirit or the words of Christ or the experience of the Church over the centuries.

Lesson 7: A Disciple has a Way of Life

IMG_0154This week, our post is early, as we hope they will be for the next two weeks. Please accept our thanks for all comments. We have not been responding to all of them, but we have read and considered all of them!

The title of these lessons is “Salt and Light: Everyday Discipleship for Everyday Christians.” About the time we began preparing these lessons, God convicted me that much of our teachings about evangelism and discipleship implicitly indicates to people that to be a good disciple of Christ you need to be “radical.” There are a lot of Christian teachers who emphasize this aspect of Christian faith. A negative of this approach is that it implies that ordinary people who have ordinary lives and spend most of their time with family, at work, and among friends must completely alther their lives and change what they are doing in order to be true, disciple making, followers of Christ. Part of what these lessons are intended to do is to allow people to see that they can incorporate being a motivated disciple of Christ into their existing way of life.

This does not mean that we do not need to change some things about how we live, work, and relate to others in our day-to-day lives. What we do need to do is live wisely, love others unconditionally, and follow Jesus.images-3 As we follow Jesus, our lives will change and take a different direction, but that may or may not mean that we change our careers, friendships, location, and the like. In fact many, if not most, Christians, will continue to live where they now live, in the career and occupation they now have, supporting and sharing God’s love with their family, neighborhood, community, friends, and fellow-workers.

People of the Way

Acts tells us that the earliest name for Christians was “People of the Way” (Acts 9:2).  The first Christians were primarily Jews, who had lived by the Law of Moses, and who had found in Christ a new way of relating to God. This way was not merely following external laws and rules. It was primarily a relationship with God in Christ, a relationship in which they were filled with the Holy Spirit to live wisely and in loving relationships with God and others. As people of the Way, their ordinary, day-to-day lives were to shine with the power of God’s Spirit of Love. The earliest Christians saw in Jesus not just a new way to experience forgiveness of sins, but also a new way of living in relationship with God and others.

Jesus summarizes this way of life as characterized by loving God and others by telling us that we must love the Lord our God with all of our hearts and all of minds and all of our wills and our neighbors as ourselves. imgres-2When asked what was the greatest of the commandments, Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Acts 22:37-39). Living out the love of God in our day-to-day lives is the primary duty of the Christian. Everything else flows from this first decision—the decision for unselfish, self-giving love.

Salt and Light

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has these words for his disciples:

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:13-16).

These words remind us that it is not just what we say that matters; what we do matters even more. Salt is a physical mineral. It is a strong preservative and antiseptic. It preserves and heals. Light illuminates the world and allows us to see where we are going. Jesus described himself as “The Light of the World, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). imgres-1To be a disciple is both to walk in the Light that is Christ and to reflect that light into the world (Matthew 5:14). Jesus wants us to live in such a way that we are a preservative and healer of the brokenness of the world. He wants us to have a kind of wisdom in the way we love others that that we become a kind of light. It is that light, the light of God shining in our lives that can and should attract people.

A Matter of Grace

All of this sounds pretty legalistic until we remember that we are saved by grace and it is God’s grace that empowers us to live the Christian life. In fact, in my experience, and in the experience of many Christians, the first step towards hypocrisy is to forget the role of grace, God’s mercy and gift of the Spirit in our daily Christian life. When we forget how dependant we are on God’s grace, sooner or later we lose that intimate fellowship with God that allows us to live in the Way of Christ and share that way with others. We cannot live the Christian life without the power of God sustaining our spiritual life.

If we are going to be the salt and life of the world, then we will reflect the light and healing power of God in our day-to-day lives. Obviously, this is something that takes a lifetime to accomplish. Obviously, we fail and fall short not only from time to time, but almost all the time! Nevertheless, if we can remain in Christ, and continue to live on the basis of Grace, if we can continue to ask God to enter our lives and transform us, we do make progress in the Christian life.

When I am teaching about this life of grace, I like to say, “I am not the person I ought to be, but thank God I am also not the person I used to be!” This is what we should all aspire to daily-we are not the people we were yesterday, or last week, or last month, or last year. We are making progress because of the Spirit of God working in us. We will never be perfect, but we can be better.

Means of Grace

Theologians, have ways of talking about how God allows us to grow in Christ. They talk first about the “Means of Grace.” The Means of Grace is a way of describing how God works in our lives so that we grow in Christ. We can put ourselves in a position to grow and sense the power of God in our lives if we do these things.

Christ in Us the Hope of Glory

Of course, the primary means by which we become and grow as a disciple is in a relationship with Christ. Jesus called his disciples into a relationship with him, and Christians ever since have called people into a relationship with Jesus. This relationship changes us from the inside out. Paul begins his letter to the Colossians by reminding the Colossians who Jesus was and is. He is the very image of God (1:15). He is the vehicle through whom the universe and everything in it was made (1:16). He is the head of the church, those called out by God to proclaim his glory (1:18). He is the one who reconciles creation and people to one another so that God’s peace can prevail (1:1:19-20. He is the source of forgiveness of sins and fellowship with God the Father (1:21). In Christ, our old life is put to death and we receive a new life 3:1).

In response to what God has done, believers are to live a different kind of life because a different kind of life, the life of God, is growing up inside of us. This putting on of a new life is described both as a dying to an older kind of life, characterized by passions, immorality, evil desires, greed, covetousness, malice, slander of others, and obscenity and the like. As we overcome the dark side of our personalities, we begin to experience a new kind of life. Here is how Paul describes this new life:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:12-17).

Notice that it is not primarily behaviors that Paul urges on the Colossians but spiritual qualities they receive by remaining in a relationship with Christ. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love are spiritual qualities we receive by grace as we allow Christ to work in our hearts. Growing in Christ involves behaviors, however, most importantly it involves developing new spiritual qualities.


God works in our lives through his Word, that is through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. God also works in our lives through what are called, “Sacraments” or “Sacred Acts.” imgres-3When we come to believe in Christ, we are baptized. In some groups, parents baptize their children when quite small as a sign that God is already working his salvation. If a new believer has never been baptized, they should be. In many cases, a believer who has already been baptized will want to renew that baptism in a Renewal of Baptism service that can be much like a baptism, except that it is a renewal of a prior baptism and not a baptism. [1]

In any sacrament, there is an outward sign. In the case of baptism the physical sign is water. Some groups immerse, some groups pour the water on a new believer, and some groups sprinkle. However the water is administered, it signifies our leaving our old life and the new life we have in Christ because of the cleansing power of God.

One of the first things we should do when we become a Christian, and encourage others to do when they accept Christ, is to experience the sacrament, the sacred rite, the mystery of baptism, as we celebrate the new life we have in Christ. If we were bapatized as children or even earlier in our lives as adults, it may be important to “own” the new life we have received by publically renewing our baptism.

Some years ago, a lady in our congregation married a man who had been in her life some years earlier. She had always remembered and loved him. Years later God brought them back together and him back into the community of faith. This person became a friend of mine, a prayer partner, and and a fellow worker in our congregation and in a Christian ministry in our area. One of the great priviledges of my life was the day we baptized my friend! We see each other almost weekly, and once or twice a year, we take time to remember that “sacred moment” in his life when he publically declared his faith in Christ and his commitment to be a disciple of Christ.

Word-Centered Worship

In classical Reformed theology, there are three means of Grace, the Word, the Lord’s Supper, and Baptism. When the Word of God is read and taught, God works profoundly in the human mind and heart. This is why Paul says that faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). This “hearing” is not any hearing, but a hearing of the Gospel, the Good News of God’s love. Reading and hearing the word of God, studying the Bible, memorizing Scripture, and allowing Scripture to form the way we see and react to the world is such an important part of discipleship that it will receive a separate treatment later in this series of lessons.

images-4Although hearing the word read in Scripture is of supreme importance, hearing it preached and taught is also important for Christians. This aspect of growing in discipleship reminds us that it is not enough to simply read the word on our own, but to hear it in the company of others who are also growing in discipleship. Listening to the Word of God in Scripture allows us to hear the word of God and its meaning for our lives through the voice and in the words of another person, often the pastor or teacher of a Bible study. It allows us to respond with others who have also heard the word together with us. Finally, hearing the word taught or peached by another person who may know more about this particular passage, and who probably studied the passage in connection with preparing to speak, reminds us that our private interpretation and response to Scripture, as important as it is, must be disciplined and clarified by the opinions and responses of others.
worshipAll of this means that a disciple will be regular in worship and in attending studies, at least from time to time. We cannot enter the communal life of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, without living in community with people who have responded to God’s call to show his light and love in the world. Although in Protestant worship services the Word is at the center of worship, it is like a jewel in a precious setting. The calls to worship, the songs and hymns sung, the prayers of the people, the common confession of sin, baptism, the Lord’s Supper—all these things deepen our walk with Christ.

When was younger, I went through a period when I did not attend worship and was not a part of a Christian community. Not surprisingly, I drifted away from the Way of Christ. While we believe that it is possible to live the Christian life without living within and worshiping as part of the community of faith, ordinarily, this cannot and should not happen. Most of us can take time to worship God regularly. We can hear the Word in community with others. We should thank God we can, for there are those who because of age, infirmity, or other necessity cannot.

The Lord’s Supper

Once you are a part of a Christian church, sooner or later you are almost certain to participate in a communion service. Different groups have different names for such services. In Catholic Churches it is called the “Eucharist.” imgres-4In Protestant congregations it is called the “Lord’s Supper” or “Communion.” In one way or another, Christians believe that their faith is strengthened and they are changed by this service of remembrance and participation in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. God is present to believers by the power of the Holy Spirit in a special way when we share the Lord’s Supper together.

Just as with baptism, different groups have differing ideas of what is happening when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. For the purpose of growing as a disciple it is not so much important which group is correct concerning how the Lord’s Supper acts as a means of grace but the sheer fact that it does. Some congregations celebrate communion weekly. Others celebrate communion monthly, quarterly, or on some other schedule. Disciples make every effort to receive communion whenever it is offered in a way consistent with their particular tradition.

Some groups have a service called a “Love Feast” in which small groups within their fellowship celebrate a meal during which the love of Christ and the unity of the group are celebrated. Love Feasts are not communion services for those groups in which an ordained clergy cannot be present. In whatever case, remembering and contemplating the love of God present in Christ strengthens our faith.

Public and Private Prayer

Because the life of discipleship is a life of relationship with God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, the life of a disciple is strengthened and deepened by the habit of prayer. Once again, prayers should and will be part of worship,  small groups, and other places where Christians gather. Nevertheless, private prayer is one of the most important ways in which we grow in discipleship.

In the beginning of our Christian walk, our prayers may be selfish and even a bit simple. That is fine. When a small child begins to talk, his or her words are not complicated or deep. However, as a child grows and matures, his or her ability to communicate grows and deepens. This is true also of the life of faith. Once again, this particular part of the Christian life is of such importance that it is discussed in detail below. For now, it is important to encourage the practice of communal and private prayer in the life of every disciple.

Works of Love

It was not long before Jesus began to involve his disciples in his own work. The Gospels and Acts reflect the disciples doing acts of healing and of mercy towards others. Although God is interested in our spiritual growth, we are physical creatures,  and love must be enacted. Therefore, disciples develop the habit of serving others. These acts of service can be both personal, such as giving to the needs of others, personal actions of mercy, visiting the sick, caring for those in need, and the like, and public, such as being involved in solving social problems, overcoming injustices, etc. As we change our priorities and move out of a life of selfish self-seeking and into a life of loving service to others, we grow in discipleship.

Walking the Walk as Well as Talking the Talk

If we are to lead other people, and especially new believers, into a deeper walk with Christ, we must be attentive both to our own discipleship and to ways in which we can draw others more deeply into a life of discipleship. Assuming we regularly attend church, one sure way for us to help another person internalize the Word and participate in the Sacraments is to simply invite them to join us. The same is true of Bible studies, prayer groups and other Christian ministries in which we participate.

There is, however, a deeper sense in which those we disciple “catch” more than they are “taught” what it means to be a disciple. If we regularly visit the sick, give to the needs of the less fortunate, manage our lives with wisdom and prudence, are involved in making our neighborhoods, cities, and nation a better, fairer, and more just place to live, those we know, including those we are discipling are sure to see what we are doing.

Many years ago, as a layperson and an elder in a local congregation, I had the habit of visiting people who were sick in our Sunday school class. I did not always visit, but I did visit a good bit. Over the years, people have mentioned to me how much that meant to them. Years later, when I was in seminary, one of our members had a very serious heart attack. Although I wrote a card, I could not visit. I was heartbroken that I could not visit my friend. Other people in his Sunday school class did visit my friend and his spouse. Others saw what was being done, and I am sure that many years later, people are visiting the sick without being told or asked because they saw it modeled.

Hidden for All the World To See

Why be different? The answer is, so we can be salt and light. Unless we are different than everyone else around us, they will not notice that difference and ask the question, could my life be different, better, more loving, wise, and fruitful. This is why Jesus tells us that we should not hide our light. imgres-1Hidden light does no one any good. It is the candle on the table that lights the room.

Being filled with the love of Christ, worshiping God fearlessly, being baptized as a sign of our new life, sharing in communion, praying often, and studying the Word, these are not only ways we are changed, they are ways that we shine, and in shining illuminate, preserve, and heal the world.

Lesson 6: A Disciple has a Family


Version 2Have you ever been alone in a strange place without family or friends? Do you remember how it felt? This lesson is one of the hardest for contemporary, Western Christians to grasp. We were never intended to be alone as Christians. We were meant to be a family. We were meant to live in community with other Christians, sharing our successes, our failures, our hopes and dreams, our dashed hopes and dreams, our worries and and our cares.

The Bible uses many metaphors for the church. The Church is Body of Christ; it is the City of God; it is the People of God; it is the Family of God. We began our study of everyday discipleship noting that, when Jesus came to be among the human race to display for us the wisdom and love of God in human form, he did not do it alone. He did not primarily rely on mass preaching events, though he preached to crowds. In the end, he chose a group of disciples, followers, and poured his life into them. He created a community of disciples. When he ascended into heaven, that little discipleship group became the church. A fundamental principle of this study is that believers, and especially new believers, need to be in a discipleship group. They need the experience of growing in Christ in an intimate fellowship of other people who are trying to grow in Christ as well.

Commitment to Discipleship
imgresIn the ancient world, a disciple was a learner, someone who followed a teacher around and learns from them. The process of learning was twofold: First, the disciple learned the information that teacher knew. Second, the disciple came to model the lifestyle of his teacher. For example, Plato, a disciple of Socrates later taught his disciples, one of which was Aristotle. In this way, the teachings of the master were passed down. Our Salt & Light study tries to recover this ancient way of teaching people and changing lives. It is very important to remember that we are not called merely to transmit information to people. We are called to help them live a new kind of life as a disciple of Jesus.

All our married life, Kathy and I have been members of what we call “discipling groups.” We met in a Bible study. When we were a young couple, we were in Bible studies with other couples. Each of us has been a part of small discipling groups with men and women separately over the years. When Chris worked, he had a small group in his law office. When we went to seminary, Chris met weekly with a group of fellow students. Since entering full-time ministry, both of us have always been part of discipling groups.

Some years ago, we became part of a renewal movement that encourages the formation of small discipling groups, and over the years we have been members of such small groups. We’ve led T4T and other discipling groups in our home and at church. We’ve always been members of Sunday School and other discipling classes. We’ve attended special groups to learn special skills such as child raising or how to manage our money. Each one of these groups changed our lives in some important way. Along the way, we’ve grown, helped others, made many life long friends, and experienced the joy of Christ.

Just as Jesus was lifted up into heaven, most of these groups disbanded as people moved along in life, but each person in each group remains a precious memory. I meet with several men weekly. We’ve been meeting for over about fifteen years. For many years, I have taught a year long Bible Study. Those groups meet for nine months. Often, our church sponsors short-term groups that meet for six or so weeks. The size and length of the group is not what matters. It is the love of the group that matters.

Just last evening, we met a couple for an outing that we’ve known for over thirty years. Chris has known the husband for a bit longer. We’ve never attended the same church. In fact, we belong to different denominations. However, when we were young, for just a few weeks we had a weekly Bible Study in our home. Recently, we had the opportunity to share some time together. The deep love that was created years ago emerges every time we are together. The day before, a couple dropped by our house with their grandchildren. Once again, we met in a discipling group many, many years ago. Today, we are still Christian friends, helping one another grow and face the new challenges of a new stage of life. The love of discipling groups is a kind of love that never ends because it was not primarily a human love but a divine encounter.

Personal Relationships are Essential

When we become a Christian, one of the most important things for us to do is to become part of a local church. As mentioned last week, we need to be in a place where we can worship God in community, hear the Gospel preached and taught, pray and with others and serve God as part of a local congregation. In fact, we cannot really grow as disciples, reach out effectively as disciples, or use the gifts God has given us unless we are part of a local fellowship of believers. The local church is the basic unit of Christian discipleship.

As Christians, we celebrate a God who exists in a transforming relationship. God not only reveals himself to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in some mysterious way, God exists as one essential being in three distinct persons. imagesThese persons exist in an unbroken relationship with one another in the perfect love of the Godhead. In other words, God exists in a community. This has profound implications for the Christian life:

  1. If God exists in a relationship of love, then there is no being a Christian without being in a relationship of love. As persons who are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), we were made for deep, loving, wise, and powerful life changing relationships – with God, with other persons and with creation.
  2. The church is to be made up of people who are in relationship with one another. A church that is merely a place for so inclined people to meet on Sunday morning sit in pews, sing and listen to a talk, is not the kind of church God God meant the church to be a place where people are in relationship with God and with one another. A church is not a worship service. A church is a group of disciples called to live together and demonstrate to the world God’s love.
  3. Since God is love, and the same love he showed when he “sent his only son” (John 3:16) exists between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, it is only as we exist in communities of love that the Church can be the body of Christ it was intended to be. This love is not a love based upon attractiveness, or other human qualities or worthiness. It is a pure self-giving love, which Jesus demonstrated for us on the cross.
  4. Finally, the very names of the divine person: Father, Son and Holy Spirit encourage us to see God existing as a family. This is exactly the relationship Jesus claims and models with his disciples. When Jesus says that he desires the disciples to be one just as the Father and he are one (John 17:20-21), he is praying that we might enter the family of God and become participants in the self-giving love of God. In other words, he is making us part of his family. When John calls believers, “Children of God” (I john 3:1), he indicates that by faith in Christ and participation in his body, reflecting the love of God in our lives and in our life together, we become part of God’s family.

Jesus: Our Model

Jesus was the greatest and most productive discipleship group leader in the history of the world. He called twelve average people. He saw their potential. He trained them. He lived with them. He loved them. Then, he set them loose to change the world. How did he do this? Here are some concrete things he did:

  1. He called the group into being (See Mark 1:17).
  2. He shared his life with them (the entire Gospel).
  3. He prayed for them (John 17:6ff).
  4. He taught them (Mark 1:21).
  5. He loved them (John 13:39).
  6. He rebuked them (Mark 9:36-39).
  7. He allowed them to lead (Mark 6:6-7).
  8. He gave his life for them (Mark 10:45).

In all of this, one fact stands out: Relationships were central to Jesus. His mission was conducted in and through relationships with people. It is how Jesus conducted the most central part of his ministry: getting a small group of men and women ready for the day when they would be leading others to faith in God the Father, who Jesus called “Abba” or “Dad,” by the power of the Holy Spirit. The life Jesus lived with his disciples was that of a family. This is not surprising, since the disciples were being called to become part of the family of God.

Jesus lived as part of a discipleship group with the Twelve and others who learned to be a part of God’s family and walk in the Way of Christ through their life together. It follows that every Christian should have a similar life transforming experience. Small groups of believers call people into relationship with Christ, allow people to share their Christian walk, deepen the prayer life of their members. These small groups are a source of Christian teaching, become places of loving care, are a source of guidance in difficult times, and a source of new leadership for a growing fellowship of Christians.

Becoming a Part of the Family of God

God’s intention from the beginning was to create a special people, his family, which would bless the entire world. God called Abraham for just this purpose (Genesis 12:1-4). In Genesis, God calls Abraham to bless not just himself, but his family, and even the entire world (Genesis 12:1-3). The history of Israel is really the history of God’s dealings with this one family. He wanted Israel to be a kind of prototype for what all families and all nations should be like. Even once Israel becomes a nation, one of the most common images the Bible uses for them is “The Sons of Israel”—a family. God’s family, however, was called to be different than the other peoples around them. They were to be holy just as God is holy (Leviticus 19:2). The word “holy” means “separated” or “different.” The way in which God’s people were to be different is that they were to show forth the wisdom, goodness, and love of God in a special way, so that the entire world might come into fellowship with the God of Love.

The Apostle Peter put it this way:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (I Peter 2:9-10).

Those of us who have been called to be disciples are called to be a special, set apart people, called to declare to the world the mercy and love of God.

The book of Acts begins with Jesus saying goodbye to his disciples. The first discipleship group was disbanded when Jesus ascended into heaven. No longer would they be meeting together daily, physically in the presence of the Word Made Flesh. Instead, Jesus was going to be with the disciples as they shared the Good News throughout the world by the invisible power of the Holy Spirit. He asked them to return to the city and await the coming of the Spirit (Acts 1:8). They went back into the city, met together in the Upper Room as a group, and planned for the future until the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:12-25).

On the day of Pentecost, the promised Holy Spirit came upon the church, and the disciples were filled with its powerful presence (Acts 2:1-4). They began to share the Good News with all those gathered in Jerusalem that day, and by the end of the day, about 3000 people were saved (Acts 2:5-41). What did they do next? They met as a small group! The apostles discipled a new group of believers in Jesus just as Jesus discipled them! Here is how Acts describes it:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47).

The early church was like a family, intimately sharing their life together. They shared meals . They kept a common purse for expenses of the group. They contributed to the needs of the group. They worshiped, learned, and prayed together. God called us into a family, and God desires that we share our lives like a family.

This is hard to do in our society. We are so individualistic that we have difficulty maintaining physical families, much less a church family. We are so busy that it is hard to find time to share our lives with others. We are so consumed emotionally by the needs of family, career, social life, and the like that making time for deep relationships is not easy. Nevertheless, this is exactly what God has asked us to do.

Discipleship Groups

images-1The passage we from Acts we read a moment ago gives a complete description of what a discipleship group entails. We need to think about the description of what the church should be like, so we can disciple people in ways that mirror the way Jesus discipled people. A discipleship group is a personal, face-to-face gathering of men and women who are committed to meet regularly in order to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Each aspect is important considering the scriptural model given to us in Acts 2:42-47:

A discipleship group is Intentional: “they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching.” The apostles and the new believers intentionally committed themselves to grow as disciples by listening to the apostles teach. We will not grow as disciples unless we are willing to intentionally become batter disciples.

A discipleship Group is Personal: “all believers were together.” Fellowship is not an optional part of the Christian life. It is central. God desires us to become part of a community of believers who are sharing their lives and their faith together. God wants us to be in a personal, close relationship with others in his community.

A discipleship group meets Regularly: “daily.” A discipleship group meets once a week, every other week, or once a month, or on some other regular basis. Frankly, for most of us in our culture, a daily meeting is impossible except perhaps in our family or with one or two other people we normally see in our daily lives. Groups that meet monthly are normally unable to produce change. For most Christians, a weekly group is what is needed.

A discipleship group meets to Learn: “to the apostles teaching.” A discipleship group is made up of people who desire to grow in the knowledge, imitation and reverence for Christ. It is not a social gathering. Although the Christian faith is more than learning information, it is impossible to grow as a Christian disciple without learning information.

A discipleship group is committed to Exciting Fellowship: “Everyone was filled with awe.” Christian fellowship is life giving, exciting and life changing. If people in our culture are to be filled with awe, then we must show the wisdom and love of God by the lives we lead and by the community of love we create.

A discipleship group intends to Grow: “and the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” The purpose of a discipleship group is to grow the kingdom of God by growing disciples. Many small groups in our culture exist primarily for group members. A true discipleship group exists not only for current members but for future disciples of Christ.

The Holy Spirit: Our Source of Real Community

Discipleship groups are more than a program. These groups are a God-given opportunity for disciples to live the kind of life God intended for all human beings. Once we understand this, we understand human ingenuity is not sufficient for true discipling community. Only the Holy Spirit can create a community that models God’s wisdom and love in the midst of a fallen, broken, and diseased world. Only the Holy Spirit can help us live out lives of true agape love toward others. The Holy Spirit transmits to us the love of God in several ways:

Knowledge. It is the Holy Spirit that allows us to understand who God is and what God is like.

Fellowship. It is the Holy Spirit that draws us into fellowship with God by faith in Christ.

Church. It is the Holy Spirit who creates the church and draws us into relationship with others.

Where Real Community Grows

The church is a place where we can grow and be nurtured in our faith. In an individualistic society, it is hard, very hard, to remember that we are called to give up a bit of ourselves for something that will transform our lives. When we give up a few hours on Sunday, and perhaps a couple of more hours in a week, to grow in fellowship with others, we receive blessings we might never have received by getting a raise, or a new dress, or a point or two off our handicap. We receive the blessing of community, real loving community. As we grow in that community of love, our families, our neighborhoods, our businesses, our cities, even our nation and world can be changed. God’s love, God’s wisdom, God’s peace are all created and shared in little communities of love.

Copyright 2015, Chris & Kathy Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

We are spending a bit of our summer working on a series of lessons for our church. We invite comments. We read them all and all are included in subsequent drafts, one way or the other. God bless you all!