The Blessed Life (Part 1)

This is Part 1 of three on Discipleship and the Blessed Life. Comments appreciated. 

We live in an unusual age. Never in human history have people in the developed world had so much in terms of material wealth. Paradoxically, never before have people suffered from such anxiety about life, the future, about their ability to continue to consume at or above their current level of consumption, and about the meaning and purpose of their lives. Young people in almost all Western democracies, but most notably in the United States, the leader of the so-called “free world,” demonstrate a profound lack of trust in the institutions that provide for them the highest standard of living in human history. For Christians, most sadly, fewer and fewer of these same young people live as disciples of Christ. Churches in Europe are nearly empty, and those in the United States and North America are rapidly following the European example.

Almost every social commentator, Christian or non-Christian, liberal or conservative, traditionalist or radical, notes that there is something deeply sick and decadent about our society. Almost no day goes past without someone publishing an artice with a title like, “Are America’s best days behind her?” Each of these articles focus on some indication that there is something deeply wrong with our society. These commentators just do not agree on what is wrong or what to do about it.

One reason we have so much trouble in resisting the temptations of our culture is that most of us have a deeply ingrained, culturally formed notion of “the Good Life.” The Good Life is the life that results in happiness. Most people believe that hard work, healthy habits, and self-sacrifice will lead to a better life. Some people believe that government will help in some way to create this better life, and some people believe it will be created by private industry, but almost everyone believes in a kind of earthly messianic kingdom that meets our human expectations and desires. [1]

Just as the Jews were wrong when they reduced the promise of the Messiah to an earthly kingdom run by an anointed Son of David, when we reduce the gospel to a political agenda we are always wrong.  In our culture, Christians need to be prepared to show people the error of expecting God’s kingdom to be just like our kingdom only wealthier, politically stronger, and more defensible. When Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate, and was accused of opposing Caesar, he replied that his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be trying to bring his kingdom into this world; it just means there’s more to God’s kingdom in this world can or will ever know.

Jesus and the Blessed Life

Jesus never talked to his disciples about the desirability of seeking to live to old age, of attaining a degree of physical beauty, of staying healthy, of acquiring wealth, of getting ahead in the world, of maintaining the current geopolitical balance of power, or any of the other preoccupations of our day. He did, however, speak of what he called “the blessed life.”

His teachings concerning what it means to have a blessed life are completely at odds with what our culture considers blessings. It is thus surprising that more young people have not been attracted to the teachings of the Master. Perhaps it is because the churches and Christians have done a poor job of representing Christ to the world. When people in our society use the word “blessed” in any of its forms, it almost always is about something concrete we have received. We say, “I am blessed with good health.” “I am blessed with a strong heart.” I am blessed with a wonderful spouse.” I am blessed with four children.” “I have been blessed financially.” “I am blessed with a new job.” “I am blessed with a promotion.” The list of our blessings could go on an on, but they have this in common: they relate to physical blessings that contribute to our sense of emotional and physical well-being.

Jesus, on the other hand, in the Sermon on the Mount says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” “Blessed are those who mourn.” “Blessed are the humble.” “Blessed are the merciful.” “Blessed are the pure in heart.” “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Worst of all, Jesus says, “Blessed are the persecuted.” In Luke, the words are even less palatable to modern ears. In Luke, Jesus is recorded has having said, “Blessed are the poor,” not just the poor in spirit. He says “Blessed are the hungry,” not just those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. He says, “Blessed are those who weep,” and repeats, “Blessed are you when men hate you, exclude you, and insult you.” [2]

Jesus challenges our human presuppositions about what it means to be blessed. For Jesus, the blessed life is not something exterior to ourselves that we acquire. Instead it is something within ourselves that we experience. Furthermore, because of the nature of the blessing—the fact that the truly blessed life is not something we would naturally seek, we can only receive it as a gift from God.

Natural reason alone will not permit us to see and understand the truly blessed life. It was true in Jesus’ day; and, it is true in our day. The blessed life must be received by faith from God. We cannot discover it on our own. Someone under the inspiration of God will have to tell us about it and show us what it looks like. That is why Christ came.

Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] This point is made powerfully in lay language in W. T. Wright’s new book, Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes it Good (New York, NY: Harper One, 2015), 109ff. In the modern world, we are all subject to a culturally reinforced worldview that considers progress to be an automatic result of human striving. Recent history casts doubt on this view. What is needed is a new kingdom not the result of human striving and schemes.

[2] See, Matthew 5:3-12; Luke 6:20-22.

Living as Children of the Light

It is the Saturday before Easter.  I am taking a break from Salt&Light to meditate on Easter. As Matthew begins his description of the events of Easter Sunday, he records the following:

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men (Matthew 28:2-4).

The resurrection was accompanied then and now by the appearance of the Uncreated Light of God.

 The Importance of Light.

Light has always intrigued human beings. Almost all ancient religions have some form of Sun God, a God who is worshiped as a source of light. Light has also always been associated with the eternal. Light has always been associated with truth, when speak of “a light going off in our brains,” we refer to the experience of solving a puzzle. When someone knows a truth, we call him, “enlightened.” This word is used, in Buddhism to refer to a person who has come to understand the suffering of the world and the true and best way of escape. Jews and Christians have always thought of God as dwelling in light. We see this in the visions of Isaiah and Daniel in the Old Testament and in the visions of John at the end of the New Testament in Revelation, where God is pictured on a throne in heaven with lightning streaming out from his being. Paul is blinded at his conversion by an experience of the light of the Risen Christ.

The period of time which began in Europe about 300 years ago, when human beings first began developing modern science and technology, is often referred to as the “enlightenment,” because it was at that moment that humans shook off the superstition that was felt to characterize the Middle Ages and begin to be able to understand and manipulate the workings of the physical universe in a new and more powerful way using science and technology. The founders of the Enlightenment felt that the human race was experiencing liberation from the darkness of superstition.

This blog is about the Christian notion that God is Light, that the True Light of God was revealed to us in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ; that we  become children of Light by faith in Christ and can, therefore, live according to that Light. The empty tomb is the source of Light, for the dark door of death has been destroyed by the One who is the True Light of the World.

Walking in the Light.

In the  First Letter of John, he says the following:

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 yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by 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. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives (1 John 1:5-10).

Father of Lights, in whom there is no darkness, come by the Light of your Word this Easter to enlighten our minds and warm our hearts, convict us, convert us, and make us wholly yours. In the Name of the True Light who came into the World and by whose power we may li e forever we pray, Amen.

The Bible Teaches that God is Light

I don’t know that there is a more important source of  encouragement  than the simple phrase, “God is Light and in him there is no darkness” (I John 1:5). As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, almost all religions in some way associated light with the divine, but in the Old and New Testaments we have a distinctly Judeo-Christian evolution of this notion. For the Jew, God cannot be represented by any created thing, there can be no idols, no visible symbols of the invisible God, so it came natural to the Jews that God was a blinding Uncreated Light. Light  is invisible until it touches and illuminates something. When we speak about the being of God in Three Persons, one of the images often used is the image of the Sun. God the Father, who cannot be seen is like the hidden nuclear reactions in the center of the Sun. Christ, the Word of God, is like the rays of light coming from the Sun. The Holy Spirit is like the heat of the Sun when it touches our face and arms.

The Apostle John begins his gospel by equating the Incarnate Jesus Christ with the Eternal Word, which is the Light of God’s perfect rationality:

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 men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (John 1:1-5).

This equation of Christ with the uncreated Word of God, a Word that exists before time, and a word that enlightens the human race by showing us what it means to be truly and rationally human sits at the foundation of John’s view of who Jesus the Christ was (see, John 1:4, 5, 9; 3:19).  Jesus refers to himself as the “Light” (see, John 8:12; 9:5). Paul also uses the same image when he speaks of “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). In all these passages, and more, Jesus the Christ is said to be, to actually be, the personal, physical manifestation of the Uncreated Light of God, an uncreated light. [1]

The actual being of God as Uncreated Light has deep implications for our notion of God. God is not capricious. If a God of Uncreated Divine Light created the laws of the universe,  the universe can expected to be  orderly. God is not without a witness.  So, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2). Not only is the physical universe a scene of light, but so is the moral universe, for God’s light is seen in his law and in the moral order that he has created. So, the writer of Psalm 119 can declare, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).

There is no affirmation we make more important than the affirmation that God is Light, for that is our declaration to the world that it need not be a place of intellectual, moral, or aesthetic darkness, but a place of light. The God of Light has imbued his creation with Light, and has sent his Son as the True Light that shows us how to faithfully live within his beautiful and meaningful creation.

The Bible also teaches that we are Children of Light.

In today’s text, John urges Christians to “walk in the light” (I John 1:7). In Ephesians, Paul writes, “For once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of the Light” (Ephesians 5:8). In Thessalonians, Paul refers to Christians as “sons of the Light” (I Thessalonians 5:5). When Christians, by faith, receive Christ, we receive the Light of God into our hearts and minds. Our “conversion” is a conversion from darkness to light, from being children of the Fall, to being children reborn in fellowship with God, from being those who follow a way of darkness in self seeking, to those who seek the light in following Christ.

As a result of the Fall, we human beings have hearts that are darkened (Romans 1:21; Ephesians 4:18). As a result of our selfishness and self seeking, we walk in a kind of moral and spiritual darkness. When Christ comes into our lives, it is as if we have been removed from a dark room into light.

Years ago, when I was a camp counselor, we often went exploring in caves. Now, these caves were usually not very large, and we entered the caves through narrow passages in the land around the camp. We would squeeze trough an opening and crawl some distance in a narrow passage before entering the first room of the cave. There were often times when we could not even use a flashlight for a time as we wiggled our way through the tunnel. I can tell you, I hated it. But, when you got to the first room, where other counselors had already come, you could see in the light of their flashlights. If you were the first person through, your light suddenly light up the cave and you could see the lovely formations of stalactites’ and stalagmites.

The experience of opening up to the light of God is like entering that first room in a cave and turning on a flashlight. Suddenly we are able to see, really see the Truth of God’s Word, the Goodness of God’s Law, and the Beauty of God and of God’s creation. The presence of God in our lives acts as a light, illuminating the world and illuminating our lives, so that we can see the Good, the True and the Beautiful. By the power of the resurrection light of Christ, we can become illuminated with the wisdom of God, the goodness of God, and the beauty of God. All this is the gift of the True Light.

The Darkness that Remains is an Impediment to the Light.

Of course, if we are honest, we know that  the Light will expose something else: darkness. the darkness of our souls. John says, “If we say we are without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8). To experience the Light is recognize its absence and the darkness that inevitably accompanies the absence of light. The Psychologist Carl Jung speaks of each person as having a “shadow self,” a dark side. This selfish, instinctual, driven, dark side is a moral problem. [2] Although this dark side can never be totally eliminated, it can be recognized, brought to the light, acknowledged, and integrated into the larger self.

For Christians, the process of sanctification is a process of overcoming the dark side, the sinful side, of our personalities. The first step, and a continuing step, is the process of acknowledging that it is there. For the light to do its moral work in our lives, we must allow it to illuminate the darkness.

Light has many qualities, one of which is that it is one of the very best disinfectants there is. When our family used to go to Montreal, North Caroline,  we sometimes rented cabins full of mildew. We could not live in a mildew infested house. When a house is infested with mildew, one of the best things to do is to get the sheets and the furniture out into the sun, for the sun will get rid of the mildew. Our sin is a lot like mildew. Once exposed and brought to light, it begins to die as Light of God’s presence strikes our souls and begins to warm our cold hearts to a better way of life. Once the light of Christ, exposes the smell of our sin, its light begins to remove the dark stink of the smell of sin in our lives.

Our Mission is to Share God’s Light.

Christian truth is not a merely abstract truth. Christian truth is an embodied truth. God did not send us an instruction manual for living. He sent us his Only Begotten Son, full of grace and truth. An embodied truth is one that must be lived, not simply understood. When John urges his readers to “walk in the light” (v. 7) he is saying to them, “Live your life in such a way that the world will see the light in all that you are and to in your day to day life.”

Scholars point out that when the Middle Ages ended, and the modern secular state emerged, gradually religion shifted from being the organizing principle of all of life, to being a matter of personal religious experience and choice. Gradually, ever so gradually, “faith” became something private, something connected to a person’s inner self. Faith lost its connection with the outer world of life, of business, of politics, and of education. Even those who claimed to be Christian lived and acted just like everyone else.

The great British founder of the Gospel and Culture Movement, Lesslie Newbigin, wrote a book under the title, “Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth”. [3] In this book, Newbigin reminds his readers that if we believe that the Incarnate Word is the truth made flesh, then we must live according to that truth, willing to be different than those around us, and we must be willing to proclaim that truth publically in word and deed, for truth that is not proclaimed is not a truth.

We have done a lot of talking about what it means to be a “missional congregation”. Being missional is not a matter of going on mission trips, though our mission trips are important. Being missional is not a matter of how much money we give to missions, though supporting our missionaries is important. Being “missional” is a matter of being about proclaiming in word and deed, in all of life, as we go from this place into our society our confidence that the love and mercy of God, which was revealed in Jesus Christ is the ultimate truth about God and forms the ultimate ground of what it means to really, truly human.


All advances in human civilization come with some kind of  cost, and no advance is without problems. In the case of our scientific culture, one cost of our overly analytical culture can be a loss of confidence that there is something that is true. When we doubt everything, it is hard to believe in anything. Beneath the ultra-competiveness of our culture, of our business, of our politics, even of our churches, lies a deep darkness. This darkness is born of the fear that nothing is true, that everything is really about power. It is about do I and those who agrees with me, get to have our way? In such a world, there is no greater gift Christians can offer the world than the gift of faith in the transcendent reality of the God of Light, who stands as the ultimate guarantor and source of all truth, a truth we can never know completely, but which he graciously reveals all honest seekers, and which became one of us in the person of Jesus.

At the end of the book of Revelation, when John talks about the new heaven and new earth, he says that there is no need of a sun in this new world, for God himself will be its light, “They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light” (Revelation 22:5). This is our ultimate proclamation, that in a world of confusion and darkness, where it is hard to know what is true, what is good, what is beautiful, what is just, what is kind, we can know that the Eternal Light of God is here, and will be here, and there will come a day, when our struggle with darkness will be over, and the world will be filled with his Uncreated Light.


Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] See, Thomas F. Torrance, Theological and Natural Science. (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2002):15.

[2] Anthony Storr, ed, The Essential Jung: Selected Writings (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983):91.

[3] Lesslie Newbigin, Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth (Geneva and Grand Rapids, MI: World Council of Churches & Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1991.

Life in the Ruins

This week the post focuses on the dystopic nature of modern society as the modern world decays. This decay is particularly important for Americans to understand because American culture is a direct result of the so-called “Enlightenment.” I am not sure that his chapter (this week is part 1) will be in the final book. Nevertheless, it is important for us to understand the cultural roots of our current cultural distress if we are to minister God’s love and mercy in our culture.

Although they  considered themselves to be wise, they became fools…. (Romans 1:22)

One features of many contemporary movies and literature is the prevalence of “ dystopic” visions of the future. When I was in undergraduate school, in my freshman year, I took a course entitled “Utopias and Disutopias. The word, “Utopia” literally means “Nowhere.” A “Utopia” is a vision of a better world that might be. By the same token, a “Disutopia” is a vision of a dark world that might be. Increasingly, the vision of progress that powered Western civilization for 300 years has turned into a dark picture of the world of decay, immorality, violence, chaos, and darkness. For example, recently there was a popular movie called, “Hunger Games.” [1] In his movie, a young girl is forced to participate in the Hunger Games, a competition in which villages send one particular person to compete for food. This movie exemplifies a distinctive feature of modern dystopia’s: fear of an emerging immoral elite (the one percent) who enslave the majority of the people.

Why is it that, at this particular juncture in history, many people, and especially intelligent, perceptive, artistic, and capable people are unable to find meaning and purpose in life? It is, as the Bob Dylan song has it, because, “The Times, They Are A’Changin:”

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’2

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’2

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’2

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’ [2]

When Bob Dylan wrote these words, a great culture upheaval was underway in American culture, an upheaval that would irrevocably change America, and the institutions of modern society. The United States, and indeed the victorious parties in the Second World War began the second half of the 20th Century with a sense of victory and endless possibilities. Neverheless, beneath the surface optimism and confidence, the pillars upon which Western Culture had been built for almost 300 years were rapidly being undermined.

The tumultuous events of the 1960’s and beyond exposed the hollow caverns of emptiness and despair that lurked just beneath the surface. Contemporary Western culture is a paradoxical mixture of Greco-Roman philosophical ideas and Judeo-Christian spirituality and ethics given its current form by the events of what philosophers and social critics call, the “Enlightenment.” About 300 years ago, under the influence of the emergence of modern science and technology, the nations of Europe entered a new era.

This era called, “The Modern World” was characterized by confidence in human reason, faith in the power of science and technology to both understand the universe and provide solutions to myriad human problems that had vexed humanity for millennia, a kind of secular utopian vision of a perfect world, and confidence that human ethics could be reduced to universally acceptable, reasonable principles upon which all rational people would agree. The deists promised a rational religion of peace. For a time, this World View and its program for progress seemed irrefutable.

The term “Enlightenment” was coined in France, which at the beginning of the 19th Century, under the impact of the radical implications of the Enlightenment attempted to create a perfect secular, post religious society. The result was slaughter and madness. Nevertheless, as the 19th Century progressed, problems began to develop in the Enlightenment program. Within a short period of time, certain philosophers noted that reason alone did not seem to satisfy the human need for meaning, and so a romantic revolt emerged emphasizing the emotional and physical importance of human life. Then, the philosopher Nietzsche engaged in a complete attach both upon the Christian religion and on the rational underpinnings of the Enlightenment, emphasizing the Will to Power. The modern world, with its dystopic leanings was born.

The early 20th Century ended whatever optimism was left that human reason and human technology could bring in a millennium of peace, health and plenty. The early 20th Century was punctuated by two World Wars, the second of which resulted in the development of a weapon that could annihilate humanity. The First World War began the destruction of the optimism of Europe and Western Culture. The Second World War, fought because of a brutal dictatorship that emerged in what was Europe’s most advanced nation, ended with Europe in ruins.

America was victorious in both the First and the Second World Wars. It emerged confident of the future and securely positioned to carry on the Enlightenment project. However, in the 1960’s that optimism began to dissipate. The Viet Nam War divided America and caused a generation of young people do doubt our American culture and values. The emergence of birth control and the sexual revolution undermined traditional sexual moral values and traditional family structures. The Nixon presidency and the so-called “Watergate Crisis” undermined faith in American politics and in the integrity of its political system.

In music, in movies, and in the media a kind of moral and cultural darkness began to emerge. We  now live in the ruins of Western culture. Among elites and many, many ordinary people a kind of spiritual and moral darkness has fallen. It is the mission of the church to enter this culture with a gospel of wisdom and love that can repair the ruins of our society.

Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved.

[1] Hunger Games, dir., Gary Ross; Wr., Gary Ross Suzanne Collins Starring, Jennifer, Josh HutchersonLiam Hemswort (Lionsgate: 2012). The movie is based upon a trilogy of books written by Suzanne Collins. In the novels a young woman confronts a terrible future in which the majority of people live in poverty and hunger. Food is at a premium. The annual games reflect the fears many people have about a manipulative and immoral future government ruled by an immoral elite, a common feature of dystopias.

[2] Dylan, Bob. The Times They Are A-changin'. Columbia, 1964.

Introduction: Crisis of Discipleship (Part 1)

This is the first of two weeks that the blog will contain the Introductory Chapter to the book in discipleship I am writing. Comments are much appreciated.

Just before the Second World War, a young German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, published a book, “The Cost of Discipleship.” [1]At the very beginning, Bonhoeffer stated his thesis in a way that was prophetic for his own life and for the course of 20th Century discipleship. “Cheap Grace,” he says, “is the deadly enemy of our Church.” [2] Bonhoeffer went on to compare “Cheap Grace” with “Costly Grace.” Costly Grace is that grace which Christ speaks of when he says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Bonhoeffer took up his own cross and followed Jesus to martyrdom near the end of the war.

After the war, Bonhoeffer’s book became famous. Like many famous books, it is often mentioned, a few of its most famous quotes find their way into sermons and religious books, but Cost of Discipleship is seldom read and even more seldom put into practice. Part of the problem is that the book was written in German, and German is a hard language to translate into English, especially for reader that prefers short sentences and simple words. The book is not easy to read or digest.

The problem of Cheap Grace and a church that dispenses it, is the message and the message of Bonhoeffer’s life. Here is how he describes “Cheap Grace:”

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. [3]

When a church, denomination, or group dispenses Cheap Grace it is dispensed like soda from a fountain at a child’s birthday party or beer from a keg at a party at a fraternity party. It costs nothing. Such preaching and such discipleship makes a mockery of what God was doing in Israel’s history, what Christ did on the cross, and what committed disciples of Christ live out each day.

Real, true grace is Costly Grace. Bonhoeffer characterized Costly Grace as like the pearl of Great Price Jesus describes in one of his parables (Matthew 13:44=46):

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

As the saying goes, “Grace may be free, but it isn’t cheap.” The one who confesses his or her sins to God, who repents (turns away from them with all their heart, and who turns to God with everything they are and possess, this is one who has experienced True Grace. True Grace changes everything.

In a culture addicted to “Cheap Grace” and easy religion, Cost of Discipleship is hard to read. An honest reader stands condemned by almost every word. If in Bonhoeffer’s day there was a crisis of discipleship, and cheap grace was a problem for the church, the problem is exponentially greater today in the post-modern, Western church. Western churches, and perhaps most especially Protestant churches, are addicted to cheap grace.

Today, the church faces a crisis of discipleship that would have been almost unimaginable in Bonhoeffer’s day. The radical individualism of Western Culture has resulted societies in which everyone and anyone decides for him or herself what they will believe and not believe and how they will and will not act. [4] In such a culture, it is not surprising that many people deny by word or deed those parts of the Gospel which they find difficult to obey or hard to understand. The tremendous growth of media ministries has not helped the problem. When there is a lot of money to be made watering down the Gospel, it is not surprising that some people do. Further, it is in the nature of discipleship that it cannot be accomplished sitting on a couch listening to a televangelist. One must get up and follow Jesus. Grace requires a change of life and action in response to its power. It requires participation in a community of faith within which a person can learn and see modeled the Christian life.

The Command To Make Disciples

Jesus gave the Church a commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, emphasis added). Making disciples is God’s supreme goal Christ set for believers and for the church. Making disciples involves being a good disciple yourself, going to where people are, helping them enter the life-transforming fellowship of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them the things of God, and helping them respond to God’s grace by live a life pleasing to God. Discipleship is not something for a few incredibly dedicated believers to do while everyone else watches and listens. It is for every Christian to be and do.

The Greek word we translate “disciple” refers to one who learns from another person. As Christians, we learn about God and wise living from the Bible, from our personal relationship with God in Christ, from teachers, and from fellow Christians. However, Christian discipleship is not just about learning information. We believe that Jesus Christ is the “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” In other words, the key to abundant living is not an idea, but a person and a relationship with that Person in which we become transformed to be more like that person who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Because being a disciple involves being in a relationship with a person, we must believe in that person and spend time in fellowship with that person. Being a disciple is like being a professional athlete or a physicist. A person who admires professional athletes or physicists, but who never enters into a relationship of learning and emulation with one, is not a disciple. At most, they are a fan or admirer.

Christians do our best and live wisely and well when we simply emulate Jesus Christ. It is not enough for us to proclaim that we believe in Christ or to bring people to declare their belief that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and died for their sins. To be a disciple is to become more like Christ daily and help others become more like Christ. In particular, we must be willing and able to help people live with the same integrity and love that characterized Jesus when he ministered to his disciples and the people of Israel. This means that we incorporate into our lives the same divine wisdom and steadfast love that characterized Jesus of Nazareth. This is the result of Costly Grace.

The modern world, from which we are now emerging, was characterized by and abstract understanding of knowledge. In such a world knowledge can be measured by tests and by one’s ability to answer questions, write essays, and regurgitate information in various ways. Wisdom is different. To be wise is to know some information. However, more importantly, it is to apply such information and embody such information in a human life. Discipleship is a life-style, a way of life, an embodied knowledge. The test of whether we are good or bad disciples is found in how we live and what kind of people we are in the depths of our being.

The Community of Jesus

Jesus did not just preach, teach, and do signs and wonders. Jesus brought people to himself and spent his earthly ministry in a small group of people he was actively discipling. Other religious figures have written books. Jesus did not. As Lesslie Newbigin puts it, “Jesus did not write a book but formed a community.” [5] Christ chose twelve ordinary men and lived in relationship with them for his entire ministry. We believe that he also lived in close community with a larger group of men and women with whom he shared his life and teachings. Their memories of him are contained in our Gospels. It was their memories of Jesus and their time together that propelled them to carry the Good News on a continuing journey to the ends of the earth, as they understood it.

Jesus promised us that, “where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them” (Matt. 18:20). If we are to meet Jesus, a group of people (disciples) must introduce us to him. If we are to understand what it is like to be a Christian, we must be mentored by people who are further along the path of discipleship that we are. If we are to learn of Jesus, we must spend time with his people as a part of his community. We must see what it means to be a Christian lived out in the lives of others. This means that we need to be a part of a fellowship that is trying to spend time with God in Christ. One way we do this is when we become part of a group of people who are seeking to follow Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Those who try to follow Christ alone, without belonging to his fellowship and without accountability for their life of discipleship, inevitably fall short or fail.

The way the early church grew was by reproducing who Jesus was and what Jesus had done while he was with his disciples. The book of Acts is largely the story of how, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter, Paul, and the other disciples lived as Jesus lived, doing what Jesus had done and facing the same opposition Jesus faced. This is important to us. The best and most authentic way for the Kingdom of God to grow in our communities and around the world is by ordinary men and women bringing people to Christ, growing in discipleship together, calling people into authentic community, training new believers “to obey all Christ commanded,” and continually reproducing this process through generations of people.

To be continued!

Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship Rev. Ed. (New York, NY: Collier Books, 1963).

[2] Id, at 45.

[3] Id, at 47.

[4] See, Peter Berger, The Heretical Imperative (Garden City, NY: Anchor Press, 1979).

[5] Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eardmans, 1989), 95, 227.