What is a disciple and why are churches talking about them today? (part 2)

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Yesterday I defined a disciple as: a student or apprentice who follows, learns from, and imitates a master or teacher.

I also pointed out that there are two points of being a disciple (and doing any other kind of work): Philosophy and Praxis.

If the Philosophy of discipleship was to help usto be like Jesus and the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount shows us what it means to be a disciple and the reasons for becoming one, the Praxis (sometimes referred to as practice) tells us how to actually do it.

The Praxis is often more difficult to teach than Philosophy of any given work because it involves taking your purpose, mission, and vision and applying it to a specific context. For instance: Jesus says that peacemakers will be blessed, but how do you actually go about making peace? The answer to that Praxis question is going to be different depending on whether you are working on a farm or in the city, at Malibu beach or in North Dakota, in Sweden or in Syria… The idea of making peace and the value of it remains the same, but the practical way to do it successfully may look very different.

The Sermon on the Mount gave great teaching on Praxis as well as the theory of being a disciple. Chapters 6 and 7 of Matthew contain some of the teachings of Jesus regarding the practical actions of disciples, such as: Giving, Fasting, Praying, Worrying, and Judging. By themselves, these are simply a list of actions Jesus asks His disciples to do, but as I read through His words, I notice an underlying thread that is woven throughout all of these instructions – a thread that speaks specifically to the challenge of context. In every instance, there is a challenge to focus, not on ourselves and what we are getting out of this, nor on how others are seeing us (which is another way of being self-focused), but rather to focus on God. At one specific point, Jesus draws out that thread and names it specifically as checking our own motives in our actions.

““Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brotherʼs eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brotherʼs eye.” Matthew‬ ‭7:3-5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

‭‭As important as it is to take into account the lay of the land around us in deciding how to be a disciple of Jesus, Jesus points out that it is equally important to get an honest look at ourselves. It is easy to try to fix others and the problems we may perceive in them when in reality we are only trying to make them into our own broken image. Time and again, I have seen some of the most powerful witnessing to the truth and power of God done by people who can say with the Apostle Paul:

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in Godʼs law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to Godʼs law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” – Romans‬ ‭7:14-25‬ ‭NIV‬‬

‭‭which makes way for Paul’s proclamation of great hope:

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” – Romans‬ ‭8:1-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬

What does this look like? It looks like children seeing parents on their knees begging God for help in raising and disciplining them. It looks like men and women seeking out friendships with those of different nationalities and cultures in order to overcome their own prejudice – not to prove their lack of it. It happens when people choose to live below their means for the sake of community, not bringing their money in to help the poor, but coming (like Jesus) to simply live among them.

Indeed, it is almost as if we have to lose in Praxis to win in Philosophy.

  • What are you most proud of about yourself? How has this sometimes been a stumblingblock for simply following Jesus?
  • What do you think is your biggest weakness? How is God using this weakness to grow closer to you?

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