The Gravity of Discipleship

The Gravity of Discipleship

When confronted with something new, our most compelling response is often unaccountable fascination. We are irresistibly attracted, as if a spell had been cast over us. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that the word fascinate originally meant “to cast a spell over.” Today it would be more appropriate to avoid the notion of witchcraft and use the less literal meaning, “to attract and hold spellbound; to charm.” Drawn in by the beauty of the lure, we become deprived of our power of escape or resistance.

 

In Gravity and Grace, Simone Weil (1909-1943), one of the most original philosophical, religious and political thinkers of the twentieth century, wrote: “We do not have to understand new things, but by dint of patience, effort and method to come to understand with our whole self the truths which are evident.” Like the people of ancient Athens, there is something in all of us that longs for that which is new [Now the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new (Acts 17:21)]. Time-tested and proven truths of the past are sometimes set aside in favor of the newest trends or ideas. C.S. Lewis called this kind of thinking chronological snobbery, “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so, by whom, where, and how conclusively), or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood.”

All we need to do, says Weil, is “to come to understand with our whole self the truths which are evident.” Just because something “has gone out of date,” argues Lewis, is no reason to discredit it without proof of refutation.

Sometimes the winds of change have blown so strongly over old truths and practices that their memory has all but disappeared under the sands of time. New ideas and structures, promising the stars, emerge from the rubble – but often with serious consequences or failed results.

Consider the weight or gravity of Jesus’ command to the early disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20). With Weil and Lewis as guides, we would do well to ask ourselves if this is an evident truth from the lips of our Lord or whether it has, in fact, gone out of date and been discredited.

According to Scripture, making new disciples (justification) and leading them to maturity by the power of the Holy Spirit (sanctification) was, and is, something near to the heart of God. Jesus trained the Twelve to take the gospel of grace to the world. For millions of believers since, the Great Commission has been clear and compelling, an evident and infallible command with international implications for every tongue, tribe, and nation. Yet the late John R.W. Stott recognized that in many areas of the world, the church is “characterized by superficiality.” “In short,” he said, “the church lacks proper discipleship.” While there are many reasons for this sad condition, perhaps the foremost is simply disobedience. “The governing assumption today, among professing Christians, is that we can be ‘Christians’ forever and never become disciples…That is the accepted teaching now” (Dallas Willard).

The great need of the church is mature, equipped men and women who will personally invest in the lives of others until they, too, come to maturity in Christ and use their own gifts and training for the expansion and edification of the body of Christ. Church programs will never get the job done. “If,” as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction.”

There is a gravity to discipleship. It has weight and importance just because it is Jesus’ directive to His people. Our calling and involvement in discipling others will become compelling when we are alone before God, surrender to His will and purposes, and see the broken and lost world through His eyes and heart. Then, and only then, will we regain our power of escape and resistance from our fascination (spell) with the latest ministry gimmicks.

Download a PDF of this essay.

Return to John’s Essays