Serving Jesus through discipleship

Archive for the month “June, 2018”

Thoughts on Grace

I haven’t heard from Sonny in a few days. Our agreement was that we would challenge and encourage each other to read and understand Bonhoeffer’s work. So yesterday I called him to find out what was going on. He told me he was trying to find the answer to the question “What is Grace?” In addition to reading “The Cost of Discipleship” he is reading a book on grace. He told me the name of the author, but I already forgot.

My point is that the simplest definition of grace is “Unmerited favor”. Even though we don’t deserve it, God loves us. A more complete definition is:

Grace (131x)  G5485 (156x)

[Greek Strong’s]

5485. ca¿riß charis, khar´-ece; from 5463; graciousness (as gratifying), of manner or act (abstract or concrete; literal, figurative or spiritual; especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude): — acceptable, benefit, favour, gift, grace(- ious), joy, liberality, pleasure, thank(-s, -worthy).

[American Church]

Grace. — The word “grace” means a special favor, and is applied to the whole obedience, merit, Passion and Death of our Lord and the benefits that flow from them, — justification, wisdom, sanctification, Redemption. The Church, which is the Body of Christ, is called the Kingdom of Grace, for in it we become members of Christ and partakers of His grace and heavenly benediction. The Sacraments, as well as other ordinances, are called “means of grace,” because they are the appointed instrumentalities whereby God gives grace to His faithful people, to help them in living faithfully and in obtaining Salvation.

So, if grace can be defined simply, why is there such a great number of books on the topic? Is this a complicated topic or has the church made it complicated. I believe it is a fact that grace is misunderstood. Otherwise, why would Bonhoeffer have written a chapter on it? Why would other authors have written books on it?

Grace is one of the most fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith and yet one of the most misunderstood. I believe there is a Calvinist and an Arminian view of grace. There are probably numerous views in between those two! So, what are we to believe? John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius developed their view of grace from the same scriptures. Those scriptures are the same scriptures that we have today. I wanted to say “Never mind what Calvin or Arminius said, what does the bible say?” These two respected theologians came to different interpretations of the same scriptures. How can we know which is closer to being right?

Maybe keeping it simple is best! At least for now!


I Got Lost

Last week, I went to a reunion of a ship that I used to be a crew member of. Before I left though, I starting reading Chapter 1 of The Cost of Discipleship. I got about half way through and became hopelessly lost. I thought I understood what Bonhoeffer was talking in the Costly Grace chapter. Maybe I was wrong! Anyway, I didn’t finish the chapter before time to leave for the reunion.

Today I am starting again! Let’s see if I can get farther. Once I finish the first read of the chapter, I will re-read it again and comment in this blog what I think I just read. Maybe I can get through it with understanding!

What is Discipleship?

It occurred to me that before beginning the study on The Cost of Discipleship, it would be beneficial to answer the question “What is discipleship?” This may be harder than it would at first seem! The best definition I could find is, “Christian discipleship is the process by which disciples grow in the Lord Jesus Christ and are equipped by the Holy Spirit, who resides in our hearts, to overcome the pressures and trials of this present life and become more and more Christlike.”

That definition seems sort of circular “discipleship is the process by which disciples grow”. So, what is a disciple? The following is from the Holman Bible Dictionary:

Follower of Jesus Christ, especially the commissioned Twelve who followed Jesus during His earthly ministry. The term “disciple” comes to us in English from a Latin root. Its basic meaning is “learner” or “pupil.” The term is virtually absent from the OT, though there are two related references (1 Chron. 25:8; Isa. 8:16).

In the Greek world the word “disciple” normally referred to an adherent of a particular teacher or religious/philosophical school. It was the task of the disciple to learn, study, and pass along the sayings and teachings of the master. In rabbinic Judaism the term “disciple” referred to one who was committed to the interpretations of Scripture and religious tradition given him by the master or rabbi. Through a process of learning which would include a set meeting time and such pedagogical methods as question and answer, instruction, repetition, and memorization, the disciple would become increasingly devoted to the master and the master’s teachings. In time, the disciple would likewise pass on the traditions to others.

Jesus’ Disciples In the NT 233 of the 261 instances of the word “disciple” occur in the Gospels, the other 28 being in Acts. Usually the word refers to disciples of Jesus, but there are also references to disciples of the Pharisees (Matt. 22:16; Mark 2:18), disciples of John the Baptist (Mark 2:18; Luke 11:1; John 1:35), and even disciples of Moses (John 9:28).

The Gospels often refer to Jesus as “Rabbi” (Matt. 26:25,49; Mark 9:5; 10:51; 11:21; John 1:38,49; 3:2,26; 6:25; 20:16 NIV). One can assume that Jesus used traditional rabbinic teaching techniques (question and answer, discussion, memorization) to instruct His disciples. In many respects Jesus differed from the rabbis. He called His disciples to “follow Me” (Luke 5:27). Disciples of the rabbis could select their teachers. Jesus oftentimes demanded extreme levels of personal renunciation (loss of family, property, etc.; Matt. 4:18-22; 10:24-42; Luke 5:27-28; 14:25-27; 18:28-30). He asked for lifelong allegiance (Luke 9:57-62) as the essential means of doing the will of God (Matt. 12:49-50; John 7:16-18). He taught more as a bearer of divine revelation than a link in the chain of Jewish tradition (Matt. 5:21-48; 7:28-29; Mark 4:10-11). In so doing Jesus announced the end of the age and the long-awaited reign of God (Matt. 4:17; Luke 4:14-21,42-44).

The Twelve As the messianic proclaimer of the reign of God, Jesus gathered about Himself a special circle of 12 disciples, clearly a symbolic representation of the 12 tribes (Matt. 19:28). He was reestablishing Jewish social identity based upon discipleship to Jesus. The Twelve represented a unique band, making the word “disciple” (as a reference to the Twelve) an exact equivalent to “apostle” in those contexts where the latter word was also restricted to the Twelve. The four lists of the Twelve in the NT (Matt. 10:1-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:12-16; Acts 1:13,26) also imply from their contexts the synonymous use of the terms “disciples”/“apostles” when used to refer to the Twelve.

A Larger Group of Followers The Gospels clearly show that the word “disciple” can refer to others besides the Twelve. The verb “follow” became something of a technical term Jesus used to call His disciples, who were then called “followers,” (Mark 4:10). These “followers” included a larger company of people from whom He selected the Twelve (Mark 3:7-19; Luke 6:13-17). This larger group of disciples/followers included men and women (Luke 8:1-3; 23:49) from all walks of life. (Even the Twelve included a variety: fishermen, a tax collector, a Zealot.) Jesus was no doubt especially popular among the socially outcast and religiously despised, but people of wealth and of theological training also followed (Luke 8:1-3; 19:1-10; John 3:1-3; 12:42; 19:38-39).

The Twelve were sent out as representatives of Jesus, commissioned to preach the coming of the kingdom, to cast out demons, and to heal diseases (Matt. 10:1,5-15; Mark 6:7-13; Luke 9:1-6). Such tasks were not limited to the Twelve (Luke 10:1-24). Apparently Jesus’ disciples first included “a great multitude of disciples” (Luke 6:17). He formed certain smaller and more specifically defined groups within that “great multitude.” These smaller groups would include a group of “70” (Luke 10:1,17), the “Twelve” (Matt. 11:1; Mark 6:7; Luke 9:1), and perhaps an even smaller, inner group within the Twelve, consisting especially of Peter, James, and John—whose names (with Andrew) always figure first in the lists of the Twelve (Matt. 10:2; Mark 3:16-17; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13), whose stories of calling are especially highlighted (Matt. 4:18-22; John 1:35-42 and the tradition that John is the “Other”/“Beloved Disciple” of the Gospel of John—13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:20), and who alone accompanied Jesus on certain significant occasions of healing and revelation (Matt. 17:1; Mark 13:3; Luke 8:51).

All Followers of Jesus The book of the Acts of the Apostles frequently uses the term “disciple” to refer generally to all those who believe in the risen Lord (6:1-2, 7; 9:1, 10, 19, 26, 38; 11:26, 29). In addition, the verb form “to disciple” as it appears in the final commissioning scene of Matthew’s Gospel (28:19-20) also suggests a use in the early church of the term “disciple” as a more generalized name for all those who come to Jesus in faith, having heard and believed the gospel.

Conclusion We have seen that, as references to the Twelve, the words “apostle” and “disciple” could be synonymous. However, just as the term “disciple” could mean other followers of Jesus than the Twelve in the time of His ministry, so also after His resurrection the term “disciple” had a wider meaning as well, being clearly applied to all His followers. Whereas the term “apostle” retained a more specific meaning, being tied to certain historical eyewitnesses of the resurrected Lord, the word “disciple” tended to lose its narrower associations with the Twelve, and/or those who followed the historical Jesus, or who saw the risen Lord, and became a virtual equivalent to “Christian” (Acts 11:26). In every case, however, the common bond of meaning for the various applications of the word “disciple” was allegiance to Jesus. See Apostle.

Robert B. Sloan, Jr.

It seems that the definition of disciple can include anyone from a new convert, knowing little and behaving like a heathen, to a person mature in the teachings and ways of Christ. My question is “Are you still a disciple if you permanently stagnate in the process?”  If you quit learning to obey the commands of Christ you exit the discipleship process and are no longer a disciple.

The discipleship process includes:

  • Transformation and repentance, making God your priority
  • Learning the written word of God and living by it with commitment
  • Loving, edifying, and serving others as God leads
  • Focusing on living righteously, being fruitful
  • Accountability with godly authority

Questions Concerning Discipleship

This morning I read the Introduction to “The Cost of Discipleship”. The first thing I noticed is that many questions are asked. I assume that the rest of the book answers those questions. I will list the questions later, but the most pressing question for me is: “If discipleship costs, and according to Jesus, it does, (Luke 14:27-29) how is the yoke easy and the burden light?” 

The second sentence talks about slogans and catchwords of ecclesiastical controversy. While reading this I thought about slogans popular today: Jesus Saves; Jesus is Lord; Jesus is the answer; etc. I believe these slogans were meant to be used as rallying cries to the unbeliever as a reason to come to Christ. However, they have been so over used and typically lack context so that they are meaningless.

The questions that I will try to answer in reading this book are:

  • What did Jesus mean to say to us?
  • What is His will for us today?
  • How can he help us to be good Christians in the modern world?

Earlier today I received an email from Sonny. After reading chapter one, he asked:

  • What is Grace?
  • What is Discipleship?
  • What does discipleship look like?

I think the word discipleship is another term from the Christian lexicon that is poorly understood by most pastors, at least if it is understood, it isn’t explained very well!

The introduction also postulates that often the denominations that are supposed to present Christ to the world have rules and dogmas that act as obstacles to Jesus and his word. It is also true that each of us filter the Scriptures and sermons through years of ideas and expressions that are hard to understand.

Hopefully, this book is able to cut through all the accumulated clutter and lead us to an accurate interpretation of Christ’s word.

The Cost of Discipleship

I have recently been challenged to engage in a study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book “The Cost of Discipleship”. It has been a while since I read the book, however I remember that the first section is difficult to understand.

With that in mind, my intention is to put my notes on this blog. Maybe someone will stumble across my musings and contribute. If that happens, it will encourage me to dig deeper into the book and scripture to better understand what discipleship is.

My friend Sonny is the person challenging me. I think we are doing this study together. This will be an online study as Sonny is a traveling missionary and I am recently retired and enjoying staying in one place.

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