The Path of DiscipleshipMatthew 9:9-13; Mark 1:16-20; John 21:17-22Theme: Following Christ.This week’s lessons teach us the cost of being a true disciple of Jesus Christ.
LessonYesterday we looked at the tendency of many of today’s preachers to preach an “easy” faith – Christianity without the cross. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German churchman of the Nazi era who eventually suffered martyrdom for his opposition to Hitler’s policies, called this erroneous theology “cheap grace.” He said, “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.”1
But it is not only a false theology that has encouraged this fatal lack of discipleship. To limit it thus is to blame theologians, and God does not allow us to blame others for our own failures. The error is also due to the absence of what the older devotional writers called a “self-examined life.”
Most westerners live in a tragically mindless environment. Life is too fast and our contact with other persons too impersonal for any real reflection. Even in the church we are far more often encouraged to join this committee, back this project, or serve on this board than we are counseled to examine our relationship to God and his Son, Jesus Christ. So long as we are performing for the church, few will question whether our profession is genuine or spurious. How many sermons suggest that members of a church may not actually be saved, although they are members? How many teachers stress that a personal, self-denying costly and persistent following of Christ is necessary if a person is to be acknowledged by Jesus at the final day?
In the absence of this teaching, millions drift on, assuming that because they have made verbal acknowledgment to Christ ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago and have not done anything terribly bad since, they are Christians, when actually they may be far from Christ, devoid of grace and in danger of perishing forever.
There are many texts in which Jesus explains in greater detail and with other images what it means to be his disciple, but the command to follow him is the first and most basic of those explanations.
We find it in a number of stories, chiefly in the callings of the first disciples. In Matthew 4:18-22 (parallels in Mark 1:16-20 and Luke 5:2-11) we are told that Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee when he saw two brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew. Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. He went on a bit farther and saw two more brothers, James and John, sons of Zebedee. He called them in a similar manner, and they too left their boat and followed him. Several chapters later, in Matthew 9:9-13 (parallels in Mark 2:14-17 and Luke 5:27-32), there is an account of the call of Matthew, also named Levi. Matthew was a tax-collector; he was despised by the people for his collaboration with the Roman authorities. But he obeyed Christ and followed him. When the people protested Jesus’ association with this “sinner,” Jesus replied, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” This explanation shows that the command to follow Jesus was not understood to be only a mere physical following or even, as it were, an invitation to learn more about him and then see if one wanted to be a permanent disciple or not. Jesus understood it as turning from sin to salvation. It was a call to healing by God.
In all, the words “follow me” occur thirteen times in the Gospels. But in addition there are scores of references in which one person or another is said to have followed Christ. It is clearly a very basic concept.
1 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1966), p. 47. Original German edition 1937.
Describe what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls cheap grace.
What is the most basic principle of discipleship?
ObservationCarefully read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ call to his disciples (Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 1:14-20, Luke 5:1-11). What similarities do you notice about their response to Jesus? How would you compare your own response to that of each disciple?
Further StudyUsing a Bible concordance, find all thirteen references that contain the words “follow me.” Note what was being asked and what the response was.