Thursday, October 27, 2016

Imitation of the Disciples

Most Christians who’ve been in the faith for awhile probably cringe just a tad when the term “discipleship” is uttered in a sermon or during a small group study. Or perhaps this idea of becoming fully Christian is characterized as the “imitation of Christ” or “being transformed.”

Regardless of the terms used, the concept evokes hardship, sacrifice, even death. And our pattern is supposed to be Jesus Himself.

Who can live up to such extreme expectations?

Clearly the Disciples themselves didn’t. At least not consistently. And definitely not early on.

While turning our eyes to Jesus is always good advice, we also need to keep an eye on His hand-picked few.

The best clues for how to be a disciple can be found by examining those imperfect Disciples.

Sure, they all experienced hardship, sacrifice, and death. But in between the noble hardship and sacrifice parts they were, well, very human. Just like you and me.

Just plain folk

A somewhat loutish bunch, they argued among themselves, competed for Jesus’ affections, tended to be a little dense at times, and, initially, failed to fully grasp what they had actually gotten themselves into. Sound familiar?

These guys came from a variety of backgrounds, were mixed personality styles, and brought with them a hodge-podge of life experiences. Perhaps like most churches?

Besides their Jewishness, that they all struggled to fully grasp who Jesus was and what He was about was their single common denominator. And it’s one we share with them.

What this boils down to is, discipleship, or following Christ, is not straightforward. Not cut and dried. Not a cookie cutter experience.

While the outcome is the same for all -- holiness before God -- we don’t all get there using a single formula. Frankly, I’m not sure there is a formula, even though many authors have proposed some.

The truth is, while rewarding, discipleship, which means moving toward being Christ-like, is hard. It takes decisive daily effort. It means trial and error.

Although there are those who insist that if we all just act like we’re “there” already, then all else will fall in place.

You know, fake it until you make it!

But faking is not the same as imitating. Imitating means to emulate another, follow their example. The goal of imitating in discipleship is to take to heart the substance of that which is being imitated.

No artificial ingredients

I once worked for a company whose CEO thought the path to greatness was to dream, think positively, and act like a much bigger company. He executed on this belief by spending beyond the means of the business.

For awhile, he put on a good front. Anyone walking into the lobby of the executive suites was impressed. But it didn’t last. There was a lot of flash and dazzle (including a real stuffed lion for a time), but slim substance in the CEO’s business acumen.

It didn’t work. He’s no longer a CEO and the company lingers as a sub-brand of another, larger, truly successful company that took them over.

To be successful Christ-followers (yes, disciples) we need the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There lies our true power. It can’t be faked or bought or pretended into being.

The reality is, to paraphrase Paul, as we continue to work out our salvation (which entails discipleship) with fear and trembling, like the original Twelve, we may not always appear to be the perfect disciple.

That’s okay. The goal is to finish the journey well. As Eugene Peterson puts it, successful Christian living (aka discipleship) is a “long obedience in the same direction.” It’s not a once and done deal.

Hang in there. 

Additional resources: 

How successful do you believe you are in your Christian walk? What motivates you to go on? Who do you model? Who are you mentoring? How have others inspired you? What advice do you have to share with others? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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