Some Barriers to Discipleship
In my bible reading for the day, my New Testament passage was Luke 14. The chapter ends with King Jesus expounding on the cost of discipleship. The Lord says that those who follow him must take up their cross and renounce everything else to be his disciple.
That’s a heavy cost. However, that usually does not get proclaimed at the average evangelistic appeal. We usually emphasize a gospel of salvation. Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom. The gospel of salvation focuses on rescue from hell. The gospel of the kingdom focuses on salvation to fulfill the creation mandate in the Great Commission. Check it out. If you don’t believe me, read the gospels. See what the inspired authors say Jesus preached. Jesus preached about the good news of his rule come to take back all that was lost at the fall and the breaking of the curse. No doubt that includes the rescue of rebels, but those rebels are rescued to be set on the task of subduing every domain of society to bring it under the rule of Jesus (See Ephesians 1:7-10).
If we focus on the gospel of salvation rather than the gospel of the kingdom we get people who want Jesus for heaven but refuse to take up crosses or renounce everything.
The kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field that when a man finds it he sells everything and buys that field because the treasure is better. The treasure is the rule of Christ over all things. One who is rescued by the good news desires the kingdom not what he has accumulated, therefore, he will sell it all to have the rule of Jesus because Jesus is better.
We say that disciples “hear” and “obey” Jesus. He who hears these words and does them is a wise man who built his house on the rock. Nothing could tear that house down because it was founded on Jesus’ kingdom. To hear Jesus and obey Jesus requires that we take up crosses and renounce everything else that is not kingdom.
Here are a few obstacles I’ve noticed to discipleship in our town.
1. Biblical Literacy
Quite honestly, I have Muslim friends who I love to dialogue with about the bible, Jesus, Christian theology versus Islamic theology. I want them to believe the good news of Jesus. They want me to convert to Islam. It’s mutual respect and mutual desire for the other to believe. By the way, that’s why we like freedom. We have the opportunity to discuss our faith in the public square so that disciples can be made without fear.
Here is what I notice. My Muslim friends know the gospels better than many who say they are disciples of Jesus. How can this be?
Many Protestants have forgotten one of the great advances of the Reformation and that is the bible in the language of the people so they can read it and they can exercise their priesthood. Christians just don’t read their bibles consistently enough to make the connections and have the truths impact their thinking and acting. This is a barrier to discipleship.
Many people who say they are disciples simply cannot discern truth from error. Of course this is spiritual warfare. Heck, many even doubt there is such a thing. They are more naturalists than Christians.
The bible affirms that Satan comes disguised as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:13-15). This text flat out implies that Satanic deception comes in the form of false teachers. Satan is a teacher. Satan is a false theologian. Satan brought false theological ideas wrapped in cultural and physical temptations to the Lord Jesus in his wilderness experience. It is no different for us who follow Jesus.
It is sad that many who profess to be disciples have incorporated cultural norms as truths and dressed them in Christian garb to their deception.
The lack of Holy Spirit discernment (see John 14-16) is deadly. It’s like one’s immune system failing to work. Without Holy Spirit dependence we are going to have the cancer of lies invade and kill our souls. We have to recapture the role of the Holy Spirit in our theology in the circles I run in. Many in my tribe are afraid of the Spirit and have neatly constructed walls to keep any manifestation of the Spirit at bay. That’s not good. Jesus said it was to our advantage that he go away and send Holy Spirit to counsel, indwell, lead and remind. We must recapture the transcendent and supernatural evident in the great awakenings and in the church global if we are to grow in our discipleship. It’s messy, but that’s why we have the Manual to sort it out.
3. Child-like Faith
I will often have people ask me why I believe the things I believe and try to put me into categories like “Calvinist” or “Reformed Charismatic” or “Not a real church” (because are not swimming in debt for an unnecessary building).
I have taken to responding with the question (first rule of apologetics: question the questioner): why don’t you believe “x” or “y” since it’s clearly written in the bible? That’s not to shame or disgrace anyone. It’s truly my question. Why not believe something that is clearly proclaimed in Scripture? Why must I reason myself out of what is clearly written?
Reason and logic are tools of the kingdom. But when they become tools to work our way out of simply taking the plain meaning of texts then we have abused reason and logic. No doubt there are hard texts and genres of biblical writing that are harder to exegete. That’s why we teach people how to study the bible. But some things are clear. They are just contrary to the curse and fallen man’s desire for himself to be God.
People were always tripping over Jesus’ teaching. It’s not because Jesus was unclear. It’s because they were unregenerate.
We must be good with what the bible teaches, properly understand it and then apply it’s implications to our methods.
That leads us to number 4.
4. Advance to understand that what one incorporates as foundational doctrines does really affect your practice
Finally, folks must begin to realize that if one really believes something it has to affect your practice. If we say we believe the “Great Commission” but never place our skin in the global game, then we don’t believe Jesus really said to do that.
We’ve created the non-existent line between belief and action. Belief is action biblically. There is no such thing as real knowledge divorced from action. If one says they believe that disciples should be made globally but spend all of the budget on padding ministry for comfortable evangelicals, then they don’t really believe disciples should be made globally.
We have to grow beyond doing church the way we think it should be done to doing it consistently with the foundational doctrines of the faith. This takes hard thinking, hard planning, hard restructuring, career changes, financial obligation, relationships shifting, etc.
The call is to follow Jesus. That’s being a disciple. Following Jesus. Simple yet so challenging.