I’m proud to be a pastor of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and believe our teachings are true, because they’re all Biblical, but I’m not so arrogant as to think we do everything right. One of the ways we’ve failed is to define being a disciple of Jesus Christ as memorizing Luther’s Small Catechism (and a little Scripture and maybe a few hymns, but mostly the catechism) and attending worship regularly. Most of the emphasis is on gaining knowledge, but if knowledge alone defined being Jesus’ disciple, the devil would be the greatest disciple ever, since he knows the Bible well enough to twist it to deceive us. And if wisdom alone were enough, Solomon would have never fallen into idolatry so deeply. Discipleship isn’t a seminary degree.
But then, what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? What do we have to do? How is our relationship with God different from that of the apostles? How could Paul and so many Christians not only in the early church, but still today, face torture and even death and thank God for the opportunity even as they looked into the mouth of a hungry lion or live imprisoned in a shipping carton with barely enough opening to allow breathing that serves as their entire home, including dining room and bathroom? What does it take to have the kind of faith that can endure such things and still look forward to the rest of the day? Imagine one of the highlights of your week being when you write out your tithe check, because you’re so excited about the blessings God has given you and can’t wait to see how He’s going to use your offering to change lives! What if, having the ball of faith, you knew where to run with it?
First, a few disclaimers: You can’t do anything to be saved. Jesus already did everything necessary by dying on the cross, rising again, and sending the Holy Spirit to give you faith. Second, you can’t will yourself to have more faith. That comes by hearing and reading the Word of God. But what does God’s Word say about this?
So get rid of all immoral behavior and all the wicked things you do. Humbly accept the word that God has placed in you. This word can save you. Do what God’s word says. Don’t merely listen to it, or you will fool yourselves. If someone listens to God’s word but doesn’t do what it says, he is like a person who looks at his face in a mirror, studies his features, goes away, and immediately forgets what he looks like. However, the person who continues to study God’s perfect teachings that make people free and who remains committed to them will be blessed. People like that don’t merely listen and forget; they actually do what God’s teachings say. If a person thinks that he is religious but can’t control his tongue, he is fooling himself. That person’s religion is worthless. Pure, unstained religion, according to God our Father, is to take care of orphans and widows when they suffer and to remain uncorrupted by this world. (James 1:21-27, GWV)
What Lutheran pastors are afraid to tell you is that yes, because God has set us free from sin, He doesn’t want us to go back to it. He expects that the Holy Spirit will turn our hearts to Him so we actually grow in faith. Growth is noticeable and measurable, like babies who progress from milk to pureed food to porterhouse steaks. In spiritual terms, such growth occurs in the heart as we trust God more and more, which leads to choices made out of trust instead of fear.
While we’re working on a full-blown discipleship system that surpasses anything else in effectiveness, the most important part of discipleship is being in God’s Word, so you can get a start by just committing to read the Bible. To get started, let me suggest that you set aside 10 minutes more per day than you do now. Go to bed 15 minutes later with Bible in hand or on your phone (Check out youversion.com for the best free digital Bible). Read it over breakfast or lunch. Get a free audio Bible from audiotreasure.com, and listen during your commute, pausing to think about what God is speaking into your life. Follow these easy steps suggested by Martin Luther:
- Read a passage (sentence or paragraph) and answer, “What did I learn from this?”
- Based on what I learned, what sin do I need to repent of?
- Confess that sin to God and thank Him for forgiving you.
- Figure out what you need to change in your life to avoid that sin in the future and ask God to help you commit to that change.
If you want to go all in on this, get a friend or two to meet with you every week to follow this process together. (You can do this with your spouse, but having friends of the same sex will allow you to be more candid if there’s sin in your heart that would hurt your spouse to hear about.)
Imagine how different your life would be just by following these four steps. Since the Bible covers every aspect of our lives, this personal study will bring God into every corner and help you see not only His influence and love, but the direction He has for you.
Now imagine how our community would change if every member of our congregation began this discipline. As our perspective changed, thus changing our lives, that change would flow through the community. But don’t just think about it. Do what it says.