Discipleship Means Growth

Today’s post from Brett McCracken is part of the blog series Discipleship: Re-Imagining Our Calling From Christ. To receive future posts from the series in your inbox head HERE. Engage with the writers and community of readers using the hashtag #DiscipleshipBlog.

grass field pathIn the midst of the swiftly changing politics and rhetoric of the gay rights movement, what grieves me most — as a person who upholds the traditional biblical stance on homosexuality — is that the attitude of “tolerance” has been conflated with the logic of love. The culture’s prevailing ethos is that the most loving thing we can do for our gay brothers and sisters (or those dealing with same sex attraction) is to tolerate and even affirm them where they are at.

But tolerance and love are not the same thing. For one, they are different in scope: tolerance has limits, while love does not. We will always tolerate some things but not others. True love has no bounds. They are also different in function. Tolerance is passive: it is simply a posture we assume, condoning something in an affirmative word, a smile or a pat on the back. Love is active. It requires more than just an approving nod at our neighbor; it compels us to help them grow. Tolerance is easy and weak. Chesterton said tolerance was “the virtue of the man without convictions.” Love is difficult and strong. It breaks the chains and helps us spur each other onward in the journey of becoming the flourishing beings we were created to be.

Discipleship is love in action. It begins with the assumption that, even as we have been redeemed by grace, we are still plagued by sin and thus a work in progress. Whereas tolerance is OK with how things are now, discipleship is about the necessity of movement, change, growth.

For sinners — and make no mistake, we are ALL sinners — the worst thing a friend, pastor, or otherwise supportive community can do for us is to just pat us on the back and say “that’s who you are! Carry on!”

Because we are broken beings, sin-sick souls in a fallen world, we are all naturally full of disordered desires, misshapen longings, proclivities and addictions we wish we didn’t have. In our state, what we need is not a community of affirmation, celebrating our brokenness and urging us to “be who we are.” Who we are is hopelessly depraved.

What we need, first and foremost, is repentance and a heart that is open to a transforming grace. Then we need a community that refines us: brothers and sisters who keep us on track, helping us walk in the Spirit (Rom. 8) as we strive to live the life of a disciple, following after the example of the Human of humans — Jesus Christ.

If I were an alcoholic, the last thing I would want would be a community of yes men patting me on the back and saying, “Good for you! Be who you are!”

If I had a proclivity towards overeating and gluttony, the absolute least loving thing my brother could do for me would be to tell me, with placating warmth, “Don’t feel shame! You were born that way!”

If I struggled with pride, lying, greed, lust, jealousy and pretty much every other sin (as I do), the most unhelpful advice I could be given would be, “Just come to terms with it. If you feel those things, they can’t be wrong!”

No, discipleship is not about being settled and OK with where we are. Because where we are is a bad, dark, broken place.

It sometimes feels that in today’s churches we embrace the struggle almost more than the solution. We celebrate openness about brokenness and spend hours going around the circle sharing our “junk.” This, we believe, is “authenticity.”

There is value in this, to be sure. But it can’t stop there. Acknowledging “brokenness” (which is really just a softer way of saying “sin”) is just the beginning. The even more authentic thing is to daily die to self, striving constantly to be conformed not to this world but to the person of Christ.

Jesus was the most authentic person who ever lived, and pursuing Jesus-like authenticity is the true task of discipleship.

As believers the most loving thing we can do for one another is not to simply commiserate, be in solidarity with, or tolerate each other’s sin. Rather, the most loving thing we can do is to spur each other on in the practice of being disciples of Christ, though it will come at a cost.

“Cheap grace” is “grace without discipleship,” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship. Costly grace is “the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.” Costly grace, wrote Bonhoeffer, “is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”

May we never be satisfied with life as we know it, or life as our heart and our emotions define it. May we always pursue the true life which only comes when we give up what we think is ours.


Brett McCracken is the author of the just-released Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism & Liberty (Baker), as well as Hipster Christianity: When Church & Cool Collide (Baker 2010). He blogs regularly and can be found on Twitter @brettmccracken.