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#1: The Definition of a Disciple

Two weeks ago, we completed a sermon series that went “Back to Basics” as we considered the Path of Salvation that John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, outlined.  It was all based on the grace of God that is at work all throughout our lives, leading us into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ – beginning with the “Prevenient Grace” of God working in our lives even before we are aware of our need for God, wooing us into a love-relationship with our Heavenly Father – continuing as the “Justifying Grace” of God that convicts us of our sin and leads us to claim our salvation through the merits of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection – leading us ultimately to the “Sanctifying Grace” of God that works through the Holy Spirit to help us mature in our faith as we strive to become more and more like Jesus.  We learned that, no matter where we are on our faith journey, God is already at work helping us take the next faithful step along our way – a path that ultimately leads us to eternal life with God.

We also were reminded that faith is a journey toward an ever-deepening intimate relationship with God – that no matter where we are on our spiritual journey, God meets us there.  Through God’s prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace at work in our lives, God invites us to take the next faithful step toward a more intimate relationship with Him.  In fact, we can assess where we are in our relationship with Jesus by comparing it with the various types of relationships we have with others. 

Turn, if you will, to the back of your bulletin, and look for the chart titled “Relationship Stages,” (which, along with the other two graphics, comes from the excellent study called, A Disciple’s Path,1 written by Jim Harnish).  When it comes to your relationship with Jesus, you will find yourself in one of these five various stages.  Now, be honest with yourself – which of these five relationship stages best describes where you are in your relationship with Jesus?  Are you and Jesus “strangers?” Or “acquaintances?”  Would you say you and Jesus are “friends?”  “Good friends?”  Could you say you and Jesus are “intimate friends?”

Take just a few moments to study this chart.  Which Relationship Stage best describes your relationship with Jesus? (pause)

If you are like me (and most people), when you honestly assess your spiritual health, you are not where you desire to be.  We are farther to the left on the chart than we would like, and would hope to grow into a deeper relationship with Jesus.  That’s OK.  Faith is a journey, and journeys have destinations.  Wherever you find yourself on this chart, why not resolve to do what it would take to move to the next stage to the right – to seek a closer walk with Jesus? 

But what would it take to move to the right on this chart?  What would I need to do to deepen my relationship with Jesus to, as the Broadway musical, “Godspell,” puts it, “See thee more clearly / Love thee more dearly / Follow thee more nearly / Day by day”?  In other words, what spiritual practices would I need to add to my life so I can become a more faithful disciple?

That is what this new sermon series is all about – “Living as a Disciple.”  Over the next seven weeks, Pastor Sharon and I will be sharing the seven spiritual practices that are essential for every follower of Jesus to practice if we want to deepen our relationship with Jesus.

But, before we take a look at what those seven essential practices of disciples are, it would be helpful to be clear about what a “Disciple” is.  How would you define what a disciple is? (any answers?)

There are lots of possible answers, and they all are right, of course.  But Jim Harnish, in his book I cited a moment ago, gives a definition of a Disciple that I think is great.  Again, turn to the back of the bulletin and you will see the graphic with the definition.

This is how Pastor Harnish defines a Disciple:  “A follower of Jesus whose life is centering on loving God and loving others.”2  I love this definition because it emphasizes that being a disciple is a process, not just a status – following Jesus isn’t just a belief we profess, but a life of love that we live out day-by-day.  I also love this definition because, as we read in our first scripture lesson this morning, being a disciple involves both devotion to God and loving others.  As the graphic shows, being a disciple of Jesus is demonstrated both by our beliefs and our actions – that together bring transformation in our lives.

Listen to how Harnish expands on his definition of a disciple:  Discipleship “combines belief and action that results in a life transformed into the likeness of Christ… As the drawing illustrates, a transformed heart emerges as belief and action deepen.  Belief and action do not always grow or change at the same time or rate.  For some of us, belief is enough to change action.  We believe in God’s redeeming love through the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and as a result, we act.  [In contrast, others] are drawn toward Christ through action as they serve others in ministries of mercy and justice, even though they are unsure about what they believe about Jesus or the church.  For them, belief follows action.”2

If you consider yourself a “Disciple” of Jesus, how did you get there?   Did you first believe, then begin acting on your faith?  Or, were you first drawn to participate in loving acts of mercy and justice, which brought you to later proclaim your faith?  It doesn’t matter how you get to being a disciple, only that you get there!

As is written in the Letter of James in our New Testament:   “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?… Someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.  Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.”  (James 2:14-18)

A disciple has both faith AND works.  And you aren’t truly a follower of Jesus unless you have both!

So, according to this definition of a disciple, are you one?  Could it be said of you that you are “a follower of Jesus whose life is centering on loving God and loving others?”2  I don’t know about you, but I confess that I often fall short of the mark.  I AM a disciple, but I’m not the disciple I want to be. 

If that describes you this morning, then this new sermon series is designed just for you!  Over the next seven weeks, I and Pastor Sharon will be preaching a series of sermons that will help clarify what “following Jesus” as a “disciple” involves.  We will describe seven Christian practices that are essential for every follower of Jesus to engage in – if we desire to continue to grow as disciples of Jesus.  Those seven essential practices are:  Prayer, Meditating on Scripture, Corporate Worship, Small Group Accountability, Financial Generosity, Serving Out of Our Giftedness, and Inviting Others to Seek a Relationship with God. 

Each Sunday, you will learn steps you can take to move to the right on the “Relationship Stages” chart – to become a more faithful disciple and a more intimate friend of Jesus! 

Look again at the back of the bulletin at the graphic titled, “God’s Transformation of the World.”  As you study this graphic, you will see seven arrows pointing inward – these are the seven essential Christian practices we will be covering in our series.  They point to the center that represents each of us individually, and corporately as a congregation.  As we develop these essential practices in our personal lives and in the life of our church and we are transformed, a spiritual energy builds up at the core like a nuclear reaction, until that spiritual energy explodes outward to impact the world around us, bringing transformation to our community, as well! 

Listen again to how Harnish describes this spiritual transformation:  “Transformed hearts will always result in lives that are focused outwardly and are actively involved in making the love of God a transforming reality in the world… This always becomes bigger than just you or what you could do on your own.  Spiritual growth impacts the whole church, community, and world.  This is all part of God’s plan of salvation, and each one of us has an important role to play.”3

If we all were focused on these seven practices, our lives, our church, and our community would be transformed!

So, are you a disciple?  If not, I encourage you to take the next faithful step in the direction of becoming one – to put your faith in Christ, then live out that faith in the world; or if you aren’t ready to take that step, then at least strive to make a positive difference in the world until you are ready to proclaim faith in the Jesus who is calling you to follow Him. 

And come each Sunday over the next seven weeks – to learn practical things you can do to deepen your Christian walk with Jesus. 

As Jesus himself said, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.  Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”

Amen.

 

 

Charts from A Disciple’s Path, Daily Workbook by Jim Harnish.  Abingdon Press

1 Harnish, Jim.  A Disciples Path (Daily Workbook). Abingdon Press.  c 2012

2 Harnish, p. 16

3 Harnish, p. 28