Not Opposed to Effort: The Second Roadblock to Discipleship

(This post is the 3rd blog in a series about the nature of discipleship in our churches today.)

 In the first post of this series (Read it here) I argued that the American church’s misunderstanding of the phrase “grace is enough” causes us to misrepresent the Christian life and miss out on what it truly means to be disciples of Jesus.

To right the ship, we need to understand two roadblocks that prevent us, and others, from following Jesus into the life of discipleship we were created for. The first roadblock is this: we present a Christian message that is too easy to be good. You can read about it here.smartphone user

The second roadblock that obstructs authentic discipleship to Jesus is that we believe facts are the same as acts. Here is what I mean… 

Roadblock #2: We believe Facts are the Same as Acts

In a culture where the breadth of human knowledge is accessible with only a few key strokes, we often substitute learning for mastery. We have substituted facts for acts.

A month ago the driver’s side window in my car stopped working. But thanks to YouTube, I found a complete video demonstration on how to repair a power window in the exact make and model of my car. 10 minutes later I knew every step for repairing the window. It was amazing. But the window remained broken. Why? Because the internet might tell me how to fix my window, but it will never actually fix my window. When all is said and done, I’m the one that has to get my hands dirty and do it.

The immediate access to facts has made our knowledge a mile wide, but only an inch deep. Jesus taught clearly that knowledge of him and the Kingdom of God was only complete when it was experienced through action.

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, he concluded with this:

– “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter….Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise.” (Matthew 7:21, 24a NLT – emphasis mine) 

Jesus’s other teachings are full of commands for action. Being his apprentice means to,

– “Turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 NLT) 

– “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.” (Matthew 7:12 NLT) 

Jesus also said,

– “I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.” (Matthew 25:45 NLT – emphasis mine) 

– “And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.” (John 13:14-15 NLT – emphasis mine) 

You get the point. And the other New Testament writers echoed Jesus’ teaching.

Effort alone does not earn your good standing with God, but faith is not complete without it.[1]

Metaphors such as running the race[2], words about perseverance and work[3], and famous phrases like “faith without works is dead”[4] fill the New Testament books. Christianity is a faith of acts and facts, of service and belief, of doing and knowing, of good works and theology.

I grew up in the 1980’s and I loved watching the animated TV series, “GI Joe.”  Each episode ended with a PSA that gave kids a tip about safety, personal health, or good manners. In each PSA, the character that learned the lesson would say, “Now I know!”  And the “GI Joe” character would reply, “And knowing is half the battle.”

There is some real wisdom in GI Joe’s statement, but Western Christianity has adopted it and then taken the idea too far. In many ways, we have made knowing the whole battle.

Discipleship, if it is to be true apprenticeship of Jesus, must have both. If knowing is half the battle, doing is the other half.

These are the two roadblocks to meaningful discipleship in today’s churches. In my next post I’ll share the two solutions. Here’s a teaser:

  • Tell the Full Story. In our attempts to easily articulate grace and to woo people to Jesus, we’ve left out the vital organs of discipleship, and we end up with a fragile, lifeless skeleton. Teaching what being a Christ follower is must include everything that it is.
  • The Rigor of Knowing and Doing. We are drunk on ease. We foolishly desire the “easy life” in a world where nothing good is easy, and even Christians are convinced that the life of a disciple can be mastered in “Three easy steps!” It’s time we re-introduced rigor, not as a way to earn our salvation, but as the way to truly follow Jesus in a world that desperately needs us to.

None of this is exhaustive, but hopefully, if you are as concerned as I am about the hollow nature of discipleship in our churches, these posts will help us recognize the roadblocks we must knock down give us tools to do it.



[1] Ephesians 2:8-10, James 1:22-27

[2] 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

[3] Philippians 2:12-13

[4] James 2:14-17

Published by Christopher Greer

Writer, pastor, speaker following Jesus.

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