Last summer, I went with my 10-year-old to camp. He heard a short simple plan of salvation, and it started me thinking about the words and Scripture I use to do the same.
The result is The Way of Discipleship. It’s my way of doing the Four Spiritual Laws.
FOLLOWING JESUS: THE WAY OF DISCIPLESHIP
1. This is who Jesus is, and who Jesus wants us to be.
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God…emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,…and humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-11)
2. Jesus loves us, just as we are.
Jesus tells us he how loves us with the story of the Prodigal Son, who said to his father, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But his father said, “Let us eat and celebrate, for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” (Luke 15: 21-24)
God is grace. God loves us, even though we don’t deserve this love. In fact, deserving it is impossible. We all fall short, but God is waiting for us to come home. God pours God’s life out for us in love. God became human in Jesus in order to be with us, be like us and feel as we feel.
Before Jesus, God reached out to people, including freeing the children of Israel in the Exodus from Egypt. God heard their cries of pain, poverty, captivity, and oppression and set them free. They worshiped God because God set them free. God is still freeing people today, and we know God when we are being set free.
3. Jesus calls us to follow him.
Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Luke 9:23-24)
Cross-discipleship (following Jesus, even though it involves risk) is the proper response to amazing grace. It’s our way of loving God back. The way to honor God for loving us is to pour ourselves out like Jesus poured his life out for us, both in his humble service and his martyrdom. The way to pour our lives out is to try to be like Jesus, to walk in his steps, to ask, every day, in each situation, “What would Jesus do?”
Christians taking up their own cross daily can learn by reading the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke to see how Jesus lived and died. Like Jesus, we should bring good news to the poor, set free the oppressed and work for God’s Kingdom come. The rich should feel the sting of the Word, and political and economic leaders should be brought to repentance. In other words, Christians comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
The way to gauge whether we are walking in the Way of Discipleship, taking up our own crosses daily, is to ask this question–are we saving our lives by losing our lives? Putting God’s way above our own selfishness expresses a faith that God will provide for all of us, for the whole world. Jesus was the first martyr, trusting God to the end, and God honored his faith. God honors our faith, too, when we risk it all for God’s Way of Discipleship.
4. Jesus gives us new life, and gives us hope for a better world now and forever.
Jesus said: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor… This day this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-19, 21)
The Kingdom of God is our dream and God’s vision of a better life; a better world, now and forever. The world doesn’t necessarily look like God has the whole world in his hands. In the world the way we usually see it, there is a cycle that never changes. The rich get greedier, the poor get more miserable, sick people get cancer and waste away and people only look out for themselves.
The Kingdom begins in Jesus’ resurrection. Resurrection vindicates Jesus’ life, teachings and mission. Jesus broke the world’s cycle of misery and selfishness when death did not keep him down. Like the Springsteen song says, “Everything dies, that’s a fact. But maybe everything that dies someday comes back.” Jesus is in the business of newness–new life, new chances, new relationships, fresh hope. We believe in the God of second chances.
The world still often looks hopeless, and Christians don’t use rose-colored glasses to pretty up the ugly. Justice is a constant struggle against evil. Rather, Christians see through the realistic lenses of faith to opportunities for newness in the Spirit of God expressed in the work of people who follow.
God uses us, together, for the Kingdom of God as we walk in the Way of Discipleship. God uses our hands, feet, time, talent, and money.
The Kingdom is breaking in constantly, in big efforts and small. These acts of justice and mercy are evidence now of a better day today, tomorrow and forever.
5. Jesus is waiting now.
“While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in justice by a man which he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)
Conversion (deciding to follow Jesus) is essential, and the time is now. Putting off following Jesus like a low priority on your To-Do list is playing fast-and-loose with a world we do not control. We aren’t afraid of God; it’s just rude to keep God waiting. Further, waiting is an ungrateful refusal of grace, since God has work for us to do now. If we really appreciate God’s grace, it’s time now to walk in the Way of Discipleship.
Chris Sanders is attorney and secretary-treasurer for AFL-CIO of Kentucky. He is a graduate of Southern Seminary and is active at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville.
Working in law, labor, faith and politics, he is a union-side lawyer and former AFL-CIO official who has served the United Food and Commercial Workers for years. National legal counsel for Jobs with Justice, he represents historically Black Simmons College of Kentucky in Louisville.