Yesterday I asked, “How does grace make us disciples?”
The question arises from my discussion of Titus 2.12, where Paul says that grace “trains us to reject ungodliness … and to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly.” (my translation)
I can think of several ways that grace makes us disciples. You can probably add to the list.
1.Grace is the source of our forgiveness when we fail. In a way, discipleship is about progress, and progress is about how we respond to failure. Confidence in God’s grace, that he won’t reject us when we fail, enables us to continue on the path.
2. Grace enables us to live in true, intimate community, because it allows us to be transparent and accountable to our fellow pilgrims. Discipleship does not happen in isolation; “iron sharpens iron.” Isolated Christians are the devil’s favorite target.
We need people to be accountable to, to pray with us and hold us up. As we accept one another, in spite of faults and failures, we are reflecting God’s grace to one another. “Bear one another’s burdens,” (Gal 6.2); “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another,” (James 5.16).
Grace lets us be transparent. Transparency is a powerful tool for change. Because we have forgiveness, we don’t have to hide our failure.
3. Grace embodies what we are supposed to be, the model we follow. We want to grow to be like Jesus, to become perfect reflections of him. That is God’s purpose in each of our lives (Rom 8.28-29, “his purpose … to be conformed to the likeness of his son.”)
Has a more perfectly grace-filled person ever lived than Jesus Christ? He was never selfish, never deceptively self-protecting, never using people for his purposes but always attuned to God’s purpose for their lives.
4. Grace enables us to trust in & depend on the Spirit. Our resources, strength, and holiness are quite limited. HIS ARE NOT. Discipleship, progress, growth come as he takes over our minds, reshapes and renews our thinking and priorities and values (Rom 8.5-11; Rom 12.2; Col 3.1; etc.)
Without the Spirit, I may want to grow in holiness and discipline, and I may make some small progress in this direction. But 99% of my progress will be external, behaviors and habits. How does one transform one’s own heart? The ego always resists. As far as my ego is concerned, the problem is something out there that the ego can defeat, not a fatal flaw, a corruption, a cancer within itself.
In Breathing Underwater, Richard Rohr says “Grace is always a humiliation for the ego,” and, “If we try to change our ego with the help of our ego, we only have a better-disguised ego!” That’s what I’m talking about.
Douglas Coupland is not a Christian writer, but he captures this incredibly well. In his book, Life After God, he has his narrator say:
I think I am a broken person. I seriously question the road my life has taken and I endlessly rehash the compromises I have made in my life. I have an unsecure and vaguely crappy job with an amoral corporation so that I don’t have to worry about money. I put up with halfway relationships so as not to have to worry about loneliness. I have lost the ability to recapture the purer feelings of my younger years in exchange for a streamlined narrow-mindedness that I assumed would propel me to “the top.” What a joke.
Compromise is said to be the way of the world and yet I find myself feeling sick trying to accept what it has done to me:the little yellow pills, the lost sleep. But I don’t think this is anything new in the world.
This is not to say my life is bad. I know it isn’t…but my life is not what I expected it might have been when I was younger. Maybe you yourself deal with this issue better than me. Maybe you have been lucky enough to never have inner voices question you about your own path–or maybe you answered the questioning and came out on the other side. I don’t feel sorry for myself in any way. I am merely coming to grips with what I know the world is truly like.
Sometimes I want to go to sleep and merge with the foggy world of dreams and not return to this, our real world. Sometimes I look back on my life and am surprised at the lack of kind things I have done. Sometimes I just feel that there must be another road that can be walked–away from this became–either against my will or by default.
Now–here is my secret:
I tell it to you with the openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God–that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.