The Challenge of Discipleship

My friend Mark wrote a beautiful post on his blog yesterday about the conundrum we are faced with if we listen to the words of Christ – words that seem so irrational and counter-cultural. Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth. Love your enemies. Pray for those who hate you. Sell all you have and give it to the poor.

I think Mark laid out the only three possible answers to this conundrum quite accurately. First, one can take the rational approach that is consistent with the message of the world and stop calling oneself a Christian. Second, one can actually follow Christ, adopting a way of life that the world will simply not understand. Third, one can convince oneself that Christ really meant something different from what he said, and so we can call ourselves Christian without actually doing the things he said we should.

I know some very good people who take the first approach. People who make no claims to being Christians but who lead good and loving lives, but not the radical Christianity demanded by Christ. I know far fewer who are successful all of the time in living the second approach (although I do see some evidence of it in some small Christian communities that have developed in various places).

Sadly, however, I think Mark is right that, in one way or the other, too many of us – whether we admit it or not – take the third approach. We convince ourselves that we are doing a good enough job even where we fall far short of what Jesus actually preached. And I suspect he is right that those charged with leadership in our Christian organizations contribute to making that approach seem OK. There is truth to his statement that “[m]uch of American theology, high and low, seems devoted to making Christianity unthreatening to our base desires, our culture, and our economy.” I experience some of that in my own church, where I too often hear in sermons things that suggest, e.g., that I’m a good Christian if I get up and make lunch in the morning for my child to take to school. (Actual example given in a sermon I heard about what it means for us to be good Christians.)

I suspect none of us, no matter how we try, will be capable of fully living up to Jesus’ instructions all of the time. But I do think we need to embrace the challenge of our discipleship and demand more of ourselves than society (and sometimes our churches) seem to demand of us.