On Bad Definitions, Discipleship, and Freedom
Jesus came to set the captives free, not to advise us about His moral preferences. The restoration of our hearts, not the disciplines of our flesh, will transform our outward experience.
- Pastor Bob Hamp, author of Think Differently, Live Differently
1Do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to men who know the law—that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? 2For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. 3So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man.
Can I speak candidly? Every time I hear the following word I cringe a little; discipleship. It's a knee jerk reaction from my upbringing and particularly from the church I met Jesus in.
When I first connected with God, I was fellowshipping in a small church plant of a larger church in Boston, MA. I loved them because they walked with me during my Christian infancy. However, I also inherited from them some bondage to bad definitions, particularly about Discipleship. Discipleship was the answer to all my struggles, so I was told. But their definition of discipleship sounded more like boot camp then freedom; have more discipline, suffer with Christ, read more scripture! These were the things that they said would have me out of bondage and walking in freedom.
I bet you can guess what I'll say next.
It didn't work.
No, in fact it only fueled the sin cycle, because now it came with two buddies: guilt and shame. With guilt and shame came the pain of feeling like I was continually letting others down, and that threw me right back into my vices. Some people call this the "cycle of addiction." It was hell, and no discipleship, no discipline, no scripture memorizing could get me out of it. I felt like I was aboard a sinking ship and I was losing hope.
It wasn't until I walked into a class at my current church that I heard my first message on grace. Out was the continual fixation on words like 'discipleship' and works of the flesh and in was grace, love, and freedom. It was during that season of my life where I connected with God, that I finally began to find freedom from the things in my life that weren't going right.
It isn't that the word 'discipleship' is wrong or evil. It's how it was used, and particularly what it did not address: the heart of the matter.
I love how Paul juxtaposed this very principle for us; the difference between the Law and Grace. He related it to marriage.
Imagine being first married to a man who constantly criticized you. Nothing is good enough, nothing can satiate his desire for your perfection. It's exhausting, and it borders on verbal abuse. Despair and hopelessness creep into your heart. Under this husband no woman could thrive. But that husband passes away.
Now imagine getting remarried to a man who is attentive and loving. He is also very gracious because he knows what your previous life looked like. He is gentle and he takes his time with you. Eventually part of you comes alive and connects to this man, this man who seems to know your heart better than you do. With Him, you feel alive and different. You would do anything for Him, and as you keep connecting with this man you start to change. The old life seems like a bad dream, and you've become someone you wouldn't have recognized a few years back.
That's what it was like for me the first time I realized that God wasn't asking me to uphold a moral code perfectly, or memorize more scripture, or feel guilt and shame for not meeting others standards. That wasn't the point. If simply trying harder was the solution to my problems, Jesus wouldn't have needed to die, and grace would be pointless. No, the point that God has always been trying to make is that the only path to freedom, the only way to be freed from the things that hold us captive, is to connect with the Source of Life and Freedom. Without that connection we're simply gerbils on the same wheel, going around in circles in captivity.
Bondage to bad definitions is real, and it is enslaving people daily. Pastors, and lay people alike are falling prey to the lie that simply trying harder, focusing on the sin, and climbing the proverbial holy ladder will make us better Christians.
It won't. It can't. And it never will. That's why we need Jesus to help set us free. Restoration and Freedom will come when we finally put the rule books down and surrender ourselves to Him.