Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”4 Enough of the church has accepted a nondiscipleship Christianity to render it ineffective at its primary task—the transformation of individuals and communities into the image of Christ. This Christless Christianity has created leaders who are addicted to recognition and success and congregations that believe forsaking all things to follow Jesus is optional and a separate issue from salvation.
Too many have been taught that faith means to agree to a set of religious facts about Jesus rather than choosing to take up their cross daily and follow him. This shredding of justification from sanctification has done great damage to the authenticity and power of the gospel. It has created a church where faith equals intellectual assent, and high commitment is the exception rather than the norm. Therefore, in the United States, the church continues to shrink in size, lacks relevancy because of moral duplicity, and preaches a gospel that produces more consumers of religious goods and services than disciples.
What is needed is a new hermeneutic, one that is as old as the New Testament itself. There is widespread confusion about the nature of salvation because of the separation of justification from sanctification. The gospel we preach must make whole again the unity of justification and sanctification. Bonhoeffer does this with his statement that “only the believer is obedient—only the obedient believe.”5 Justification and sanctification can be unified within the single concept of discipleship.
Justification is the new creation of the new person, and sanctification is the preservation, protection, and the development of that person until the day of Jesus Christ. The moment the believer repents of his sin and answers the call of Jesus in “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23), he is justified; he steps into a new and special life. The act of faith that justifies is also the engine of sanctification; both are unified in discipleship, the lifelong journey of following and obeying Jesus.
Ours is a gospel that calls every person to believe what Jesus believed, live as he lived, love as he loved, serve as he served, and lead as he led. It has the power to revolutionize the meaning of faith and restore to the church its growth, morality, and ability to influence an increasingly skeptical and needy world.
To summarize what is wrong with the gospel we preach,
- it is truncated, limiting grace to forgiveness of sins
- it separates justification from sanctification
- it teaches that faith equals agreement with a set of facts
- it allows discipleship to be optional
- it does not require cross bearing and thus allows for cheap grace6
- it does not require repentance
Now is the time for us to turn the corner and reject this false gospel.
- We must proclaim a more complete gospel that unifies justification and sanctification under the rubric of discipleship. When by God’s grace we are enabled to repent of our sin, we choose to enter into a new realm of his kingdom. It is a call to a life, a journey of following Jesus.
- We must create environments of grace where principles of grace are lived out.7 This is because we lack a practical theology of grace.
- We must teach the proper use of the spiritual disciplines. The disciplines are a response to God’s grace, enabled by his grace, in order to position ourselves for transformation.
- We must teach believers to be disciples and to make disciples among the lost and broken.
- We must help believers deal with “below the line” issues—the “show stoppers” that block transformation.
- We must understand that the above, when lived out, will create a kingdom influence.8
Hull, Bill. 2004. Choose the Life: Exploring a Faith That Embraces Discipleship. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.