There are now signs that significant groups among professing Christians are ready to take up discipleship to Jesus as the core of their religious life. A realization has been setting in that the redemption Christ offers is for all aspects of life, from the deepest parts of the human being outward to the last details of our actions. Many who previously had only a superficial connection with Christ are coming to understand that whole-life discipleship to him is the easy way to live: the “easy yoke” and the “light burden” that Jesus promised to those who step into the yoke with him to learn of him.
We will see great progress for Jesus’ work on earth, and great blessing upon the lives of groups and individuals, if this new seriousness about discipleship stays focused on three things.
First, there must be no mistaking the fact that discipleship to Jesus means primarily learning from him how to do—easily and routinely do—the very things he said for us to do. Obedience is the only sound objective of a Christian spirituality. Of course, we do not obey to earn anything—earning is out of the question—but we obey because doing the things that Jesus said is what is best for us and for everyone around us.
Second, we do not become able to obey by trying to obey, but by becoming the kind of person who naturally does obey. That means our intention is to acquire, by intelligent effort and grace, the inward character of Jesus Christ himself. We think and feel like him; our will has his habits of choosing; our very body is poised toward righteous deeds; and our way of relating to others is governed by his kind of love.
Third, the activities of our fellowship groups and their leaders are explicitly designed to make disciples—not some lesser version of “Christian,” but genuine apprentices to Jesus in kingdom living—and to teach everyone in the group to do the things Jesus said. Leaders do this by bringing their fellowship groups through effective processes of inward transformation of the dynamics of human life.
In this way we will do what Jesus told us to do: “Make disciples as you go, submerge them in the Trinitarian reality, and train them to do everything that I commanded you” (paraphrase of Matt. 28:19–20). That is what it means to choose the life. The ills of the church and of the individual derive almost totally from the simple failure to do what Jesus told us to do in the Great Commission. There is no excuse whatsoever for not doing it, and every rationalization is simply a wound to our own souls, an injury to our groups, and an insult to the Christ who told us what to do.
Bill Hull has learned a lot from his years in the church as a pastor and leader. Most importantly, as this book shows, he has learned about himself. He has a vivid sense that what matters is what you are on the inside; that is the place where discipleship takes hold and where the only possible foundation for uncomplicated obedience is laid. He is delightfully candid and fresh, and conveys profound substance with stark clarity. You will wince as he relates painful experiences incurred while trying to lead his church to “great things” with thoughts and feelings remaining un-Christlike. But you will see with joy how character—not just bright ideas and slick techniques—has genuine power in human relationships under God.
He has found that “an environment of grace is a community in which disciples accept each person where they are, celebrate how God has made them, and encourage each other to train to be godly.” We can only hope and pray that the desire to build such communities will now become widely contagious, as has been gloriously so in past times among Jesus’ people.
Dallas Willard, “Foreword,” in Choose the Life: Exploring a Faith That Embraces Discipleship (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 6–8.