Discipleship is the Work of God. Yes, you read that correctly. I know it seems backward. We assume that discipleship is our work, our devotion, our journey, our growth, our following. And it is, but it isn’t.
In spending some time in John chapter 6, we see Jesus discussing with the crowds why they followed him from one side of the lake to the other. Jesus tells the crowd that they came looking for him because they had their bellies filled and wanted more. Jesus then points out to them in verse 27 not to work for food that spoils, but for eternal life. The crowd responds, “What are the works of God that He requires? Jesus answers in verse 29: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
The journey to my premise, that Discipleship is the work of God, may be fraught with twists & turns, but hang in there with me. This is how my brain works…
It has been the modus operandi of the last half century, that salvation was equated to “right” belief. This comes out of our protestant heritage and is summed up in this type of thinking: “If I believe the right things, then I get into heaven.” The result of this approach generally leads to a hollow existence without much life change or transformation. Thus the “practice” of faith is open to accusations of meaningless mind games and a “christian” community looking not much different from the rest of the world.
Contrast that with the growing swell in spiritual practices, formation, discipleship, ancient practices and life change. People want to do something and like the crowd that asked Jesus by the sea of Galilee in verse 28 of John chapter 6, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
The mistake that many people make, some knowingly and others innocently, is when Jesus says in verse 29, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” is something that only happens in our mind/head. Belief is so much more. The classic example is that I can believe in the idea of flying. I can believe that air planes fly great distances. However, unless I am willing to put my self on the plane, to entrust myself to a belief that I do not understand, do I really believe? Now move this into the realm of following Jesus. I say I believe in Him, I say that I believe He is the Son of God, but do I do the things that the Son of God says I am to do? Do I forgive? Do I trust? Do I go last? Do I serve? Do I take the narrow path?
Belief in the one whom God sent, Jesus, is so much more than a mindset, correct philosophy, and mental gymnastics. Yes, apologetics are important, knowledge is crucial, healthy debate is needed. When we do the work, God’s work of discipleship, the journey becomes the adventure rather than the obligation. The discipleship connects us with our Savior, whom we love with all abandon. The drudgery, the lifeless monotony, the joyless worship fade into the back ground when we do the work God has designed us to do, discipleship, believing in Jesus, acting like Jesus, doing what Jesus said to do.
So when I say that discipleship is the work of God, what I mean is this… God’s work is to believe in the one He sent. The one He sent was Jesus. Belief in Jesus is not simply a cerebral switch flip. It is a journey of life practice, being covered in the dust of our Rabbi, Jesus. James Bryan Smith refers to it as “apprenticing,” in doing the things that Jesus did and calls us to do. The work of God that leads to life is discipleship. Let’s do this journey together!