For a while, I’ve tried to imagine a church that took obedience to the greatest commandment as its primary mission – to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. To me, this is one of the best ways to be Calvinist as well: to respond to God’s irresistible grace and unconditional election with a gratitude that manifests itself in love, which to me is God’s primary characteristic. Everything we know about God flows from God’s love for the world and for us: God created the world out of love, God created us out of love, and God redeems and sanctifies us out of love. Our response, then, should come through the language of love. And how can we speak that language to God? By obeying Christ’s greatest commandment, which is to imitate God, which is to live into our identity as people created in the image of God.
If we decide that obeying the greatest commandment is the greatest call God offers us, then we have to ask ourselves how best to answer that call. The process of answering the call has been traditionally called “discipleship.” For Lent this year, discipleship has been my primary area of study; specifically discipleship of Christ. (I always feel a little strange encouraging people to be better Disciples of Christ – sometimes I wonder if they’ll jump ship and join a Christian Church (DoC) – but what a great name for a group of Christians!)
We have been looking at Mark’s picture of Jesus as a way to focus and improve our discipleship of Jesus. Setting aside some of our preconceived notions about Jesus, we are trying to “meet Jesus again for the first time” to reexamine what his call to discipleship entails. Put another way, we’re trying to figure out how Jesus loved God and his neighbor so that we might be able to do the same thing.
Mark’s Jesus is one who goes out of his way to keep the gospel a secret, but never stops moving. He spends a great deal of time healing and teaching, but he’s not perfectly effective at either. He is both human and divine, and he is loved by God before his ministry even begins. He is generous to those who ask for blessings, but not upset at those who want no part of his teachings. He goes to the cross for anyone and everyone, even the thieves next to him.
What does it mean to follow this kind of Jesus? I would imagine it’s slightly different for each person, because of the unique nature of each person’s relationship with Jesus – who after all is not dead, written words on a page, but a living Word who speaks to each of us. But since Jesus is indeed a person and not a creation of human beings, we can find common threads in all of our relationships, which in turn help us all to understand Jesus better and become better disciples. So let me tell you what I believe it means to follow the Jesus Mark reveals to us.
Following Jesus means admitting that we are loved by God and that God is with us. It means trusting in God even though God doesn’t cause us to succeed in everything we do. It means being fully committed to following where Jesus leads, right when he’s ready to lead us, even if we don’t know why or where we’re going. It means asking Jesus to heal us, to remove evil forces from our lives. It means believing that it’s never to late for us to become disciples of Christ. It means not compromising our call from God even when people turn away from us, or even from God, because they aren’t willing to embrace God’s call to them.
These are all abstract principles, and I’m always reminded that flowery theological language means little when you’ve got to go to work on Monday. But I think we can apply these principles to our everyday lives, especially the principle of trying to discover who Jesus is so that we can be better followers. We can take to heart what we learn through prayer, Bible study, and fellowship. We can be open to learning new and different things about God because Jesus is always calling us to follow in new ways. We can listen graciously to others, even when they want nothing to do with our religion, our church, or our spirituality, because Jesus didn’t wait for people to join up before he healed them: he just had compassion on everyone. We can approach our bad days and our mistakes with an attitude of grace, remembering that a bad day doesn’t mean God doesn’t love us, and trusting that God has some good days planned for us, even if we have to go through Good Friday to get to Easter Sunday.
These are some of the ways we can be disciples of Christ, living out the commandment to love God and to love our neighbor. It’s worth getting to know Jesus better – through the Bible, through prayer, through worship, and through fellowship – so that you can discover the ways God is calling you to be a disciple of Christ.