Discipleship is a Partnership

Some people like to say, “Let go and let God.” Which essentially means, relax, sit back and let God do all the work.

Other people seem to be of the mind that spiritual development rests solely on the shoulders of the disciple. In other words: God does the saving, but its on us to do the growing.

I find both views to be extreme. Instead, I believe that discipleship is a holy collaboration between Creator and the re-created.

We can’t grow without God’s help. At the same time, we won’t grow if we refuse to put forth any effort.

In John 15, Jesus stressed the importance of consistently abiding in Him, to the point that he declared, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” As we abide in Christ and keep in step with the Spirit, God works through us to produce lasting spiritual fruit that will remain forever (John 15:4-5; Galatians 5:25; John 15:8).

If we leave God out of our “spiritual growth equation,” its a sure sign of hubris. Simply put, “no God, no growth.”

Yet, in contrast (but not in contradiction), Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 5:7, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” Paul used an athletic analogy to convey to Timothy that effort will be involved. The Olympic athlete dedicates himself to countless hours of rigorous training, all the while refraining from otherwise acceptable enjoyments to maintain discipline, all for the sake of achieving his goal. So, too, the follower of Christ must engage in certain activities and refrain from others in order to achieve the goal of increasing Christlikeness.

Paul also told the believers in Philippi, “Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:12-13)

So, although we are completely dependent upon God to mature spiritually, we have an indispensable role to play in the process.

Perhaps we might look at it like this: God provides all the tools we need to grow (which is backed up by 2 Peter 1:3-8), but its our responsibility to pick up the tools and put them to use.

Those who farm know that they, on their own, can’t make a single plant grow, But, the wise farmer also knows that if he doesn’t plow, plant, water and cultivate, no crop will sprout from the ground.

Spiritual maturity is a divine work of God and a miracle to watch. Yet, God calls upon us to join Him in this amazing work. We are called to listen, learn and obey. We’re also called to study and meditate upon God’s Word, pray, worship and serve.

Scottish Bible teacher Alexander MacLaren once wrote: “We may have as much of God as we will. Christ puts the key of the treasure-chamber into our hand, and bids us take all that we want. If a man is admitted into the bullion vault of a bank and told to help himself, and comes out with one cent, whose fault is it that he is poor?” So we see, then, that the choice is ours. May each of us desire increasing godliness and use the keys we have been given.”

Get Thee to Church!

In years to come, sociologists will have a field day looking back at the effects of the pandemic/quarantines of 2020. Why? Because whether for reasons large or small, culture has been greatly impacted by COVID-19. Did you know that during COVID, the divorce rate skyrocketed? At the same time, loneliness became a huge societal issue. And the birth rate dropped. Because of COVID, many of us shop, travel and work differently than we did before the pandemic.

One area that’s concerning to me is how people engage in church life. Sadly, some Christians have decided church attendance and involvement isn’t a priority anymore. Churches across the nation report that more people are returning to church, but the numbers of in-person attendees is still way down. The big question is: “will they ever come back?”

The Christian life was never meant to be solitary. All of the biblical metaphors for a church indicate a plurality, never a singularity: we are a body, a flock, a building, and a holy nation. There are no “lone wolves” in biblical Christianity.

Church engagement is a discipline, but the pandemic threw a wrench into something many were in the habit of doing. Going to church was part of the normal flow of the week, but once that flow was interrupted, some found it difficult to re-engage. But gathering consistently with other living, breathing human beings is something God wants us to do!

But why?

First, we gather on Sundays to worship God corporately. Yes, we can individually worship God throughout the week. But there is something unique and special when people worship en masse. Corporate worship is a gathering that anticipates the worship believers will experience in heaven. In eternity, believers will worship with all of God’s people before the Lord. Corporate worship on earth allows us to participate together in a way that looks forward to this time of eternal glory.

Second, we gather to practice community with other believers. I appreciate the people in our church who come on Sunday mornings with a intentional, purposeful mindset. They make it their aim to visit and pray with people as well as greet newcomers. When we practice community, we seek to encourage one another in our walk with Jesus.

Hebrews 10:24-25 gives us this exhortation:

And let us consider one another in order to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.

I think it’s significant to note that the recipients of the Hebrews letter were under the threat of persecution. Public church attendance could open them up to abuse. The command indicates that the benefits of attendance outweigh any possible threat.

The Hebrews passage mentioned above reveals that one of the purposes of gathering together is to “encourage one another.” We all need encouragement. Corporate worship provides that for us. Church attendance also helps prevent drifting, backsliding and apostasy. Without regular participation in corporate worship, one tends to meander spiritually.

When we attend corporate worship, we hear the public preaching of the Word of God. Substituting a media ministry (like radio or television or an internet streamed service) not only removes the immediacy of public preaching, but can foster a sense of isolation, effectively privatizing our Christianity. This was never God’s plan for us.

Corporate worship is a vital part of our spiritual growth. When we regularly gather with other believers, we can encourage others, be encouraged, and grow together in our common faith in Jesus Christ.