Obedience oriented discipleship

Life in Christ means obedience to Christ

Gordon Fee

Gordon Fee

Learning to obey what Jesus commanded is central to disciple making movements.

Yet some regard obedience based discipleship as the equivalent of introducing a Christian verison of sharia (Islamic law).

I'm working through Philipians at the movemnet with Gorden Fee, an outstanding NT scholar. In comments on Philippians 2:5-11 here's what he says about obedience and disicpleship

There is no genuine life in Christ that is not at the same time, by the power of the Holy Spirit, being regularly transformed into the likeness of Christ . A gospel of grace, which omits obedience, is not Pauline in any sense.

Life in Christ is a gift of grace that we can never earn. Life in Christ brings with it the power of the Holy Spirit resulting in being transformed from the inside out so that we bear his likeness.

Disciplehsip means learning to obey what Jesus commanded. One step at a time. Always one more step.


Teaching disciples the obedience of faith

Francis Chan on the lighter side of an unnecessary debate.

You cannot not drive a wedge between repentance and faith, obedience and love.

Paul taught new disciples to follow and obey the Lord Jesus. This is what it looked like:

In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, written soon after the church was started, Paul reminded them of the truth of the gospel and urged them to respond to God’s grace with obedience. Paul likened his ministry among the Thessalonians to that of both a father and a nursing mother. Paul and his companions lived blamelessly among these new believers and challenged them to follow their example. After Paul was “torn away” from them, he sent Timothy back from Athens to strengthen and encourage them as they faced persecution.

Paul could challenged the Thessalonians to imitate Christ because they were learning and passing on the stories of Jesus’ life and the content of his teaching. Paul also reminded them that the God who called them to imitate Christ had also given them the Holy Spirit (1 Thess 4:8). He commended their progress and challenged them to live holy lives by avoiding the sexual immorality typical of pagan society. Paul encouraged them to grow in love for one another, work hard with their hands so that they would not be dependent on anyone, and live a life that would win the respect of unbelievers.

For Paul, discipleship was about grasping the full implications of what God has done in Christ and then living them out in every aspect of life. It was the obedience that springs from faith in Christ and is made possible by the Holy Spirit. Paul was confident that even though he had left these new disciples prematurely, the Holy Spirit was present and would enable them to come through their suffering with joy.

What Jesus Started

This is why movements teach new disciples how to obey everything Jesus  commanded (Matt 28).

Mind the (knowing = doing = knowing) Gap

In the Old Testament, as well as in the writings of Paul, knowledge is not a fixed quantum but rather something that develops in the life of people as they are obedient.

PT O’Brien
Commentary on Ephesians

Disciple making movements teach disciples to obey everything Jesus has commanded (Matt 28: 16-20). That includes some basics of discipleship like: repent and believe, be baptized, pray, make disciples, give generously, love one another and celebrate the Lord's Supper.

Sadly not everyone in the world of missiology is happy with this approach.  Obedience-oriented discipleship has drawn fire. Accusations have been thrown around. Is this a form of Christian Sharia law? Is it man-centred rather than God-centred?

I'm not going to spend too much time on this because the Scriptures are clear and life is short.

Here’s what I wrote about the obedience of faith in, What Jesus Started.

For Paul, the “obedience of faith” is the obedience that flowed from faith in Christ (Rom 1:5; 15:18). It was the disciples’ total response to the gospel in every area of life, not just their initial conversion. The Christian life is both created and lived through the gospel.”

Paul wrote to the Galatians, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?” (Gal 5:7). The gospel is not just something we believe; it’s something we obey. The obedience of faith begins with conversion but must go on to include an ongoing change of life. Paul told the Galatians that he continued to suffer like a woman in labor “until Christ is formed in you” (Gal 4:19). Bringing them to the obedience of faith was an important part of Paul’s mission.

Paul’s letters typically focused on two themes: (1) the truth of the gospel and (2) how believers should live in response to that truth. His priority was to establish believers in the obedience of faith—a way of life that was consistent with the character of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. Paul’s letters followed a similar pattern: starting with the grace of God in Jesus Christ, he would remind believers of who they were in Christ and what God had done for them. This focus on the reality of their salvation and all its benefits dominated Paul’s letters. Once he had laid this foundation, he moved on to show how these truths must transform the lives of God’s people.

Gentile conversion to faith in Christ involved a radical break with their culture. Gentiles had to abandon their belief in the gods and turn to the one true and living God of the Jewish Scriptures. They had to put their faith in a Savior who had been executed as a criminal on a Roman cross and raised physically from the dead.

Imagine the changes in the life of a new believer who lived in Ephesus, for example. He would no longer visit the temple of Artemis or participate in the rituals and festivals in her honor. He would not bow before the statue of the goddess when he visited the public baths, and he would remove the idols from his home. He would no longer worship the Roman emperor as a god. His break with paganism could not have been more obvious to his community.

In addition, this new believer would leave behind all kinds of sexual immorality—adultery, visiting prostitutes and homosexual behavior—as well as forsaking greed and drunkenness. All of these were acceptable in Ephesian society, as long as they were carried out discreetly and within limits.

The obedience of faith or "Christian sharia"?

I led a young man to Christ a few years ago, a week later Andy walked away. We were discussing baptism, the first step of an obedient disciple.

andy: Do you mean I would have to be a real Christian?
steve: Andy what do you mean?
andy: If I got baptized, I’d have to be a real Christian and stop sleeping around.

He understood the meaning of repentance and faith better than many Christians.

The obedience of faith is at the heart of movements that multiply disciples and churches. Some people have confused the obedience of faith with a Christian version of sharia (Islamic law). Identity in Christ is the only true foundation for following Jesus in loving obedience. The question of baptism helped Andy discover that he hadn’t yet truly repented and believed. What's more, he didn’t want to. He was happy to pray a prayer but not forsake the ladies. I’ve spent the last few months in Ephesians with the help of Clinton Arnold’s commentary. Here’s his take on what Ephesians says about our identity in Christ.

  1. We are dearly loved. Paul stresses that believers are dearly loved by the Father and by the Son (5:1–2). God demonstrated his love by giving his Son (see also Rom 5:8) and Christ has shown us his love by his willing self-sacrifice on our behalf. This fact should be a significant motivation for us to love one another.
  2. We are forgiven. Paul declares that God has forgiven us in Christ (4:32b; see also 1:7). This truth will motivate us to forgive one another.
  3. The Holy Spirit lives in us. Because of the presence of the Spirit in our lives, a truth that Paul has emphasized earlier (1:13, 17; 2:18, 22; 3:16; 4:3, 4, 23), we are divinely assisted in the process of renewal. Nevertheless, if we choose not to cooperate with the Spirit, the Spirit does not leave us but is deeply grieved (4:30). The reality of the personhood of the Spirit and his presence with us should motivate us and empower us to develop holy lives.
  4. We have a future with God. The Spirit is a seal guaranteeing our future redemption in the consummation of the ages (4:30; see also 1:10, 13–14). This fact should not only give us a feeling of profound security, but motivate us to align ourselves with the purposes of God. 5. We are joined to one another in the body of Christ. Paul here reiterates the fact that every believer is an integral part of the community of believers (4:25c). The body of Christ imagery has been prominent in this letter (see 1:23; 2:16; 3:6; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:23, 30). This truth not only should help us to correct wrong attitudes, but should motivate us to exercise the utmost of caution in how we talk to each other. Paul encourages the expression of words that build up and give grace (4:29). He likewise urges believers to work hard so that they can help brothers and sisters who have material needs.

If this is true about who we are, nothing is too good to be true. No sacrifice is too great in response to God’s grace in Christ. That’s why nobody is asked to just “pray a prayer” in the New Testament. We make disciples of all nations by going, by baptizing and by teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded.