I suppose you could be wondering why so much time on this topic. There are several good reasons, first and foremost, I’m on that journey myself. That is, a journey toward discipleship. But also because I’m auditing a class on it, doing some major research on it, and reading several books regarding it. You might say, it’s on my mind. 🙂
In some of the material I’ve been reading I have begun to see words like “genuine”, “zealot”, “authentic”, and “passionate” used to describe “true” disciples of Christ in the modern day church. Quite frankly, those terms scare me. It’s not that I don’t want to be a genuine follower of Christ, I do. It’s not that I don’t want to be passionate in my pursuit to be Christ-like, I do. Nevertheless, as soon as I start using those kind of adjectives to describe my particular status in the discipleship realm, there is always the real danger that someone else is going to be labeled “inauthentic” or “dispassionate” and therefore inferior to me. And I think we all know the tendencies regarding those types of situations. There’s bound to be some chest-thumping and “look at me” going on.
In the culture where Christ presented most of his teaching, the Jews in general and the Pharisees in particular had three very specific and valued exercises; alms, prayer and fasting. These practices were “marks” indicative of their devotion to God, and for some their perceived status before God. Consequently, when Jesus was training his disciples he made certain that they understood not only the importance of these exercises but also the value of secret service.
He warned them first that their “righteousness should exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees” if they ever hoped to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Then he goes on to explain to them that making a show of their “piety” (NRSV) or alms-giving results in absolutely no reward from God. Praying on the corner to be seen by others gets you just exactly that – seen by others and nothing more. Playing make-believe when fasting by putting on a pitiful face and walking about looking famished, may get you the sympathy of men but not of God. (Matthew 6:1-18)
The righteousness* they should do, should be done in secret. So secret that not even their left hand would not know what their right hand was doing. Yes, they were the light of the world, but that light was to reflect toward God for HIS GLORY. It was not a spotlight on them for self promotion or self-glorification. Now there is genuine discipleship.
That is what I believe God is calling us to when He says to “follow him”. Yes, it is true that there are lessons to be learned, character traits to be developed, and good works to be fleshed out, but it’s not something we put on T-Shirts that say “look at me I am a TRUE follower of Christ”. If we have to put it on a T-shirt so other folks can know, then we probably ought not be wearing the T-shirt!
Father Spirit, I am a long way from where I want to be, but maybe closer today then I was yesterday, and I thank you for that. Thank you that your Word is quick to point out my faults and even quicker to redirect my paths. May I be a good student and an obedient follower. In Christ’s name.
*The earliest texts have “righteousness” instead of “alms” in Matthew 6:1. “Alms” was noted in the margin of the text. That may have been what Jesus had in mind when he said “unless your righteousness exceeds that…”