There are two ways in which I could approach writing this article.
I might simply begin the process of writing, stringing words together, allowing thoughts simply to form as my fingers press the keys, waiting for divine inspiration to carry itself from my spirit, down through my limbs, onto the keys of the keyboard, through the wires and microprocessors of my computer, onto the screen, into a saved file and finally transported via the telephone line to the editor of this newsletter until she edits, prints and distributes it to you and others like you. What you get you when you do that, of course, is a stream of consciousness, run-on-sentence of an article, much like the previous sentence. It would meander along in hopes of becoming something meaningful and insightful for the reader. But, no matter what spin you put on it, it would be mostly a waste of megabytes and paper.
The second way I might write this article is to have some idea of where I’m going before I ever turn on the computer – some vision of what I want to say and some idea of how I might say it. Then, coupled with a healthy dose of divine wisdom and inspiration, what finally appears on the paper or on the web site would be a somewhat rational organization of thoughts, words, sentences and paragraphs. Doubtless it will still not be perfect, but it will bring me closer than the first approach.
Each of these approaches to writing an article mirrors approaches we might take in following Christ as well. The Biblical word for the art of following Christ is discipleship. Dallas Williard, in his insightful and helpful book, Renovation of the Heart (Navpress, 2002), calls discipleship by another term – apprenticeship. Apprenticeship is the learning of a trade (the “trade” of Christ-like-ness, for our purposes) by living with, working with and listening to the Master.
The Biblical goal of discipleship is to become like our Master as much as is humanly possible (with the help of God’s grace and Holy Spirit). Another way to put it is to say that God desires that Christ be formed in us. This is the desire that the Apostle Paul felt so strongly when he wrote to those stumbling toward Christian maturity, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!” (Galatians 4.19, NIV, emphasis mine)
From this concept of Christ being fully formed in us we get the phrase “Christian formation.” This Christian formation does not happen automatically. Too often we think that if we know Christ as Savior, then we are being transformed more and more into his likeness. But this is foolish and unbiblical. Just as Christ does not force himself upon us for salvation, neither will he force himself upon our characters and wills. We can go right on being selfish, angry, unforgiving, lustful, proud, power-hungry, idolatrous sinners, just as we were before, even though the question of our eternal destiny will be dealt with. Doesn’t sound very appealing, does it? Why would you choose to remain such a person when the possibility of becoming more like the very nature of God was within reach?
In reality, however, that is pretty much what happens when we choose the first approach toward discipleship – the meandering, visionless, run-on-sentence approach, that is. We make it up as we go along. We simply expect that we will somehow behave and live differently, without the slightest bit of intention on our part. This run-on, stream-of-consciousness approach toward discipleship simply will not do for anyone who is serious about following Christ.
What we need is a plan. The plan, according to Dallas Williard (p.85ff), can be summed up in a simple, three-letter acronym: VIM (as in “vim and vigor”). We need a vision of what we can become, of what life in the Kingdom as a Christ-like person can be. We need intention – the decision that this person Jesus models for us is what we want and intend to become. And we need the means to get there. We need a strategy made up of spiritual disciplines and godly relationships.
Do you have a vision for what Christ can make of you or of how rich and full life could be? Have you decided in your own heart to pursue this vision, to follow Christ and to apprentice your life after his? Do you have the means in place to get from here to there? Do you read Scripture? Do you spend regular time in prayer? Do you worship with a community of faith on a weekly basis? Are you a part of a Bible Study, small group or class to help you understand and apply God’s word and will to your life?
All of us, once we have come to know Christ as Savior, have the choice. We can meander along in a run-on life of make-it-up-as-you-go-along, semi-discipleship (which isn’t really discipleship at all), or we can embrace the vision God has given us in the person of Jesus and in the faithful followers down through history and in the present. We can embrace it, choose it and include ourselves in the calling and plan for spiritual maturity.
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