Disciple making

What Your Obedience Reveals about Your Heart, Part 1


In the New Testament, obedience to Christ is the standard evidence that someone is a true believer. There faith and obedience are inseparable. Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw faith and obedience as so intertwined that he said,

“Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.”[1]

If this is true, then obedience is not optional for a disciple of Jesus. Nor is helping others obey Christ optional for the disciple maker. And since a Christian is both a disciple and a disciple maker, the topic of obedience to Christ must be of utmost importance to us as believers.  

But do you ever find yourself downplaying the importance of obedience in order to steer clear of legalism? Jesus gave us good reason to repudiate legalism when he repeatedly chastised the Pharisees for it. But we need to take care that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. A legalist obeys in order to earn God’s approval. A disciple obeys because he has received God’s grace. The fact that obedience to Christ has been counterfeited in the pursuit of self-righteousness doesn’t make Holy Spirit-driven obedience any less valuable or necessary.  

The apostle Paul alludes to the necessity of obedience when he opens his Epistle to the Romans by describing his apostleship as a mandate to “call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith” (Rom. 1:5; italics added).  He closes the letter with that same phrase: “the obedience that comes from faith” (Rom. 16:26). In between these two bookends, Paul unpacks what that phrase means, though no one is more concise than the apostle John: “We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands” (1 John 2:3). Obedience, according to John, is a litmus test for authentic faith in Christ.

James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the church in Jerusalem, devoted an entire chapter of his Epistle to this subject, concluding that, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (Jas. 2:26). Doug Moo explains that James is here saying that, “Faith that is not accompanied by works ceases to be. It becomes mere profession and has no claim to be biblical faith. . . . James is not arguing that works be ‘added’ to faith, but that one possess the right kind of faith, a ‘faith that works.’”[2]

Numerous other passages could be cited, but these will suffice in demonstrating that, in the words of Jonathan Lunde, “Biblical faith inevitably expresses itself in obedience. Where the latter is lacking, the former is most likely illusory.”[3]

So ask yourself, “Do I find in my heart a holy desire to do what Jesus says?” If so, never deny this urge. Trust it. Act on it. It reveals that something supernatural has happened in your heart: you have come to faith in Jesus Christ.   

The urge to obey Christ reveals something else about your heart as well. We’ll address that in my next blog post.


[1]Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, rev. ed. (New York, NY: Collier Books, 1963), 69.

[2]Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 144.

[3]Jonathan Lunde, Following Jesus, the Servant King: A Biblical Theology of Covenant Discipleship (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 279.

The Special Sauce in Christian Discipleship


"Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame-seed bun." This classic jingle detailing the ingredients of the McDonald's Big Mac has been lodged in my memory since I was a boy. Four decades later, it still makes me hungry.  

You don't have to be a fan of the Big Mac to know that it's the special sauce that made this a culinary classic. Perhaps you've seen the McDonald's signs boasting "over a bazillion served," or something like that. How did that happen? Special sauce, that's how.   

In fact, the term "special sauce" or "secret sauce" is becoming the common shorthand for "the thing that helps someone or something flourish."1

So I'd like to suggest that there's a "special sauce" when it comes to following Christ.  

Spiritual disciplines may help us get a grip on things, a bit like the Big Mac's sesame-seed bun. But without the special sauce I'm referring to, there can be no flourishing.   

The special sauce in discipleship is something the Bible calls God's grace. Whenever we hear this term, we often think of God's forgiveness. And it's true that God's grace is the basis for our forgiveness. But the grace of God is much more than that. Think of his grace as the source of every blessing we ever receive, the enabling power behind every positive step we ever take on our journey with Christ.  

When the apostle Paul was at the end of his rope, Christ told him, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9). And when the apostle Peter wanted to offer a parting blessing to the believers he loved, he said, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).   

God's grace is always a gift, always sufficient, always necessary.  

Charles Spurgeon put it this way:  

Every good thing that is in a Christian not merely begins but progresses and is consummated by the fostering grace of God, through Jesus Christ. If my finger were on the golden latch of paradise, and my foot were on its jasper threshold, I should not take the last step so as to enter heaven unless the grace which brought me so far should enable me fully and fairly to complete my pilgrimage.2

So thank God for his grace. Savor it. Rely on it. It's the special sauce that makes following Jesus so satisfying. Without it, there can be no flourishing. 


1. http://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/words-we're-watching-secret-sauce.

2. Charles H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Sermons Preached and Revised by C. H. Spurgeon, vol. 15 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1908), 291. 

Why Some People Feel Drawn to Jesus While Others Don't


Why do some people choose to follow Jesus while others seem to have no interest in doing so? Is it determined largely by a person’s family of origin? If so, Jesus’ family is a notable exception. His own brothers rejected his message throughout his earthly ministry (John 7:5). Other explanations have been offered—such as, our personality predisposes us to either faith or reason. But this implies that religious faith and empirical reasoning are at odds, an assumption that plenty of scholars have debunked.[1] Some have even tried to reduce this to a matter of a person’s IQ, as if to suggest that following Jesus is clearly the sensible choice, or conversely that intelligent people can’t possibly believe that Jesus is God incarnate. Such disparaging generalizations are neither helpful nor true.

So what does Jesus have to say about why some people follow him while others don’t? He addressed this issue succinctly when he said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). In other words, whatever additional factors may be involved, the first condition for someone to want to follow Jesus is that God must draw that person.

But what exactly does Jesus mean when he says that the Father draws us? He doesn’t mean that God coerces us against our will. No, the Father opens our hearts to the truth about Jesus in such a way that we desire of our own will to follow him. Still, the Father can be very convincing, as Jesus points out a few verses earlier where he declares that, “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (John 6:37).

And it’s not just the Father who draws us. The Son draws us too. Jesus said, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). He meant that by his crucifixion he would draw to himself all kinds of people—both Jews and Gentiles. And indeed he has!

Charles Spurgeon, a well-known nineteenth-century pastor, put it this way:

Jesus knows how by irresistible arguments addressed to the understanding, by mighty reasons appealing to the affections, and by the mysterious influence of His Holy Spirit operating upon all the powers and passions of the soul, so to subdue the whole man, that whereas he was once rebellious, he yields cheerfully to His government, subdued by sovereign love.[2]

If true, this revelation upends the notion that those who choose to follow Christ are inherently more sensible or moral than those who don’t. It’s not like that. If you’ve come to Christ for salvation, it’s ultimately because God has drawn you to himself. Coming to Christ is without a doubt the best decision we can ever make, but we can’t take any credit for it.

Whenever I pause to consider how God has drawn me to himself—how I would not even know him if he had not done so—I find myself wanting to pursue him all the more. A. W. Tozer was right: “The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him; and all the time we are pursuing Him we are already in His hand.”[3]

So let us, as C. S. Lewis urges, “Continue seeking Him with seriousness. Unless he wanted you, you would not be wanting Him.”[4]


[1]See, for example, William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, rev. ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994).

[2]Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening Daily Readings (Lynchburg, VA: The Old-Time Gospel Hour, n. d.), 423.

[3]A. W. Tozer, The Best of A. W. Tozer: 52 Favorite Chapters, compiled by Warren W. Wiersbe (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1993), 13.

[4]C. S. Lewis, Letters of C. S. Lewis, rev. ed. (Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 1993).  

Discipleship Starts with Repentance


I was on my way to an important meeting in an unfamiliar part of town. Though I had never been to this particular sandwich shop before, I had a rough idea where it might be, based on the street address. Yes, I had a GPS with me, but who needs one of those when you already have a vague idea where you’re going and an ill-founded confidence that you’ll get there?

(You know where this is going, don’t you?)

I got lost. When I could deny it no longer, I consulted Maggie (that’s what we called our GPS, though I don’t think that was her real name). She had four words for me: Turn around when possible.

Not bear left. Not slight right.

Turn around. It was Maggie’s way of saying I was going the wrong way, and the sooner I reversed course the better. Confronted with this reality, I changed my mind about the direction I was headed. I made a U-turn and followed Maggie’s instructions. To use a biblical term, I repented.

Jesus used that word repent a lot. Scripture says that early in his ministry Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt. 4:17). What did Jesus mean by calling us to repent?

Essentially, he was calling us to change our minds (that’s what the Greek word metanoeō means[1]). It was an appeal for us to admit that we’ve gone the wrong way and to turn around and pursue a new direction, because it’s the only way we’ll ever get to experience the gracious rule and reign of God.

Eugene Peterson described repentance this way:

Repentance is not an emotion. It is not feeling sorry for your sins. It is a decision. It is deciding that you have been wrong in supposing that you could manage your own life and be your own god; it is deciding that you were wrong in thinking you had, or could get, the strength, education and training to make it on your own; it is deciding that you have been told a pack of lies about yourself and your neighbors and your world. And it is deciding that God in Jesus Christ is telling you the truth. Repentance is a realization that what God wants from you and what you want from God are not going to be achieved by doing the same old things, thinking the same old thoughts. Repentance is a decision to follow Jesus Christ and become his pilgrim in the path of peace.[2]

Had I disregarded Maggie’s directive to repent, I probably would have missed my lunch appointment. That would have been an embarrassing mistake, but one from which I would have recovered. That’s more than can be said when someone chooses to disregard Christ’s call to repentance.

Until we repent we’re still going our own way, which means we’re still lost. 


[1]BAGD, s.v. “μετανοέω,” 511-512.

[2]Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, 2nd Edition (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000), 29-30. 

Your Brand New Life



“Narnia! It's all in the wardrobe just like I told you!” So declared Lucy Pevensie in C. S. Lewis’s classic, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Lucy perceived the otherworldly kingdom of Narnia while her siblings were still oblivious to it.

And so it is with the kingdom of God. It’s real, though not everyone can see it. 

Why is that?

Jesus declared, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3). In saying this, he identified an essential prerequisite for participation in his program.

So what does it mean to be born again? How can a person be re-born? A religious leader named Nicodemus asked Jesus that very question. It turns out that being re-born is not something we do. It’s something that happens to us. Only the Spirit of God can impart the spiritual life we’re talking about here. No one can make themselves be born again any more than they could make themselves be born the first time. This new birth is, in the words of the apostle Peter, an act of God’s “great mercy” (1 Pet. 1:3).

And yet we do have to receive this new birth by faith, as Jesus explains to Nicodemus. In what has become one of the most quoted verses in the Bible, Jesus says that, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

As the “author of life” (Acts 3:15), Jesus often spoke with delight about his mission to impart new life to all who came to him. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10), he said. And again, “I give them eternal life and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

This “eternal life” Christ gives us is not simply an extended life. It’s a fundamentally different life. In profoundly personal terms, the apostle Paul described it this way: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).

This new life is so much better than a “do-over.” We’re not simply given another chance at life. We now share in Christ’s own divine life, a life that enables us to live beyond our selfish, sinful nature, a life that brings us into vital union with Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul summed it up when he said, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Praise God! Through Jesus Christ, he imparts to us new life, without which none of us could see the kingdom of God.