On Sunday morning, as I sat way up high in the balcony with my boy, this prayer caught my attention:
P: For those who are in danger of having the seed of the Word choked out by the cares of this world, or through the neglect of the means of grace are in danger of having the Word in them be unfruitful, that they may be called to faithfulness once again, let us pray to the Lord:
C: Lord, have mercy.
That prayer strikes me as relevant to a conversation I seem to have again and again on the topic of “discipleship.” I seem to hear people regularly affirm that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, for Christ’s sake alone, and then, as if it were a next logical conclusion, that discipleship is a matter of “living out your faith,” a response to the gift we have been given.
I think that’s selling discipleship a little short.
Of course salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, for Christ’s sake along. AND the Spirit promises to work that faith through means, through the means of grace. In fact, we have no promise that the Spirit works apart from means.
(Which is not to say the Spirit doesn’t, or won’t, or couldn’t work apart from means; God does whatever God wants. But if you wish to be certain, if you want to show up where God promises to be found, then you are left with the means of grace: Word and Sacrament.)
The Lord’s Supper and Baptism–for Lutherans, these are the 2 Sacraments (you can also kind of count Confession and Absolution, which brings the total up to 2.5)–these 2.5 Sacraments happen most typically in the context of the Divine Service. (We can call it “Sunday worship” if you want, but the old school “Divine Service” emphasizes that, first and foremost, God is showing up to give you something–in, with, and under the means of grace–and then you also get to respond in God-given faith.)
The Word is there in worship, too; but the Word also goes with you into your week in a unique way. (OK, yes; to be baptized does mean to drown daily and rise daily to new life, but you aren’t doing the baptismal rite every morning, so you get what I mean.)
The fact that the Word goes with us into the week is why I’m not content to relegate “discipleship” to sanctified living after you are saved. I think “discipleship” is a matter of your ongoing connection to the means of grace on a regular, daily, weekly kind of way. Discipleship means handling the means through which the Spirit promises to work--to work not just your sanctification, but also your salvation.
Next Step Press recently published a Hymn Journal for Holy Week titled, When from Death I’m Free. That resource provides Scripture readings and devotions along with hymn texts and more modern worship songs combined with prayers and other faith experiments facilitated by illustrators from Visual Faith Ministry. If you head over to the When From Death I’m Free Pop Up Group on Facebook, you will find a large group of individuals from all over the country and around the world encouraging each other, sharing Scripture and art with each other, gleaning ideas and prayers and courage from what the group is doing as a whole. They are 500 strong and growing.
What those men and women are doing in that group is not merely staying busy while they wait to die. It’s not even a simple matter of vocation, living out their calling as a good mom or good dad or good wife or husband. What those people are doing day in and day out as they read, and pray, and sing, and sketch, and color, and meditate, and collage is actually handling the means of grace so that the Word might be planted deeply and take root and grow and bear fruit.
Otherwise, as the prayer from Sunday said, “through the neglect of the means of grace” any of them could be “in danger of having the Word in them be unfruitful.” Which may not mean they are not saved; but then again, it might.
By neglecting the means of grace, you put your foot on a path that leads to death. It’s not yet too late to turn back. But one day it will be. So turn back!! Like, now!!!
Discipleship is living out in a practical and daily way dependence on Jesus in, with, and under his means of grace. Of course, daily interaction with God’s Word will mean some growth in sanctified living. But I think that growth is the natural outcome of your salvation being worked out in fear and trembling (Phil 2:12) of course not by your merit or effort, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do (Phil 2:13).
It is God who works in you both to will and to do; AND, if you persistently refuse to handle the means of grace except for a few brief, shining moments on Sunday, you are in danger of the fires of hell.
I think we should be able to say it that strongly.
Discipleship isn’t about being a little more faithful; discipleship is trusting beyond sight that your dependence on Jesus matters in your everyday life and Jesus is actually present by the power of his Spirit to forgive and comfort and strengthen and SAVE, again and again, and as often as it takes.
The alternative–getting a nice sermon on Sunday and a bit of communion at least once a month–leaves you in danger of waking up one morning and realizing Jesus has no place in your life, and that therefore you have no place in his.
Discipleship is not extra stuff beyond saving faith; discipleship is handling the things that create saving faith day in and day out, because you desperately need it.
O Lord, when I am in danger of having the seed of the Word choked out by the cares of this world, have mercy on me.
When, through the neglect of the means of grace, I am in danger of having the Word in me be unfruitful, have mercy on me.
Call me to faithfulness once again–again and again–as often as it takes, so I learn to trust your Spirit and your power in your Word.
Teach me to need you Jesus, every day. Amen.