Years ago a colorful mobile hung above my son’s crib. Funny thing about mobiles, if you pick them up by any part other than the center string they collapse into a tangled mess. However if the center string is used to support it, everything falls into its proper place. Mobiles can teach us a lot about theology and religion.
The idea of grace permeates the New Testament. John 1:17 “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Acts 15:11 “we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus.” Romans 5:2 “we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” Many other verses might also immediately come to mind.
Similarly the idea of discipleship, that is, the idea of faithfully living for Christ also saturates scripture. The epitome of discipleship involves dying to one’s own will in order to serve Christ (Luke 9:23,24; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Galatians 2:20).
The details of discipleship demand that we imitate the way of life left for us by conforming to the gospel’s calling (1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 4:9; Ephesians 4:1). Discipleship shapes all aspects of our daily living and worship (Ephesians 4:25-6:18).
Yet what has church history revealed about what happens when someone views Christianity primarily through the lens of grace? How does allowing grace to be primary organizing force impact the obedience of discipleship?
Jude had to warn his readers against those who would turn the grace of God into a license for evil (Jude 1:4). More recently, the phrase, “don’t worry, grace will cover it” comes to mind as someone plunges forward to pursue his or her own desires.
In such an environment the commands about living as a disciple and living worthily of our calling can become muted. Obedience becomes minimized. Christians can become driven to pursue foremost what they think is best, rather than to begin their service to God by asking, “what has God asked of us?”
Conversely, what happens if scripture is interpreted primarily through the prism of faithfulness? Does not history reveal a hyper judgmental attitude can grow tempting God’s people to evaluate their relationship with God based upon their performance? Grace becomes a mere whisper.
A healthy solution for grabbing the wrong part of the mobile, would be to ask where is the central string? Or in the case of scripture we should ask, what principle or idea does scripture elevate as being primary? We hear Jesus pointing us to loving God. And then secondarily loving others in the same way we seek our own well being.
When revering and obeying God is foremost, grace and discipleship fall into their proper relationship with each other. It is only through the grace of God that we can be redeemed and rescued. And standing in that grace, God infuses us with purpose directing us to follow Christ. All of this leads to God being glorified.
How we live and worship is important. That we can belong to God is a matter of grace. Grace does not nullify the need for discipleship. Nor does faithfulness replace grace.