In the attempt to define how we make disciples in the church, I so far have introduced: (1) the abundant life that God promises to those who follow Jesus as disciples and (2) the ultimate goal in discipleship, which is becoming like Jesus. Today I want to focus on one other broad sweep that guides discipleship—the gift and the demand of the gospel, or in other words, law and grace. Combining those terms we could speak of “the gift of grace” and “the demands of the law.” True discipleship cannot be fully understood without holding these two dynamic influences in tension.
Most Christians have a tendency to emphasize one of these dimensions of discipleship over the other. Those who emphasize the high demands of discipleship tend toward a kind of Christian legalism that sets up very explicit criteria for judging the sincerity of the disciple’s commitment. The criteria likely will examine both what a disciple does (e.g., attends church services, tithes, witnesses, etc.) and what a disciple abstains from doing (e.g., hate, drunkenness, adultery, etc.). A kind of Christian Pharisaism can develop that emphasizes behavior, character, and principles.
Those who emphasize the gift of grace tend to focus on things like love, acceptance, freedom, tolerance, fellowship, harmony, and peace. They tend to de-emphasize any judgment of beliefs or behavior as antithetical to the idea of grace. A kind of Christian libertinism can develop that neglects moral and doctrinal restraints and standards.
Any approach to making disciples will have to tread carefully between these two poles of influence.