Hardly anyone would dispute that God takes the initiative in relationships with humanity or that grace is the underlying foundation of that initiative. Few, however, think of grace as a fundamental issue in the Old Testament. Most are drawn to a law versus grace tension that sets the Old Testament on a different foundation from the foundation of the New Testament. While it is true that the words translated “grace” in the Old Testament make up less than seven percent of the references to “grace” in the Bible (using statistics from the NASB concordance), if you include words that might serve as synonyms for grace (like mercy, kindness, lovingkindness, compassion, pity), the picture changes considerably. In reality, grace is a foundational biblical theme that stretches from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22.
Discipleship finds its initial impulse in grace. The initiative in each and every relationship between God and human beings lies with God—the eternal, immortal, and invisible One. The creatures that we are (created mortals existing solely in time and space) cannot initiate relationship with One who precedes us, who is experienced solely through the divine handiwork of creation and the inner workings of the spirit, and whose infinity cannot be captured in our finite minds and experiences.
Discipleship itself implies that we are followers, listeners, students, and learners; but we are not playing a game of Follower the Leader. In discipleship, we do not take turns leading—the leader always is the same One. In discipleship, initiative, invitation, and call always rest with God; and when the invitation comes, it is fundamentally an invitation of grace.
I am not saying that we should never seek God; but we could never find an invisible God who does not want to be found. Column 2 in the Making Disciples Chart will guide us in recognizing that from the beginning God was involved in an initiative of grace that began in creation and continued through election, covenant, torah, and blessing. Discipleship must begin with each of us recognizing God’s invitation and deciding how we will respond to the grace evident in God’s initiatives.