As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. (NRSV)
The topic of discipleship is central to my own sense of pastoral calling. Before I became a Senior Pastor, I was a pastor of Christian Discipleship. My first book was about the personal transformation of all believers within the community of God’s people and my second book was about overcoming the hypocrisy of "non-discipleship." But even more “discipleship” was the most important concept for me to understand as a young Christian. And understanding it changed my life.
Unfortunately, for many of us, it is also one of the most confused concepts in the Christian life, because we are used to two different streams of thought: On one side is gift of the grace of God that is offered to us in Jesus. Without earning it, being worthy of it, doing anything to make God love you, he offers you his grace and mercy, adoption into his family, forgiveness of sins and eternal life. All we have to do is believe. (And it is true!)
On the other side is the call to follow Jesus. To join your life to his and make his agenda for living your agenda. To become someone who lives for Jesus Christ, who leads others to Jesus Christ, who learns from Jesus Christ how life is to be lived. Who proclaims and demonstrates the good news of the Kingdom of heaven that is available now.
And we listen to sermons and it is like watching a coin tossed into the air spinning around and around grace on one side, calling on the other—grace, calling, grace, calling, heads, tails, which side lands up?
Now some of us have decided that the way that this goes together is simple: They are not two sides of the same coin, but one precedes the other. God’s grace is offered to us to forgive our sins and make us right with God and then after we have said yes to that grace—once we have done that—after we have accepted God’s free gift of salvation—then Jesus comes to us and says, “Now that you believe in me and are going to heaven, how about letting me teach you how you are to live as one of my followers. If you want, you can be with me as we change the world, reach out to people, bringing God’s grace to others. Do you wanna?” And this is the way that I thought it worked.
You see the first time I remember hearing the gospel explained to me, it went something like this: “If you believe that Jesus was the son of God, that you know that you are a sinner and that he died on the cross for your sins, then you are a Christian. You can’t earn it, you don’t deserve it, you can’t make God love you any more or any less, but in Christ, he offers you his grace—a relationship with him, new life with him. If you believe these things, you are forgiven, you have received his grace. You are a Christian.” I remember hearing that and thinking. “Believe in Jesus?” Check. “Son of God, died on the cross?” Check. Check. Forgive my sins. Cool. I got it. And I kind of shrugged. Who didn’t believe this?
Then about six months later I heard a young pastor say, “How many of you are Christians?” And I raised my hand. “Now,” he asked, “how many of you are disciples?” I wasn’t sure what he meant but I figured that it had to be the “advanced” track or something and I was pretty sure that I didn’t want to do that. I had my own life to live, my own aspirations, my own goals and dreams and desires. Part of that was indeed, that I wanted a relationship with God and I certainly wanted eternal life. I only worshipped and served Jesus Christ, I just didn’t think of myself as very fanatical about the whole thing. So, for me, Christian. Yes. Disciple. No thanks.
Except… The pastor continued. His entire talk explained that Jesus never used the word, “Christian.” He never once preached a message that said, “If you believe I am the son of God and am going to die on the cross for your sins, you can receive the grace of God to forgive your sins.” Not once. Indeed in the Gospels the word “Christian” is never used. In the gospels, the word “believer” is never used to describe Jesus’ followers. And the word “disciple” is used 225 times. Indeed, what Jesus did say was… “Follow me.” (in fact, 23 times recorded in the gospels, this is his invitation. Not accept me into your life, have a personal relationship with me, but “follow me.”)
And usually the invitation to “follow” was accompanied by
a warning of the cost of following:
“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Matthew 8: 20
“…whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Matthew 10:38
And in many ways this reframing of the life of faith made a huge impact on me. I remember listening to that young pastor that day and deciding right then and there that I would be a disciple of Jesus Christ and that there was no other option.
But what about grace? What about the
grace of God that comes to us, just as we are, that knows everything
about us, that loves us and invites us to be reconciled to God?
• …we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus Acts 15:11.
• For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God… Ephesians 2:8
I want to introduce you to what can be called "the WAY of Grace." One of the earliest terms for Christianity was to call this movement of following Jesus, “The Way”, sometimes “The Way of the Lord,” other times “The Way of God,” sometimes, just “The Way”(see Acts 18-19). And in some ways, this term truly does help us understand how the grace and the calling of Christ come together and can never be separated. Christianity is not just a set of beliefs, Christianity is not about making some spiritual transaction, or receiving some spiritual gift from God. Christianity is about following Jesus with all of one’s life. It is not about walking down a road but walking in his footsteps. And that following of Jesus on The Way is grace and only through grace can one enter into the Way of God.
In this post I want to begin briefly with this first lesson of the Way of God: Discipleship begins with having your life interrupted by God’s grace. In Jesus, God’s grace finds us in the middle of our own way, interrupts us and offers us, by grace two very important gifts: The invitation of Grace and the Reorientation of Grace. Let’s take a moment and look at the calling of Jesus’ first disciples to see this.
1. The Invitation of Grace
Our scripture passage reads, As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, (Jesus) saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me… Jesus shows up on a shore and finds a set of brothers who are plying their trade and invites them in his customary way, “Follow me”. Notice, these are not slave traders or tax collectors. They are not living a life of sin. They are making a decent living at an honest trade. But Jesus comes to them and interrupts their lives with his call. And make no mistake, that interruption of their ordinary lives is grace. It is absolutely nothing but the grace of God to be invited by Jesus to join him on the way that he is traveling. And the first disciples understand this. In another passage, we have a scene where Peter objects to the invitation, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Peter exclaims. (Luke 5:8) And yet, Jesus just tells him, “Do not be afraid.” Hearing his confession, Jesus doesn’t rescind his call, but reassures Peter that you, just as you are, are invited to be with me. My friends, make no mistake: the call of Jesus is grace. Think about it for a minute. What would you do to be near Jesus? To walk with Jesus? To live each day learning from Jesus? What would you pay to be mentored in life by Jesus? And here is the grace… he offers it to you for free. We are not called to him because we are worthy of it, but only because he calls us. He offers us the privilege of having a life that is inextricably interwoven with the life of God in every way. But let’s also not make another mistake, that invitation, that gracious invitation, the calling to be with Jesus takes the complete reorientation of our lives around grace.
2. The Re-Orientation of Grace
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, (Jesus) saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. Now, fishermen, fish for people, he says. And they leave their nets and take up a cross, they rearrange their lives around the central priority of offering the grace that has found them. My friends, this is why grace is such an interruption.
There is no reason to believe that Peter and Andrew and James and John were anything but content working as fishermen in the family business. There is no sign of trouble or discontent or any hint of a life going off the rails. But when the grace of God shows up and interrupts their lives, they respond. The God of the Universe who has come into the world to save it and redeem it has reached out to them to enlist them in his work, in his plan. It is the most important work of all. And to be invited by Jesus to be one of his followers, to live life with Jesus, to be part of his healing, saving, life-giving, justice bringing work is receive the grace of God. It is to recognize that the purpose of life is not about earning, or acquiring or even securing or caring, but in giving, extending, inviting and healing. This is a complete reorientation of life and a reorientation that interrupts your life just where it is.
No matter who you are or where you are. Following Jesus begins when you allow your life to be interrupted by the grace of God that comes to you in Jesus. And that gracious interruption can come to anyone, anywhere in any circumstance.
Grace is no respecter of persons, grace doesn’t just look for the good, and the clean and the pure. The grace of God is offered to the publican, the prostitute, the prince and the poor. It even came to a slave ship captain in the middle of a storm.
In 1748 a sea captain, sailing a slave ship from Africa to England found himself in a particularly severe storm. The storm around him made him confront the storm inside of him. The harrowing circumstance made him re-think his life. Even though he was making good money, doing what he wanted, in charge of his own life, a self-made man, he was not at peace. But as captain of the ship there was no one else to turn to. He picked up a copy of Thomas a Kempis' book The Imitation of Christ read it and slowly by faith found the comfort of turning his life over to Jesus Christ.
Years later, that slave ship captain, John Newton wrote the words: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me”.
To be wretched doesn't mean to be despicable and disgusting, friends, but to be helpless and needy. It is to acknowledge that you are in over your head and that you need God do what you can not. Like Newton, who had to face how helpless he was to face the enormity of the storm, and how meaninglessness it was to battle the seas to build a life on the oppression of human beings. And this word describes the state of our souls, more often than we want to admit. Wretchedness is helplessness, and the deep awareness of our restlessness, lack of peace, inner turmoil and doubt. It is looking around at all that you have done, accomplished, bought, and earned and coming to the stark realization that it doesn’t provide the comfort you need in the darkness middle of the night or the darkness of your soul.
When Jesus comes on to the scene proclaiming the Kingdom of heaven, this is how the Gospel of Matthew describes it: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” And this is what grace does. It comes into our helplessness, our darkness, our despair, and calls us by name. It enters into our lives whether bidden or unbidden, taps us on the shoulder and calls us to follow, to be with him, to reorient our lives to his call and for his purposes. This is also what happened to me.
The call of Christ, once I understood it, interrupted my life. Not just the despair and pain of my life, but also the plans, the direction, the orientation of my life. In the next few posts we are going to look at what it means to follow the Way of Grace, a way that is filled with life as God intended it, but please note this, you must decide whether you will follow in his footsteps, heed his call and live for him.
The Bible says that Peter and Andrew, James and John, “Immediately…left their nets and followed him.” When grace called them by name and invited them to join him on the way, they did.
Notice, I am not asking you whether you believe that Jesus is the son of God. I am not challenging you to trust the grace of God that is offered to you. I am suggesting that you consider that Jesus the Son of God is offering you the grace of life with him, if you will only say yes to his invitation to re-orient your whole life under his call. And what I’d like you to consider this morning is one simple question. Why not you? Grace is the way of life offered to us in Jesus.
You are invited. It will reorient the life of the one who responds. Why not you?