Barry Cooper, “Five Reasons We Don’t Disciple (Part 1)” http://www.9marks.org/blog/five-reasons-we-don%E2%80%99t-disciple-part-1 draws an interesting correlation between the initial proclamation of the Gospel and the lack of discipleship in the Christian Church of North America. He argues that a “cheap grace” Gospel allows one to stumble into the door of the invisible church (that is, the congregation of true believers) without actual conversion:
My fear is that in our evangelistic desire to get “decisions” from people, we may have rendered many of those “decisions” meaningless. It is one thing to “pray the prayer,” another thing entirely to repent and believe. It is much easier to tread the sawdust trail than to walk the Calvary road.
Since salvation comes merely from a bare external act, the matter of repentance and transformation do not exist as a practical reality. Thus, any demand made upon the “believer” – the demands of discipleship – are “legalism”.
One wonders what the “believer” would think were he to stumble upon Mark 8:34-38:
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:34–38 (ESV)
Cooper lays (at least some) of the blame desire for “decisions” which separates belief and repentance:
Let none of our congregation be in any doubt: a Christian demonstrates that fact by denying self and taking up their cross. That means that in our gospel preaching, we must not forget the way Jesus himself preached the gospel. He called people to repent as well as believe (Mark 1:15). The two are inseparable. We must never drive a wedge between them in our preaching, as if “belief” is necessary to make someone a Christian, and then “repentance” is an optional extra for the really keen Christians. Neither are negotiable.
I would agree with this contention; although, upon reflection, it seems that trouble lies at more fundamental level (and perhaps Cooper will develop this point more in the next four promised posts). Some have not just separated belief and repentance – they have not even communicated the concept of “belief” correctly.
In common English usage, “belief” can refer to the most tentative of commitments (“I believe the color of my dorm room in college was beige”), to life altering transformations.
When many people hear, “Believe Jesus raised from the dead,” they think, “Yeah, he probably did – so, yeah, I believe.” However, the doctrine of faith in orthodox Christianity (and the Bible) entails far more than a bare possibility – it entails an entire commitment of one’s life: head, heart and will:
Faith cannot be defined in subjective terms, as a confident and optimistic mind-set, or in passive terms, as acquiescent orthodoxy or confidence in God without commitment to God. Faith is an object-oriented response, shaped by that which is trusted, namely God himself, God’s promises, and Jesus Christ, all as set forth in the Scriptures. And faith is a whole-souled response, involving mind, heart, will, and affections. Older Reformed theology analyzed faith as notitia (“knowledge,” i.e., acquaintance with the content of the gospel), plus assensus (“agreement,” i.e., recognition that the gospel is true), plus fiducia (“trust and reliance,” i.e., personal dependence on the grace of Father, Son, and Spirit for salvation, with thankful cessation of all attempts to save oneself by establishing one’s own righteousness: Rom. 4:5; 10:3). Without fiducia there is no faith, but without notitia and assensus there can be no fiducia (Rom. 10:14).
J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993).
When the preacher and the hearer both have a defective understanding of faith, we cannot be surprised that they will not see the connection of “belief” to a life of discipleship and repentance. We cannot get to discipleship unless we understand and communicate that “faith” is an utter commitment to Jesus, not casual dating.
The call to salvation in Jesus Christ is a call to follow Jesus. That “discipleship” is even considered to be an appendage to salvation demonstrates the defect at the start.
One final caveat: A true believer may not be in an active relationship of directed instruction and encouragement (discipleship) and still be a true believer. Such a true believer will, however, exhibit some growth of some sort and will huger for more. The fact that no one is available to teach and encourage does not mean his spiritual life does not exist. Yet, should such an opportunity be made plain, one would think that the believer would soon move toward such growth.