By Steven Norris

     What does it mean to be a disciple, or follower, of Jesus? I have been pondering this question for most of my career as a pastor. Father Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest and one of the great spiritual teachers of the past century. Recently, I was reminded of Rohr’s summary of the current state of Christianity: 

     “Christianity is a lifestyle – a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared, and loving. However, we made it into an established ‘religion’ (and all that goes with that) and avoided the lifestyle change itself. One could be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain in most of Christian history, and still believe that Jesus is one’s ‘personal Lord and Savior.’ The world has no time for such silliness anymore. The suffering on Earth is too great.” 

     Jesus did not send his followers out into the world to “go and make converts or believers.” According to the passage in Matthew known as “The Great Commission,” Jesus sent them out to “make disciples of all nations.” The word “disciple,” however suffers from misunderstanding since we rarely use it outside of a religious framework. Perhaps the synonym, “apprentice,” captures the intended meaning in a more helpful way. 

     To be an apprentice implies joining oneself to a master, someone who can teach you a particular set of skills. We see this model in trades such as plumbing, carpentry, or electrical work. The goal of an apprentice is to gain knowledge about the respective skill from the master. However, this knowledge is about more than the acquisition of information. The goal of the apprentice is to be able to do what the master does. In some cases, it may even be to become like the master. 

     Christianity was never intended to be reduced to the affirmation of abstract propositions — as if reciting the Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed was all there was to faith. It has always been a way of living and being in the world. In the book of Acts, the earliest Christians were known as “people of The Way.” To be a Christian meant that one thought, acted, and spoke in distinguishable ways that were set apart from the larger culture around them. 

     Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that salvation is some kind of earned reward for good behavior. The scripture is clear: we are saved by God’s grace, not by our worthiness. Rather, I believe that salvation is the byproduct of a life transformed by God’s Spirit, the symptom of living a life in response to God’s saving grace. To know Christ is to be changed by Christ — to become more like him. To be like him is to be saved — from yesterday’s sin, today’s greed, and tomorrow’s death. 

     In other words, the apprentice of Jesus cannot help but live simply, non-violently, generously, and lovingly because that is how the Master lived. To attach Christ’s name to lives that consistently model greed, racism, consumerism, and violence is exactly what the Ten Commandments mean by “taking the Lord’s name in vain.” May we avoid that at all costs.