God-Centered Faith

“The good and gracious will of God is done indeed without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it will also be done among us.” (Luther’s Small Catechism, Explanation to the Lord’s Prayer)

Just as he did to those fishermen by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus calls us to be his disciples, and to make disciples in his name. But what does that mean?

The truth is, a person’s understanding of discipleship is based on their understanding of faith itself. For example, among many modern evangelical churches that come from the Anabaptist tradition, the emphasis in religious doctrine and practice is on what we do for God. God is the passive auditor, watching what we do in worship for Him. In this view, the meaning of a person’s actions — and the sincerity in which they perform them — is the key to true spiritual meaning.  This same assumption underlies how they speak of discipleship, which is why, most of what is written on the theme of discipleship from this faith tradition are what might be described as spiritual “self-improvement” books.

But just as Lutherans believe that the value and meaning of the Word and Sacraments rests not in our own actions but in the divine action of God on our behalf, you would think that this God-centered understanding of faith ought to guide our understanding of discipleship, as well. We confess, for example, the power of Baptism lies not in our spiritual sincerity, but rather, in the sure and certain Word of God. What if we were to think of discipleship in a similar manner? What if discipleship were not simply a means of spiritual-improvement, but the recognition of God’s active will being fulfilled in us by his power and Spirit?

The disciplines and actions of faith would still be there — prayer would still be prayer, the regular study of Scripture would still be central to our devotional life, and worship would still be the corporate gathering of the faithful. But these things would not be seen as the measure of our spiritual accomplishment; but rather the signs that God is indeed at work in our lives. What if it were indeed true, as Luther says above, that our prayers do not “cause” the will of God to be done in the world, but rather, our prayers are the evidence of God’s own Holy Spirit at work in us and among us? (Romans 8:27)

This is the very thing we see in Scripture. Jesus’ call to his first disciples by the Sea of Galilee was not simply an invitation for these men to engage in the work of personal self-improvement. It was the act of God himself, by which Christ took hold of their lives and created a new future for this handful of hapless fishermen. Christ himself “made disciples” that day, through his own Word and work of faith. The key to the meaning of their discipleship was that God’s will was, indeed, done among them — that day and in the many days that followed. We pray that the same may be true among us.

– Rev. Steven E. King