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Discipleship 101 Series: Post 2 - How the Gospel Moves us Closer Together

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Truth to Life

Luke 7:36-50 tells a remarkable story about a sinful woman (most likely a prostitute) who made her way into a high society dinner party at the home of Simon, a Pharisee, in order to express her faith and devotion to Jesus in the form of worship. The story is meant in some ways to draw a contrast between the unnamed sinful woman and Simon, a man of means and prestige. The contrast draws out for us how one’s experience of the Gospel affects our entire lives, especially our relationships.

In short, the woman makes herself incredibly vulnerable and humble by providing for Jesus what Simon failed to provide. A servant might have washed his feet with water; she washed his feet with her tears and hair and kissed his feet and anointed them with perfumed oil, most likely a tool of her trade. Simon, having believed that Jesus was a prophet, was on the spectrum of belief, but in no way came close to demonstrating the kind of love and devotion that this unnamed sinful woman demonstrates.

Jesus then tells the story of two men who owed very different debt amounts, one ten times greater than the other. He confronted Simon with the question of who would love him more. Simon gave the obvious answer: the one who was forgiven more. And hence, we learn the Gospel lesson from the story, which is, the greater one is in touch with the sinfulness of his sin, the more one will also be in touch with God’s ruthless love and perfect holiness, leading to a profound experience of grace as one that is deeply loved by God. It is this experience of grace that changes our approach to life and especially relationships!

Gospel Foundations

So, the question at hand is this: How does this Gospel truth, that the more I am in touch with the sinfulness of my sin (in light of His holiness) and the depths of God’s infinite love, lead to ever increasing experiences of grace in me and in my relationships? How can i tell that this Gospel truth is actually changing my heart? There are at least three distinct ways that this story provides us with some markers to look for in answering this question. Not surprisingly, all three of them are to be seen in my relationships with others.

First, an experience of the Gospel will provide us with increasing levels of responsibility for our fellow man.

In our relationships with other people, we will be more proactive and more intentional than ever when we experience the density of grace that permeates our own relationship with Jesus. You see, when an enslaved person experiences redemption and freedom from slavery at the hand of another who paid their purchase price, their first response is always, “I owe you my life!” This is the basic message of 2 Corinthians 5:15 where Paul says, “and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” The freedom and forgiveness experienced by the unnamed woman in Luke 7 is what provided her with the courage to walk into that room, the very place where she could have been accused and stoned, in order to serve her Lord. Her devotion to Him and His cause was relentless.

Second, an experience with the Gospel will provide us with increasing levels of vulnerability.

Vulnerability has to do with the ease at which you allow people to see the real you - the unhidden, unmasked, brokenness that has affected your soul. You see because the woman in Luke 7 experienced God’s grace being applied to her brokenness, she no longer felt as if she needed to reside in the shadows. She moved out into the open and lived in freedom. As it relates to our disciple-making relationships, it is the power of the Gospel that heals and touches our brokenness and allows us the freedom and confidence to expose ourselves to others. We no longer need to hide or fear rejection by others, when we know that we have been received and loved by God and we have begun to rest in that love more and more.

Third, an experience with the Gospel will provide us with increasing levels of humility.

If vulnerability is about allowing people to see you for who you are, then humility is the ability to see yourself rightly and in line with the Gospel in relationship to others.

The woman in the story demonstrated to us an amazing sense of humility. She did what many Jews would never do. She not only washed the feet of Jesus, a gentile servant’s job, she did it with her tears, hair, and perfume. She was empowered to do this because the depth of her sinfulness was met with the mercy and grace of God, thus moving her to serve.

In disciple-making relationships, as in all relationships, it is easy to subconsciously see yourself as better than the other person, because your struggles are not theirs. In so doing, an ethos of spiritual pride can develop that causes you to celebrate not the success of Christ, but rather the hard work and discipline of the disciple. Humility is central as it creates an environment where all are deeply loved and all can freely confess and own their brokenness.

Tools, Strategies, and Actionables

Taking these truths about the Gospel and moving them into your relationships at first will feel like death, but in the end, they will bring life. Jesus states in John 8 that the truth sets one free. The truth he speaks of is, of course, rooted in Him. Therefore, as we experience the reality of God’s truth in the person of Jesus, we should expect nothing other than profound freedom. Here are some ways to live into that freedom.

Do not settle for being reactionary. Be proactive in your pursuit of people.

Who has God placed in your natural sphere of influence? What would it look like to move toward them from a Gospel perspective? Also, can you identify at least one or two people that you can intentionally meet together for the purpose of discipleship? Do not wait on it to come to you. You take the initiative and seek it out.

Practice vulnerability: Vulnerability should be tied less to trust in people and more to trust in God. Allowing people to see you for who you are is an important step in living into the freedom and power of God.

How to be vulnerable?

  • Be in intentional relationships of trust and love with a handful of people committed to mutual discipleship. You don't need to be fully vulnerable with all your “stuff” with the entire church you are a part of.
  • Be intentional to share with your discipleship-making friends those parts of you that the Spirit is currently challenging or convicting you of.
  • Do not wait until you have resolved the issue before sharing it. If you do, then everyone loses an opportunity for growth and communal experience of the Gospel. Besides, the resolution you arrive at on your own may not be as comprehensive in identifying the core issue. If so, it will not lead you into as much freedom.
  • Know and discuss the difference between conviction and guilt. One comes from the Spirit and the other from a variety of sources, including but not limited to a religious desire to do penance (“fix” yourself), the fear of being rejected by God if you don’t get your act together, the fear of being rejected by others, or the fear of not living up to the standard of a group of people to which you desperately want to belong.

How to respond to people as they express vulnerability:

  • Affirm them: It takes courage to be honest! Do not waste the opportunity by either brushing over what was shared or by invalidating how they feel about it.
  • Even if emotions are blatantly negative or blame shifting, help your friend embrace the fact of the feeling so that you can explore together its source. “Why do you suppose this particular event/interaction led to this result in your heart?” Simply trying to “eliminate” the “bad” feeling or impulse won’t root it out.
  • Remind them: Point them back to the Gospel: yes, they are broken and struggling, but they are even more deeply loved! This can be done in many different ways. Some include:

Questions that challenge worldview

  • Using scripture
  • Using stories from the bible or your life that connect and point to the Gospel
  • Direct confrontation and correction where needed. As this is a last resort, try to avoid using this at all cost. Self discovery is always the most powerful.
  • Dream with them: You might ask questions like, “What would your life look like if the Gospel was freeing you in this particular area?” Sometimes, people just need to know what life would look like if they responded differently to the circumstances that life throws at us. This might involve a simple exploration of how the “golden rule” applies in a situation, not for behavior modification, but to explore how our own hearts work in a broken way that leads to broken relationships. Or it might look something like this: “If you would have done “x” in situation “y” maybe you would have gotten the result of “z”.” This is about creating scenarios in a person's mind that uses Gospel truths to draw them into a new way of living courageously.