Discipleship: Legalism or Love?

Those who consider all the talk about discipleship and continuance to be a legalistic manifestation of works generally maintain that we ought to rest in faith alone. Whatever happens in our lives must be God’s doing. It is His power working in us and through us. Although this assertion is true, it also stands incomplete. Again we must remember that when we enter into salvation, we enter a relationship. We cannot always be looking at what God will do for us. Certainly we ought to consider God’s feelings in this relationship. Does He not deserve the moments of pleasure and gratification that our obedience and surrender can bring Him? Why are we always looking for theological loopholes to escape the responsibilities of a relationship?

Often the analogy is used of a child using his father’s money to purchase a special gift for the father. Although the gift was purchased by means provided by the father, this does not, we are told, in any way diminish the impact of the expression. While this argument is accurate as far as it goes, it does not take into account our relationship to Christ as lover. He is spoken -of as the Bridegroom, we as his bride. Don’t we sing choruses to him as the “Lover of My Soul?” In this love relationship, pleasure can in no way be self-induced. It must come as a free will origination of another moral being. Only then will the soul rest in satisfaction. The rest of faith must not be considered as a cessation of activity, but rather an internal confidence in the character of our Beloved. As in marriage, from the altar and beyond, we relax in the surety that we have chosen the right one.

Discipleship is merely a “following out of love.” It is to obey Christ’s commandments because they are wise, loving, and for the good of our relationship. But when Jesus asks us to do something, we must learn to do it—rather than change the request to mean what suits us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer looks at this issue in light of Jesus’ confrontation with the rich young man.

We are excusing ourselves from single-minded obedience to the word of Jesus on the pretext of legalism and a supposed preference for an obedience ‘in faith.’ The difference between ourselves and the rich young man is that he was not allowed to solace his regrets by saying: ‘Never mind what Jesus says, I can still hold on to my riches… despite my inadequacy I can take comfort in the thought that God has forgiven me my sins and can have fellowship with Christ in faith. But no, he went away sorrowful. Because he would not obey, he could not believe.

If Jesus said to someone: ‘Leave all else behind and follow me’ …if Jesus challenged us with the command: ‘Get out of it we should take Him to mean: ‘Stay where you are, but cultivate that inward detachment.’ When orders are issued in other spheres of life there is no doubt whatsoever of their meaning. Are we to treat the commandment of Jesus differently from other orders and exchange obedience for downright disobedience? Struggling against the ‘legalism’ of simple obedience… we land ourselves in the worst kind of legalism. The only way to overcome this legalism is by real obedience to Christ when He calls us… by eliminating simple obedience… we take it for granted as we open the Bible that we have a key to its interpretation. But then the key we use would not be the Living Christ… the key we use is a general doctrine of grace which we can apply as we will. [1]A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (Harper & Row), p. 11.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (Harper & Row), p. 11.