How many will choose “hard” when they have “easy”?

easy-buttonThe greatest failure of leadership in the history of the church may have been been allowing people to think there is a difference between salvation and discipleship.

I find no such distinction in Scripture, and it causes great complacency among Christians. That’s not hard to understand. Salvation without discipleship would be an attractive proposition to fallen human nature.

How many of us are going to choose “hard” when we’ve got an “easy” button?

Every church I grew up in believed that you first call people to salvation, then encourage them to discipleship. Most of those new believers ultimately would refuse discipleship, but that didn’t mean they weren’t “saved” and going to heaven.

At least that’s how people thought it worked. It was certainly the way they lived.

The problem is, it’s simply not true. Jesus commissioned us to make disciples, not “get people saved.”

What I see in Scripture is Jesus talking about following him, doing the will of the Father, obeying his commands to love God and neighbor, bearing fruit.

What I see in Scripture is that when Jesus laid out the difficult truth that he himself was the Way people had to follow, many deserted him and turned back.

If that crowd back then was listening to the preaching and teaching in many of today’s churches, they might have stayed on. “You are saved by accepting Jesus into your heart,” they would hear. “After that, it’s good to do Christian stuff, but it’s not essential. You will be saved in the end because you asked Jesus into your heart.”

Balderdash. No wonder “Christians” live like the lost world around them. The Enemy whispers, “Has God really said …?” People do the math and realize they can live like everyone else and ultimately it won’t matter. No wonder they fail morally. No wonder their families are in ruins. No wonder you can’t get them to “witness.” No wonder they don’t give a flip about the poor and oppressed.

You wind up with a bunch of “Christians” who aren’t saved. Some weren’t born again in the first place. Others had the life choked out of them because they weren’t walking with Jesus. Only a few actually follow Jesus.


Part of the problem is that we have described discipleship as items on a checklist: read, pray, memorize, witness, donate, go, etc.

But discipleship is no more ticking off items on a checklist than salvation is. We are not saved because we do certain things, and if discipleship is integral to salvation, we are not disciples because we do disciple stuff.

We are disciples for the same reason we are saved: We have decided to follow Jesus and we are trusting him in every aspect of life by living the way he showed us to live. That’s what faith is: Trusting Jesus enough to follow him in walking in God’s ways.

There’s no one transaction that gets you saved, and then you have the option of walking worthy. The whole salvation thing is about acknowledging that Jesus is the Way and following him, continually choosing his narrow road that leads to the small gate, instead of the broad road that leads to destruction.

If you aren’t on one road, you are on the other. Only disciples are on the narrow road.


The problem, of course, is that a pastor can’t teach this in a church run by people who are not disciples — at least not as long as that pastor is dependent on those people for livelihood. Nothing will get you fired more quickly in a Baptist church than declaring truth the deacon chairman (or his wife) doesn’t want to hear. And hierarchical, sacramental church traditions can have non-disciples in charge too. Human dispensers of grace will not tolerate preaching and teaching that implies salvation is a matter of trusting Jesus and following him in walking God’s paths.

I’m a little rusty on my church history, but isn’t that sort of what the Reformation was supposed to be about? Church leaders had devised a way to assure people of salvation without them needing to actually follow Jesus in daily life. How is it that Protestants still wound up in the same place theologically — with salvation divorced from discipleship? They even lost their leverage on the laity by admitting salvation was by grace through faith, not a result of works like making generous donations.


The solution is quite simple — and very hard: Tell people the truth. Lay out the demands of discipleship. Don’t fret about those who turn away from following Jesus. Figure out how to be the church without them and their money. As sad as it is that anyone would turn away from following Jesus, far worse would be using false teaching and false assurance to cajole them into staying.

Very few of us are going to choose “hard” when we’ve got an “easy” button. The thing is, there isn’t an easy button for salvation.


About Mark Kelly

Jesus follower, Bible reader, husband/father/son/brother/uncle, rider, hiker, snapshooter
This entry was posted in Discipleship, salvation and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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