"Discipleship" seems to often take one of two directions, either the Bible study and knowledge path or the "practical life application" and How To list path. In the Bible study and knowledge path we believe that spiritual maturity is the result of knowing more of the Bible and moving deeper into study. This path often fills heads with more and more knowledge and leads those taking it to be less and less interested in anything that isn't new, deep, and exciting. Those who take the Practical Life Application/How To approach often reduce the Bible's teachings to lists for self help and improvement. Along this path are signs that read, "7 Ways to a Happier You," 6 ways to Be a Better ______________ "(you fill in the blank: dad, mom, friend, boss, Christian...).
While we need both - Bible study and practical application for life neither of these is the end that we really need - in fact, even the combination is not the end that we really need. What we really need is to know Jesus. Peter says it this way,
3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (II Peter 1:3)
All that we need for life and all that we need for godliness has been given to us - NOT through more knowledge about the Bible and NOT through more practical life application of biblical principles - but through the knowledge of Jesus and specifically the knowledge of Jesus and the Good News of the Gospel. The Gospel isn't just for unbelievers! It isn't Good News only for those who don't know Jesus - it is really incredible news for believers as well!
How you ask? How does the Gospel help me with being a better husband? That's a great question! When we want to know how to be a better husband wee need look no further than the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (the gospel = the life, death, resurrection of Jesus).
- Life: Take a look at Ephesians 5:25-33. Jesus shows us what real love for a spouse looks like. The life of Jesus is our example for good, godly, pure love. If I can love like Jesus I will be a great husband. In I Corinthians 13:4-12 the Apostle Paul tells us what love looks like - patient and kind, does not envy or boast, is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way... If we read the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John we see in the life of Jesus those very qualities - even in the midst of suffering and persecution!
- Death: In the Ephesians 5 passage we see that the ultimate love of Jesus was to sacrifice Himself for His bride - the church. Likewise the ultimate picture of a husbands love is to be in his sacrifice for his bride. Most likely that won't include death! But it is a daily call to sacrifice SELF for the good of her, to sacrifice your wants for her wants (all of course in keeping with God's wants!). John tells us in I John 3:16, By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us... John then calls on us to love in the same way. Another beautiful thing that His death reminds us of is forgiveness (Eph 1:7). Even when we fail to love like Jesus, His blood, through faith covers our sins! We are forgiven. This moment is a new moment to try again. In fact, in that we see another glimpse of His great love for us - that He would be so kind, merciful and full of grace with us! That should remind us to do likewise with our spouse - be kind, merciful, and full of grace.
- Resurrection: The resurrection is His victory over Satan, sin and death! It is also OUR Victory over Satan, sin and death. Just as God promised throughout the Scripture, starting in Genesis 3:15, the enemy would be defeated and he would redeem His people and restore all things as He intends. The resurrection not only reminds us that because we are in Christ, His victory is ours and we are no longer held captive by the enemy or by sin and death, it also reminds us that God will fulfill all of His promises to us. Promises to protect us, to keep us, to watch over us, to strengthen us, to empower us, to transform us, to shape us into the image of Jesus, to work all things together for good, to lead us, to convict us, to redeem us, to save us... and on and on and on we could go. Jesus is victorious! And because he is, all of the promises of God find their YES in Him! (II Cor 1:20). It is the power of the Spirit of the resurrection that now indwells me, shapes me, encourages me, strengthens me, enables me... to see Jesus and follow Jesus to love like He loves.
The Failure of Bible Study or Life Application/ How To lists comes because they are powerless to do what Jesus, through the Spirit can do - transform my very identity. The Apostle Paul makes clear in II Corinthians 5:17 that when we believe and are found in Christ, we are made new creations - the old is passed away and ALL is made new. I am now a Son of God. I am now sealed with His very Spirit. He has softened my Heart. He has opened my eyes. He has started a good work in me that He will complete (Phil 1:6) and I will be shaped into the very image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). This is good news! And I know that it is true because of the victory of Jesus in the Gospel. Knowing more about the Bible and creating "How to" lists at best produce self-saving, self-righteous Pharisees and at worst lead us to terrible despair because in our own strength we cannot be what we want to be - we cannot be sons and daughters. We cannot accomplish what we want to accomplish - being good, being loved, being somebody. But Jesus never fails! In Him we have all of that because He has made it so. All that we need for life and godliness we have - in Him.
One More for Good Measure For those who may still be doubting I offer one more passage, II Corinthians 3:18:
18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
The way of transformation may include learning more Scripture and studying the Bible - these are good things! It may also include making some simple lists to help us remember things - this too can be good, but ultimately if we are not looking at Jesus - beholding His glory in His life, death, and Resurrection, change will almost always fall short and there will be no real and lasting transformation.