Are we disciples of Christ, or servants?
In the short term, it is easy to fake being a follower of Christ. Discipleship requires action and conversion, the engagement of both hands and heart. Christ’s disciples do not earn God’s love by living out the Gospel. Instead, they are invited to live out the Gospel as a testament to their faith. To live it out with joy requires faith; to serve without faith is fraudulent and will yield only exhaustion.
‘Is he grateful to that servant because he did what he was commanded?’ (Lk 17:9)
Do your actions symbolize your faith?
Do you follow Gospel teaching to give glory to the God who loves you?
Discipleship requires action. This linkage has deep roots in the religion of ancient Israel. Believers had to practice their faith, and traditions arose that identified certain practices as particularly righteous. These included specific and carefully managed forms of worship, as described in the first five books of the Bible, as well as a whole host of personal practices, including male circumcision, care for widows and orphans, proportional demands in matters of equity and retribution (only an eye for an eye, no more than a tooth for a tooth). By Jesus’ day, the supreme action was the observance of the Sabbath as a day of rest not just for oneself, but also for one’s family, one’s slaves and even one’s animals. By acting according to these laws and precepts, many of which were quite public, followers of the God of Israel gave glory to God through their public display of faith.
Discipleship requires a transformation of heart as well, and Jesus identified this as a problem for many. If he often singles out the Pharisees for criticism, it is only because they were the ones most concerned with right action before God. Faith is the necessary first step in following God. Jesus notes on more than one occasion that right action without an interior transformation becomes a parody of righteousness. The laws and traditions of Israel existed as a means to give glory to the God on whom one had set one’s heart in faith. Without that action of the heart, one’s righteous activity served only to bring glory to oneself.
One must never forget that the life of discipleship is the life for which humans were created. Jews call the law of Moses Torah, a word better translated as “instruction.” It is God’s instructions on how to be human. The Gospel fills this same role for Christians. God’s followers take on an active life that at first can feel quite new, even alien. This is not the case, however; discipleship is a restoration to the life for which we are all originally made.
This realization marks the difference between a disciple and an unprofitable servant. Disciples follow God’s commands in order to discover their true humanity. Servants follow commands in hopes of receiving a reward. Servants act without faith; disciples act as a testament to their faith.
Servants can be great frauds, sinners who destroy the faith of many. More common, however, are those who, with good intentions, undertake the works of God with insufficient faith. The tasks are endless and the labor all-consuming. Servants sometimes burn out quickly; they can also linger for years in growing cynicism and despair. By contrast, disciples know that the smallest act, done in faith, gives glory to God.