Last year I read A.W. Tozer’s The Set of the Sail, a collection of devotionals. One entry in particular really hammered the church during his day for its separation of salvation from discipleship. The notion that someone could “ask Jesus into his/her heart” and not progress in joyful obedience to Him is unacceptable in the New Testament.
Tozer identifies three substitutes that the church of his day (and I think of ours) made for discipleship.
…an enjoyable feeling of affection for the person of our Lord… It is entirely possible for a person to feel for Jesus an ardent love which is not of the Holy Spirit… The heart is adept at emotional tricks and is entirely capable of falling in love with imaginary objects or romantic religious ideas… [Beware] the erroneous notion that love is an enjoyable inward passion, without intellectual or volitional qualities and carrying with it no moral obligations.
We fall into pietism when we make our relationship with God about how we feel at any given moment. If we aren’t having warm fuzzies in our worship encounters or daily devotionals, we interpret our lack of emotional intimacy to distance. While that may be true in isolated instances, it most certainly is not an accurate way to gauge our relationship with God. We will not always feel close to Him. Tozer quotes Jesus:
Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him… If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. (John 14:21-24 ESV)
In other words, loving God should involve our feelings, but it should be led by our feelings. True love and intimacy with God is characterized by our joyful submission and willing obedience.
It lives by the letter of the Word while ignoring its spirit… external compliance with the text… Literalism attempts to build a holy temple upon the sandy foundation of the religious self. It will suffer, sacrifice and labor, but it will not die.
On the other hand, our discipleship should not go to the other extreme – of a rote obedience to God without seeking to cultivate an inward affection for Him. God is not an unpleasant boss to be brown-nosed. Rather, He is a loving Savior to be adored. We serve Him because He modeled service for us (Philippians 2:5-8), we we love Him because he first loved us. We should be wary of embracing TRUTH at the expense of love. Paul even urged us to “speak the truth.. in love.” (Ephesians 4:15)
Zealous religious activity
Christ has become a project to be promoted or a cause to be served instead of a Lord to be obeyed… The result is an army of men who run without being sent and speak without being commanded.
Tozer also identified busyness as an improper way to grow in our discipleship. Though he was writing in the first half of the 20th century, this avenue to “spirituality” is alive and well in the first half of the 21st. We see all kinds go great initiatives being substituted for true discipleship. If a person is deeply involved in _______ (you name the cause), they may be misled to think that they are growing in their relationship with God as a result.
Discipleship is only discipleship as it is centered on Jesus. When we attempt to center it on our emotions, being right, or in serving others, we delude ourselves.
Two other entries from reflections on The Set of the Sail are: