Monday, October 08, 2018 - Updated: 2:02 pm
The first and most radiant facet of the diamond of discipleship is faith. Imagine this virtue as a power source capable of launching a rocket into outer space. Only if we live by faith in the full truth of the Gospel can we hear God’s call to us personally and as a community of Christians. Only if we believe in Christ when he says, “Come, follow me,” do we dare to call ourselves messengers of the mystery and members of his body.
When God called Abraham at age 75 to leave the life he knew and become the father of a covenant people (Genesis 12:1-3), he acted on God’s word in pure faith. For no reason he could fathom, God asked him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. He believed in God’s plan, outrageous as it seemed, only to learn that his obedience was what God most desired (Genesis 22:9-14).
The prophet David prevailed over the giant Goliath because he felt confident that God would let him triumph and save his people (1 Samuel 17:50-54).
Countless are the times recorded in the Bible when faith dispels fear, confirms the veracity of God’s promise and turns affliction into a way of advancement to God. Faith allows an empty jar to be filled with oil (2 Kings 4:1-7); restores sight to the blind (Tobit 11:7-8); and assures a virgin that she will give birth to a son, who will reign over the house of Jacob forever (Luke 1:26-38). As the apostle Paul testified to the Romans, “… a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law” (Romans 3:28).
In the best of times, faith prompts gratitude to God. In the worst of times, even without our full understanding, faith gives us the courage to fight the good fight. Belief demands and confirms our commitment to the Lord until the race reaches the finish line (1 Timothy 6:12).
The stronger our faith is, the brighter will shine the second facet of the diamond of discipleship, namely, the freedom to be a “fool” for Christ contrary to the standards set by the world (1 Corinthians 4:10). The cross of Christ was the antithesis of worldly power and prestige, yet on that tree hung the Savior of the world.
What endangers discipleship is to reduce it to a functional enterprise that cares more about quantitative results than qualitative conversion of heart. A business model based on the demand for impressive outcomes dims this facet of the diamond.
Any attempt to tell the story of our faith and bypass the failure of the cross ends in falsehood. Significant on this score is Paul’s assessment of the paradox embedded in this second facet: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed …” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
Only when disciples choose to deny the illusion of self-sufficiency can they avail themselves of the grace to take up the crosses life sends and rely on Jesus. Only then are they ready to follow the Messiah, who defeated death and who is with us now as our risen Lord.
Disciples whose faith is weak and who do not give themselves the freedom to be “fools” for Christ can never mirror the third facet of this diamond: friendship with the Lord. He himself drew his disciples from their old role as servants to the intimacy of their new role as friends (John 15:15).
Friends stand by us in good times and bad; when we need them most, they are there. That is why Peter’s denial of Jesus three times shocks us. It is the power of friendship that convinced Peter to repent. Jesus then confirmed the truth that he was worthy to feed his lambs and tend his sheep (John 21:15-17).
The more we polish these first three facets of the diamond of discipleship, the more likely it is that we will “bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16). Fruitfulness is the fourth facet that glows with faithfulness; with the freedom to be a “fool” for the sake of upholding the cross; and with the grace of being called friends by Christ.
What lasts when all else passes away is the fruit that identifies us as Christ’s disciples. Paul names this bounty: “… love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). In stark contrast to these virtues are the bad fruits of conceit, competition and envy.
Taken together, these diamonds of discipleship lead to inner transformation of heart. In turn it changes our life, bringing to a world darkened by sin the light that shines in the darkness, that the darkness shall never overcome (John 1:5).
Muto is dean and executive director of the Epiphany Academy of Formative Spirituality in Pittsburgh’s Beechview neighborhood. Visit www.epiphanyassociation.org.