What Does God Require of Us?

What does God ask of us? God asks that Christians be true disciples. If you are a disciple you will follow Jesus with your heart, mind, soul and strength. And you will not “just do it” as Nike famously says. This cannot be done all alone by your hard work. You were not redeemed to pursue God’s kingdom alone. You were made for God and God is a community of persons in eternal oneness. You were redeemed to grow and develop within a community of faith set apart by this relational God. This, it seems to me, includes both formal and informal expression. Baptism and the eucharist are more formal times and places for discipleship. Corporate liturgy is the same. Scripture reading, a wonderful private exercise, should also be a part of your public life with others. (Sadly, this has been all but lost in some of the most conservative evangelical Protestant churches where very little of the Bible is public read.)

When we became disciples we were invited to walk on a journey. We entered a road, a pathway, that leads us somewhere if we will persevere and keep following. There is a pathway given to each of us that will become increasingly clear over time but I fear we have missed this point far too easily these days. God-lite, religion-soft, faith-comfortable and sacrifice-nil Christianity abounds. Multitudes tell Gallup and Pew pollsters that they are believers but there is little or no evidence that they act on this profession in meaningful ways.

What does God call us to in his call to true discipleship? Your answer, to some extent, depends on your image of God.

Our images of God arise from various sources; parents, culture, religious background, etc. The fact is that most of us move like a pendulum from a jealous and angry God who demands what we cannot give to a anthropomorphic, folksy, easy-going God who requires nothing at all just that we remain passive and be loved.

Is God the giver of laws, the punisher who can’t wait to throw sinners into hell, the relentless seeker of divine justice? Or is he the sweet, gentle, easy-going forgiver, your pal and best friend? Let’s be honest, the Scriptures can appear to present one view and then, in another place, what seems to be the other. I believe there is a very clear answer to this problem, one that can be found in understanding what the apostle John really meant when he said, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). But I save that meditation for another time, perhaps in my next book, Our Love Is Too Small.

images-2I am more concerned at this point with reflecting on what God really does require of us. The book of Deuteronomy, the last book in the Torah, makes the answer to this type of question quite plain. Deuteronomy explores, in a most transparent way, the relationship that God wants between himself and his people. This relationship is based upon a covenant that God made with his people. Frank P. DeSiano notes that this covenant can be essentially expressed by the notion of faithful loyalty. “God will be faithfully loyal to the Jewish people; God expects their faithful loyalty in return” (The Seven Commandments of Discipleship, New York: Paulist Press, 2003, 2). Here is how the writer of Deuteronomy puts this:

Moses said:

12 People of Israel, what does the Lord your God want from you? The Lord wants you to respect and follow him, to love and serve him with all your heart and soul, 13 and to obey his laws and teachings that I am giving you today. Do this, and all will go well for you (Deuteronomy 10:12-13, CEV).

While this statement should encourage us if you read the Old Testament long enough you will see that the utter simplicity of this covenant demands everything; i.e. your whole life. Micah 6:8 expresses this very well:

The Lord God has told us
what is right
and what he demands:
“See that justice is done,
let mercy be your first concern,
and humbly obey your God.”

We cannot read a text like this and not conclude that discipleship demands our life, our all. Jesus put this even more starkly and plainly:

Jesus then told the crowd and the disciples to come closer, and he said:

If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me. If you want to save your life, you will destroy it. But if you give up your life for me and for the good news, you will save it (Mark 8:34-35, CEV).

This statement seems to take us further than the Torah, telling us that we must “take up your cross” and “give up your life.” I suggest that we can only understand the life of Jesus if we see his own covenantal relationship with the Father and how this led him to completely and totally live out these Old Testament texts.

The cross is Jesus’ way of telling us that living out a life of discipleship means living and serving with everything one has no matter what it costs us. Jesus, and Jesus alone, perfectly loves the Father with all his heart, mind, soul and strength. But Jesus has shown us the way to live our the new covenant and given us the Holy Spirit so that we might follow in his steps.

So, what does Jesus require of us? Quite simply, that we come to love as he loved, serve as he served, and give as he gave. Jesus calls you and me to be his disciples–disciples who follow him by living out a relationship with God that is one of total dependence and complete trust. Jesus put this clearly: “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26, NRSV).

We must, therefore, dismantle the duality that we’ve created between ordinary Christians and faithful disciples, a duality that we use as an excuse for our lack of focus and a deep sense of calling. Discipleship does means y-o-u.

 

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