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Confession of Faith - Article 17:
Discipleship and the Christian Life

   

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We believe that Jesus Christ calls us to take up our cross and follow him. Through the gift of God's saving grace, we are empowered to be disciples of Jesus, filled with his Spirit, following his teachings and his path through suffering to new life. As by faith we walk in Christ's way, we are being transformed into his image. We become conformed to Christ, faithful to the will of God, and separated from the evil in the world.

The experience of God through the Holy Spirit, prayer, Scripture, and the church empowers us and teaches us how to follow Christ. Likewise, as we follow Christ in our lives, we are brought into closer relationship with God, and Christ dwells in us.1 Through grace, God works in us to recreate us in the image of Christ, himself the image of the invisible God. Wherever Christian faith is active in love and truth, there is the new creation. By the new birth, we are adopted into God's family, becoming children of God.2 Our participation in Christ includes both salvation and discipleship.

Conformity to Christ necessarily implies nonconformity to the world.3 True faith in Christ means willingness to do the will of God, rather than willful pursuit of individual happiness.4 True faith means seeking first the reign of God in simplicity, rather than pursuing materialism.5 True faith means acting in peace and justice, rather than with violence or military means.6 True faith means giving first loyalty to God's kingdom, rather than to any nation-state or ethnic group that claims our allegiance.7 True faith means honest affirmation of the truth, rather than reliance on oaths to guarantee our truth telling.8 True faith means chastity and loving faithfulness to marriage vows, rather than the distortion of sexual relationships, contrary to God's intention.9 True faith means treating our bodies as God's temples, rather than allowing addictive behaviors to take hold. True faith means performing deeds of compassion and reconciliation, in holiness of life, instead of letting sin rule over us.10 Our faithfulness to Christ is lived out in the loving life and witness of the church community, which is to be a separated people, holy to God.

In all areas of life, we are called to be Jesus' disciples. Jesus is our example, especially in his suffering for the right without retaliation,11 in his love for enemies, and in his forgiveness of those who persecuted him. Yet, as we follow Jesus, we look not only to the cross, but through the cross, to the joy of the resurrection. We place our hope in God's vindication of those who take the narrow way that leads to life.12 "If we have died with him, we will also live with him. If we endure, we will also reign with him."13

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Commentary

  1. Christians are called to be separate from the evil in the world. Our nonconformity does not mean that we withdraw from all contact with those outside the church. Rather, our way of thinking is changed, and we avoid sinful behavior and participation in groups which promote sin (Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 5:9-10). When we do not conform to the evil ways of the world, others will sometimes separate themselves from us (John 3:20). We are able to be nonconformed to evil when we are conformed to Christ and willing to let the Holy Spirit transform us into Christ's image.

  2. Suffering may often be the result of discipleship. Jesus said, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). The early Christians also saw persecution for the faith as sharing in the sufferings of Jesus, who was their example of not repaying evil for evil (Hebrews 2:10; 1 Peter 3:8-18; 4:12-19). Yet suffering is not to be sought for its own sake. Jesus healed many who suffered, and it is right to pray for healing and for rescue from evil (Matthew 6:13). God does not tempt anyone (James 1:13) nor desire that we suffer, though God can use suffering to instruct us and bring us to salvation.

    Jesus promised blessings for those who suffer for righteousness' sake (Matthew 5:10-12; Luke 9:23-26). The New Testament understands discipleship as participation in Christ: in his ministry, in his suffering and death, and in his resurrection (for example, 2 Corinthians 4:7-12). Those who share in his suffering will also share his glory. Giving our all for the reign of God brings us joy (Matthew 13:44-46).

  3. Discipleship is to be lived out in the context of Christian community. As individuals we are called to follow Jesus, and the church community is also called to a life of discipleship. In the congregation, discipleship is also closely connected with discipline and mutual care. Christ's disciples together learn how to follow Christ more nearly in their love for each other and in their accountability to each other.

  4. The articles that follow cover specific aspects of discipleship: "Christian Spirituality" (Article 18), "Family, Singleness, and Marriage" (Article 19), "Truth and the Avoidance of Oaths" (Article 20), "Christian Stewardship" (Article 21), "Peace, Justice, and Nonresistance" (Article 22), and "The Church's Relation to Government and Society" (Article 23). See also Article 8 "Salvation" for a discussion of faith and faithfulness.

Previous article: 16. Church Order and Unity | Next article: 18. Christian Spirituality

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Scripture references

  1. Phillipians 3:10.
  2. Romans 8:12-17.
  3. Romans 12:1-2.
  4. Matthew 26:39.
  5. Matthew 5:3; 6:25-33.
  6. Zechariah 4:6; Matthew 5:6, 9, 38-48.
  7. Joshua 24; Psalms 47; Acts 5:29.
  8. Matthew 5:33-37.
  9. Matthew 5:27-30.
  10. Micah 6:8; Romans 6:12-14.
  11. 1 Peter 2:21-23; Romans 12:9-21.
  12. Matthew 7:13-14.
  13. 2 Timothy 2:11-12.