This is an excerpt from my new book about discipleship, How to Colonize Mars, due out in the Fall.
“Being authentic” gets thrown around a lot. And so (ironically) there are a lot of clichés that come with it. But in discipleship, being your real self (that is, authentic) is the only way to make progress.
There’s a lie floating around that says something about the way you should be portraying yourself. It says, “Yeah…you can be saved, but you can’t disciple someone.” It picks apart verses like the qualification to be a pastor or deacon, and then conflates them with insecurities that ask, “Who am I anyway to be discipling another?” Or, “What do I have to offer?”
The subtle sneakiness that happens here is the mixing up of what we’re sinning for. Stick with me for a minute.
To keep living in a way you know is wrong—that’s sin. And when you’re willing to let it lie, to not do the shoveling necessary to get that part of you out—that’s sin, too.
But this is a different thing from just sinning. (A quick don’t-burn-me-yet aside: All sin separates us from God, and on this level, there is no difference between any of it. The real difference is in our hearts. What gets us up and moves us out? Does our sin hurt us? Are we sorry for it?)
“Just sinning” is what we do. It’s a part of our dirtiness. There’s no way we can be perfect until we have been perfected. Whether it’s your eyes following that woman, a tendency to the ole’ five-finger discount, or not controlling your anger when you should—whatever it is, it’s what we do with it that counts. It’s whether we’re fighting it, trying not to look or steal or rage or whatever. We will fail. But it’s what we do with our failure that separates us followers from the rest.
It’s not sin that disqualifies us from making disciples. (In fact, it’s our sin that makes the need for discipleship so great.)
Instead, it’s when we don’t hate our sin that cuts the divide so wide. This is the kind of thing that makes us inauthentic, and this is what disqualifies us. In short: it’s rebellion from who we are.
The Bible calls this the unpardonable sin. If salvation (and the way of life that comes with it) is a thing to be accepted, then its rejection is what keeps us absent. If that’s where we are—not willing to be open about our sin, then we’re not really disciples. And if we’re not disciples then the conversation doesn’t exist.
But if you’re burdened for this kind of thing, then you’re okay. God’s spirit inside us does that. He longs to make our mess clean. And when He does, we feel it.
This burden is not another form of legalism, it’s liberty. We don’t have to worry that we’ve forgotten to confess a sin here, or that we’ve missed something there. We just need to remember the One who hasn’t. He’s freed us to serve Him. And one of the greatest services He’s called us to do is to teach these same lessons to others.
Some of the greatest teachers are only a few steps ahead of their students. And that makes them great because they have freshly understood what they are turning to impart. They are not levels upon levels removed from the data—their hands are still dirty in it. And so they have the freshest ability to pass it on.
This is what discipleship is about.
It’s not about being a great and accomplished master. It’s about being just a step or two ahead of another, and then giving them a hand on the path.
So…what do you have to offer?
A redeemed and transformed life. You have to offer the lessons Jesus is teaching you each day. And on the days when He’s not teaching you lessons (or, rather, on the days when you can’t feel it—those days certainly exist), then…you teach that. You teach steadfastness when it’s so quiet that you can’t even hear that still small voice.
You teach that it’s okay to have doubts. Like the man who’s little boy was sick and said, “I believe! Help me with my doubts” (Mark 9:24).
That’s the right kind of prayer.
And that’s the lesson we sometimes need to be teaching. It’s not from a position of having-arrived, but instead from a position of knowing the One Who is, and Who was, and Who always will be.