I don’t know about you, but I’ve often thought evangelical Christianity overemphasises the born again experience, to the detriment of the discipleship experience.
For me, discipleship is a process of life transformation, a process that involves both the disciple and the master and the world. Here are two teachings I find very instructive.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
You’ll notice that the first teaching takes the form of a command, a command which implies the disciple is far from passive in the transformative process. In fact, immediately prior to this the apostle Paul says, “I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” This is a call to action.
And yet, the second teaching makes it clear that transformation is ultimately about God acting on us. That any life and light we have is a mere reflection of God’s life and light. So the evangelical Christian emphasis on God’s grace is not misplaced.
At first this may seem like a paradox, but this would be to ignore the nature of the act called for in the first teaching: that of self-sacrifice, of self-surrender, of will-reorientation through will-abandonment. The renewal of the mind begins with worship, with faith.
I am reminded of the Anabaptist concept of gelassenheit, a word with connotations of passive yieldedness (towards God) and active unyieldedness (towards the world), of willing willnessness and serene tenaciousness. Life transformation is growing in the “obedience that comes from faith” (Romans 1:2), of turning from the hope the world offers towards the hope God offers and living with the implications and consequences of that. There’s a sense of passive activity and active passiveness. It’s a life we choose as it is chosen for us.
And it is a life, not just an event. Turning towards Jesus is something we have done and must continue to do, deeper and deeper, as we come into deeper awareness of the deeper implications. We all experience deep contradictions in our lives, in how we relate to God and our world. Discipleship is a journey towards life integration.