Unconditional Discipleship

“For you were called to freedom …” (Gal. 5:1)

All faithful people are called by God to exercise gifts of ministry. Human nature being what it is, however, most place selfish conditions on obedience to that call.

Elisha, plowing in a field, is invited to assist and ultimately to succeed the mighty prophet Elijah. Elisha’s response? “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you” (1 Kings 19:20). Obedience? Yes, but only in Elisha’s time and on Elisha’s terms. And then in today’s gospel, Jesus calls several individuals to be his disciples, with similar results. Responds one: “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” And another: “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home” (Luke 9:59b, 61). Faithfulness? Of course, but only after personal scores are settled.

Jesus makes it clear that such “conditional discipleship” is never good enough. “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60, 62). Putting one’s own desires ahead of obedience to the Lord quite simply is sin. And sin, Paul tells us, is nothing less than slavery to self. “For freedom Christ has set us free,” he says. “Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence” (Gal. 5:1,13).

The Lord today calls each member of the Church to join in his own ministry of reconciliation. Our call is to build up Christ’s body. Just like our scriptural forebears, however, we often place personal conditions on obedience to that call. “I’ll work for the unity of the body — just as soon as the right bishops are invited to Lambeth.” ”I’ll give my all to healing wounds in the church — right after my side prevails in civil property suits.”  “God, I’ll certainly champion unity in the Spirit — just as soon as you show the world that my personal beliefs and values totally sum up your truth.” But putting our own desires ahead of obedience to the Lord, we all know, is sin.

We’re enjoined today to “[l]ive by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16) — that is, to be unconditionally obedient to the Spirit’s call to us to ministry. We “who belong to Christ Jesus,” after all, “have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (5:24). There’s no room for any selfish condition to stand in the way of obedience to the Spirit’s call to unity.

Look It Up

According to the parable of Jesus found in Luke 14:15-24a, any number of personal concerns can take precedence over obedience to the Lord’s call. What is the price of this sort of personal idolatry?

Think About It

How do we identify in our own lives those forces which keep us from obeying God? What can we do about them?

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