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Monday, April 18, 2016

The Grammar of Discipleship – Part I

The following reflection on the nature of Christian discipleship comes from a seminarian who also is an English teacher. She draws on the teachings of the Rev. Tommy Hinson, Rector of Church of the Advent, Washington, DC.

By Hope Ellen Rapson

“You are…so do this!”

Consider how Jesus’ grammatical use of verb tenses was modelled to the the people with whom he interacted. For example, to the woman caught in adultery by religious leaders preparing to stone her, He affirms first the accusers by saying, “He among you who is sinless, cast the first stone.” They leave from the oldest to the youngest dropping their stones as they go. Jesus affirms their spiritual reality; they are all sinners and deserve death.

Understanding this, the religious leaders examine their own lives. Are they not guilty also? Do they not live with a bent toward sin? Are they so righteous, that they can take the place of God in condemning someone who has sinned as they have? Because of Jesus’ indirect, negatively stated challenge they do exactly as Jesus wants them to do: leave the woman alone; allow the True Judge to deal with her sin.

Turning to the accused adulteress, Jesus likewise affirms who she is, then gives her the challenge to act accordingly. “Where are your accusers?” he asks.

She replies, “There are none.”

Jesus then says, “Neither do I condemn you. Your sins are forgiven; go, and sin no more.”

The Lord Jesus affirms the sinful state of the woman and then as Emmanuel…God with us…expresses her value as a person by saying, “Neither do I accuse you; you are forgiven,” a statement of indicative position. However, Jesus follows this is an imperative. He commands her to renounce her immoral lifestyle from that point and continuing into the future, “Go, and sin no more.” (John 8:1-11)

The present indicative tense followed by the imperative future tense is the key to faithful discipleship. The indicative expresses the reality of who we are in God’s sight here and now. “You are...” The imperative future tense challenges us to embrace tranformative grace; to change our present condition proceeding forward to that state for which God designed us. “So do this!” This is the pattern of discipleship, the experience of every follower of Christ.

At his "Last Supper" with his disciples, Jesus clearly teaches: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) The indicative statement is expressed “If you are loving me,” and the imperative future tense is expressed “from this point seek to practice what I have instructed you to do."  

In the Epistle of James, first leader/bishop of the Jerusalem church and probable half-brother of Jesus, one finds the same language pattern. James describes the hearer in terms of a man who looks into the mirror and recognizes who he is and what he looks like. However, when he walks away from the mirror, he forgets who he is and does as he pleases. James is describing the person who receives the “You are...” but refuses to address the “…so do this!”  Such a person is not a true disciple. His professed belief is assent to the truth, not trust in the God of truth. James go so far as to say such a person’s belief is “dead” (KJV) or “worthless” (NASB) because it produces no change (James 1:23-25). The hearer refuses to take up the challenge to change. He resists James exhortation to “Be doers of the Word, not hearers only.” The imperative is an essential element of true discipleship.

Let us look into our mirrors and see ourselves as we really are…sinners forgiven by the grace of God through faith in Christ.  Let us go forward in faith, taking up the challenges God gives us. Let us live grammatically as disciples: “You are…So do this!”

Related reading: The Grammar of Salvation

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