Children of the Father or Disciples of Christ?

An essential failure in disciple in our church, and perhaps in evangelicalism, is dawning on me.  Not only a failure to follow Christ in his radical discipleship, in his self-giving love, in his calls from/against the world, for the sake of the world.  This failure of discipleship is of course the great omission of which Dallas Willard speaks.

I’m thinking of the failure to understand discipleship as becoming a child of the Father, of knowing the Father that Jesus knew.  The Fatherhood of God is the most distinctive aspect of God of Jesus’s teaching.  The Old Testament refers to God as father only a handful of time while Jesus teaches/refers to God as the Father over a hundred times (just in the Gospels!) and the rest of the New Testament picks up this thread.

In the evangelicalism that I come from, and the missional churches I know, the hard calling of following Christ is rarely linked to the high calling of being a child of the Father.  Our discipleship is rightly based in seeking the Father’s will just as Jesus did, of learning to say with Jesus “Take this cup from me.  But not my will, but your will be done” (Mark 14:36).  But this picture of selfless abandon in the Garden of Gethsemane, as right as it is, is incomplete because we often exclude the first part of the verse (“Abba, Father…”) and the relationship of trust and love that flows between Father and Son.

Jesus knew, in everyway, that the Father loved, valued, and rejoiced in the Son, and it was only from this place that Jesus could obey, live, suffer, and die according to the Father’s will.

I fear that we too often call ourselves, and others, to live, love, suffer, and die for the mission of the gospel of the Son, but do it without knowing the Father’s love for us.  And I’m not talking about the general-generic love that God has for the world, that God loves us and died for us, that God’s love saved us.  I’m talking about the specific knowing, rejoicing, celebrating, and protecting of me, of you, of individual people that our Father wants to pour out on us.

Of course I understand how an overly sentimentalized, even therapeutic, or health-n-wealth view of God in many evangelical or charismatic churches has caused this reaction and shift to radical discipleship in Christ, but we must learn again to balance being disciples of the Son and being children of God.  As one in our congregation said, “The radical calling of Jesus is a call to be children of the Father rather than children of the world.”

Whose child are you?  If we labor under the banner of Jesus, but not also of the Father, I fear we will most often end in despair and dejection or legalism and triumphalism, rather than the joy and peace available to us.

8 Replies to “Children of the Father or Disciples of Christ?”

  1. Geoff–

    I'm glad you wrote the second to last paragraph above–before reading it, I was thinking that you were headed right back to the Egypt of Western evangelicalism. The missional conversation's critique has included the impugning of individualism. I don't think Scripture points toward an individualistic understanding of our relationship with God the Father. It seems to me that the teaching of the NT is that the Holy Spirit unites us with Jesus the Son, and through this union we share in the Son's relationship with the Father. The relationship in view, then, is not between me and God the Father (individualistic); rather, we (the people of God) are included in the community that is the triune God. When our relationship with God is thought of in this way, it becomes nonsensical to speak of trying "to balance being disciples of the Son and being children of God." When we follow Jesus, we share in his relationship with the God he called "Abba"; and we refer to God as "Father" as an act of discipleship–we follow the example of Jesus when we do so.

  2. Josh,

    thanks for the comment. Yes I agree with what you are saying. But I do want to push just a little deeper. I wouldn’t say that our relationship is individualistic, I would want to say that it is not “merely individualistic” because I do think it is individual and personal, that we learn to live, trust, and expect God to act on our behalf (individually, in our particular circumstances). While this can easily flip into some sort of overly individualist, health-wealth mentality, I want us to get back to the idea that praying for of daily needs is perfectly welcomed by our Father.

    Maybe I would say that I perfectly agree with you reading of the HS and the Son, but that it is Pauline in nature (corporatist), and needs also the Gospels intimacy with the Father.

    but, yeah, in no way do I want a return to individualism and its vending machine type of God.

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