The Relational Progression
A Relational Theology of Discipleship
4 The Character of Discipleship
Importance of the Whole Person
Study Note: Please engage each chap. in sequence because this study is cumulative.
People may think they are doing what is right,
but the Lord examines the heart.
The heart reflects the person.
Prov. 27:19b, NLT
We have to consciously resist the tendency to practice discipleship as doing something--whether it is to serve, sacrifice or whatever for Christ but subtly not have relational involvement with him. The strength of this tendency is inversely proportional to the extent that we are being transformed from defining ourselves by what we do or have, as well as from how we do relationships based on that identity. This transformation involves not only the individual but involves the compounding influences surrounding that individual--which include the influences from church and Christian community.
If we have yet to grasp the significance of Jesus' statement "I desire mercy [compassion], not sacrifice" (Mt 9:13, cf. Hos 6:6), our discipleship will lack relational significance to him. His desire (Gk. thelo) indicates not only actively willing something but also pressing on to action; it is the root for another term (thelema) which denotes God's will, signifying his gracious disposition toward what pleases him and creates joy. The relational significance of responding to his desire or will is an issue we need to deal with ongoingly in order to help us distinguish what we are actually doing in our efforts to follow him.
Additionally, if we haven't taken to heart Christ's imperative that whoever serves him must "Follow me" (Jn 12:26), then our discipleship--no matter how much service rendered or sacrifice made--will not fulfill God's will (thelema), please him and bring him joy. Serving placed before or without following fails to understand what is important to God and how he defines us.
In these two verses Jesus sharply brings our focus back to the importance of the whole person and the primacy of relationships. These underlie God's word, his law, his commands, his created design and purpose for life and how the Word was with us. This new character of relationship is what Jesus instituted for his disciples in contradistinction to, for example, the prevailing norm of the Jewish model for rabbi-pupil relationship. Jesus did things differently because he is different. He didn't wait for voluntary followers, he went out to recruit his own. He didn't call them to acquire and master traditional modes of conduct, he established a deeper level of living in a new life. He wasn't condescending to his disciples, he humbly served them. He didn't remain above them in his superiority as divine Teacher, he vulnerably involved himself with them intimately in love as friends.
As mentioned earlier, in the incarnation (including between manger and cross) there is a distinct progression for his disciples--the relational progression from servant to friend to family member. This relational progression cannot be experienced without relationship-specific connection and cannot develop without ongoing intimate relational involvement. Our discipleship has significance and distinction when it becomes the process of this relational progression.
Ironically, the Jesus that Christians often talk about is not the Jesus of the incarnation. In addition, the incarnation is discussed primarily as event more than as the person Jesus. We have to restore the authentic Jesus (free from our predispositions and biases) back into the incarnation. This may in fact necessitate putting his person functionally back in the incarnation--the person who has been often reduced (de-personed) and relegated to beliefs, values, ways, principles or propositions.
When we are predisposed to defining a person by what one does or has, then this routinely results in reducing Jesus down to his deeds and teachings. Since God is who he is, everything he does is done with heart, and everything he does toward us he does relationally. The incarnation reveals this about God beyond just objective information. This is the level of person that Jesus vulnerably presented in the incarnation--his whole person, no substitutes and nothing less.
Since we are created in God's image as persons of heart with his eternity-substance (Eccl 3:11), Jesus obviously knew it takes our total person to be involved in relationship with God: "in spirit and in truth," that is, the honesty of our heart (the inner being), as he told the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4:23,24). This is the level of person the Father sent, that Jesus presented, and that they expect in return for our relationship together. To know him only takes place at the heart level (not the information level of the mind) within the intimate relational context of God's design and purpose (not our ways of doing relationship). To experience him only happens when our heart receives the heart of God vulnerably extended to us in Jesus and is deeply touched by our hearts coming together intimately--not necessarily emotionally but relationally.
Just as demonstrated in his relationship with Peter, Jesus' person and words are always engaged in this relational work of pursuing his disciples' heart--a heart not often ready, often unwilling and never able by itself. As he said in Matthew 9:13, the importance of the person is not defined by what one does ('sacrifice") nor by what one has (or in this situation, by what one doesn't have, those considered less, like "the sick... sinners"). As he said in John 12:26, the work of service (diakoneo) done even for him is not as important as the person in intimate relationship with his person.
importance of the total person functioning with heart is clearly
distinguished by Jesus as he shared what is unacceptable to God for
relationship, particularly in worship: "These people honor me with
their lips, but their hearts are far from me"
We have to realize, if we don't already, that relating to Christ merely in his teachings and by what he did (especially on the cross), but not primarily to his person in a functioning relationship, is an easier way for us to relate to someone and to be involved in a relationship. Presenting essentially our outer person is clearly easier because our heart can keep distance (or be detached), and we thus won't be vulnerable--vulnerable not only to the other person (in this case God) but also to our own person.
Our heart is distracted, entangled or controlled in various ways, by various things from which we need to be freed, that is, redeemed. Redemptive change is an ongoing need basic to discipleship which none of us can circumvent nor take short cuts in.
In the relational progression of the incarnation, Paul underscores the priority of redemption: "when the time had fully come, God sent his son, born of a woman, born under [basically enslaved] law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights [adoption] of sons [and daughters]" (Gal 4:4,5).
The enslavement of the law is a familiar theme in Paul's theology of grace. Even more so, Jesus demonstrated the effective presence of enslavement (even in those who didn't realize their enslavement, e.g., see Jn 8:33; Lk 10:40-42) in his interactions and relationships; and he showed how this effectively distanced them from their heart and prevented intimate connection with God in his unwarranted initiative in the incarnation.
Used as a system of self-justification, the law failed to perform. It only frustrated and condemned its users; it was a false hope. Yet, God provided the law as a critique of hope to teach us the poverty of our condition in the old and to lead us to the new in Christ (Gal 3:19,24). God's mercy and grace in the progression of the incarnation leads to Christ's redemptive work which liberates us from the legal demands of the law and its oppressive effects of indicting us that "I don't measure up."
Too often, however, we confine his redemptive work to spiritual dimensions and religious aspects of the law while not dealing also with the broader consequences of the old and the influences of the common. The sum of the old and common is only partly represented in this situation with the law. Since these areas essentially have a quantitative focus, they measure the person by what one has and does, that in effect cultivates legalistic practices; and they create a comparative measurement between persons and people which causes competition, secondary differentiation (in which different means less), stratification, exclusionary policies and systems of inequality. These influences and consequences are concretely observed, manifested and experienced in everyday life--both in the lives of individuals and in the collective lives of peoples (even within a church), cultures, nations, races or humanity in general.
The situation Paul addressed in Galatia involved the inequality that Jewish Christians (namely the Judaizers) imposed on Gentile Christians. Not merely a theological issue but primarily as a relational issue, Paul dealt with the need to be freed from the influences and consequences of such a system in order to be the new creation in Christ and the family of God (Gal 3:26-29). To limit this redemptive process to merely a spiritual interpretation and application is to deny the fullness of the redemptive life and what Christ saves us to.
Redemption (liberation) must not remain only a spiritual experience. That would leave the rest of our life enslaved in one way or another. What results may have the appearance or form of discipleship, spirituality and relationship with God but not the substance. Redemption can and also needs to be an emotional experience (e.g., in relation to our self-image), a mental experience (e.g., in relation to identity, ideology and our worldview), a physical experience (e.g., in terms of our personal lifestyles), an interpersonal experience (e.g., in our relationships with others, both past and present), an institutional, systemic and structural experience (e.g., in terms of our surrounding socio-cultural context). All of these go into forming our predispositions and biases, in addition to shaping our identity.
The influences, even control and domination, from these areas have profound consequences in our life--relational consequences with God and others. The poverty of the old ways and the bankruptcy of the common substitutes both need to be exposed and connected to Christ's relational work of redemption. Authentic discipleship properly practices this priority of redemption so that the new life indeed can emerge.
We cannot let naiveté or other persistent factors (like tolerance or lack of rigor, fear or even greed) keep us intentionally or inadvertently with attachment to values, practices, institutions, systems and structures of the old, the common. Contrary to frequent Christian practice, we should never assume the neutrality or the righteousness of any aspect of this order of life. As noted earlier, it is in conflict with the new order of life, the common and the uncommon are a contradiction to the other. Consequently, the need for redemption is a given; and its priority is revealed in the relational progression incarnated by Christ.
The strength of our interest in discipleship, however, is not sufficient to make redemption a priority; attachments, not our interests, determine our priorities--as Jesus exposed in those interested in following him (Lk 9:59-62).
The heart is vulnerable not only in relational interaction and to relational consequences--both of which Jesus experienced in the incarnation when he presented his heart to other persons. The heart is also susceptible to its surrounding context (as Jesus experienced in exposing his heart to the common, to sin), specifically in reducing the heart's importance in defining the basic person. The de-emphasis of the heart--how we function as a person and what we present of our person to others in relationships--has been exceptionally widespread in modernity because of an underlying worldview (modernism) and its prevailing mind-set, which has also downgraded the primacy of relationships. Both reductions have had the relational consequence of diminished (or the absence of) intimacy, which will be discussed later.
For example, scientists today explain away the heart (the inner being) as an illusion. They try to quantify the experiences of the heart (like religious ecstasy) in order to explain these phenomena, for example, as nothing more than brain cell activity. Thus, their conclusion is that any inner phenomena, or spirituality, is an illusion.
As noted earlier, culture (functioning as cultural perceptual framework) acts like a filter or lens of the eye which tells us what to pay attention to and what to ignore. Now Andrew Newburg, a neuroscientist, explains in his book Why God Won't Go Away that the brain actually perceives two realities. In one, the self filters what we perceive as reality; and in the second, the self is set aside and the mind is broadened and more unified with a greater reality beyond self. Let's assume for the moment that the brain actually perceives these realities; this can be a burden or a blessing. It's a burden if we have the responsibility to produce this greater reality beyond self--which if produced would be problematic to distinguish from an illusion, the point of these so-called quantitative analyses. It also has the potential for blessing if it gets us beyond our predispositions and biases to truly open us to pursue the more of eternity-substance from the transcendent God who vulnerably revealed himself objectively in the incarnation. This blessing, however, would open us to qualitative reality, which is denied by quantitative suppositions. So, while god may not go away in our mind, there is really no place for the heart to receive the qualitative reality of the God person Jesus. Christians inadvertently can also labor in this dilemma.
This is a further dimension of materialism for which our discipleship must account. Such dependence on materialism (quantitative mode of reduction) in life does not account for qualitative phenomena. Yet, it seems apparent that these scientists and their suppositions are frustrated and dissatisfied by the presence of qualitative rumblings (such as longing and yearnings) of the heart and the deep desire for more than the material. Their tendency is to interpret these merely as a quantum jump (or leap), for which there is no explanation. This is the quandary when life becomes so quantitative: no room for mystery and quality of life.
Faith under the influence of reductionism is always problematic. Elements in life get detached, aspects of life become fragmented. The longings of the heart and the desire for more stemming from its eternity-substance, however, seek the quality of wholeness in life, the depths of which goes beneath the material person in its brain activity and the chemistry of such persons interacting. The breadth of this wholeness cannot be experienced in a quantitative box--no matter what neurophysiological associations are made with this experience--but is discovered by becoming part of the mystery of the Big Picture (not the Big Bang) and by intimate relationship with the One who designed and works it.
The writer of Ecclesiastes informs us that this One God "has made everything beautiful in its time" (Eccl 3:11). "In its time" (Heb. et comes from ad which means ever, forever, eternally) is better rendered "season" because of being part of a whole or larger context; compare "a season for everything" (3:1) in contrast to a moment of time detached or fragmented from the whole picture. God acts only by the eternal mode, so we can't think of "time" here in the temporal mode. He makes everything beautiful (not quantitatively) in his eternal mode, that is, he makes everything qualitatively well in his Big Picture.
God is always working (v.11, Heb. asah) the Big Picture. We can't understand this from merely a quantitative perspective. Even with his eternity-substance planted in our heart, we cannot observe the depth and breadth of his qualitative work (as the rest of 3:11 informs us). Yet, the heart can have understanding of this qualitative difference and experience him in it--that is, our whole person not constrained in a quantitative box and engaging him with intimate relational work.
In the process of discipleship we can expect difficulty, for example, with our circumstances when we only think about them in the temporal mode and the small picture of time, space, situations and quantity. In our predispositions and biases compounded by modernism, we develop mind-sets (even form a worldview) influenced by quantitative suppositions which contract the universe, reduce life to physical matter (for scientists) and to secondary matters (for the rest of us), limit life to time, space, situations, circumstances and quantity.
The qualitative, however, is always beyond this, taking us to a deeper and broader level. God doesn't live in this quantitative box; he can't "survive" in it. God is beyond this; and the objective incarnation doesn't change nor reduce his qualitative difference but reveals it for us to grasp in our hearts, relationally embrace and intimately experience.
While the God many Christians experience inadvertently in a quantitative box may have an objective form of Christ, it doesn't have the qualitative substance of his incarnation. This is indeed problematic for discipleship, not only for what and whom we're following but also for what and who is following.
Quantitative emphases and priorities reduce the whole person away from the heart, redefining the total person without heart; they downgrade the primacy of relationships by reducing their original design and purpose to function now without intimacy. They essentially reduce time from the eternal to the temporal, effectively focus us on the situations and circumstances of the small picture without the Big Picture, while they prevail on us to live predominantly with quantity without quality. This all gets us directed (unintentionally and even intentionally) toward secondary matter.
The functional (not necessarily theological) reduction of the person without heart and of relationships without intimacy becomes a quantitative preoccupation with secondary matter. This is where the importance given to secondary matter is reflected in: (1) what we do and have (the predominant identity defining our self); (2) relationships that revolve around the quantity of activities, tasks or doing something together, length of time together or sharing space together but not much else--the dominant way we do relationships today; and, (3) where the main attention about churches is statistical--number of members, participants in activities, extent of church staff, amount of budget, number of decisions for Christ--reflecting the common way we conduct church today. All of these secondary areas can become functionally primary in our practice despite the presence of theology, beliefs, language and words espousing the heart and relationships. And the relational consequence is that these areas become substitutes for our whole person and what/who we present to others--substitutes for intimate connection and quality in our relationships and substitutes for the substantive truth and experiential reality of what we are in Christ together as his church.
Whenever this quantitative process of reduction (and its preoccupation with secondary matter) becomes primary in our practice, we become dominated, controlled, even enslaved by the quantitative. This is not how we would readily think of enslavement and being a slave. That's because we tend to think of our condition or circumstances merely in a situational way, not relationally.
A person functioning in less than their whole person is not free to be their authentic self. That obviously affects how they live, particularly in relationships. T his issue is forcefully addressed by Jesus as the difference experienced by a slave and by a son or daughter (Jn 8:31-35), and what Paul describes theologically (Rom 8:14-16). For the Christian to live by secondary matter is in effect to be a functional slave. This has relational consequences associated with a slave, not in terms of salvation but in the extent of relationship actually experienced with God as Father. A functioning son or daughter experiences intimacy with God, being a part of his family and belonging to him (Jn 8:35); a functioning slave (though son or daughter in name) cannot experience this relational reality as long as enslavement continues in practice.
When we examine this issue relationally, we have to look at the kind of connection made with God, which would increasingly point to the need to involve our heart and be accountable for it. The distance we have from our heart directly determines in the same proportion the distance we have in our relationships.
As noted earlier, this is Satan's goal for Christians: to distance us from our heart and to minimize (or eliminate) intimacy in our relationship with God.
The qualitative difference of God is beyond this quantitative box and secondary matter because it does the opposite of reductionism. It transforms (saves us to) us to wholeness of our person and the design and purpose of relationships as it redeems (saves us from) us from the reduction of our person and our relationships. Because it restores heart to our person and intimacy to our relationships, this wholeness satisfies the yearning need in our heart to be intimately connected with God, to be "a part of" others in the design and purpose of the Big Picture--his plan that takes us beyond self and establishes us as God our Father's, in his family.
When our discipleship gets focused on secondary matter like timing, situations and circumstances, our concerns become more about us than about God. Subtly, or inadvertently, we no longer distinguish between the quantitative and qualitative because we are unequivocally influenced by the former. The presence of this influence is exerted not only personally, relationally, culturally, systemically but most important endemically. This is the foremost characteristic of Satan's counter-relational work on Christians.
Reductionism is certainly not unique to modernity. Jesus dealt with the reductionist practices of Judaism. Paul continued the effort against Judaizers (Jewish Christians who required Gentile Christians to be circumcised), the dualism of early forms of Gnosticism (e.g., in the Colossian church), not to mention the dependence on reason of Stoicism in Athens (Acts 17:16ff). Yet, reductionism among Christians today seems to be more comprehensive in its influence and more vague in its effects because these reductions are not confronted.
These efforts of Jesus and Paul must not be omitted in discipleship. Whenever you have competing belief and value systems defining the importance of different parts of the person (mind vs. heart, outer-in vs. inner-out) and emphasizing different priorities for relationships (secondary vs. primary) as well as how to do them (less vulnerable connection vs. intimacy), you have potentially a major problem.
This potential is already a reality in some aspects of the church, within parts of the Christian community and its various traditions and cultures. When these differences are not distinguished in our practice, we have compromise. This compromise is of no consequence to secondary matter, to the quantitative, the temporal, the common, the old. This compromise represents only loss for the most distinguished difference (the primary, the qualitative, the eternal, the uncommon, the new) which is no longer able to distinguish itself.
Maintaining ambiguity between the old order and the new, or failing to make this distinction, has serious consequences for our identity as followers of Christ, as noted earlier. Compromise is unavoidable and has insidious effects. What may appear minor has serious relational consequences.
When Christian faith and practice, for example, are based primarily on tradition and/or popular prevailing views, we will find inconsistencies and conflicts with biblical truth and teachings, particularly with Jesus' person and words. Under such conditions the image of discipleship is not usually consistent with the biblical reality; this includes many of our contemporary perceptions of discipleship lacking in qualitative substance. Understanding this disparity with biblical reality is helpful for establishing the character of our discipleship in the authentic qualitative difference of Christ
When conditions of ambiguity or the absence of sufficient distinction between old and new exist, any solutions or alternatives attempted to give form or semblance to the new is problematic. For example, the subtle preoccupation in our life with quantity affects us the most by emphasizing external form, appearance or image over the substance, quality or worth underlying these forms. Implicit in this is the hope that this will be enough to get by, even without its substance or quality. Then, it follows, that these forms of our practice often become ends in themselves, not means for following the actual person of Jesus and for authentic intimate relationship with him. Such practices basically only render to us substitutes for the real thing--no matter how real their appearance may be. Essentially, these are the quantitative efforts to simulate the qualitative difference of God. And they reveal a fundamental illusion in the Christian context, the workings of which need to be exposed, understood and dealt with accordingly.
This discrepancy between form and substance, appearance and reality, fact and fiction can certainly be attributed to a naive, uncritical or persistent involvement with values, beliefs, processes, institutions, systems and structures which have roots in the common, the old order of life. Discrepancy in our established ways of doing things in the Christian life, however, is most significantly influenced by the greatest advocate of the common, the temporal, the quantitative.
Satan's presence in the Christian context is engaged in counter-relational work simply by emphasizing the prevailing common and temporal aspects of our surrounding context, and by shifting our focus onto quantitative aspects which--often unknowingly but effectively--distance us from our heart and interfere (directly or indirectly) with our relational connections with God. He accomplishes his goal often with believable substitutes and unassuming lies which, on their appearance, seem right and righteous. That seems to make his counter-relational work formidable to expose and deal with. There is truth to that which we should never underestimate.
While, on the one hand, that may be true of Satan's work, he cannot accomplish his goal among Christians if we understand how he works in the Christian context and if we practice the vital distinction between how he works with how we live.
Paul provides us with this understanding of how Satan works in the Christian context (see 2 Cor 11:13-15). Satan does his counter-relational work more covertly than the overt ways he is usually considered and depicted doing. It's covert not in the sense of being hidden from view but in terms of not being distinguished from the real thing--a consequence of non-distinction between the quantitative and the qualitative.
By masquerading in the Christian context as "an angel of light" along with his servants masquerading as "servants of righteousness" (11:14,15), we can understand how Satan works and its vital significance for how we engage in discipleship. The term for masquerade (Gk. metaschematizo) involves changes of outward form or appearance but not of substance. Satan and his servants can take on a spiritually correct, theologically orthodox or popularly-Christian outward appearance as light and righteousness but not change their substance. In other words, they can essentially look good but not be good.
Metaschematizo is the quantitative process of outward (outer-in) change which is in distinct contrast (but with likely outward semblance) to the qualitative process of transformation (inner-out) of one's inner or total person. The qualitative difference that results from transformation (Gk. metamorphoo, e.g., in Rom 12:2) involves a change of substance as well as form. Since metamorphoo and metaschematizo may have the same appearance, only the heart can make this fundamental distinction and reveal the presence or absence of the qualitative substance significant to God. That's why he examines our heart, not what we're doing (Prov 21:2). It is the heart, not what we do or have, that defines the person and determines what we are (Prov 27:19b).
When the Lord called his people to change (repent) and return to him, he wanted them only to come with their hearts (Joel 2:12). "Don't tear your clothing . . . instead tear your hearts" (v.13, NLT). This is the authentic character of repentance; it is also the only character of transformation (metamorphoo). Tearing one's clothes may look like repentance, as outward change may appear like transformation. But the Lord looks at the heart because that is the only place metamorphoo authentically occurs.
Metamorphoo (change of substance) obviously reflects the new creation in Christ and the transforming work (sanctification) of the Spirit. Its distinction with metaschematizo (only quantitative changes), therefore, is critical for authenticity of our person, our relationship with God, our discipleship of Jesus Christ, of being his family, the church. Metaschematizo, at best, can only be an inviting substitute for metamorphoo, yet it has become a prevailing Christian practice. This is a defining issue essential to our Christian roots and must be dealt with at every level of the Christian community.
Contrary to dominant perceptions among Christians, Satan doesn't have to get us doing something wrong--though always an issue--as long as he can get us to think we're doing something right. The insidious way he does that is merely to emphasize the quantitative changes of outer-in without the inner-out changes of substance. The ingenious way he accomplishes this is to emphasize, for example, merely doing something. He doesn't care how much we worship God, as long as it's only with our lips (Mt 15:8). He doesn't care how much we serve Christ, as long as the focus is only on the work and not the relationship (Jn 12:26; Lk 10:41,42). He will reinforce all the right Christian forms, behaviors, vocabulary, beliefs as long as it's only doing something and not an inner-out expression of our heart in intimate relational connection with God.
In addition, Satan influences us with lies, being the father and author of lies (Jn 8:44). Lies are "his native language" (Gk. ek idios, out of one's own, denotes inner property). Lies, for example, to get us to try to be a "better Christian" by doing something more rather than giving priority to our relationships and our persons; lies with a quantitative twist (spin) that make us feel we don't measure up to God's expectations, despite the appearance of grace. Satan cultivates and promotes these lies as substitutes for our transformation (metamorphoo). As long as we concentrate on secondary matters, we will primarily be concerned with outward changes (metaschematizo). Satan encourages this type of "Christian" change because that would essentially in principle get us into masquerades also, unintentionally or not. Transformative redemptive change only takes place on the basis of truth in the heart. And the truth cannot emerge from a lie.
Operating as outwardly correct forms of light and righteousness, Satan and his crew direct all quantitative changes (metaschematizo) in our midst as if they were one of us. We have no sense of what is only masquerade as long as we are distant or detached functionally from our heart in daily practice. We have nothing to distinguish this for us. Not even doctrinal purity functioning on the informational level informs us of the difference between metaschematizo and metamorphoo and the presence of masquerade. Even the Spirit's presence to help us is rendered inactive because he functions relationally on the heart level, not for information or for doing something but for relational work. That's why Jesus warned us in the metaphor of building a house (Lk 6:47-49). Two houses may be built exactly alike but their underpinning is what distinguishes them. Only the practices rooted in his person and words will have the qualitative substance to emerge as real, authentic.
Determining these roots is certainly problematic when Satan's implicit influence occupies us, entangles or enslaves us in patterns of living which have only the appearance of being righteous (as opposed to overtly sinful). We are all susceptible to presenting ourselves in some amplified way. A quantitative focus encourages us to take on an identity which often doesn't have high fidelity to our inner person. We even essentially take on a role, probably unintentionally acting out an identity different (to whatever degree) than the honesty of our heart--at times maybe putting on a false identity. This process of acting out a different identity is the meaning of the term "hypocrisy" (Gk. hypokrisis) which Jesus disclosed to his disciples as "the yeast of the Pharisees" to avoid practicing in their lives (Lk 12:1).
Elsewhere in relation to hypocrisy, Jesus told his disciples to "watch out" (Gk. blepo), that is, essentially be aware of its presence, and to "be careful" (Gk. horao), that is, recognize its significance and understand its true nature (Mk 8:15), and to "be on guard" (Gk. prosecho), not passively, but pay attention, devote and apply yourself to this issue (Mt 16:6). This yeast of the Pharisees should not be lost to us today. Functionally this yeast focuses on appearances (e.g., how we present ourselves) and, therefore, emphasizes secondary matters (e.g., what we're doing), which Jesus earlier explained and exposed (see Mk 7:1-23). Masquerade underlies the hypocrisy of the Pharisees; their hypocrisy was "the appearance of right," not the substance of it.
Masquerading and hypocrisy may seem like strong terms to describe a lot of Christian practices, especially if done sincerely or with good intentions. Yet, these biblical disclosures are not used to indict us but to help us understand (a critique of hope) when we are substituting for or settling for less than the qualitative difference Jesus makes available to us. The quantitative emphases of Satan's counter-relational work, especially his lies, directly impact the qualitative substance of the relational work Jesus defines for us. And the key indicator of Satan's influence or Jesus' qualitative difference--the defining issue for our roots--is the distance we have from our heart and the extent of intimate connection with God.
When Jesus exposed the church at Ephesus, he acknowledged all their quantitative success, even maintaining doctrinal purity (Rev 2:1-7). But when he told them they had forsaken their first love, the masquerade was over. "Forsaken" (Gk. aphiemi) means to forsake, abandon persons, to leave, let go from oneself or let alone. It's the same word Jesus used in his promise not to leave us as orphans (Jn 14:18). This strongly implies not paying attention to the person and relationships--relational actions. They worked hard for God but the relational process got lost in the effort. And even doctrinal purity in itself is not sufficient to prevent this. This relational consequence results from practices which lack heart and intimacy in relationships. That's what happens when a quantitative approach (with its focus on secondary matter) supersedes the qualitative difference of God.
This is the reductionism of Satan's counter-relational work to which we are ongoingly subjected. His efforts, and those related (directly or indirectly), redefine the person with increasing distance from the heart and re-prioritize relationships with decreasing intimacy, thus encourage relationships on one's own self-serving terms. This is illustrated more overtly in biblical narratives of Satan's temptations (relational tests).
Briefly, the temptations of Jesus (see Lk 4:1-13) represent summary tests for all persons with a relationship with Christ and how Satan will try to interfere in that relationship. The importance of the heart in the whole person and its significance in our relationship with God are strongly brought out here in what are basic relational tests.
In the first test (v.3), Satan's quantitative emphasis is apparent in what he tried to get Jesus to focus on. Ostensibly, it may seem merely like food and the situation of Jesus' hunger (cf. Mt 4:2,3). It may also seem like a test of his deity ("if you are the Son of God . . . "); certainly, Satan already knew that. Satan is trying to get Jesus to see his person in a certain way. That way is exposed by Jesus in his response: "a person [Gk. anthropos, man or woman] does not live on bread alone" (Lk 4:4).
Since we tend to look at this statement apart from its context, we usually interpret Jesus' words merely as the spiritual aspect of life being more important than the physical. That would be too simplistic and insufficient to meet the challenge of Satan's test. Jesus was not dividing life or the person into different aspects, with the spiritual at the top of the list. Yet, that in fact was exactly how Satan was trying to get Jesus to see his person and function (the power of a miracle here, notwithstanding). Satan was trying to actually reduce Jesus' person to only one part of him because he knew the relational consequence this would have.
Satan cultivates this reductionism with the lie: the need and importance to see ourselves and, therefore, to define our person by what we do and have. This process becomes a clear quantitative approach to life with a focus on secondary matter. This quantitative occupation and its relational consequence emerge in the second relational test (Lk 4:5-7).
Satan dangled more status, privilege, power, possessions, whatever, by which to better define the person based on quantitative criteria. Modern scenarios of this test would involve areas of education, vocation, security or having certain relationships. But his reduction and the pursuit of secondary matter comes with a cost that in some way compromises our integrity and beliefs and has a relational consequence of less intimacy with God. This compromise and relational consequence were overtly presented by Satan: "if you worship me" (4:7).
If the compromise and relational consequence of this reduction and pursuit of secondary matter are not as clear for us today, it's because Satan tweaks some truths with another major lie: to have any of these things will make me a better person, or enable me to do more (e.g., even to better serve God or others), or give me the most satisfaction and fulfillment. Here we see the genius of Satan to blur the distinction between truth and lie; and he can get away with this when we don't distinguish between the qualitative and quantitative.
Jesus countered the second relational test with words (4:8) which we either quantitatively perceive with less significance or often take for granted with their familiarity. Obviously, we would worship God over Satan, but this decision is not always that clear. Of course, we would serve God instead of Satan, that is, if this choice were always straightforward in our situations and circumstances. When Jesus declared "worship" and "serve" in his response, he wants us to focus relationally on the context and ongoing process these terms provide. "Worship" and "serve" are not about doing something before or for God. Jesus is exercising relational work here to negate Satan's counter-relational work.
Quantitative practices invariably create a shift in relationships to an increasing self-focus, self-interest, self-serving involvement. When the qualitative difference of God (in his heart and intimately relational nature) becomes secondary in our practice, we increasingly do relationships on our terms. This is the issue which emerges in Jesus' third relational test (4:9-12).
The order of these tests in Luke (different in Matthew's account) takes on added significance because it reveals a progression in Satan's counter-relational work and the impact of reductionism. Since, at this stage, Satan hasn't been able to distance or distract Jesus from relationship with the Father, he seeks to disrupt directly how that relationship functions. The dramatics of this scene should not detract from the important relational work going on here (vv.10,11). He begins by challenging Jesus to claim a promise from the Father. His challenge, however, is not about building trust and taking God at his word. We have to focus deeply on relationship with God and what Satan is trying to do to it.
Jesus counters Satan with the response: "don't put God to the test" (v.12, Gk. ekpeirazo, test to the limits, see how far it can go). How so? Sometimes the dynamics in relationships get complicated or confusing. God certainly wants to fulfill his promises to us; yet, we must not think of this in a quantitative box because this reduction imposes a shift on the relationship. We always need to keep in focus that God fulfills his promises on his terms. If Jesus tried to evoke his Father's promise in the manner Satan suggested, then he would be determining the relationship on his own terms. This is the real relational test Jesus refused to do and the ongoing appealing temptation Satan presents to all of us: to test the limits of God and how much we can control the relationship on our terms, not his. The false assumption here, of course, is that the relationship is negotiable and that God accepts terms for it other than his own.
The effectiveness of Satan's appealing quantitative temptations is epitomized in his reductionism with Eve (and Adam). He redefined her person by appealing to her mind with knowledge (Gen 3:5), thus giving her a quantitative focus on secondary matter (3:6) that led to her pursuit to be a quantitatively better person and to her attempt to have relationship with God on her terms. His counter-relational work began with them, extended to Jesus and continues with us today.
When the primary and secondary matter are reversed, this shift is not readily apparent because the external presence of the primary is not lost. In many situations, its external presence is amplified in quantitative terms. But, essentially the primary is only given lip service. It becomes like window dressing for our main pursuits and what prevails in our lives. We need to uncover our roots in this kind of climate and to restore them to their qualitative condition.
Discipleship must always include dealing with its surrounding context, for example, with issues of secularism. But the contending aspects of this effort go deeper than the philosophical issues and moral cultural war many Christians have engaged in. We have to shift to the relational implications and consequences affecting the quality of life, both within the church as well as within the world. In making this shift, what emerges, I suggest, is that our most urgent conflict with evil today is inadvertent church (Christians and the Christian context) complicity with evil. That is, complicity with the quantitative emphases of Satan, reinforcing essentially outward change (metaschematizo), which cultivate lies he promotes to distance us from our heart and minimize our intimacy with God.
The relational consequence of all this in the Christian context is that we experience more fear and dissatisfaction than the peace of wholeness and well-being, loneliness instead of intimate relational connection, self-interest instead of agape love. Self-interest today is disguised and promoted by individualism and privatization of faith--products of modernism and a false sense of freedom and self-determination. In these euphemisms for self-interest, it's not the related postmodern issue of relativity which is most urgent--though relativity is certainly important regarding truth--but the relational issue which keeps us self-centered, relationally distant and preoccupied with pursuits in a competitive climate where we must all contend for ourselves. This issue is about relationships, how we do them because of the quantitative way we define ourselves, and how we end up doing church. This is about the shift from the qualitative difference of God which distinguishes those who are his. This is the most pressing issue present in the church, and what is most urgent for us to deal with together with his Spirit. It's the defining issue for our roots--to uncover and restore them.
Jesus certainly radicalized discipleship by what he defined for his adherents in contrast to all other teacher-disciple relationships of that era. He further radicalized the interpretation of the law (to be discussed in Chapter 6) and the practices of the religious community. He was perceived as a radical because he essentially was a radical. Yet, those quantitative-based perceptions did not correctly perceive how qualitatively radical Jesus was. And most Christians do not perceive Jesus as radical either way.
The character of discipleship needs to restore this perception and become radical. But what makes discipleship radical is not, for example, a conflict social ideology, a liberation political agenda, a countercultural lifestyle, or even extreme spiritual disciplines. Neither does methodology make it radical. What makes it radical is getting to the roots of the incarnation and following the vulnerable person of Jesus. This gets to the very inner core (the heart) of the matter, not secondary matter but primary: the heart of God and my heart in intimate relationship. This is what makes discipleship qualitatively radical and therefore different. It is a function only of this intimate relationship.
Too often we come to Jesus like the rich young guy (review Mk 10:17-23). The guy made two critical errors for relationship with God. Because he reduced his person by defining himself to what he did (observing the commandments, v.20) and had (wealth, v.22), he only saw Christ in a quantitative way as a teacher for information. He came to learn how to do something (v.17) only as a learner and not as an adherent for intimate relationship--his first critical error, which Jesus tried to correct in v.21. Since he didn't realize how controlled he was by this quantitative focus, he couldn't function as a son while in enslavement. Only a functioning son could inherit (experience) eternal life (knowing God in intimate relationship, Jn 17:3), not a functional slave--his second critical error.
Too often we come to Christ for information to learn to do something, not for relationship; and if we also come for relationship, too often it's not for intimate relationship as an adherent but on our terms. Even when Christians want more intimacy with God, we often don't understand that the experience now of this more of eternal life is not available in functional enslavement. As long as we are not actively functioning as a son or daughter with the Father, we are functioning with relational distance to the Father which puts us effectively in a position as a slave, not a family member.
We may question how critical this focus on the Father is, or whether it matters that much, as long as we have an active relationship with Christ. This points to another reductionist view taken by many Christians in their approach to Christ, that is, relate to him by what he had (teachings) and did (especially on the cross). When we relate to Christ from a quantitative perspective (like the rich young guy), our predominant image of Christ is associated with the cross. Not necessarily in crucifix form, but in our beliefs and practice the focal point of Jesus becomes the cross. His purpose in coming is stated basically as "to die on the cross for our sins"; that's essentially why our perceptions frequently jump from the manger to the cross, thus circumventing the roots of the incarnation. But this is only a quantitative view of Jesus--albeit an important objective fact and a necessary act that had to be quantified.
When the cross becomes the dominant matter of the incarnation, then we fail to understand the qualitative purpose of the cross. We may understand a quantitative purpose involving our sin. Yet, as usually results in most quantitative emphases, the cross then becomes more this quantitative end rather than the qualitative means it serves. The full truth of the incarnation, however, is that Jesus came not only to save us from but also to save us to. Yet, he didn't save us to some new quantity; this transformation (metamorphoo) to a new creation is completely for relationship.
Christ came to bring us to his Father, not to lead us to the cross. This was his primary purpose and function (Jn 17:4,6,26), and the cross serves as the main means to the Father (Jn 14:6). The cross serves the Father. The incarnation's revelation of the heart of God and its purpose to bring us to the Father for intimate relationships with him reflect the qualitative difference (substance) of God which a quantitative perspective of Jesus focused predominantly on the cross does not adequately bring out or connect us to. Consequently, in a quantitative approach the cross (as an end to save us from) essentially results in serving us. In the qualitative difference of God, the cross (as a means) only serves the Father. We miss or minimize this about Jesus when we don't grasp the roots of the incarnation between the manger and the cross.
At the roots of the incarnation, Jesus' person and words cultivate in his disciples the basis to think relationally, the means to act relationally and the substance to be relational. That's completely how God is (in the flesh or transcendent), how the Son is with the Father, and how God created us and what he created us for.
From the beginning man wasn't created for doing something, though he had a function to work (Gen 2:15). He had a qualitatively different function which was relational (2:18). This creation narrative is usually rendered "to be alone" but the Hebrew can also be rendered "to be apart." This gives a greater sense of relationship and not being connected to someone else. For Adam it was not just the secondary matter of having no one to share space with, no one to keep company or do things with. "To be apart" is not just situational but relational--about relationship fundamental to human make-up, function and order of life. I thus suggest that this rendering is more reflective of the dynamic process of relationship in God's created design and purpose.
The Father's created design and purpose is what Jesus came to restore us to--both with God and with others. Restoration of this function is basic to discipleship and underlies all a disciple lives. The character of authentic discipleship is rooted in heart (the heart of God) and relationship (intimate relationship with God). Without these roots, our person functions with a distant heart and our relationships diminish in intimacy, even with the semblance of form actively present. If we talk about relationship from a quantitative approach--even if the talk is about intimate relationship--we are not going to deal with depth of connections with the heart (the definition of intimacy) but rather substitutes and that which is less than the qualitative difference Christ brought to us.
The issue of the primacy of relationships is critical for us to address in our everyday practice with more honesty and depth. "Making rigorous effort" (agonizomai, as Jesus and Paul said) in this relational work is particularly critical today when our surrounding influences have either avoided, denied or revised the primacy and quality of relationships. For example, relationships suffer directly in proportion to the primacy given to wealth, knowledge and power--and to the preoccupation with their pursuit of work, education and other means of influence, privilege and prestige.
absolute primacy of relationship in following Christ is demonstrated
by Jesus over other priorities in discipleship which can easily
serve as substitutes for relationship or distract us from directly
functioning in the relationship. Three significant situations, noted
earlier, were used by Jesus to establish our top priority. In the
first situation Martha chose to serve with hospitality for
Jesus, while Mary chose to be with him as a disciple
(Lk 10:38-42). The second situation at a reception raised a conflict
of religious practices; the norm was to exercise spiritual
disciplines like fasting and prayer, but Jesus and his disciples
partied together instead (Lk 5:33-39). Lastly, Jesus was intimately
engaged by being anointed with expensive perfume, which some
disciples strongly felt should have been sold instead and the money
given to the poor
Serving Jesus in some way (even though hospitality is not an option), exercising spiritual disciplines (whatever the norm may be today), mission to the needy are all important priorities for discipleship. Yet, in the above situations they minimized or even prevented a deeper and more direct involvement with Jesus. Doing something became more important than being with him. Misplaced priorities or distorted perspectives can confuse the issue for us. Even positive alternatives and other important priorities will prevent this relational connection when they are improperly practiced.
These situations demonstrate, respectively, that Jesus wants his followers first and foremost: (1) to listen to him and to share intimately together, (2) to celebrate new life with him and (3) to appreciate his person and be freer in our adoration of God. Jesus doesn't want anything (even other important priorities) to get in the way of more intimate relationship with him because nothing is more important to him than our relationship. This is the relational imperative--its primacy and priority. And the character of this relationship extends out to other relationships.
Discipleship is all about following the heart of Jesus in intimate relationship, thus the heart of the Father and intimate relationship with him together in his family. Without this character of heart and intimate relationship, our discipleship has no significance to God. It is not authentic (Gk. alethes) because it does not relationally engage the Truth (Jn 14:6). Though it may have the outward appearance, there is no substance behind it to back it up, no inner basis to make it stand up. The qualitative difference of intimate relationship has no substitute, and God settles for nothing less. Radical discipleship does not either.
When the roots of the incarnation are effectively avoided or inadvertently revised, there is no qualitative sense of the incarnation's relational progression from servant to friend to family member. Without this, Christian living has no authentic experiential reality to these relational truths. A quantitative approach usually concentrates on the functions of servant, and if any further, then on secondary matter of the others. Discipleship labors in this quantitative box and suffers relational consequences (individual and corporate) instead of this relational progression.
If we want to get beyond secondary matter, substitutes and settling for less and truly move toward the more of the eternity-substance God planted in us, we have to shift the focus to the qualitative--from the temporal mode of the common to the eternal mode of the uncommon. This shift specifically addresses in our practice how we define ourselves, how we then do relationships and end up doing church.
-- Unless what we do emerges from who we are, then what we do will define who we are
-- Unless qualitative being precedes quantitative doing in the Christian life, our life will always live faster than (move ahead of) his grace.
The quantitative always uses an outer-in approach while the qualitative always involves an inner-out process.
We gain our basic perspective of what this shift to the qualitative involves by reviewing the underlying reason for the incarnation: John 3:16,17. If we use these familiar, but often oversimplified, verses as our starting point, we first have to appreciate the reality of the inequality present here. God, the creator of all life (quantitative and qualitative) extends himself to us, his creation. In a quantitative framework, we can say he reaches down from the upper stratum of life to a lower stratum of life, but from a qualitatively different context (holy or uncommon) in a qualitatively different process (eternal and relational). In this most basic system of inequality between creator and creature, God initiates loving action downward to bring us together with him. His desire is not only for each of us individually but also to be reconciled with the whole of his creation (Col 1:20). This loving action extends further by breaking into human systems of inequality in order to reconcile people to each other (Eph 2:14-18).
It is important for us to understand the quantitative implications of this qualitative process in both our relationship with God and our relations with others. Systems of inequality stratify people. In this process a person or a group of persons is subordinated by another. That subordination evolves from either one of two conditions. In one, subordination is a natural result of the inequality inherent in the nature of the persons involved, as the inherent inequality between God and humanity. Or, in the second, subordination is an unnatural result produced by force of a person or group upon another; although historically, so-called natural inequality between humans has been rationalized by false biological views ascribing inherent subhuman traits to groups of people. Whatever the quantitative reductionism in the second condition, the subordination is unnatural because it is an inequality between persons who are basically and inherently equal.
Certainly, this equality cannot be quantitatively based. Any quantitative comparisons will yield differences. The problematic issue in this comparative process is defining differences as less. In human relations any sense of put-down or variation of condemnation of another's differences subordinates that person in a stratified order or system. Some form of condemning is necessary to initially justify the inequality or in order to maintain it. The relational consequence is that the dominant feel superior and secure while the subordinate feel inferior and condemned.
God's nature and character do not function like this. Unlike humans who use condemnation as the rationale to exert influence and power over others, God judges us for the positive purpose of reconciliation (the critique of hope). Jesus came for this relational outcome. In spite of God's obvious position and power, as well as judgment, he didn't come to perpetuate or to expand the quantitative and qualitative differences between us. In spite of our imperfections, shortcomings and sins, he didn't come to put us down or to condemn us to those differences. Rather, he came in the qualitative difference of his love to free us from the bondage of our sinful humanity, the enslavement to the quantitative and from the oppression of systems of unnatural inequality--furthermore, to transform us to the qualitative new life.
Yet, our common perceptions of John 3:16 are not adequate to embrace his incarnation. To receive him and the qualitative difference of his love requires first the acknowledgment, affirmation and relational response to the natural inequality of his inherent nature with our inherent difference (which in truth is less). In other words, this defines God's action totally in the qualitative terms of grace: the favor (in this case, unwarranted) of a superior to an inferior.
His grace initiated in the incarnation is rooted in his qualitative difference, not his quantitative difference. His qualitative difference makes the relational act of grace the most significant contradiction of the Uncommon we need to embrace. This distinction is vital for discipleship. There are times that we all may in effect function as if we are equal to God (e.g., by determining the terms of our relationship). Obviously, any such semblance of equality is unnatural; and unnatural equality always means that one of us is wrong--wrong in elevating our self-estimation and/or wrong in reducing the nature of God.
When our life moves ahead of his grace, when what we do defines our faith rather than our faith being a response to his favor, then our quantitative focus has obscured his qualitative difference and rendered the inequality between us as functionally inapplicable, and therefore rendered God in his qualitative difference as functionally inactive. His grace becomes moot because grace is not a concept, only a relational act. We should never assume grace is in operation just because of the presence of grace as a concept.
When our faith or discipleship is defined by what we do, we also infer that God defines us in those quantitative terms--thereby ignoring, denying or distorting his primary qualitative difference. Such reduction of God increasingly minimizes the natural inequality between us and renders the favor of his qualitative difference essentially in function (not theology) as unnecessary. Grace does not prevail in a quantitative mode.
This natural inequality, however, is irrevocable and by definition is incapable of being reconstituted. We have to live in this structure of inequality with God. If we try to do it with a quantitative approach, we will depend on a comparative process. Comparisons are always necessary to give value or meaning to what is quantified--a process, for example, the Pharisees depended on to establish their identity. Besides in relation to God, this comparative process will also be used in relation to others; this invariably gets us into defining differences, stratifying persons and unnatural inequality. If, however, we live in this structure of natural inequality with God in a qualitative approach, then we will need to engage a relational process. This relational process means the only way we can live in this structure with God is by his grace.
Grace brings God to us in the incarnation; grace brings us to God. Grace also keeps God actively involved with us and is necessary for our ongoing involvement with him. Grace is sine qua non--not as a quantitative end but as the qualitative means for relationship with Inequality.
Yet, this inequality does not determine the character of the relationship we can have with God. This is the relational significance inherent in the message of John 3:16. The relational progression of the incarnation takes it much further. In contrast to the old or common way of doing relationships which essentially amounts to nothing different from power relations, the qualitative difference of the Uncommon and the new characterizes this relationship as one of love, of friendship and of the intimate privilege and prestige of being family together. In the intimate relational context and process established in the incarnation's relational progression, our relationship with the inherently superior God is freed (redemption) to experience (transformation) the reality (reconciliation) of his vulnerable, loving presence, of being intimate friends, of being son and daughter with our Father in his family together.
These are relational truths which are a function only of relationship--the basis and extent of which are the relational outcome of his relational act of grace. For discipleship, more important than the propositional forms of these truths (not to their exclusion) are the relational messages (review them on p.6) from God in the Word, as the Truth. The relational process involved in these relational messages connects us to the qualitative difference of God which is vital for our experience as his disciple, fundamental for our growth as his sons and daughters, and crucial for our function as his church.
With the functional definition of discipleship formulated at the end of the last chapter (p.65), we can further operationalize discipleship by delineating the following in our practice.
relational process of following Jesus, authentic disciples function
Discipleship is all about relationship and relational work. Just as God working the Big Picture is all about relational work, what disciples practice is all about relational work. This is the only practice which has relational significance to God's heart and his intimate relational nature.
With all the advances in the modern world supposedly improving the quality of life, it is truly amazing how readily Christians go along with reductions of our person. While we may not accept settling for less in secondary matter, we seem to accept--or at least be resigned to--the relational consequences such reductions have on our relationships. We need to make some honest evaluations and then some hard decisions about Christian practice.
Describe the quantitative reductions which operate in your surrounding context; how have they influenced Christian practice in your midst?
What aspects of theology converge in the character of discipleship, making them more functional for our practice?
What constitutes the qualitative difference of God and how does that emerge in our practice to signify authentic discipleship?
 Andrew Newburg, Why God Won't Go Away (New York: Ballantine Books, 2001).
©2004 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.
©2004 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.