Mere Discipleship

Perhaps you are familiar with the phrase, Mere Christianity. You might be saying to yourself, “Wasn’t that the name of C.S. Lewis’ important work on the basics or essential elements of the Christian faith?” If that’s what you thought, you’re correct. But do you know where Lewis got that title for his book? Lewis tells us something about the title in his preface. He writes:

“Ever since I became a Christian I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbours was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.”

Mere Christianity was the name that Lewis borrowed to describe the common beliefs held by “nearly all Christians at all times.” But again, where did he find the actual name, “Mere Christianity?” He got it from another my hero of mine, Richard Baxter. But what exactly was Baxter thinking of when he coined that phrase? J.I. Packer helpfully comments that by it Baxter meant:

“historic mainstream Bible-based discipleship to Jesus Christ, without extras, omissions, diminutions, disproportions, or distortions…”

Packer says that this was the faith that Baxter embraced and “sought to spread.” And for you Lewis fans, Packer goes on to say that “Lewis and Baxter belong together as men with a common purpose as well as a common faith.”

What is important for our purpose is to point out that in Baxter’s understanding of “mere” Christianity there is more than doctrinal content, though there is not less than that. Packer points out that authentic Christianity, properly understood, is “Bible-based discipleship to Jesus Christ.” And what is a disciple? Well, in the case of a Christian disciple, he or she is a follower of Jesus Christ. That means a Christian disciple will follow Jesus Christ in all things. As the apostle Paul put it, the Christian disciple will watch his life and his doctrine closely and persevere in them. Why? Because this is what Christ requires. This is what faithful discipleship is.


Furthermore, Paul says that in so doing, you will save both yourself and your hearers. Let’s look at this truth more closely. The point here is not that attending to your doctrinal beliefs and faithfully living the Christian life will somehow mystically “save” those around you anymore than putting a book under your pillow will cause the book’s contents to soak into your head over night. Instead the idea is this: Truth demands a response! In other words, God has revealed his Word to us for a reason. As the apostle states in 2 Timothy 3:15-17,

[15] … the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. [16] All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, [17] so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

God has provided for us in Scripture that which will make us wise for salvation. So too, God’s Word is useful for teaching the truths of the faith, rebuking and correcting us when we go astray, (both doctrinally or practically), and helping to train us to live lives that are pleasing to God. And so, getting back to my earlier point, as we believe and embrace God’s Word (or teaching), and faithfully live obedient lives as a result of His truth, then the watching world, by hearing what we believe and seeing that our lives match our confession, will be more attracted to the faith, and, maybe, desire to become a part of it. Could God draw folks to himself another way? Of course. But he has ordained that we serve as a means to His end. Moreover, what we find in these words by the apostle Paul is reflection of what our Lord taught. For example, Jesus tells us in John 8:31-32 that,

…If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. [32] Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

He also tells us in the Great Commission to “go and make disciples.” How? By “teaching them everything Jesus has commanded.” I want to suggest that Jesus’ teachings and commands are what constitute “mere” Christianity – that is, who he is, what he taught, what he did, etc., as well as how we’re to respond, etc. His teachings (including his teaching that comes to us throughout all of holy writ) are those non-negotiable essentials that each and every person who would call himself or herself a follower of Jesus Christ must commit themselves to believing and living out. Christians do so, not because it will save us, but because our Lord has commanded us to do so. Attention to our doctrine and life will be the light by which unbelievers will see us and praise our Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16). Because we have been saved, our obedience naturally and gratefully flows from our new position in Christ. Our fruit will determine what kind of tree we are.

Let me leave you with a “Tedder paraphrase” of Baxter on this point.

“I like to hear a man dwell much on the same essentials of Christianity. For we have but one God, one Christ, and one faith to preach; and I will not preach another gospel to please men with variety, as if our Saviour and our gospel were grown stale–For it is the essentials and common truths, as I have often said, that we daily live upon as our bread and drink. And we have incomparably more work before us, to know these better, and use them better, than to know more. The sea will afford us more water after we have taken out a thousands tons, than a hundred of those wells and pits from whence we never yet brought any.”


Working It Out


How are you doing in this area of watching your doctrine and life closely? Ours is a day when folks typically fall off the razor’s edge of faith on one side or the other. There are those who have all their doctrinal ducks in a row. They are perfectly orthodox in what they believe and will gladly debate you on every point. Sadly, however, they are often referred to as God’s frozen chosen because of the awful God-dishonoring inactivity of their lives. The unbelieving world sees that they have all of their “I’s” dotted and “T’s” crossed, but does not see lives that are in accord with their profession and confession of faith. Thus, the world is not interested in knowing any more about them.


Then there are those who could not care less about doctrinal content and piously say so. Just give them a warm-fuzzy experience and they’re on their way. Like the line in the movie, Sister Act, they just want to be “do-gooders.” But Scripture says to watch out for this error as well. In fact, Paul warns us in Romans to watch out for a zeal that is not according to knowledge. Instead, balanced Christianity maintains that both our doctrine and life are equally important.


And so I ask again: How are you doing in this area? Are you studying God’s Word so that you might be wise for salvation, so that you might know God, so that you can know how to live your life and show yourself approved, etc.? And if you are diligent in your studies, are you living a life that corresponds with what you’ve learned? Pray on these things, that God might bring faithful obedience to both of these areas of your life as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Stand Firm,

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