Christian Discipleship for the Rest of Us

What’s the most important ingredient needed for Christian discipleship?

Is it discipline? Time? How about effort or accountability?

Nope. Try again.

Grace and More Grace

In his latest book, The Imperfect Disciple, Jared Wilson writes that what we need most is God’s grace. We need grace because discipleship isn’t a destination—it’s a messy, faltering process.

I want to, by God’s grace, give you the freedom to own up to your not having your act together. I wrote this book for all who are tired of being tired. I wrote this book for all who read the typical discipleship manuals and wonder who they could possibly be written for, the ones that make us feel overly burdened and overly tasked and, because of all that, overly shamed. (The Imperfect Disciple, p.230)

Wilson was frustrated by the shiny, ever-victorious way discipleship was portrayed, and wanted to write for those who only took discouragement from these descriptions.

I tend to think that a lot of the ways the evangelical church teaches discipleship seem designed for people who don’t appear to really need it. (The Imperfect Disciple, p.13)

You see, grace is for everyone. It’s certainly for those who don’t yet know Jesus, who need to run to him for forgiveness, love, and righteousness.

But grace is for Christians, too. Put more strongly, grace is not just available for believers, it’s essential. How could we begin following Jesus by grace and continue on without it?

Romans 7 and 8

One of the highlights of the book is Wilson’s chapter on Romans 7 and 8.

He writes about waking up every day in Romans 7. You might know the passage. Paul is in agony as he realizes the power of his indwelling sin. “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19) Those who follow Christ and know the standard of God’s word often find themselves in the same place.

Wilson reminds us that Romans doesn’t end with chapter 7! Chapter 8 is there to refresh and delight us when we get bogged down in sin.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1–2)

This is a helpful example of preaching the gospel to yourself. From the bog of Romans 7, reach for the life boat of Romans 8. Real, honest discipleship acknowledges this must be an ongoing pattern in your life.

This is how I like to think about discipleship, then—not just following Jesus, but refollowing Jesus every day. We go off track so easily. (The Imperfect Disciple, p.28)

Other Highlights

This is a valuable book, with several strong chapters. Let me highlight just a few.

In chapter 4, Wilson writes about Bible reading primarily as listening. He also describes this practice as feeling Scripture.

Chapter 6 is on the church. This is a very helpful note on the community of God’s people extending grace to one another. It also has a top-notch title: “The Revolution Will Not Be Instagrammed.”

I also loved chapter 8 on The Real You. Wilson reminded me of this beautiful, amazing truth: God loves the sinful me. Not just the me I aspire to, the real me.

But here’s the good news. That real you, the you inside that you hide, the you that you try to protect, the you that you hope nobody sees or knows—that’s the you that God loves. (The Imperfect Disciple, p.188)

It’s good news, isn’t it?!

Wilson writes as a fellow pilgrim in need of God’s grace. He knows what it’s like to fall down and be picked up—again and again. I recommend this book without any reservation. It’s terrific.

You don’t need a hyper-tanned guru, bouncing around on stage to get you fired up for Jesus. You need someone to remind you what following Jesus is really like. You don’t need the varnished, photoshopped version of discipleship that doesn’t work for anybody. You need grace.

And God gives you this grace in abundance.

Thanks to Baker Books for providing me with a review copy of this book.


Disclosure: the links to Amazon.com in this blog post are affiliate links, meaning that I get a small percentage of any purchase you make on Amazon if you make that purchase after clicking through this link.

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What My Children Taught Me About Grace

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Daddy!

As I take my keys out of my pocket, the piano stops and the stampede begins. My children rush to the back door and fling it wide before I can unlock it. I am enveloped in hugs, and my day is made.

This is the scene at my house many times when I get home from work. It doesn’t always happen, and I don’t presume it will continue on indefinitely. (And it doesn’t happen only for me!) But, what a blessing it is! God has given my kids a love for me that I don’t deserve, and the occasional exuberance is wonderful.

This end-of-day greeting isn’t just a blessing of fatherhood. It’s a picture of God’s grace.

A Picture of Grace

I’m far from a perfect father. I’m frequently impatient, too quick to anger, and sometimes just mean or clumsy with my children’s feelings. In an honest accounting, I don’t deserve the extravagant love my children show me.

But my children give me what I don’t deserve. Instead of a cold shoulder, they embrace me. Instead of hesitating, they run. They let me know, unmistakably, that they are glad to see me.

I feel immediate acceptance when I peer through our back window and see those small, smiling faces. I don’t need to bring anything, say anything, or do anything. In that moment, their love does not depend on what I have done for them or what I might do for them. The greeting I receive has no relation to my recent behavior toward them at all—on most days I haven’t seen them for almost eight hours.

This sounds familiar, right? My children’s love is a small, imperfect pointer toward the grace of God. His constant, lavish, maximum love toward those who don’t deserve it—this is his grace and the heartbeat of the Christian life.

A Biblical Truth

Don’t just take my word for it. And don’t let a sentimental fact about my family convince you God is like this. This picture resonates with me because it is the description of divine love we see in the Bible.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:8–12, ESV)

And God’s grace is fully and finally realized in the giving of his son for sinners.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3–7, ESV)

Embracing Grace

Grace like this demands a response. Overflowing love, once offered, changes us in one way or another.

Do you know the grace of God? You have never been loved like this, so it might seem unreal. And yet, it is certain. Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we can enter God’s house. We don’t need to sneak in a window, we don’t knock ashamed—God opens the door himself.

He is glad to see you. He invites you to sit down with him and rest. And the music starts to play once again.


Photo Credit: Petra (2014), public domain

My View From the Back Pew

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I sit in the back pew on Sunday mornings. Some people sit in the back to hide, to slip out the door while the last hymn is ending. Not me. I sit there because I love seeing so many of God’s people as I worship. It’s my weekly picture of heaven.

Every week, I see more sorrow than joy. I see struggles and frustrations, snapshots of pain—spiritual as much as physical.

I’d love to talk to these people on their way out of church. If I could, I’d pull them aside and emphasize this: God is full of grace.

To the mother with the unruly child—I see how much you want your son to sit in worship with you. This morning, he was noisy and distracting, and when you took him to the nursery you looked ashamed and defeated. You’re exhausted, and I’m guessing you think you’re a terrible mother. Please know this: God is full of grace.

To the disheveled man in your mid-thirties—I’m so glad you’re here. You smell like smoke and you’re a bit awkward in conversation, so most people don’t talk to you. You sit by yourself and don’t have a dime for the offering. It looks difficult for you to sing or pray or maybe even believe you should be in this building. But it’s good for you to be here. I wish we all knew our need for Jesus as you do. Continue to seek the Lord; he is full of grace.

To the parents of the absent teenage daughter—you’ve had a terrible time these last few months. Your daughter turned 18, moved in with her boyfriend, and turned away from church. I know you feel powerless and devastated. And now the empty seat next to you is a painful reminder. Please remember: God is full of grace.

To the teenage boy—I know you don’t want to be here. Your parents bring you against your wishes, and you probably can’t wait to be on your own. You used to love this place; I wonder what happened. You don’t sing or even lift your eyes from the floor. Maybe you think Jesus is irrelevant or just a nuisance. I’m praying you realize God is full of grace.

To the early-forties father in the front—You have a beautiful family, and you know it. You soak in the compliments about your children. You’re well-dressed, put together, and respectable. You’ve gone to this church your whole life, and your parents are pillars of the congregation. But while you seem pleasant on the outside, I wonder about your heart. I’ve seen the fear in your young son’s eyes when you correct him. I wonder how much obedience and performance and appearance dominate your thoughts. I wonder if you know that your need for Jesus is the same as mine. I hope you rest in our God who is full of grace.

I’m grateful for everyone in my church. We’re part of the same body. Don’t be scared of your flaws, doubts, and failures. We all have them in abundance. This is why Jesus is so precious.

We all depend on God’s grace. Let’s remind each other how gracious he is.


This post is an imaginative essay. I don’t sit in the back pew myself, and none of the people in the essay are specific individuals in my church. These characters are amalgams of people I have seen and known (and imagined) over time.


Photo Credit: Michael Gaida, public domain