In the end, we find our answer to the “why” question in the framework of the New Covenant. Those who have experienced through Christ the internalization of the law (Jer. 31:33), the indwelling of the transforming Spirit of God (Ezek. 36:26–27), and the once-for-all atonement in Jesus’ death (Jer. 31:34), will inevitably respond in obedience and fidelity to his righteous commands. Put otherwise, (1) having been graced by Jesus in his Servant work, (2) genuine disciples will respond faithfully to Jesus’ royal summons to righteousness. And since Jesus lived out the life of the Servant, (3) followers of the King will ultimately emulate the Servant. We might depict this conception of discipleship accordingly:
The direction of the arrows is crucially important. The nature of the Servant’s work means that it cannot be emulated—at least initially. There is only one thing that can be done with grace. It must be received (Mark 10:45; 14:22–24). Thus discipleship appropriately begins in the reception of the Servant’s grace. But those who receive this grace are also covenantally compelled to respond to Jesus’ all-encompassing summons to righteousness and fidelity (Matt. 5:20; 16:24). Grace that is thoughtfully received never leaves the individual unchanged. The one who has been graced by the Servant will therefore be moved and empowered to follow the King in all of his discipleship demands.
Only then will it be appropriate to speak about the imitation of Christ in his Servant ministry. In other words, disciples of Jesus ought to look like him, replicating his ministry of grace, compassion, justice, and truth, so that others might see Jesus.
To return to where we started, MTD’s reduction of the demand of discipleship simply to being “nice” to people fails miserably to preserve Jesus’ depiction of what it means to follow him. First, this meager demand actually functions as a weak form of legalism. There is no grace here that precedes the demand. Rather, the demand of “niceness” itself encompasses what discipleship entails. Accordingly, it fails to preserve the gracious foundation of a biblical covenant. Second, its requirement falls woefully short of the all-encompassing demand of righteousness articulated by Jesus. Rather than merely being “nice” to people, Jesus calls on his followers to love God with all their “heart, soul, and mind,” and their neighbor as themselves (Matt. 22:34–40).
To unpack this further, however, we must turn to our second question: the “what” question.
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