The Emergence of Evangelical Discipleship: Learning to Walk with Jesus - page 6


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From the Spring 2017 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

The Emergence of Evangelical Discipleship:
Learning to Walk with Jesus

by Tom Schwanda, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Christian Formation
and Ministry at Wheaton College

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  Love for God: Faithful discipleship is always lived out in loving God and one’s neighbor. Early evangelicals demonstrated that their deep desire for communion with God was possible because they had first experienced God’s love in union with Christ. Since believers in Jesus Christ had already experienced God’s presence; their desires for a deeper delight and enjoyment of God were awakened. This created a yearning for heaven, not as an escape from the challenges of earth but rather as a fulfillment for their longings to know God more fully. Drawing from Scripture, evangelicals realized both the importance of a proper motivation for seeking God and the obstacles that they would face along their earthly pilgrimage. These believers valued the beauty, mystery, and ineffable nature of God. In responding to this awareness, they fully appreciated the proper posture of surrender to God, expressed through obedience, regular self-examination, and scrutiny of their souls, desire to grow in holiness, praise and glorifying worship, and grateful gazing on God in contemplation. But they were not naïve; they recognized the reality of residual sin following conversion and spiritual conflict that arose from persistent temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Periods of spiritual dryness were not uncommon, and friends were honest in confessing their struggles or offering words of encouragement to one another.

  Love for Neighbor: One of the primary descriptors of early evangelicals was activism. Since they had experienced conversion through Jesus Christ, they recognized the importance of communicating that message to others. These writings explored a wide range of concerns that required the good news. The evils of slavery were debated on both sides of the Atlantic, although the British successfully abolished it decades before the United States did. Missionary efforts were encouraged and societies formed specifically to prepare and send men and women to countries that had not heard the gospel. Some of these writings sought to remove the excuses related to the danger, expense, and challenges of learning new languages and cultures. The importance of evangelism is demonstrated both in addressing a specific people group of their need to receive Jesus Christ as Savior and also in the narrative of a single person as he or she attempts to live a consistent life of faith that honors Christ amid the conflicts of business and daily life. The wealthy were reminded that religion was more than external formalism and that selfishness was the greatest barrier to vital Christianity. Those who had experienced abundant resources were challenged to practice benevolence to those less fortunate. Likewise, sermons proclaimed the necessity of charity to the poor. Giving to others was a direct biblical command of Jesus that also produced significant benefit to the benefactors themselves.


  In 1776 John Newton penned a letter in which he reminded a woman that, despite the trials of life, Jesus “is always near.” He continued,

the chief difference between us, and the disciples when our Savior was upon earth, is in this: They then walked by sight, and we are called to walk by faith … We conceive of him as at a distance; but when the heart is awakened, we begin to make Jacob’s reflection, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.” And when we receive faith, we begin to know that this ever present God is in Christ14

  and will always lead us forward as His disciples. May we grow in that same ability to walk by faith in following Jesus Christ as His disciples.


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