Following Jesus is hard. The road of discipleship is a road of obedience. “He cuts off every branch in me that does not bear fruit,” Jesus said to the disciples, explaining the work of the Gardner, his Father.
Becoming like Christ means getting pruned: sharp, pinching cutters, clamping down on sin patterns, severing unfruitful branches of our lives. When we commit to Christ, we sign ourselves up for his maintenance program. It doesn’t take long before we realize that the power to follow him is beyond ourselves. “Work out your own salvation,” Paul instructed the Philippians, but he was quick to assure them, “It is God who works within you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
When we work in concert with the Lord, his Spirit changes us. That does not mean we can sit back and relax. Numerous stories in scripture point to the importance of obedience and action. Joshua had to march around Jericho. David had to command his armies. God supernaturally cleared the way for Nehemiah to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, but Nehemiah still had to do the hard work. He had to withstand ridicule and threats. God spread the Gospel through the first apostles, but they had to go out, travel far from home, and withstand hunger and opposition. They had to preach when they probably felt like silently praying in the shadows of a large tree.
Our choices for forgiveness, unity, love, compassion, kind words, purity, or honesty sometimes require great strength of will and are often accompanied by little emotion. Living God’s way is a spiritual workout, and our hearts, minds, and souls come away sweaty and sore.
And sometimes we fail.
Paul wrote, “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15).
Friends, this leads us to grace. Without grace, the grinding work of discipleship becomes unbearable. How easily the walk of discipleship turns into the march of condemnation. Next time, we’ll consider this freeing grace that carries us through the hard work.