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But I Don't Understand Yet...

Updated: Mar 23, 2019

by Dave Miller

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Two years ago the Lord graciously showed me a way I had been trying to hold authority over his Word for years. If I did not understand a portion of His word I did not obey that portion of His word. In much the same way I held God at bay because of my lack of heart, I tried to hold God at bay because of my lack of understanding. I considered my disobedience “spiritually-responsible” handling of God’s word. I did not want to “act rashly or foolishly” based upon a faulty interpretation. The funny thing, I always had “exegetical struggles” with plain teachings that were not easy to obey. In other words, for years I chalked my disobedience up to a need to dig deeper into the scriptures. It all sounded very pious and mature.

Dietrich Bonheoffer wrote in the Cost of Discipleship:

When Faust says at the end of his life of seeking knowledge, “I see that we can know nothing,” then that is a conclusion, a result. It is something entirely different than when a student repeats this statement in the first semester to justify his laziness. Used as a conclusion, the sentence is true; as a presupposition, it is self-deception. That means that knowledge cannot be separated from the existence in which it was acquired. Only those who in following Christ leave everything they have can stand and say that they are justified solely by grace. They recognize the call to discipleship itself as grace and grace as that call. But those who want to use this grace to excuse themselves from discipleship are deceiving themselves.[1]

I was that lazy student. I separated my knowledge from the existence of my everyday life of following Jesus. Honestly, I simply didn’t want to take the blame for my lack of evangelism and an unfruitful Christianity. A lack of simple obedience can be covered over with a lot of useless complexity.

The responsibility that grace put at my doorstep to be an image-bearing ambassador was exchanged for what Bonheoffer called cheap grace. That cheap grace allowed me to rest solely on who Christ declared me to be, while completely ignoring why he had made the declaration. My excuse? I didn’t understand the why of a command. Bonheoffer’s costly grace requires that through my knowledge of Christ and his saving work in my life I leave everything and accept the call of discipleship, even when I don’t fully understand the calling. But, honestly I was more infatuated with the knowledge of Jesus than I was on following Jesus.

Again Bonheoffer is helpful:

Because Jesus is the Christ, he has authority to call and to demand obedience to his word. Jesus calls to discipleship, not as a teacher and a role model, but as the Christ, the Son of God. . . . What is said about the content of discipleship? Follow me, walk behind me! That is all. . . . Discipleship is commitment to Christ. Because Christ exists, he must be followed. An idea about Christ, a doctrinal system, a general religious recognition of grace or forgiveness of sins does not require discipleship. In truth, it even excludes discipleship; it is inimical to it. One enters into a relationship with an idea by way of knowledge, enthusiasm, perhaps even by carrying it out, but never by personal obedient discipleship. Christianity without the living Jesus Christ remains necessarily a Christianity without discipleship; and a Christianity without discipleship is always a Christianity without Jesus Christ. [2]

So, I continued to seek understanding while disobeying Jesus. I didn’t really know how to follow Jesus nor could I show anyone else. I had an increasing knowledge of the ideas and doctrinal systems of Jesus, but my actual relationship was suffocating from the very thing I was trying to avoid, legalism. I was approaching Jesus as an advisor instead of the Son of God.

Mark tells us the story of a rich young ruler who did the same. The rich young ruler came to Jesus one day and said, ““Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?””

Jesus answered, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones,” he asked?

Jesus answered again, ““You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

“All these I have kept,” the young man answered. “What do I still lack?”

“If you would be perfect,” Jesus replied. “Go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard Jesus’s response he walked away with his head down in sorrow. He wasn’t willing to give up his great wealth.

You see “he wanted to talk about eternal life with a good rabbi, but what he got to hear was that with his question he was in truth not standing before a good master, but before none other than God.”[3] Jesus refuses to be his advisor and points him back to the word, God’s commands. Eternal life was a discussion topic to the rich young man. The commands were not up for discussion. They were to be obeyed. You see obedience shows our faith, discussions show our curiosities. The young man asks Jesus “Which ones?” He again turns God’s authority into a debate, attempting to hold God at bay with the discussion of knowledge.

The young ruler knew the commands. He openly said he had kept the commands. He wanted something more; he wanted to move beyond to greater understanding. But why is the command not enough for him? Why does he want more?

When the ideas about God had become boring and stale, he wanted deeper ideas, more understanding. The need to resolve his burning questions about the commands, whether they actually could bring eternal life, and how they could bring eternal life plagued him.

Jesus takes aim at the young man himself instead of his problem. The young man took his ethical conflict deadly seriously, but Jesus does not take it seriously at all. He is serious about only one thing, that the young man finally hears and obeys God’s command. When ethical conflict is taken so seriously that it tortures and subjugates people because it hinders their doing the liberating act of obedience, then it is revealed in its full godlessness as complete disobedience in all its insincerity.[4]

That statement jumped of the page and punched me in the mouth. Jesus was serious about one thing that the young man finally “hears and obeys God’s commands,” regardless of the conflicts of understanding he has about them. Then to bring home his point, and as Mark tells us, because of Jesus’ love for the young man, he commands him to sell everything he has and give it to the poor. What the young man lacked was obedience to the commands, so Jesus, to show the young man’s attempts to have authority over God’s word, commanded him to do something specific to that young man. He walked away because he had no intentions to give up his wealth and follow Jesus.

“This is the Christ who is standing before him and calling him. He cannot flee any longer into the untruth of ethical conflict. The commandment is clear: follow me.”[5]

The young man wants an answer to his question.

The answer is: Jesus Christ. The young man wanted to hear the word of a good master, but now he has to recognize that this Word is actually the man himself whom he is questioning. The young man is standing before Jesus, the Son of God.” [6]

I was that rich young ruler without the money. I sought Jesus for answers to my questions. When I didn’t have answers I didn’t follow. But Jesus calls you and me to follow him, regardless of our understanding. In the end, God wants your obedient trust more than he wants your prolific understanding. This turns the tables on our knowledge-based discipleship paradigm where maturity is defined by biblical and doctrinal knowledge. Spiritual maturity is instead defined by obedience to the Son of God.

Until there's #NoPlaceLeft...


[1]Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2003-04-15). Discipleship: DBW 4 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works) (p. 51). Augsburg Fortress. Kindle Edition.

[2]Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2003-04-15). Discipleship: DBW 4 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works) (p. 59). Augsburg Fortress. Kindle Edition.

[3]Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2003-04-15). Discipleship: DBW 4 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works) (p. 70). Augsburg Fortress. Kindle Edition

[4]Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2003-04-15). Discipleship: DBW 4 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works) (p. 72). Augsburg Fortress. Kindle Edition.

[5]Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2003-04-15). Discipleship: DBW 4 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works) (p. 73). Augsburg Fortress. Kindle Edition.

[6]Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2003-04-15). Discipleship: DBW 4 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works) (p. 74). Augsburg Fortress. Kindle Edition.


Sentergy: When Jesus, People, Practice and Theology Collide

Chapter 1: The Glory of God


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