By Hal Knight
We have been looking at discipleship from a Wesleyan perspective these last several months, and now it is time to sum it all up. For Wesley, a disciple is one who knows God’s love in Jesus Christ, loves God and their neighbor, and serves God and neighbor.
First, a disciple knows God. This could be with the faith of a servant, by which the disciple seeks to obey God’s commands either out of fear or obligation. But a disciple in the full Christian sense has the faith of a child of God, both knowing and trusting in God’s love in Jesus Christ. “We love because he first loved us” says I John 4:19, (NRSV); faith is how we know God’s love.
Thus, Wesley says, “Without faith we cannot be . . . saved; for we cannot rightly serve God unless we love him. And we cannot love him unless we know him; neither can we know God unless by faith,” by “a true, spiritual acquaintance with” God. (A Farther Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion, Part I, par. I.3)
Second, a disciple loves both God and neighbor. Our love for God is a response to God’s immense love for us in Jesus Christ, which we offer to God through praise and thanksgiving. But our love for others is also a response to that love.
Commenting on I John 4:11 (“Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another,” (NRSV)), Wesley says, “If God so loved us—observe, the stress of the argument lies on this very point—so loved us, as to deliver up his only Son to die a cursed death for our salvation.” “What manner of love is this,” Wesley then asks, that would lead the Father to give up his Son for us, and lead the Son “to empty himself, as far as possible, of his eternal Godhead, . . . to take upon him the form of a servant . . . and then to humble himself still further,” being obedient even unto death on a cross. “If God so loved us,” Wesley concludes, “how ought we to love one another!” (God’s Love to Fallen Man, par. I.5).
Finally, a disciple serves God by serving others. This includes sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, helping persons grow in faith and love, meeting human needs of all sorts, and working to change the conditions that lead to poverty and suffering. A disciple’s heart is increasingly governed by love, it being both the motivation and desire propelling him or her to action.
In short, to know God’s love for us in Christ brings love to birth in our hearts, and from there into our lives, evoking devotion to God, healing our relationships, and moving us to compassionate action. It enables us, as Wesley never tires of saying, to have the mind that was in Christ and to walk as Christ walked. That is, after all, the very definition of who a disciple is and what a disciple does.