Motivation Behind Discipleship
By Dr. Hal Knight
What motivates someone to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? While not using the term “disciple,” John Wesley identifies two types of motivations to follow Jesus, both of which are in response to God and enabled by grace.
The first is the motivation of those with the “faith of a servant.” These are persons who have become aware that God calls us to a way of life that puts God and others first, and that their own lives fall short of this. They are convinced that what God wants is right and good but find it is contrary to the desires of their own hearts and ingrained habits. But they earnestly seek to obey God rather than themselves, and out of fear of divine disapproval as well as a sense of duty begin to do those things—attend worship, study the Bible, pray, serve others—that God wants them to do.
These are not nominal Christians. A nominal Christian wants to fulfill the minimum expectation necessary for the approval of God or society, or both. They may attend church, make contributions, and try to be decent citizens. But they want to change their lives as little as possible and are happy with a church in which God makes few demands.
The person with the faith of a servant is not under that illusion. They know their life needs a complete reorientation. They try to do their best but find that on their own they can’t make the fundamental change needed. For this they turn to God, who has the power to change hearts and lives.
The second motivation is that of those who have the “faith of a child of God.” These are persons who have encountered God’s love through God’s forgiving their sins, not because of anything they did to deserve it, but because of what Jesus Christ has done for them. Now reconciled to God, they find the Holy Spirit to be at work in them, renewing their hearts and lives.
Coming to know God’s love is the key to our beginning to love as God loves. “We love, because he first loved us” it says in I John 4:17 (NRSV). Wesley calls this verse “the sum of all religion, the genuine model of Christianity. None can say more: why should any say less?” (Explanatory Notes on the New Testament).
Knowing God’s love changes our motivation from dutiful obedience to gratitude and love—gratitude for God’s love for us in Christ and love for God and our neighbor in response. As we grow in the knowledge and love of God, this motivation increasingly fills our hearts and governs our lives. We find it is easier and more natural to do what God wants if that’s what we now want as well.
A disciple as Wesley understands it is one who is being remade into the loving image of God in which we were all originally created. It is to increasingly have the mind that was in Christ so that we think and act and love as Christ does. To be a disciple, then, is not only to do certain things, but to become a certain kind of person, who’s very being is formed and shaped by God’s love in Christ Jesus.