I was struck when reading a popular author on the topic of discipleship and the Christian walk. He spends page after page lambasting the 'sinner's prayer' and pastors who encourage lost people to respond to an alter call at a church service. He is excessively hard on people who have invited Jesus into their lives without counting the cost and he really struggles with those who lack an understanding of who Jesus is if they don't understand Jesus like the author thinks he does. His argument hinges on the masses of people who profess to be Christians but have no evidence of following Jesus years later. And his solution is to toss out all those things that might not meet his standard of mature Christendom.
The problem however, is that this author is not necessarily wrong. Christ does call his followers to die to self. He does encourage us to count the cost of following him. Jesus did tell a rich man to give up everything to follow Jesus. It is true that the disciples physically gave up their lives, and indeed there are people around the world being persecuted for following Jesus in radical ways. Jesus did say there will be those who did things in the name of Jesus but Jesus will says, "I never knew you."
On the other hand, there are other authors that write about how easy it is to become a Christian. How being a Christian is a free gift and that demands an immediate response to Jesus. They seem to push away from any difficult walls that others try to put up. And there are entire churches who see arguments like the first author's above and lose their minds in rage and anger. They argue, as the Bible says, that all who profess faith in Jesus and call him Lord are saved. You can't lose your salvation and you don't have to earn it with works. They see things like selling all that you have and following Jesus as something Jesus only 'suggested' to one guy, once in the Bible. Are these arguments wrong? No, is some truth behind the second argument too. The Bible, after all, does indeed say all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can both arguments be true?
Which is it? Say a prayer to Jesus for your salvation or count the cost and get all your thinking and your attitude right before Jesus will consider you his true follower? Are you only a true Christian after you know the Wesminster Confession and understand all the doctrines? Or are you a Christian because you said the sinner's prayer? Or is it that you're a real believer after you've been utterly broken under the magnitude of all your sin? Is there a need to respond by raising your hand or walking to the front of a church service? Might it be that after hearing the gospel, even if you've never read Leviticus and pondered all its points you can respond and be counted among those who call themselves Christian? Are you to understand the dynamics of the Trinity before you cry out to Jesus for salvation? Is there nothing in between?
I've come to see that it's both. We have created a false dichotomy that the Bible does not. It's not one or the other, it's both. The Christian walk is both easy an yet it is a death to self. It is birth with a simple prayer and a life of continual growth and discipleship. The problem comes when we think its only one or the other. Even worse is when we blast the other side as wrong and toss out important truths of the Word of God.
Imagine a child who is just old enough to start speaking single-syllable words. Is this the time we start reading the King James Bible to them? Maybe. Maybe not. But should we get angry when this little child struggles to pay attention? Is it wise to get upset when the child doesn't start memorizing verses from the King James translation? Might it be okay to show this little one a simple picture Bible? Is there a point when "Jesus loves me, this I know" is enough?
As the child starts to learn more about Jesus and begins to learn how to read, would it be a good time to graduate the little one to a Bible like the Jesus Storybook Bible? I think so. (Although I once had a KJV only guy argue that in no way should this Bible be consider a Bible because it's not the complete and total inspired work of God; and in no way should it ever be given to a child because it is an incomplete Bible.) Again, is there another step in which the youth could be graduated up to another Bible. Maybe a translation like the NiRV that's intended for a 2nd grade reading level? How about a student study Bible next, maybe with a more mature translation? Then at some point, the student study Bible might be replaced with a more mature study Bible. The child might be encouraged to start reading popular-level reading books and devotionals as he or she continues to mature and grow in Christ. And even still, could there be a graduation to some of the classic theologians? I hope so. Devotional commentaries next? Then technical commentaries? Learning original languages may come at some point (or not). It could go on and on like this when it comes to selecting a Bible for our children.
Might it also be the same for believers in other parts of the Christian journey?
As English speaker and readers, we wouldn't expect a toddler to start with a Hebrew or Greek Bible, or even a KJV or ESV. But neither would we expect that child to keep using the Jesus Storybook Bible as his or her only Bible well into adulthood. But we are doing these same thing in discipleship when we expect too much of a new believer or too little of one who has walked with Jesus for some time. Might it be that the Christian journey is a in fact a journey and the first few steps might not be as large as the steps that follows the first?
How we look at discipleship is a 'both/and.' There is an easy entry but no room to remain there. That's only the first step. There is a difficult journey through the duration of a lifetime, but that is why we have the Holy Spirit with us. Some steps are easy, some are extremely difficult. Is this not what we see in the lives of first disciples? Think about their first year, or two, or three. But then notice what happens through the book of Acts as they grow into maturity in Christ. Oh how much more they grew into amazing examples all the way to the end! The same balance is true for every disciple. It's about a journey of continual growth. It's a journey that requires a a thin walk between rest and death. But it is a journey non-the-less.