Some thirty years ago, a team from Kansas City Baptist Temple in the United States travelled to South Africa to introduce our church to a program called “Biblical Discipleship.” The program comprised sixteen lessons on the basics of the Christian faith, designed to ground the new believer in his or her walk with the Lord. For decades, this discipleship material formed the basis of introduction into membership at BBC.
Recently, we completely rewrote—and renamed—our membership material. Rather than “Biblical Discipleship,” the new material is called “Basics of Church Membership.” The name change was motivated by two factors.
First, the new material is precisely that: an introduction to church membership. Reduced from 23 to ten lessons, it focuses particularly on what it means to be a healthy church and a healthy church member and less on general Christian living.
Second, we deliberately wanted to avoid giving the impression that “discipleship” is a program or a set of lessons. A person is not “discipled” by completing a series of lessons on basic Christian teaching. There is far more to discipleship than that—as Jesus highlighted in one of his parables.
As he attended a banquet at a leading Pharisee’s house, Jesus healed a man and then offered a number of lessons on his kingdom. He used this opportunity to speak about the cost of discipleship. “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple,” he concluded (Luke 14:33). He then told a parable to drive home his point.
The parable has to do with tasteless salt. With modern purification methods, tasteless salt is impossible. In New Testament Israel, however, salt was produced by extracting and evaporating saltwater from the Dead Sea. The result was an impure compound of crystals—sodium chloride mixed with other elements. It was possible for the pure sodium chloride to dissipate, leaving behind tasteless salt-like crystals. These crystals were useless. They were fit only for the garbage.
Of course, the only way to know if salt had taste was to actually taste it. Salt proved its taste, and therefore its worth, as it interacted with its environment. A salt crystal sitting by itself, doing nothing, was of indeterminate value until someone tasted it. Similarly, our discipleship only has value as it is lived out in interaction with the real world.
According to Jesus, discipleship is proven by ultimate love for him, by bearing your cross, and by renouncing everything for his glory. Only this kind of practical, hands-on discipleship has any real value in the world in which we walk.
Doctrinal orthodoxy is important, but insufficient, as evidence of true discipleship. The measure of discipleship is a transformed life, seen in our interaction in the church and the world. Our salt must be “tasted” to prove its worth.
The parable of the salt presents us with an important question: Does your discipleship make a difference in your life and in your relationships? If it doesn’t, it is no real discipleship. It is worthless religion, useless to God and men. Ryken exhorts: “Be worth your salt in the kingdom of God. Live a life of useful Christian discipleship. Let your love for Jesus grow stronger, surpassing all other affections. Make self-renouncing sacrifices for the glory of God. Conform your life to the cruciform pattern of Christian discipleship.”
As you reflect on the parable of the salt today, ask yourself, where is my discipleship lived out? Is it merely in the orthodoxy of your theology or does your discipleship make a difference in your life and your relationships? Are you salty or are you worthless?