My default state is to live as a passive disciple. This means to not do anything that might stretch or improve myself. It means to not live by faith, rather to only take steps that I feel I am totally capable of fulfilling without any outside help. It means knowing that God is important and all, but to not wanting to need Him. It means wanting to reach heaven by checking items off a list, with no messy life-altering transformations along the way.
Until recently I did nothing to challenge this default state of mine, but then, about three years ago, I took some steps to push against it and began to live with intentionality. Things have been much improved since then…but it would be dishonest if I said that I’ve never looked back since.
Even now I still find complacency to be a very comfortable robe, one that is all too easy to slip back into. I have to continually agitate myself to continually live as a more active follower of Christ. While some days are more successful than others, I have noticed some abiding changes in me that are invaluable. One of them is that I sharply recognize when I am falling back into my old cadence, and I remain restless until I get up and start moving again.
Living the life of an active disciple is hard by its very nature. Thus I am certain that I am not the only one entangled in this never-ending dance with my old ways, and not the only one that would benefit from a study on this topic. In my following research, I will be exploring how the scriptures advocate for a more active discipleship, and what wisdom they offer for how to maintain it.
Zephaniah 1:12, Malachi 3:14
And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil.
Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?
The men that are settled: that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither do evil
It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance
The only reason why any of us do anything in this life is because we expect to gain something worthwhile by it. The easiest actions to take are those that are immediately pleasurable, such as eating, sleeping, and pursuing entertainment. But we can even learn to endure actions that are momentarily inconvenient if they provide later benefits, such as exercising, gaining an education, or working a job. Even selfless acts of service still benefit us for the warmth of conscience we gain by them.
Indeed, we can perform any action and overcome any obstacle, so long as we are properly motivated by the promise of goodness afterward. But if there is something for which we see no gain, then we will struggle immensely to invest in it. The root of complacency then, is the lack of desire, the inability to see any reward in the striving. These verses I have quoted describe those that do not see the profit in following God. I have been in that state myself, where life seems pretty fine just how it is, so why should I distress myself with the difficult work of spiritual progression? Why should I lay up treasures in an unseen heaven, when there is mortal pleasure to be had in the here and now?
An object at rest will stay at rest. This is our natural and default state, it is the entropy to which all of us would be consigned if God did not come and disrupt our lives. But He does disrupt, and tomorrow we will examine how he puts the desire in us that we all need to push forward.
Romans 2:15, John 8:9, 1 Timothy 4:2
Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;
And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;
Their conscience also bearing witness, their thoughts accusing or else excusing one another
And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one
Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron
I have mentioned that all of us need to feel a motivation to follow God. We need something to convince us that life is better with Him as our companion than remaining on our own.
Well, it turns out that God has a way to accomplish this, and it is ingenious. He simply puts a little voice in us that urges us to do what is right, and “sears” us when we do wrong. We might try and say “I don’t need God, I can just live how I want.” We might try…but our conscience will not let us rest with that decision for long. We might settle into worldly comfort, but we will feel “convicted” in our soul.
The argument for complacency is that it is peaceful, but there can never be true peace when the conscience is distressed. If there is peace in the heart, though, then all is peace, no matter what tumult rages without. Thus no matter how we try to reason away our complacency, our conscience will always trouble us back to active discipleship.
Isaiah 26:3, John 14:27
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee
I have spoken about how we will never be able to live in peace until we live with a clean conscience. And we will never live with a clean conscience so long as we are not actively pursuing a deeper relationship with God.
The fact is that most of us get lost in complacency, when what we really need to find is contentment. Satan is very skilled at using his counterfeits to distract us from what truly matters. He gives us lust when what we’re really looking for love, he gives us idle distractions when what we’re really looking for a Godly calling. Complacency in place of contentment is just another of his deceits.
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you
Contentment is the peace that Christ offers to us, which peace cannot be found anywhere in the world. Contentment is what we feel when we genuinely try our best and are proud with the person we are becoming. Contentment is always worthy of pursuit.
Complacency, on the other hand, is the so-called peace that the world offers. It is a cheap knock-off, one that tries to convince us that we are satisfied. Satisfied without self-improvement and satisfied without a connection to God. It appeals to our fleshy desire for idle laziness, and is most pernicious in how subtly it lulls us into inaction.
There is quiet contentment and there is muted complacency. One is the peaceful rest of the soul, the other is the disquieted tossing of a stupor.
2 Corinthians 9:7, 1 Corinthians 13:3, Moroni 7:6
Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.
Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give
At first glance, it may appear that this verse condones a more passive discipleship. If you do not feel the push to give yourself fully to the gospel, then don’t. Just invest to what degree you feel like. One might try to use this verse as justification to dabble with God and say that that was enough.
But that is a misreading of the passage. It does not say “according as he purposeth in his mind,” it says the “heart.” It has always been my mind that tries to rationalize effortless discipleship, but my heart has always yearned to give myself even more to God. I think many of us, if we are really honest with ourselves, have a heart that is more giving than we allow it to be. Not a one of us has a stingy heart…only a suppressed one.
Though I bestow my goods to feed the poor, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing
For if he offereth a gift, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing
And so long as we keep our hearts suppressed, then we will receive no benefit for whatever token efforts we make. God is not going to reward us for our begrudging discipleship. He is not going to pat us on the back for doing things devoid of any real heart. If He did, it would reinforce our passive lifestyle, and prove detrimental for our development. Thus it becomes all too easy to make a half-hearted effort at following God, receive no spiritual nourishment for it, and then say “see, there’s no benefit in this.” But even as we say this, our conscience knows we never really tried.
God is not content with us going through the motions like trained monkeys. He is a jealous God, and He wants our hearts. Real relationships require real investment, and God wants the realest relationship with us imaginable.
2 Timothy 1:7, John 14:12
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind
He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these
When I read the scriptures as a boy, I liked to picture myself in the shoes of Daniel, Gideon, and Joseph. These were stories of heroes, stories of people doing remarkable things in difficult situations, stories of valiant hearts that rose to the occasion, that knew their calling, and then lived it boldly. I loved these stories, and I always felt that they represented exactly the life that God wanted for me as well!
There is an important theme to each one of these stories, the very thing that made them so exciting to read. In all the scriptures, all of the heroes are examples of people that lived active lifestyles. These stories only exist because the men and women in them were not sitting around, living passive lives. We will never be like the fearless warrior David so long as we shy away from our struggles. We will never be like the great pioneer Moses so long as we turn down the ventures God offers us. We will never be like the great re-builder Zechariah so long as we refuse to make restitution for the things we have broken.
God always intended that we would feel the scripture heroes alive within us. He wanted for us to read their stories, be inspired by them, and become heroes just like them. But it will never happen so long as we remain sedentary on the sofa.
And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.
And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.
But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone
As we have seen, the heroes in the scriptures are meant to be role models for us. We are supposed to push our discipleship forward with the same fervor that they did. When we do, their stories become our stories. As it turns out, there is an example of exactly this in the life of the Savior.
First, let us consider the context of the passage I have quoted. Jesus had just completed fasting for forty days and forty nights. This is quite the feat, one not often repeated in the scriptures. There is does exist another account of it, though, that of Moses in Exodus 34:28. Moses had this experience while receiving the law of the Old Testament. Similarly, Jesus had his own private fast immediately preceding his ministry, in which he delivered the law of the New Testament.
So Jesus was following the same pattern as Moses. He was stepping in the footprints of those that had gone before. Then, when he was tempted by Satan, he fittingly rebuked him with the very words spoken by Moses. The passage that Jesus quotes is what we now know as Deuteronomy 8:3. And then he does it again, two more times! When Satan tempts him a second time he rebuffs it with Deuteronomy 6:16, and after the third temptation he recalls one of the ten commandments that Moses famously delivered (Exodus 20:2-5).
Jesus was living the scriptures he was quoting. They were made new in him. This wasn’t just ancient Moses’s story anymore, it was his. But he was only able to take this ownership because we was living the life of active Christianity. He was going and doing. He was in the heat of battle. He was pushing into his great calling. Just as Moses had. Just as Abraham had. Just as all the heroes of the scriptures had.
The scriptures were not written to entertain us, or to give us wise sayings. They were given as the field guide for adventure and warfare. I have never been able to relate the scriptures to myself except for when I am chasing my personal calling as well. There are words in them that echo in my life, but only when I am pushing against the storm.
This has been a very good study for me. I find it very easy to slip back into a state of idle complacency, and every time I catch myself in it, I need to find a source of inspiration to push back into intentional discipleship. At those times I find that motivational words and stories go a long way to building up my resolve. Perhaps this study will be another good resource for me to reflect on in those moments.
Indeed, the more I think about it, all scripture is meant to motivate us towards a life of active discipleship in one way or another. Reading them, I find myself compelled to do the things I am otherwise hesitant to do. Keeping the commandments, reaching out to others, finding productive ways to improve myself…each of these sound like a chore when I am not drinking from God’s words.
Here are some of the principles that stood out to me the most from this study.
God Does Not Call Us to Live Passively
The example everywhere in the scriptures is of active men and women who would go and do. David fought Goliath where others remained idle. Esther spoke up to the king where others were afraid. Jesus healed the lepers that others refused to approach. Testimony is built by those who go out and look for it, not by those who sit and wait for it.
Each one of us wants to live a meaningful life as well, but we want it to come to us easily. We want to live passively, but still feel like we are adventurous. I have watched myself go through all sorts of mental gymnastics to try and accomplish just that. I try to convince myself that my sedentary life is actually one of purpose, that my small trials are epic giants, that my passive hobbies are my great calling.
But no matter how I try to spin it, a hollow life is still hollow and I know it. I have called mediocrity significant, but the words always tasted a lie. I only can have the active, adventurous, and meaningful life that God meant for me to live when I do that which I find hard to do.
2 Nephi 1:21, 23- Arise from the dust, my sons, and be men, and be determined in one mind and in one heart, united in all things, that ye may not come down into captivity;
Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust.
The Conscience Distresses the Idle
What is the part of me that tastes the lie when I claim I am content with an idle life? That sense of in-authenticity cannot be explained by chemistry or biology, it something in my soul that discerns the truth from the error. It is something given by God.
When I feel the push to overcome my laziness and act, I know that it is divinity that is inspiring me. And therefore I know that I ignore those urges at my own peril. One of the greatest gifts God gives is to distress us when we are slothful. It may not feel like love to be made so agitated, but if He did not stir our hearts then we would live in a world without any heroes.
This isn’t to suggest that we must all become generals of armies or leaders of congregations. Not all of us are called to revolutionize the entire world. But we are all called to live a life that is meaningful, a life that blesses the world around us, a life that unveils the worth within us. Not every life calling that God gives is famous, but all of them are epic in their own way.
Romans 2:15- Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;
John 14:12- Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.
We Only Have Peace in Doing
Hard as it may seem to live the life of active discipleship, it is actually far harder to live that of idle discontent. Just as it is hard to bear one’s cross and live worthy of heaven, but far harder to spend an eternity in damnation. So God does not trouble us without cause. He does not ask us to do things that are not for our own good.
There is only one true peace, and that is from pushing further and further into the good. Any other philosophy is a lie, meant to seduce us into sleeping away our great potential. There is a reason why slothfulness is considered one of the deadly sins. It is not some silly misdemeanor that we can wink at. Yes, Satan tempts us to sin, but he also tempts us to just not do good. If he catches us on either point he has won.
Christ’s promise is that his burden is light, that his cross is easy to bear. It seems unfathomable , but that is the promise even so. We will never know the truth of it until we try it, and find the warmth of heart that makes all our burdens melt into joys.
Malachi 3:14- Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?
John 14:27- Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.