“Go away!” squealed the Ghost. “Go away! Can’t you see I want to be left alone?”
“But you need help,” said the Solid One.
“If you have the least trace of decent feeling left,” said the Ghost, “you’ll keep away. I don’t want help. I want to be left alone…”
The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis
‘Insufficient’ is not a word that good Evangelicals would typically apply to Jesus’ death, but Paul wasn’t so squeamish. Notice what he tells the Colossians: ‘Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the Church.’
Paul is not, of course, suggesting that we need more than Jesus to restore our relationship with the Father, rather he is saying, “Jesus’ suffering may bring salvation, but it does not necessarily bring maturity. Spiritual growth doesn’t just happen. You need someone to get alongside you and teach you, feed you and change your dirty nappies. That’s the job that I’ve taken on for the Church, and let me tell you this: It’s a costly business.”
That’s the hidden cost of discipleship. In our immaturity we don’t realise that the men and women who invest in us, and help us get to know God better, can only do so by giving up something of themselves. I think about the time people spent with me rather than doing something infinitely preferable; I think about the suffering that others went through so that I could be spared some of the same pain; I think about those who spend an hour on Sunday mornings helping my children get to know God.
But this reliance on one another, rather than just God, isn’t some oversight on His part; some side effect of sin. It’s the divine core of discipleship. God wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s terribly keen on interdependence, you know. It’s what He wants, for us to need others; it’s the inbuilt ‘flaw’ that forces us into relationships – forces us to emulate the Trinity. If Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were sufficient not just for salvation, but made our spiritual growth inevitable, then we wouldn’t need community. We could retreat to our monastic cells and just sit around, waiting for sanctification to kick in. God’s not going to give us that excuse. So He made it that for me to grow, I need people, and those people have to pay a debt of love. And then He made it so that I have to do the same for others. Clever. That’s probably why Paul felt able to rejoice in this particular cost of discipleship.