Discipleship Pathways Need A Rule of Life: Under the Guidance of the Holy Spirit

By Steve Manskar

“A rule of life is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness. It fosters gifts of the Spirit in personal life and human community, helping to form us into the persons God intends us to be” (Marjorie Thompson, Soul Feast).

The General Rule of Discipleship is a contemporary summary of the General Rules, the Wesleyan rule of life:

To witness to Jesus Christ in the world,
and to follow his teachings through
acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion
under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I recommend congregations adopt it as their rule of life. It describes the life Christians promise to lead in in the Baptismal Covenant and the membership vows (see The United Methodist Hymnal, pp. 33-39).

In my previous post, I wrote about acts of acts of worship and devotion. I'm concluding the series with some thoughts on the meaning and purpose of the concluding phrase of the General Rule of Discipleship:

“…under the guidance of the Holy Spirit” is the concluding phrase of the General Rule of Discipleship. This phrase is what gives the General Rule its power. It reminds us that God is at work in us, the church, and the world when followers of Jesus Christ serve as his witnesses in the world and follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship and devotion. These practices are guided by the Holy Spirit because they are how we live out our relationship with God in the world.

The Holy Spirit is God’s personal presence and power in the Christian’s heart, and in the life and mission of the church. The General Rule of Discipleship describes how disciples participate in the relationship God initiated with them in baptism. It shapes how the faith received and professed in baptism is lived in the world.

John Wesley believed the practices of the General Rule are “means of grace:”

“By ‘means of grace’ I understand outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace (Sermon 16: “The Means of Grace,” § II.1).”

The practices have no power in themselves. They are means of grace only when they are inspired by and lead to faith. Grace is conveyed in relationship with the Triune God. When performed only for the sake of doing them, they are empty and meaningless. But when motivated by love of Christ and a desire to serve and please him, acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion become means of grace.

The General Rule of Discipleship tells us that faith is more than belief, or intellectual assent to a set of doctrines or creeds. Faith is belief lived in relationship with Christ and with those whom Christ loves. It is a way of life shaped by the cross Jesus mentions when he describes the cost of discipleship in Luke 9:23

"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Obedience to his teachings is the cross Jesus calls his disciples to take up daily. Jesus’ teachings are summarized in Luke 10:25-37. The vertical beam of the cross is the acts of worship and devotion, which Wesley called “works of piety.” They are how we participate in loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind. The horizontal beam of the cross is the acts of compassion and justice. They are how we live out our love for God in the world by loving whom God loves. Wesley called these practices “works of mercy.”

The Holy Spirit is God’s personal presence in us. The Spirit is our guide in the way of Jesus. The Spirit supplies the prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace we need to be able to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Jesus. The Holy Spirit works in us and through the love, witness, and accountability shared and experienced in the relationships God gives us in the church, in small groups (such as covenant discipleship groups), our family, and the people encountered in the world God loves.

The guidance of the Holy Spirit tells us discipleship is a relational way of life. We do not, we cannot, live the way of Jesus alone. God is with us, guiding, prompting, and leading us towards holiness of heart and life; universal love filling the heart and governing the life.