This is a devotional meant for young adults seeking to become more like Jesus.
What is Discipleship? : A Conversation with Josh Coe
If you grew up in the church like me, you probably heard a sermon about Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples”. But what does that mean by today’s standards? Current young adults navigate through most of their interactions via social media, where “following” is just an additional post to the endless scroll. How can we filter through the noise and damaging voices? How does someone return to the heart of discipleship, the way Jesus intended it?
I sat down with Josh Coe, Phoenix based photographer and filmmaker, to record his journey in understanding discipleship and community. It was after experiencing hell on earth, that Josh opened himself to God’s grace and His church. The interview lasted an hour but I am still reeling from the wisdom and authenticity shared in that short time. I gained more than a new appreciation for discipleship, I walked away with a new sight as to how Jesus dwells with us here and now.
The Gospel of Legalism
I was afraid I would sin and lose my standing before God
When he was younger, Josh looked for a place to belong. While some search for identity in parties, dating, or sports, he found himself a band of Christian brothers. He was told that God sent his son, Jesus, to die on the cross for the sins of the world, and this would cover his own as well. Josh bought in 100%, he was willing to do whatever he felt God would call him to. Unfortunately, under the wrong influence, what started as a vulnerable devotion to Christ turned into legalism.
Legalism is when a person makes the law, their good deeds, above Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Josh began to place more importance on avoiding sin to earn God’s favor, instead of trusting he was covered by Christ. This message was amplified by the mentors in his life, who repeatedly said God actually hated him. “I got rid of almost all of my clothes, I stopped eating, I stopped getting haircuts… because I was afraid I would sin and lose my standing before God.”
He felt responsible for his own conversion, that he needed to make his soul appealing to God as one would make a plain box beautiful with wrapping paper. Josh made the simple mistake, like most of us, that God was more interested on the outside than the actual gift inside.
At this point in life, Josh was enrolled in a private Christian college, attending church, and evangelizing in the streets of Phoenix. On the outside or through a touch screen, people admired Josh for his devotion to God. But this devotion was based in fear, not love. He described the traumatic type of evangelism he experienced as warfare, even so devastating as to witness people die in front of him.
The type of brainwashing Josh endured is reminiscent of an abusive relationship, where one party is left powerless to make their situation better no matter how hard they work. Nothing is ever good enough.
Josh remarked that anyone who tries to earn God’s favor will only burn out. “It’s not sustainable trying to keep yourself going with nothing pouring into you.” He felt himself being depleted and too afraid to say otherwise. Yet, there was still a voice inside that told Josh this wasn’t the whole story. He read the Bible and talked to his professors. It just didn’t make sense, all the contradictory narratives about God’s character, who Jesus was, and why he came to earth.
It all came to a head when Josh battled a terminal sickness that lasted for six months. He described this season as his ultimate low: “For half a year, it was possible I would die any day. I broke out in hives all over my body, I lost so much weight because I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t be in a coffee shop for an hour because I would get more sick. At one point, I didn’t sleep for fourteen days because my body was so out of whack.” But in this rock bottom, he found the clarity he searched for. He didn’t want his final days to be spent in shame and guilt, so he abandoned the heavy chains of legalism. Then, he cut off the toxic influences who even condemned him to hell as he laid in his deathbed.
By releasing the things that brought death, his hands were finally open to take Jesus’ call to life.
The Gospel of Jesus
they sought what God commanded for his people: relationship
Josh miraculously saw his health improve. Soon after, he plunged himself into counseling and Redemption Alhambra, a church located in Downtown Phoenix. The 100% buy-in that led Josh into troubled waters before, now had him fully immersed in a healthy community of real Jesus people. He owes his spiritual healing to two people who took him under their wing:
The first is Terri, whom Josh lovingly called his spiritual mom. He attributed much of his growth to the long hours she would sit with him, listening, crying, and affirming his wounds. “She would let me go off about how someone had hurt me, and she would get as mad as me. She’d say, ‘That is messed up! Forget them.’” When Josh is around Terri, he isn’t concerned with only bringing his best self, he brings himself entirely. This echoes Jesus’ call in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” It cannot be overstated how Jesus transforms lives when people come with their brokenness and find they are not condemned in his presence.
The second is Freddy, his best friend. Freddy is no stranger to brokenness having spent eleven years in prison himself. But this familiarity to pain is why Freddy boldly reaches the hurt and spurs Josh in the right direction. “There would be days where he would call me multiple times in the morning just to make sure I would get out of bed.” He continued on, saying an action as small as this proved Freddy believed in Josh and all he would become, a new creation.
Terri, Freddy, and the rest of Josh’s church transformed the way he saw Jesus because they sought what God commanded for his people: relationship. Because he formed healthy bonds with these people, Josh could apply this fresh and inviting approach to God and the Word. It’s in this way that spiritual formation and community are divinely intertwined to create discipleship. Before we can be molded, we need to be heard, seen, and known.
It’s important we don’t confuse discipleship, the process of knowing and living like Jesus, with conversion- heart transformation. Discipleship looks like going for coffee, sitting through grief, reading a challenging text in the Bible, or sharing a massive meal from In N Out. It’s asking questions about Jesus, modeling his attributes toward each other, and testifying what the Lord is doing in our life. We trust the Holy Spirit to renew our own hearts and work in the souls of others, all we have to do is show up.
This is how we make disciples for the Kingdom here on earth, not converts to fill the pews. “If you make disciples, you will plant churches; if you plant churches, you might make disciples,” commented Josh.
In this current season, Josh is excited by what forms a tribe, where you are simultaneously discipled and discipling. “We can’t be only surrounded by those our age. We need the wisdom of our elders, and the life of the youth. This is important because our community shapes the lense in which we see the world.” If we find ourselves in a destructive community, the answer is not to put yourself in a silo. It’s to plug into the bride of Christ, His church. This bride is diverse by all means but for this one exception: they have taken on the new life provided by Jesus.
As Josh looked back on the story arc of his life, he shared that not a moment was wasted, “It wasn’t in vain, or purposeless, or meaningless. God used that time to do work through me.” It taught him vulnerability before the Lord is not a source of guilt. Like the Garden of Eden, Adam’s shame was not fixed when he created fig leaves to hide his nakedness. Josh learned that great works, even those done in the sake of ministry, cannot grant him life. Life to the fullest is accessed, only through the grace of Jesus, which was freely given because the savior loved him so, and what a gift it is to share with the church.
God loves you so much, dear friend. Consider ways to find discipleship in your own congregation. You and your church will be so much better for it.
Big thank you to Josh for sharing his story for this article. If you would like to follow Josh and his ministry, consider checking out his personal instagram account @joshuacoe_ or @thefacesofphoenix