Design for Discipleship
What is you level of commitment to the Word of God?
My relationship with Jesus began in a rather unusual way. I was a football player in college. One of the guys on the team was not a blue-chip player. In fact in the four years he was on the team, he never suited up for a single varsity football game; rather, he was there for a different reason. He really did love the game, but his real purpose was to help people find their way to Christ.
I first noticed Tim when I saw him reading a Bible. I had never actually seen anyone read the Bible before. I was intrigued, but not enough to ask him about it. One day Tim was giving me a ride to the team meal. He asked me if I was a Christian. Being a very proud person, and since I didn’t want to feel insignificant, I responded, “Yes, I was a Christian.” Then I add, “After all, I grew up in the United States.” My assumption was that everyone in the US was a Christian.
Then came his unusual response. He said to me, “Well, you know that all Christians study the Bible.” Then he proceeded to invite me to a Bible Study on Tuesday evenings. I didn’t know that this wasn’t a true statement. I was actually convinced that if I wanted to demonstrate I was a Christian, I needed to attend this Bible Study. Surprisingly, I went. I trusted in Christ within days.
Now, I am not recommending this approach. What I am pointing out is that Tim had a certain mindset toward building disciples. So, what is Christian discipleship?
Discipleship is the process of becoming a committed follower of Jesus Christ, with all the spiritual discipline and benefits, which this brings. Discipleship is the state of following Jesus Christ, and serving and obeying him. The New Testament stresses the privileges, joys, and cost of this calling. Notice from this definition that key thought of discipleship is that the believer follows Jesus. Following Him involves service and obedience. Also, note that this is a calling. That means that not every Christian will be a disciple.
Discipleship involves learning. We cannot do what Jesus asks us to do if we don’t know Him or His commands. Our learning involves at least five components.
- Learning from God. John 6:45 says, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.” We are called to be imitators of God (Eph 5:1). Thus we are commanded to “be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet 1:15-16).
- Learning from Jesus Christ. Matt 11:29 says, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Christ is our example regarding how we should conduct ourselves (1 Pet 2:21). Those who claim that they abide in Christ should walk just as He walked (1 John 2:6).
- Learning from the Holy Spirit. John 14:26 says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” This passage is directed at the Disciples who walked with Jesus during His time on earth. Thus, the context limits the “all things” to the interpretation and significance of His person and work. The Spirit worked in their minds, reminding them of His teaching and giving them insight into its meaning (cf. John 2:22; 7:39; 20:9). Yet, because of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives and ours, we now can be confident that the Holy Spirit dwells in us (Eph 3:16-19).
- Learning from other people. Phil 4:9 says, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” The Philippians had learned … received and heard from Paul, and they had even seen the apostle’s conduct. From that information, they were to put Paul’s teaching and living into practice; then they would enjoy the presence of the God of peace. The same is true of us. One of the principles Tim taught me early on was the importance of passing what he taught me on to others. One of my life verses subsequently became 2 Tim 2:2—“And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
- Learning to do good works. Tit 3:14 says, “And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful.” Paul stressed the need for good works, not to earn salvation but to serve others. He also expressed the same thought to the Ephesian congregation (Eph. 4:28). I find it interesting that we must learn to do good works of service…it just doesn’t come naturally.
The ultimate purpose of discipleship is to become Christlike. There are two aspects regarding our learning (Eph 4:20-24). (1) A believer has put off the old self, which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts. Our self-centered lusts are deceitful because they fail to provide the joy they promise. (2) He has put on the new self, which has been created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. The new self is based on truth and it contrasts with the deceitfulness of lustful living. Believers have been renewed in the spirit of their mind; that is, their thinking is no longer unproductive—darkened in their understanding and ignorant (vv. Eph 4:18–19). Notice that these are not commands. They are facts that believers have learned (Rom 6:2–10; 2 Cor 5:17). Believers are new people in Christ. Disciples should not live as Gentiles live.
The Benefits of Discipleship
The outcomes of actively growing in Christ, i.e. becoming His disciple, are life changing.
- The disciple becomes a dedicated follower of Christ: Luke 9:23—Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Being His disciple requires commitment.
- The disciple becomes a consistent servant of Christ: Col 3:24—…knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. Faithful service for the Lord results in an inheritance in His millennial kingdom.
- The disciple becomes faithfully obedient to Christ: 1 John 5:3—For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. Disciples demonstrate that they abide in Christ by their obedience (1 John 3:24).
- The disciple responds immediately to Christ’s commands: Matt 8:21-22— Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” The immediacy of the disciples actions are also seen in Matt 4:20; Mark 1:18; Matt 4:22; Mark 1:20; Luke 5:11.
- The disciple lives for Christ and not for oneself: 2 Cor 5:15—…and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. Disciples are compelled to live for Christ because He died for us…we owe Him (Rom 14:7-8; 1 Pet 4:2). It is unrealistic, but wouldn’t it be great if every Christian desired to be His disciple—if all Christians would understand the great sacrifice Christ made on our behalf and then to follow Him as His disciples?
- The disciple loves others: John 13:12-17— So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. If we say we abide in Christ and then follow His commands, then we will love one another (John 15:9-14). The Church should be recognizable by the love that is exhibited by those who profess to follow Christ (1 John 4:7-21).
Jesus wants us all to follow Him. Not all Christians are willing to bear the cross of Christ in their daily lives. Back in my college days, Tim started me on a journey that has lasted more than 40 years. Those things I learned from him, I have committed to other faithful disciples. My prayer is that they will keep the chain alive by teaching others also.
Where are you in this process?
Are you devoting yourself to the Word—so you can know Christ better?
Are you denying self and following the Lord?
Are you preparing yourself for service?
Are you actively serving Christ?
Are you investing in the lives of others?
 Manser, Martin H. Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser, 2009. Print.