To be a disciple – at its most basic level – is to be a follower of Christ. A member of ‘one body’ (Rom 12:5, NIV): the church.
Yet how does this play out in real life?
It’s all well and good to say “I’m a Christian”. But does it change how you behave?
Naturally, it begins with repentance and belief. For we all fall short of the glory of God. Rejecting Him. Putting ourselves first. Making ourselves God. (Rom 3:10-18)
And we know that we are ‘justified through faith’ (Rom 5:1) by ‘grace’ (Rom 5:2) ‘not by works, so no one can boast’ (Eph 2:9).
But once we become a Christian it’s not as if we then need to work to become a disciple. The two are not separate or distinct stages of an ongoing process. To be a Christian is to be a disciple of Christ.
What’s great is that as Christians we have a wonderfully personal relationship with God through Christ.
He is our ‘great high priest’ who can ’empathize with our weaknesses’ and through whom we can now ‘approach God’s throne with confidence‘. (Heb 4:14-16, 10:19)
What a privilege it is to be able to cry out to God: “Abba, Father”. (Rom 8:15)
To have the ‘hope of glory‘ that the Apostle Paul speaks of. (Rom 5:2)
Yet we must understand that we may have to suffer for what we believe. Remembering that ‘suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.’ (Rom 5:3-4)
So there is a cost to discipleship. We are called to ‘take up [our] cross and follow [Him]’ (Mt 16:24).
Though, when all things are considered, ‘our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us’ (Rom 8:18), the ‘riches of his glorious inheritance’ (Eph 1:18), and ‘the crown of life‘ that awaits us (Jas 1:12).
Thus discipleship is a growing into ‘maturity’ through ‘persecutions and trials’ (2Th 1:4) as we are ‘[equipped] for works of service’ in order to build up ‘the body of Christ’ (Eph 4:13).
Paul urges us to be a ‘living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God’ (Rom 12:1); to change our behaviour – to be ‘transformed’ – and ‘not conform to the pattern of this world’. In order that we may know God’s ‘perfect will’ (Rom 12:2).
This process to ‘maturity’ will involve us ‘imitating’ those who have displayed ‘faith’. (Heb 6:1-12; 1Th 1:6)
So what are some specific ways we can achieve this?
- God’s word: regular – personal & communal – study of and ‘meditation on’ God’s word (Ps 1).
- Prayer: living a life ‘devoted to prayer‘ (Acts 1:12-14). One in which we ‘pray without ceasing’ (1Th 5:17). Individually & corporately.
- Fellowship: frequently ‘meeting together‘ (Heb 10:25) with other disciples as a community of believers so that we can ‘encourage one another’ (Heb 3:13, 10:25) and ‘spur one another on toward love and good deeds‘ (Heb 10:24).
Thus our view is both:
- Inward: involvement in the making of other disciples by ‘teaching them to obey’ (Mt 28:19) as we ‘equip his people for works of service’ (Eph 4:12), and
- Outward: acting as ‘witnesses … to the end of the earth‘ (Acts 1:8). Being ready to give ‘a reason for the hope that [we] have’ (1Pe 3:15).
So not only do we ‘live by faith’ (Gal 2:20). We also hand-down the teachings of Jesus (and the prophets and the apostles); the ‘good deposit that was entrusted’ by Paul to Timothy, for example. That is, the gospel message, that all believers are effectively called to ‘guard … with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us’. (2Tim 1:14)
But why? Why do we do all of this? To what end?
To glorify God, just as Jesus did everything to glorify His Father. (Jn 17:1-5)
Well, we should start by living ‘such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse [us] of doing wrong, they may see [our] good deeds’ and thus God will be glorified. (1Pe 2:12)
For we are a ‘chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.’ (1Pe 2:9)
In summary, I think it comes down to three things:
- Faith: having ‘confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see’ (Heb 11). We rest assured on what Christ has already done for us on the cross.
- Hope: ‘let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith’ (Heb 12). We look forward to what is promised when Christ returns.
- Love: ultimately, we must ‘keep on loving one another’ (Heb 13:1). We put into practice what we believe. It’s not enough to say it; we must ‘[do] what it says’ (Jas 1:22).
Jesus commands His disciples to: ‘Love each other as I have loved you’. No small feat when He then goes on to talk about ‘[laying] down one’s life for one’s friends’. (Jn 15:12-13)
Yet we know that this love (which also applies to us) is not restricted to our friends and fellow Christians alone.
That the definition of neighbour is not limited in any way by geography, culture, race etc. In fact, we are explicitly called to ‘love [our] enemies’. (Lk 6:27)
That’s the real challenge. To love in such a way that it hurts: just as Christ loved us. (1Jn 4:7-21)
Fortunately, we don’t have to do this alone. We don’t have to rely on our own strength. We can look to Jesus to ease our ‘burden’. (Mt 11:30, 1Jn 5:3)
For we are the ‘branches’ within the ‘vine’ of Jesus, as he helps us to ‘bear much fruit’. (Jn 15:1-11)
What’s more, we ‘received power when the Holy Spirit [came] upon [us]’ so that we might ‘be [His] witnesses’. (Acts 1:8) As Paul tells Timothy, God’s Spirit ‘does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline’. (2Tim 1:7)
In doing so, we proclaim ‘Christ crucified’ (1Cor 1:23), ‘admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ’ (Col 1:28).
prayer : Heavenly Father, help me to be an effective disciple maker
action : start ‘meeting‘ (Heb 10:25) regularly with several young Christians – studying God’s word & praying together – One-on-One; helping them ‘mature in Christ’ (Col 1:28)