discipleship

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?

  1. God’s word: regular – personal & communal – study of and ‘meditation on’ God’s word (Ps 1).
  2. Prayer: living a life ‘devoted to prayer‘ (Acts 1:12-14). One in which we ‘pray without ceasing’ (1Th 5:17). Individually & corporately.
  3. 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:

  1. 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
  2. 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)

How then?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).

Kim+

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)

when Israel was a child, I loved him

Hosea 11:1-2 (ESV)

1 When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.

2 The more they were called,
the more they went away;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals
and burning offerings to idols.

God’s love for His people knows no bounds.

We see this in the Bible’s story which is a continual cycle of blessing (from God), rejection (by His people, displayed through their persistent sin), acknowledgement of their sinfulness and thus their eventual repentance (by His people), and finally blessing again (from God) through forgiveness and redemption, salvation and rescue.

It pains God to see His creation, especially His children, turning their back on Him.

What parent wouldn’t hurt?

But God’s love is a never ending love.

He is always willing to forgive.

Always willing to reach out and draw His child back into His arms just like the father in the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11ff).

Kim+

prayer : thank you for your tender love for me despite my rejection of you

action : learn to love my children just as fiercely

stir up one another to love and good works

Hebrews 10:24 (ESV)

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, …

Our faith is not one of idleness and seclusion. As if we can live in isolation, separate from other believers.

Paul extols us to consider how to stir up one another. To thoughtfully ponder (the consider) and then enthusiastically encourage (the stir up).

This suggests that there’s no easy, simple prescription. It requires prayerful deliberation.

Each and every saint has a combination of gifts and a personality unique to them.

Yet they’re to be used to the same end: namely, love and good works.

Yes, it’s a challenge: How? Where? And when to use our gifts?

But we’re not alone.

We have our brothers and sisters in Christ helping us to think it through.

And the Holy Spirit guiding us in our decision making (1 Corinthians 12:7ff).

Kim+

prayer : help me to better stir up my brothers and sisters in Christ

action : email or SMS a different fellow believer each day with a word of encouragement

God’s love has been poured into our hearts

“… and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:5 (ESV)

The image of God’s love being poured into our hearts is very powerful.

I visualise this generous, never-ending flow of love that is designed to not only fill-us-up but then pour out of us as we share this love with others.

Like a “cup that runneth over” (Psalms 23:5).

It’s a beautiful thing to receive this gift from God so graciously bestowed upon us through the “Holy Spirit”.

But how much better it is to then love others?

As the apostle John said in his first letter, “… let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7)

Kim+

prayer : thank you for the gift of love that comes through the Holy Spirit

action : love one another

the crown of life

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12 (ESV)

It’s not easy to “remain steadfast under trial”. Especially if we choose to rely upon our own resources.

Yet turning to God for help can appear to be a form of weakness.

Our natural instinct is often to try and “tough it out” on our own. Resolute in our determination to “go it alone”.

But God promises to ease our “burden” and “give [us] rest” if we would just “come to [Him]” when we “labor and are heavy laden” (Matthew 11:28-30).

We are told that it’s through these “trials” that we in fact become stronger.

I’ve learned this time and time again during my running training. That it’s necessary to first increase the stress levels and permit a breakdown in the muscles so that they can then be rebuilt during the times of rest.

Yes, it is a test. But we’re anything but alone in our struggles.

And ultimately the prize is the crown of life. No small thing!

But the “promise” is only to “those who love Him”. A poignant reminder to those who choose to sit-on-the-fence!

Kim+

prayer : that those friends and family who do not love Him may yet come to know Him

action : trust God to keep His promise

a spirit of wisdom

“…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,” Ephesians 1:17 (ESV)

The discernment that comes from wisdom is such a wonderfully generous gift. A gift from God the Father.

It’s often assumed that wisdom comes with age. And I suppose there is no one or nothing older than God.

Yet whilst experience can contribute to wise decision making it’s neither exclusive to nor prevalent amongst us “oldies”.

And here, in this passage, it comes hand-in-hand with “knowledge”. A “knowledge of Him”.

Though not just a “knowledge” of facts that’s cold and impersonal. Rather, an intimate “knowledge” that is more about God’s character: who He is together with what He is.

In much the same way we may have an especially close relationship with a friend, a family member, or even a spouse.

And where do these gifts come from?

The “revelation” is clearly outlined in the Bible. A God of love, compassion, grace, and mercy.

And it’s the Holy Spirit who guides our understanding.

Kim+

prayer : that God would grant me the gift of spiritual wisdom and “knowledge”

action : read the Bible regularly, ideally daily

I do not cease to give thanks for you

“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,” Ephesians 1:15-16 (ESV)

In his prayers for the various churches Paul often writes about how he is thankful for them based upon their behaviour.

In this instance it is their “faith” and their “love”. Not unlike yesterday’s letter to the Thessalonians.

Given the recurring theme in his epistles it is clearly very, very important.

Paul’s single-minded focus serves as a terrific model for our own prayers.

The book “A Call to Spiritual Reformation” by Don Carson does exactly this. Emphasising the benefit of using Pauline prayers as a template for our own prayer-life.

Building up a repertoire of prayers that are clearly Biblical and God-centred.

Some modification to the prayers will, of course, be necessary. Personalising them to our own circumstances and those of the church we attend and the 21st-Century world we live in.

Yet the trials we face and the struggles we may have to endure are not dissimilar to those of the church in the first century.

Kim+

prayer : that I would be consistently praying for my fellow believers

action : model my prayers on those of Paul