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)

devoting themselves to prayer

Acts 1:12-14 (NIV)

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All of these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

 

Wouldn’t you love to be a fly-on-the-wall? To hear their prayers?

To know what was on their hearts and on their minds.

Excitement? Curiosity? Apprehension?

Whatever it was they were lifting it all up to God through the risen (and now ascended) Christ.

Who was and is now seated at ‘the right hand of the Majesty on high, …’ (Heb 1:1).

Who was acting as their ‘… great high priest …’ (Heb 4:14) and interceding for them; indeed ‘… for us.’ (Rom 8:34)

The fact that they were devoting themselves to prayer sounds to me like it was a full-on, wholehearted, totally committed time of intercession.

And even though the circumstances surrounding these events are quite specific, it isn’t a big stretch to expect Christians to always be devoted to prayer. (Rom 12:12, NASB)

Kim+

prayer : please help me to be devoted to prayer

action : ‘… pray without ceasing, …’ (1Th 5:17)

all one in Christ

“…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:26-28 (ESV)

Continuing the theme of unity is this passage that talks of there being no distinction between Christians of differing backgrounds.

Thus, there is no reason to claim superiority based upon gender, or race, or heritage etc.

We’re all heirs of Christ. We’re all equal in God’s eyes.

For some people, perhaps many, this is hard to accept.

The self-righteous totally miss the point: that it’s through God’s grace, specifically the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, that we are saved.

Not through anything we may do “so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 6:2).

This is reassuring as it’s beyond our means anyway. Our efforts, no matter how well intentioned, are pitifully inadequate.

Thank God we can rely upon Him and His gracious goodness.

Kim+

prayer : thank you for the gift of faith

action : share this gift with others

How Christ Enables the Church to Upbuild Itself in Love

Eph 4:4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high
he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”

9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in *deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:4-16 (ESV)

Through the reading of scripture over the past week or two I have learned that God uses all His people to build up His church.

And this has become even clearer by listening to John Piper in his sermon, “How Christ Enables the Church to Upbuild Itself in Love“.

The main point I take away from this particular talk is the importance of small groups. Groups of believers meeting regularly to talk; to listen; to read God’s word; to pray for one another.

Essentially, they perform the invaluable function of support and encouragement to one another. And thereby enable the growth the church as their faith is strengthened.

These groups are meant to complement regular weekly meetings such as Sunday worship services. But they’re not supposed to replace them.

Ideally, we should attend both. And in so doing, find opportunities to love each other in practical ways.

Kim+

prayer : that small groups in our church would be a great source of learning and encouragement

action : attend a small group regularly – every week where possible

speaking the truth in love

“speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:15-16 (ESV)

Flowing on from the past few verses we see Christ is the head of the “body”: the church.

He is the perfect example upon whom we are to model our behaviour.

How? By speaking the truth in love. That is, by sharing the gospel.

Why? Because, like Paul, “I am not ashamed of the gospel” (Romans 1:16).

And by being open and honest and willing to suffer for my faith I will be “building the body up in love”.

But we all need to do our bit as “each part” needs to “work properly”.

Thankfully we have Gods grace and the support and encouragement of fellow believers.

Kim+

prayer : that I will faithfully speak the truth in love

action : continue to update this blog at least 3x per week

so that we may no longer be children

“until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” Ephesians 4:13-14 (ESV)

I have children. And I’ve watched them grow from tiny, helpless babes, through infancy as they discover the world, into teenagers.

They “mature” as their knowledge and understanding grows. Taking on more responsibility. Whether at school, getting a job, or at church.

It’s a progression.

From milk, to solids, to more unusual and sophisticated foods and flavours.

It takes time. It can’t be rushed. But eventually it happens. And it needs to happen.

Sadly, with this growth comes a better understanding of how the world and human nature operates.

Sure, there are often great acts of courage and generosity displayed by many.

Yet more common is the desire to have more and more and more. And this comes at the cost to others.

Corruption is rife. Greed is prevalent. Governments often spend more time debasing their opposition than actually performing their elected role.

Marketers bend and manipulate the truth to get their share of your wallet. Probably selling a product or service you don’t even need anyway.

Yet it’s nothing new. Deceitfulness has been around since Adam and Eve.

What we need to do is recognise it and guard against it. Praying that we remain firm. Trusting in an almighty God who thankfully does not change.

Kim+

prayer : that I would remain faithful in a world hell-bent on swaying my opinion

action : listen to at least one John Piper sermon every week

equip the saints

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” Ephesians 4:11-12 (ESV)

So let me see if I have this right.

God provides the church – the “body” of believers – with “apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers” to equip us, “the saints”, so we can “minister”.

What a great model!

I love this picture of us all working together to “build up the body”.

Each member an integral part of the whole. Doing his or her thing in such a way as to create something better.

It’s easy to think of “saints” as people who are somehow extra special; holier than thou; perfect; sinless.

But as believers we’re all “saints”.

Yes, we’re still sinners. However, we’ve been forgiven. Thanks to the grace of God.

And what we’re doing now is our small bit no matter how insignificant it may seem. Yet it’s still vitally important.

Kim+

prayer : thank God that I can serve Him and His body

action : continue to discuss with my pastor how I can best use my gifts through ministry