The Importance of Discipleship: Part 2

6th December 2020

Then Jesus said, ‘Therefor go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ Matthew 28:19-20

How can we grow Spiritually?

At the close of life, the question will not be “How much have you got?” but “How much have you given?”

Not “How much have you won?” but “How much have you done?”

Not “How much have you saved?” but “How much have you sacrificed?”

It will be “How much have you loved and served,” not “How much were you honoured?”

Discipleship very much involves how we are growing spiritually, and Scripture offers valuable insights into this.  First it is Christ’s power in the believer that gives us the ability to grow spiritually (2 Peter 1:3; Ephesians 3:20).  Relying on Jesus’ supernatural power and following His teachings is the only way we can develop greater maturity.

Peter provides a peek at the process:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (2 Peter 1:5-8).

We studied these spiritual gifts last December, and the teaching can be found in this series.

Involvement in a local church and the exercise of our spiritual gifts are invaluable to our discipleship.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:11-16).

But what does it mean to speak the truth in love?  In this context it is about speaking the truths of the Gospel, of Jesus, in a loving, caring and compassionate way.  To do this we are to train ourselves in foundational gospel truths.  Truths such as Jesus being God incarnate, that His death and resurrection was a sacrifice that we could never make as an atonement for our sin, a sacrifice that abolishes the power of death to separate us from God.  This is the truth that Jesus is our Salvation, through which we are saved from the penalty of sin, power of sin and sin’s presence.  Deliverance from sin’s penalty is immediately secured by Christ’s death.  The resultant life of Christ in us saves us from living under the power of sin while the hope of His coming, His second Advent, assures us of eternal salvation.

Our motivation to do all this is love.  And the “love” referred to in this verse is agape love, a self-sacrificial love that works for the benefit of the loved one.  We speak truth in order to build up.  All our words should be beneficial to the hearers of those words.  We should speak truth in love.(Ephesians 4:29).

To evaluate our personal spiritual growth, and so our discipleship, we can measure our improvement in the “fruit of the Spirit.”  The Spirit desires to produce these qualities in you: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).  Are we increasing in this fruit?  Are you growing in love, in joy, in patience, towards those around you?  If so, you are growing spiritually.

We should be aware that growth often comes through trials.  Just as physical strength is built through exertion and straining against resistance, spiritual strength is developed in the hard times of life.  My own experiences of life, the death of our son John, the loss of jobs through redundancy, a daughter who attempted suicide, going through a debilitating prolonged illness, certainly bear out the saying “No pain, no gain”!  James gives encouragement: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4). Did you notice the phrase “trials of many kinds”?

Because growth comes through trials, scripture also teaches we are not to grow weary in the process.  Much spiritual development is the result of persistence.  “And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13 & Galatians 6:9).

When people have said to me that they can’t go on, or that they don’t want to do something because they don’t feel able or well enough equipped, I have often replied they need to let Percy Perseverance help them!  Pushing on is so important if we are going to succeed, grow, reap the harvest, and fulfil the plans God has for us as individuals, but MOST importantly as His disciples corporately.

Out of His mercy and grace God wills us on like the parent on the side-lines at school sports day, to grow to be more like Jesus.  We also have a wonderful promise that the Lord Himself will oversee our growth and bring us to maturity.  “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6 & 2 Corinthians 13:11).

Fellowship and Discipleship under the tutorship of Jesus leads us to experience the freedom He has for us.  This is why they are so important, and it is so important that we know what these words mean biblically.

So, what is Freedom in Christ all about?

Freedom is a basic human desire, so we should expect to read about it in the Bible.  While the Bible speaks often of freedom, its focus is most frequently related to the spiritual freedom a person can experience in Christ.

First, freedom in Christ is seen in contrast to the bondage of sin, because sin enslaves people for spiritual death and eternity apart from God.  Knowing Christ provides freedom from the control of sin and promises eternal life with Him (Romans 6:20-23).

Second a person who has experienced true freedom in Christ is called to live as His servant. (Romans 1:1).  This seems like a paradox to the non-believer, yet the freedom found in Christ gives the believer a desire to live for Christ as a servant.  This attitude reflects the attitude displayed by Jesus Himself during His time on earth (John 13:1-20; Philippians 2:5-11).

Third, those who find freedom in Christ also become His children, for we are now children and heirs of the inheritance of eternal life with Christ for eternity. (John 1:12 & Galatians).

In short, we experience true freedom in Christ by knowing Him, walking in His ways, and engaging with the changes He makes in and through our lives as we focus on service to Him and to others.  This freedom transcends the human freedoms desired in this world, providing peace in this life and freedom with Christ forevermore.

Living with such an understanding of these truths enables us to answer with confidence the questions we may well be asked at the close of life, when we stand before God on judgement day. 

Are you ready to answer those questions?  Don’t put off until tomorrow what can be done today!  Accept your need for discipleship and grow in the freedom that Christ has for you.

So…

How much are you giving?

How much are you doing?

How much are you sacrificing?

How much have you loved and served?

Time to think

Read Ephesians 4:11-16 and Mark 1:1-8.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand consider the following questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

  1. How much of yourself are you giving to the Lord?
  2. How much are you doing for the Lord?
  3. How much are you sacrificing for the Lord?

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

  1. How much are you loving and serving the Lord?
  2. How have the trials you have experienced in life impacted your discipleship?  Did the draw you closer to God?

Prayer Response

Lord, you have called us to love and serve you;

And with your help we will.

Give us the wisdom to know what we should do,

The courage to keep on loving and giving,

And the faith that will see us through.

For the sake of your Son,

Jesus Christ our Lord,

Who died that we might truly live. Amen.