Christian discipleship – What is it?
Give yourself to God
A young man was eager to grow in His Christian life. He got a piece of paper and made a list of all the things he would do for God. He wrote down the things he would give up, the places he would go to minister and the areas of ministry he would enter. He was excited. He took that list to the church and put it on the altar. He thought he would feel joy, but instead he felt empty. So he went home and started adding to his list. He wrote down more things he would do and wouldn’t do. He took the longer list and put it on the altar, but still he felt empty.
He went to a wise old pastor, told him the situation and asked for help. The pastor said, “Take a blank sheet of paper. Sign your name at the bottom, and put that on the altar.” The young man did as he was told, and then peace came to his heart.
Being a Christian is about willingly submitting the whole of yourself to God. I love producing lists, it helps me focus on what I need to do, but having a list of things that I am going to do in order to become a better disciple is not, I think, a healthy thing to do. You’re putting pressure on yourself. I like the sentiment of the illustration – God is looking for a blank sheet! He wants me to invest the whole of my life with His.
The Greek word translated “disciple” means “follower.” A disciple is a person who invests their life and time learning from someone and then spreading that person’s teachings to others.
In the New Testament, the last words of Jesus encompass the essential aspects of discipleship. In what is known as the Great Commission, (Matthew 28: 18-20) we read:
Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’
The main command in this Great Commission is to make disciples. Three specific parts are given. First, a disciple is a person willing to go and make disciples of others. The early followers of Jesus boldly taught the message of the risen Jesus, often facing intense persecution in the process. Yet within a century, churches had emerged across the entire Mediterranean area.
Second, disciples challenge those they encounter to be baptised. Baptism represents acceptance of Christ and a commitment to follow His teachings. While baptism is not what saves a person, it is the public confession of allegiance to Christ and willingness to enter into Christian discipleship.
Third, a disciple teaches others the way of Jesus. While only some believers are gifted in teaching, all believers are called to share what they know about Jesus with others, and we do this according to the faith God has proportioned to us (Romans 12). When disciples do this an amazing thing happens, well, actually many amazing things happen, and this is just one of them: the person sharing grows in their knowledge of Christ.
An important early example of this way of making disciples is found in the summary of the first church in Acts 2:42-47. Rather than a solely academic process, discipleship involved a holistic approach that included relationship building, financial giving, prayer, learning, worship, and every area of the individual’s life. We read:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Also important is the impact this first church had on its community. Because of its focus on Christian discipleship, we are told new people were saved on a daily basis. I think that this shows us that healthy Christian discipleship is an excellent form of outreach. But we have to understand that Christian discipleship is much more than a program or series of steps. Rather, it is a continual process of growth. But not just any growth, – Spiritual Growth. To experience the fullness of spiritual growth a person has to commit their entire life to Jesus, leaning on His teachings as we put them into practice in our daily life. This will involve dedicating oneself to learning His ways while also doing, sharing, and teaching this way of life to others.
How important is spiritual growth in Christian life?
So what is Spiritual growth? It is the process of becoming more mature in one’s relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul and the author of the letter to the Hebrews both talk about the need to move from milk to solid food. From a spiritual perspective have you moved on to solid food, or are you stuck on milk?
Someone who is growing spiritually will become more and more like Christ. The spiritually mature person will be able to “distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). Spiritual growth begins the moment a person comes to faith in Christ and should continue until a person enters Christ’s presence in heaven for all eternity.
The Bible makes it very clear that Spiritual growth is expected of the believer. The author of Hebrews reprimands his readers for “no longer try[ing] to understand” (Hebrews 5:11) and “being still an infant” (v13). The criticism leads to exhortation: “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1). The apostle Peter says, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Paul asks that God will give His Spirit of wisdom and revelation to the readers of his letter to the Ephesians “so that you may know Him better” (Eph. 1:17-18).
To me this is so exciting: God wants us to learn about Him, and His Son. God wants us to have His wisdom, to know His mind through the Spirit of revelation so that we will grow in understanding of who He is! How awesome is that? As we learn, we go deeper in our relationship with them, and guided by the Spirit we “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”. This is all about relationship with God – that is a word we could use to describe discipleship, as well as fellowship.
Have you written a list, whether physically or mentally, to God pledging how you are going to do this and that for Him, the things you are going to give up for Him, the places you are going to go for Him? Did that work for you? Are you able to say with real confidence that you have achieved all you have pledged to do?
God wants you to come before Him as a blank piece of paper and allow Him to lead you in His ways, so you do the things He asks of you, speak the words He is asking you to say, sacrifice yourself for His service and glory, and go to the places He is calling you to go. This is a sure way of growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Are you, as a disciple of Jesus, investing your whole life in His so you are continually learning new things about God your heavenly Father, and so spreading this teaching to others?
Respond to His call to invest your life with His.
Time to think
Read 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 and Matthew 28:16-20.
With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand consider the following questions. Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.
Digging into God’s Word
- What does Christian discipleship mean to you? Having read the text above and the scripture references has your view changed, if so how?
- How can you grow in Christian discipleship?
- Looking back over your life are you able to see how you have matured as a Christian?
Digging Deeper into God’s Word
- Who benefits from growing in discipleship, you or God? If it is you how? If it is God how?
- How do you invest the whole of your life with God?
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.