The essence of being a Christian is to be a disciple.
“Disciple” and “discipleship” are not words that get much “air time” today, and when they are used in secular parlance, it often conjures up thoughts of cults or sects. However, in the pages of the New Testament, God’s Word speaks of discipleship with great frequency (over 260 times). So what does it mean to be a disciple?
The best way to answer that is to simply look at the lives of Peter, Andrew, James, John and the other apostles–because these men exemplify discipleship. They were those who left their fishing nets, tax collecting booths, and families to follow Christ; they worshipped Jesus, learned from Jesus, proclaimed the gospel of Jesus’ kingdom, and went to their own bloody deaths for his sake. As disciples, however, they did not simply imitate Jesus, they also trusted in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for eternal life and justification on the last day. In short, as disciples, the followers of Christ found every area of their life transformed by the one whose name and cross they now identified. And so do Christ’s disciples today.
In What is a Healthy Church Member?, Thabiti Anyabwile marks growing discipleship” as the eighth characteristic of a healthy church member. From our study at Calvary Baptist Church in Seymour, Indiana, here are five points of application for growing as a disciple:
1. Baptism & Church Membership. The first thing Jesus said after giving his Great Commission to “Make Disciples” was to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore, if you have made Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior–that is that he has made you a new creation in Christ. The first thing you should do is to be baptized by a local church who believes the gospel and teaches the Word of God. Concurrent with this baptism should be your request for church membership. Hopefully, your church has an informative/instructive process where new members are instructed in the history, doctrine, and practices of the church. This would be a first step as a growing disciple. For an excellent and brief treatment of this subject, with a funny cover, see Bill James revision of Erroll Hulse’s Baptist and Church Membership.
2. Abide in the Word of God. Next, as a growing disciple, it is imperative that you grow. The second thing Jesus said to his would-be disciple(maker)s is to “teach them to obey all that I have instructed you.” In other words, in the Christian life, knowing the Bible matters. In fact, Spiritual growth DOES NOT HAPPEN WITHOUT IT. Consider John 15:7-8, “If you abide in me, and my word abides in you, ask for whatever you want, and it will be given unto you. By this is my Father glorified, and so you prove to be my disciples.” The core of discipleship is an abiding relationship with Jesus founded on and mediated by the Word of God. Moreover, discipleship is proven by this. So the second step in growing as a strong disciple is to abide in the Word of God.
3. Pursue Older Discipleship. Since discipleship is not an individual effort, it is important to learn from older, wiser, more mature believers in Christ. Titus 2 frames this well. It begins, “Teach what accords with sound doctrine…” and then instead of moving into a systematic theology, a lecture on doctrine, it focuses on relationships. It says for older men to train younger men and older women to instruct younger women. This is not an accident or a backup plan. This is the very wisdom of God. As Paul tells the Corinthians, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (11:1). This is not an optional component of the Christian life. Too many believers remain immature because they have never had anyone model for them a godly example. If you don’t have anyone like this in your life, pray that God would bring someone into your life. At the same time, ask God to shape you to be faithful, available, and teachable, so that such a disciplers’ example might not be lost on you.
4. Pursue Younger Discipleship. Whether you have had a mentor/discipler in your life or not, if you have walked with Christ in obedience to his Word for any amount of time, you should begin looking for ways to share that with others. Again let me challenge you– “The Christian life is not an isolated/individualized/introverted event.” It is a lifetime of abiding in God’s word and being sharpened by others who are seeking Christ with you–ahead of you and behind you. If you have the opportunity to share your life with a younger believer and to help show them how to walk more closely with our Savior, why wouldn’t you do it? Honestly, is there anything better? Doing life together should be the motto of the Christian life and is required for growth as a healthy disciple. For an excellent resource on discipleship, see Robert Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism and Michael Card’s The Walk.
5. Make Disciples. Finally, the Great Commission impels us to go outside the church and to call others to Christ, to literally take the Word of God seriously and to make disciples. God calls us to do something that in truth, we cannot do. He is asking us to see to it that converts/new creations/kingdom citizens are made. We cannot do that! But his Word and His Spirit can, and as we carry forth the message of the gospel, he promises to bear fruit and draw many into the kingdom. Thus if we are to truly know Christ, to walk with him, and to grow up in him, sharing the gospel and living to make-disciples must be a regular part of our lives.
None of these things are novel, but all of them are easily overlooked and undercooked. May we strive to pick up our respective crosses and to press on towards Christ-like conformity as Baptized, Word-saturated, Maturing Disciples of Christ who love to share the gospel with others.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss