In my last blog post, “What Is the Goal of Discipleship,” we concluded that:
- Discipleship is not the deluxe tour package or the “next level” of the Christian life, but God’s path for every Christian.
- Following Jesus always results in a transformed life and is a lifelong process.
- Discipleship is highly relational and focuses on ever-deepening relationships with God and with others.
Discipleship is simply a lifestyle of following Jesus in relationship with Him and others. And it’s this highly relational nature of discipleship that we want to focus on in the process of discipleship. In other words, we’re trying to answer the question: How does discipleship occur in the life of an individual?
When Jesus called His disciples to Himself, He also called them to each other. But we often overlook that. And in the same way, Jesus has called you and me into relationship with Himself, with other followers of His, and with other people in general.
The highly relational nature of discipleship is clear from the fact that the greatest two commandments are to love God and love others (Matthew 22:34-40). We also see from the list of the fruit of the Spirt in Galatians 5 that nearly all these character traits are relational (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control).
In fact, we can’t help but see the relational nature of discipleship in every passage of the New Testament that deals with our discipleship or growth in Christ. (See Romans 12-15; 1 Corinthians 12-14; Galatians 5-6; Ephesians 4-6; Colossians 3; Hebrews 10; etc.)
From all those passages and many more, we see that discipleship occurs in the context of relationship with others. This is God’s plan. His Holy Spirit uses others in our lives to draw us into deeper relationship with Him and with them. Sometimes this process is fun and enjoyable and other times it is difficult, frustrating, and even painful.
When Linda and I were newlyweds, friends of ours invited us to dinner. But due to “other pressing matters,” we showed up 30 minutes late. This couple wasn’t angry with us, but they lovingly shared with us that our tardiness was a pattern. And being late to everything sent a message to our hosts that other things were more important than they were.
This loving rebuke from this couple had a profound impact in our lives. It opened our eyes to the way we were treating others because of our tardiness. Christ changed us as a result of their loving rebuke.
But a rebuke like that isn’t always initiated by someone else. Sometimes we need to initiate and ask for others’ help in our lives. I’ve told this story before, but about 15 years ago, I realized that I had a real problem with anger behind the wheel. I was ashamed of my behavior and desperately wanted to change. However, I knew I needed the Lord’s help and the help of others.
So, I confessed my sin and struggle to a man who was a comrade in arms—a spiritual partner—with me. I also told Linda. I gave them permission to ask me how I was doing regarding my anger and asked them to pray for me. And over the next few months, this issue began to disappear. I’m thankful to say that the Lord has given me much more patience and kindness toward others on the road.
Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” We are God’s tools in each other’s lives.
Paul said, “Follow me as I follow the example of Christ.” As a young man I thought, I’ll never be able to say that to others. But I was mistaken. Paul wasn’t qualified to say that because he was an apostle. Every follower of Christ should be able to say that to others, simply on the basis that we are following Jesus. “Follow me as I follow the example of Christ.”
Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” We need each other to become more like Jesus. We need to see Jesus in each other in all kinds of situations and settings. This must happen in real, everyday life, just like Jesus’ pattern with His disciples.
How does the discipleship process occur? In relationships with other followers of Christ and people in general. People are the essential ingredient that the Holy Spirit uses in our lives to encourage us, challenge us, love us, comfort us, and propel us into deeper relationship with Christ. And you and I have the privilege of being used by Christ to help disciple others as well.
More on discipleship in future posts…