TRUE CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP
True Christianity is much more than playing church. It is far beyond the religious and monotonous praying and reading of the Bible daily. It is much deeper than gathering or fellowshipping together with other believers seven days a week in the same place.
True Christianity is evincing or expressing the Life and Nature of Christ. It is conforming to Christ in all things. It is shining as light in the midst of a perverse and crooked generation.
After His resurrection from the dead, the Lord Jesus charged His disciples with a great responsibility, saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.” (Matt. 28:19-20 NKJV).
This is the Great Commission of the Church!
This is the primary calling, purpose and mission of the Church in the world!
Unfortunately, the Church’s emphasis, goal or pursuit today is far from making disciples for Christ of all the nations. The Church today is into making several things of the people except making of them true Disciples of Christ.
What an utter disregard for Jesus’ command!
We may never experience true revival of Christianity in our generation unless we give “Great Attention and Commitment” to the Great Commission.
The Great Commission of the Church has obviously become “the Great Omission.”
How we have cast away or undervalue that which is great in the Lord’s sight!
What do we value greatly and boast about today?
Our magnificent cathedrals and edifices, our special programmes, conferences or conventions, church attendance, our huge financial incomes, our preaching and teaching, etc.
How we have missed it!
“For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15 NKJV).
From Christ’s perspectives, we are not doing well regardless of our achievements or exploits until we make it our highest priority or greatest goal to make disciples for Christ.
How do we make disciples with a singular purpose of knowing Christ intimately, following Christ closely and becoming like Christ increasingly? Through Discipleship!
Discipleship is not a new idea or concept in the Church though it has become very unpopular, unfashionable, and unappealing to many believers today.
It is certainly not without any significance that the word “disciples” appears in the New Testament 269 times and the word “believers” or “believer” only 4 times (Acts 5:14, 1 Tim. 4:12, 6:2, 2 Cor. 6:15).
This surely indicates that the purpose, calling and mission of the Church is not making “believers” of the people, but rather making them “disciples” of Christ. It also shows that there is a world of difference between being a believer and a disciple of Christ.
For a true understanding of what true Christian Discipleship is, it is important to first consider what true Christ Discipleship is not. Therefore, in this piece we shall examine some things that many believers and Church leaders today have erroneously taken to be Discipleship, but which are not true Christian Discipleship.
First, Discipleship is not the New Birth Experience:
The New Birth is an instant spiritual experience whereby the Holy Spirit imparts the Life of God into a heart that believes and confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
However, Discipleship is not an instant spiritual experience, but a lifelong journey or process of progressive transformation into Christlikeness. Discipleship is not a onetime, but a lifetime commitment to Christ. It is essentially a spiritual journey from a “self-centered life” to a “Christ-centered life.”
Experiencing the New Birth or becoming born-again is the first right step in the journey of becoming increasingly like Christ. Sadly, many believers today are stuck in this first step because they are unwilling to yield their necks under the yoke of Christ, deny themselves, pick up their cross daily and follow the Master, the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 11:28-30).
Jesus said to the multitudes that came to Him, “Whoever wants to be my disciples must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 NIV).
Second, Discipleship is not a Bible Course or Programme:
Discipleship is not a programme but an intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Discipleship is not attending and graduating from a Theological Seminary, Bible College or Leadership Class.
Discipleship certainly involves studying or learning from God’s Word, but mere acquisition of mental or intellectual knowledge about Jesus Christ does not make anyone a disciple of Christ.
Discipleship is not acquiring more biblical knowledge about Christ, but growing in intimacy with Christ and becoming more like Christ.
A disciple of Christ never stops learning at the feet of his Master, the Lord Jesus Christ. A disciple never graduates from following Christ. Discipleship is a daily close walk with the Lord Jesus Christ.
While a disciple of Christ leads people to Christ, he pursues a deeper or closer walk with Christ. While a disciple brings people to Christ, he never quits waiting upon the Lord daily to behold His glory and beauty, and to learn from Him (Psa. 27:4, Mark 4:33-34).
Third, Discipleship is not Church Confirmation or Church Ordination:
While it is good and helpful for a believer to belong to a church or a fellowship of believers, yet commitment to a church is not to be mistaken for commitment to Christ. It is possible to be carrying a church membership card and be actively involved in church activities and yet not know Christ personally and intimately, or be following Christ daily or closely (John 3:9-12).
It is good to be trained, ordained or set apart in the church to perform specific duties or functions. However, being an ordained minister is not the same as being a disciple of Christ.
Many ordained ministers of God today are entirely preoccupied with ministering to the people and carrying out religious rites, functions, or services, but not with ministering to the Lord Jesus and becoming increasingly like Him (Acts 13:1-3).
Fourth, Discipleship is not Doing Ministry or Christian Service:
Discipleship is not primarily about doing, but about being like Christ; not about working for the Lord, but about walking with the Lord; and not about living for Christ, but about allowing Christ to live in you and through you.
Paul puts it this way, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20 NKJV).
While active involvement in ministry works or commitment to Christian service is good, it is not the same thing as discipleship. Discipleship is not measure by Christian service but by Christlikeness.
You cannot determine your progress in discipleship by your works for God, but by your walk with God. Neither can you measure your progress in discipleship by how much you have learned or known about Christ, but by how much you have become like Christ (Luke 10:39-42).
Fifth, Discipleship is not Mentoring or Coaching:
Mentoring and Coaching are development techniques and helpful relationships aimed at helping individuals achieve their personal or career dreams, goals and pursuits in life. The primary goal of mentoring or coaching is to boost self confidence, promote self awareness, encourage self development, enhance skills, or increase knowledge and thus increase work performance. They are certainly good, helpful and beneficial, but they are not the same thing as Discipleship.
Unlike Mentoring and Coaching, the primary goal of Christian Discipleship is Christlikeness.
Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40 NKJV).
The focus of Biblical Discipleship is not self development or enhancement, but self-crucifixion. True Discipleship is not about improving self, but denying self daily. The primary, daily pursuit of a true disciple of Christ is: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30 NKJV).
Beloved, while you may attend a Discipleship School or Course for a limited period of time, Discipleship itself is a lifelong relationship and a daily walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. Though Discipleship has a definite starting point (the New Birth experience), yet it continues throughout the believer’s lifetime.
The disciple’s full transformation into Christlikeness will only take place when he sees the Lord Jesus Christ face to face, when He returns physically.
The Scripture attests: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2 NKJV).
If true Christian Discipleship is not the New Birth Experience, Attending Bible College, Church Confirmation or Ordination, Commitment to Christian Service, or Mentoring and Coaching; what then is true Christian Discipleship?
First, Christian Discipleship is Intimate Relationship with the Lord Jesus:
Discipleship starts with putting your faith in the Lord Jesus and His atoning sacrifice for your sins on the cross, surrendering your life to the Lord Jesus and confessing Him as your personal Lord and Saviour.
Discipleship is not a dormant relationship with the Lord Jesus, but a living, active and dynamic relationship with Christ. It is not a one-time deal with the Lord, but a living, ongoing commitment to the Lord.
True Discipleship is being yoked together with Christ. It is yielding your neck voluntarily under the yoke of Christ, learning from Him, following Him, and walking in His footsteps.
Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30 NKJV).
Having become born-again, you should voluntarily take the yoke of Christ upon you and commit yourself to learning from the Lord and walking in the Lord’s footsteps.
Second, Christian Discipleship is a Process of Transformation into Christlikeness:
God’s ultimate plan and purpose for all His children is “to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” (Rom. 8:29 NKJV).
While your recreated or born again spirit is already fully conformed to the likeness of Christ at the New Birth, your soul (will, mind and emotions) and body are yet to be conformed fully to the image or likeness of Christ (Rom. 8:22-23, 1 John 3:1-3, Phil. 3:20-21, Jam. 1:21, 1 Pet. 1:9).
Discipleship is the process whereby “you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:22-24 NKJV).
This process is personal, specific, progressive and cumulative. It is a process that will continue till you see Jesus face to face at His second coming (1 John 3:1-3, Col. 3:3-4).
The transformative process of the believers into Christlikeness is not automatic; it does not happen on its own. It involves the believer’s active participation, commitment, and cooperation with the Holy Spirit.
If you want to be progressively transformed into Christlikeness, you must be willing to constantly behold without any veil the image or glory of Jesus Christ revealed in the pages of the Bible, and to imbibe and meditate in God’s Word, thereby renewing your mind increasingly (2 Cor. 3:18, Rom. 12:1-2, Jam. 1:21-25).
Third, Christian Discipleship is a Daily, Lifelong Walk with the Lord Jesus:
Discipleship is travelling daily with the Lord Jesus on the narrow path that leads to life (Matt. 7:13-14). It is a lifelong spiritual journey. It is a daily commitment to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow the Lord Jesus. It is choosing to learn from the Lord daily and to walk in His footsteps (John 14:1-10, 1 Pet. 2:21-24).
Although discipleship journey with the Lord Jesus starts when you deliberately, consciously and voluntarily accede or submit to the Lordship of Jesus, it is however a lifelong journey that will culminate in reigning with the Lord Jesus when He comes back to set up His physical kingdom on the earth (Luke 22:28-30, John 8:30-32).
A true disciple of Christ never quits or stops learning from the Lord Jesus daily, denying himself, bearing his cross daily and following the Lord Jesus (Luke 9:23).
Fourth, Christian Discipleship is Self Decreasing and Christ Increasing in the Believers:
Discipleship is journeying from a self-centred, self-focused, self-dependent, self-driven or self-motivated lifestyle to Christ-centred, Christ-focused, Christ-dependent, Christ-driven, or Christ-motivated lifestyle. The mindset, desire, goal or pursuit of a disciple is: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30 NKJV).
Lastly, Discipleship is Making Disciples for Christ:
Discipleship is raising or making disciples for Christ of all the nations. This is the Lord’s command to His disciples (Matt. 28:16-20). Discipleship is the process of bearing or producing fruit for Christ (John 15:16). It is teaching others what the Lord Jesus is teaching you as you follow and learn from Him daily (2 Tim. 2:1-2, Matt. 28:19-20, Col. 1:28-29). It is supervising, helping and encouraging other believers in their discipleship journey or process.
While helping others to become disciples for Christ, you must bear it in mind that Jesus Christ is the only true and ultimate Master. Paul, a great discipler, said, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1 NKJV).
You are only permitted to follow others as they also are following the Lord Jesus. It is also not wise to compare God’s dealings with you with that of other disciples, for God’s dealings with each disciple are personal, unique and specific (John 21:20-22, 2 Cor. 10:12).
Beloved, discipleship journey often times involves rising and falling, making mistakes and learning from them, and learning from the mistakes of others, chastening, discipline, rebuke and correction from other mature disciples chosen and appointed by God to supervise and help you in your spiritual journey, growth and development into Christlikeness (Heb. 12:1-11, Gal. 4:1-2).
When you have made a significant progress in your discipleship journey or relationship with the Lord Jesus, your speech, values, pursuits, mindsets, character, conduct or lifestyle will obviously or evidently show to those around you that you have been with the Lord Jesus Christ.
When Peter and John were arrested, interviewed and scrutinized by the members of the great council of the nation of Israel, it was obvious to them all that they had been with Jesus.
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The Scripture records: “Now when they saw that Peter and John were without fear, though they were men of no education or learning, they were greatly surprised; and they took note of them that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13 BBE).