There’s a buzz word in some churches these days, but what is it and why is it important? The word is disciple or discipleship. This is something Jesus talks about a lot! And the bible is filled with pictures of what healthy disciples are and why we do this disciple thing. I’m a firm believer that if Jesus commands it, we should be about it. And I believe it’s pretty clear that Jesus commands those who follow him to be about this business of making disciples. See for yourself.
Going therefore, make disciples of all nations baptizing 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 behold, I will be with you until the end of the age. Matthew 28:19-20
So if Jesus commands it and we agree that what Jesus commands, we should be actually doing, do we have any idea what target we’re shooting at? We’re supposed to be making disciples but what even is a disciple?
The technical yet simple definition is a learner or follower of someone. The idea behind Biblical discipleship was that you would do everything your teacher (Rabbi) did. There was even and old saying that went something like may you be covered in the dust of your rabbi. That means that you are doing everything in such lock-step with your teacher that even their dust kicks up on you because you’re so closely linked to them.
The definition of discipleship that I’ve used for years now is the process of being transformed into the image of Christ for the sake of others. There’s nothing perfect about that definition so take it or leave it. But for me here’s how it breaks down:
Discipleship is a process. That means you won’t do discipleship in a book or a study or a class. It happens in the context of relationships over time. But the fact that it’s a process means that it’s also replicable and comes in cycles. The idea of a process also indicates that you’re not done, not now, not tomorrow not ever on this side of eternity. There’s always more distance to go in this journey toward being transformed into the image of Christ.
Transformed. I’m reminded of the Transformer movies when I think of this word. The yellow Camaro drives down the road then all of a sudden springs off the pavement and becomes a robot. I love the cinematography in those movies but what’s really cool is that even when the Transformers are in car form the robot is still there. I mean it doesn’t materialize into a robot from something else. It’s a robot turning into a car. I think a similar thing happens with us in the discipleship process. We were created in the image of God. That means inside us, albeit broken by sin, we are created in the image of God. Discipleship is the process of seeing the perfected image of God in Jesus and letting the Spirit work in and through us.
Into the image of Christ. We’re not going to become cars or robots or something silly like that. But we will become what we spend our time dwelling on. If we surround ourselves with brokenness, pain, anxiety, worry, fear and the like, then we’ll be filled with these very things. But disciples don’t surround themselves with these things. We will face them, but because of the image of Christ being revealed in us by the Holy Spirit they won’t define us. As we’re being transformed, parts of us are removed and the stuff of Jesus comes to the front. Over and over this process is enacted.
For the sake of others. Discipleship never has the self as its ultimate end. The goal of discipleship is that the world might know Jesus as Savior. As we are transformed into the image of Christ we take upon ourselves the mission of Christ. If our discipleship is focused on getting people to look like us, we’re doing it wrong. We are not the master in this thing. We are disciples leading others to Jesus. If we’re leading people to anyone other than Jesus, we’re doing it wrong and for the wrong reason. Salvation for those created in the image of God (all mankind) should be our focus.
Jesus said he came to seek and to save the lost. That means those who don’t yet know him as Savior are people he sought while here. These should be the very people we seek to love on in the name of Jesus.
Discipleship is massively important but understanding what it’s all about will keep us pointed in the right direction.