John 1:14, 16
Romans 12:9-21, 15:1-6
1 Corinthians 9:19-23, 13:1-13
1 Thessalonians 1:4-7, 2:7-12, 3:6-13
Much of what has been previously said has focused on Christ, from the starting point of His life in us, to Him being the goal of our lives, our love, our hope and the singular object of our faith. This fundamental principle of discipleship is certainly no different; it begins and ends with Christ. We would do well to understand this, live it and disciple others in this very truth.
In John's biographical sketch of Jesus, he makes a profound statement that should dramatically impact the way in which we live our personal lives and disciple others as well. It is in fact so profound that if these claims were made of another man, that man would be instantly labeled as a heretic. Read slowly this verse and ponder its implications both in your life and in the lives of those you seek to disciple.
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…. For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace." John 1:14, 16
This passage speaks of the Word that predated all things, the Word that created all things by His unmeasurable power, and the Word that is God Himself who came and made His residence with sinful man. This Word is full of grace and truth in bodily form, the very essence of the character of Christ.
This statement about Christ is intensely profound. Christ, the second person of the trinity, in all that He thought, said, and did, was both completely loving and kind. On top of that, He did that from eternity past and will do so into eternity future. He displayed this in all situations regardless of the circumstances, as He was both completely loving and completely kind to others. Christ's love surely displays the essence of His character, but there is another word in this context that describes Christ's life -- truth.
Truth in this context also speaks to the essence or character of Christ. Christ was entirely faithful, perfectly steadfast, and completely consistent in all His interactions with all people at all times, without exception. The example of His life gives us a vivid picture of God because Jesus was and is God and when we see Him, we of course see God.
Lastly, John 1:16 tells us that through the Person of Christ we have received grace. This speaks of the grace that is both inexhaustible and perfectly complete. This not only speaks of the grace Christ provides to us, but it also reveals the reality that Christ Himself is that grace (John 17:21-23, Roman 6:3-5, 8:10, Gal. 2:19-20). The whole of the Christian life, from justification to sanctification to glorification, is contingent upon our reception of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. As we begin to get a clearer picture of the security of our salvation and our dependency on the Holy Spirit in our walk with God, we simply cannot miss the obvious reality that the source of all of this is Christ and His grace in our lives. We need to come to grips with these profound truths of Christ in us, His loving-kindness, His faithfulness, and His consistency in us. It goes without saying that God's ultimate desire for us is that the Christ who is the source of our life (positional statement) would also become the fruit of our life (conditional statement). His complete loving-kindness and perfect faithfulness are to become the testimony of our lives.
With all this in mind, how are we to disciple others? If Christ led His disciples this way and we have His life in us, it would only make sense that He would lead us to disciple others in these same principles. Consider Titus 2:11-12 for a moment. It tells us that it was grace which brought salvation to all men and is training or teaching us to renounce ungodliness, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives. Based on what we understand, this “grace” is the life of Christ Himself in us. The power for the believer to say no to sin and yes to Christ's life is the very grace of God. This is the same grace that we have received and continue to live/walk in a daily basis. As we come along side others, this is what we want to point them toward: Christ's grace and His life in them.
However, if we are not principled in our discipleship, it will simply address the peripheral issues of people’s lives, and never the heart. Attempting to simply address the symptoms and not the source will be short lived at best but could also be spiritually crippling. To only address the symptoms of an individual’s life is actuality discipling them contrary to their true need. Even though they want their symptoms addressed, they need to have the source thoroughly and lovingly attacked.
Therefore, we need to disciple others for the purpose of life change; the goal is to see Christ's life flow out from within. If we can guide those whom we disciple to this type of maturity, understanding, and with a biblical and principle-driven approach of discipleship, then they in turn will pass these truths on to the next generation of believers as well.
To give the practical help without the fundamental principles is quite easy to do. Unfortunately, it is also deceptively gratifying to us; however, it is not loving nor is it faithful to Christ. Christ always graciously and honestly addresses the heart issues or the fundamental principles that govern or dictate people’s thoughts and actions. It is a sincerely loving and faithful thing to do, to look beyond the outward behavior or symptoms and see the underlying foundational principle that is skewed. Once the skewed principle (heart/worldview issue) is exposed to the individual then God can work on that heart issue or deep-seated thought, for His glory and their good. We need to be people who will patiently wait on the Lord to show us those skewed worldview themes and thoughts in the lives of others and then come alongside them to shepherd in a loving and truthful way.
Christ is the ultimate example of this sacrificial giving of life for the spiritual well-being of another. In order to disciple another person unto Christ, an intimate relationship must first be established. Without this relationship, discipleship will never meet the expectation and desire of the Lord. In John 10, we are taught that Christ is the Good Shepherd, and He knows all His sheep by name, and they recognize His voice when He calls them. So much so, that when a foreign voice calls out, the sheep scatter knowing that danger is at hand. The underlying principle here is that Christ has an intimate relationship with every single one of His sheep.
It goes without saying that if we are to disciple others into and unto Christ, we must disciple in the same way that He disciples His sheep. He knows His sheep because He has a deep and intimate relationship with His sheep. That is a principle which we must embrace and impart into those whom we are discipling in order that they too will embrace this principle. If a deep and intimate relationship is not established, the sheep will not trust the shepherd. As we disciple the Church, the Church must know that we have their best spiritual interests and well-being in mind. If those two are questioned or not fully embraced, they will have a problem hearing and following the voice of the shepherd.
If this type of relationship is not first established, our discipleship will simply turn into consulting; being one of simply giving our thoughts and input simply as suggestions. However, if we stand upon biblical principles and truly know the sheep in the context of a loving intimate relationship, those principles have a much better chance of being embraced. They will be trusted in and appropriated not only in their lives but in the lives of those whom they will eventually disciple.
Taking Paul as an example, we make note of his loving and nurturing relationship with the Thessalonian Church (1 Thessalonians 1:4-7; 2:7-12; 3:6-13). Here is how Paul describes his relationship with them.
They lived among them (v. 5)
The Church should be imitators of Paul and the others (v. 5)
Gentle (v. 7)
Like a mother cares for her little child (v. 7)
Love (v. 8)
Shared the gospel and their lives (v. 8)
They were dear to him (v. 8)
Brothers (v. 9)
Were not a burden (v. 9)
Like a father (v. 11)
Encouraging (v. 11)
Comforting (v. 11)
Urging them to live worthy of God (v. 12)
Pleasant memories (v. 6)
They long to see each other (v. 6)
Encouragement (v. 7)
Joy (v. 9)
Desire to be reacquainted, and praying together toward that end (v. 10)
Paul got this heart for people from Christ Himself. We are to be Christ-like in our relationships. Christ is lovingly calling us to sacrificially give our lives to discipleship others unto Himself. We must seek to establish these types of relationships and to disciple the Church into pursuing these relationships.