IMPORTANCE OF THE CENTRALITY OF CHRIST IN CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP
To properly understand our role as disciples, we must first understand Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost, but in order to save, He first had to be willing to serve. In a like manner, Dave Earley illustrates what is necessary when we join Christ on His mission, “The growth and development of the believer is both internal: becoming like Christ in word, thought, and attitude and external: becoming like Christ in action.” Because Christians are called to be Christ-like in our words and actions, this writer finds it especially interesting when you look at the group dynamics of Jesus’ disciples. He had His twelve, but within that sphere were the three in His inner circle and the one whom He beloved. Greg Ogden cites two reasons for His model. The first is “Internalization: by focusing on a few Jesus was able to ensure the lasting nature of his mission. The second was by Multiplication: just because Jesus focused much of his attention on a few does not mean that He did not want to reach the multitudes.” We see Paul continue the same approach by investing in the lives of a few to reach the many.
HOW OBEDIENCE & SUBMISSION REFLECTS THE DISCIPLESHIP OF CHRIST
Our hunger for significance has turned the Great Commission into the Great Suggestion by putting one’s needs ahead of God. Christ told His disciples, “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments.” As Earley states, “Discipleship is not merely a matter of information remembered. It is about a lifestyle that is practiced. It is a lifestyle of absolute abandonment to loving God and obeying His commands.” If one truly believes the word of God to be real, they should do what He commands, but as Soren Kierkegaard writes, “We pretend to be unable to understand [God’s word] because we know that the moment we understand, we are obligated to act accordingly.” This is profound! If the words of Christ were to be taken seriously, only complete obedience and submission would be the result. Ogden summarizes the struggle that takes place in each believer as: “Coming to Christ is therefore a battle of our wills. No one makes a decision to follow Jesus without wrestling. Jesus will only have one place— first. Even once we are “in Christ,” there is a constant need to align our will with His desire. To love God with all of our heart is to seek to obey all of His commands and live under His authority.”
To obey every command of Jesus is a tall order by any stretch of the imagination, but to even come close to obeying them is only possible by depending on God to give us the grace needed to live a life, which brings glory and honor to His name. When we are obedient and submissive to the word of God, following the Great Commission , the Great Commandment , and the New Commandment are possible because of the trust we put in God’s word to be true.
3 STAGES OF DISCIPLSHIP
The three stages of discipleship involve a declaration, development, and deployment. In the first stage one is asked, “Will you believe in Jesus”? In the second stage one is asked, “Will you follow Jesus?” Finally in the third stage, one is asked, “Will you obey God’s commands and go and make disciples?” Just as Jesus made disciples, we are called to do the same. The first stage of declaration leads to a believer, the second stage of development shows one how to follow Jesus, and the third stage of deployment puts into practice all you have learned by multiplying new disciples. David Walker poses the question, “If the chief role of the church is a mission to the world, surely that form of discipleship that primarily exercises it must be seen as significant in itself, alongside other discrete expressions of Christian discipleship.” This writer believes each stage of the discipleship mission plays a crucial role in fulfilling the Great Commission effectively and the goal in the entire process is sharing in the life of Christ. Gareth Robinson illustrates, “The faith we have received is the faith we are to pass on: through the Church [by making it] clear that anyone may come and find acceptance, no matter their lifestyle. But coming to Christ and becoming his disciple requires a life change.”
How Stages Work Together
Each stage builds on the skills and lessons learned previously. In our walk with God, there is no such thing as standing still. We are either moving ahead with Jesus in our daily walk or we are losing ground. We see this model played out as a new believer moves from being regenerated to being transformed and ultimately turning into a disciple who reproduces and multiplies other disciples and teaches them to observe everything God has commanded. In an ideal model, a new believer should turn into a disciple through an apprenticeship process and by studying God’s word so that disciple can learn to do the same thing for others. As Earley concludes, many people just follow the first part of the Great Commission without the teaching and mentoring aspect, which only leads to immature followers.
Earley demonstrates, “Each level called for greater faith, obedience, and commitment; each level yielded greater intimacy with Jesus, and each level produced greater impact on others.” As the disciple becomes convinced and moves through each stage what began as curiosity leads to conviction and ultimately a committed conversion and desire to multiply. Anthony Gittins proposes the purpose of discipleship is mission oriented and says, “Discipleship requires the recruitment and formation of believers who will continue the work of Jesus wherever they may be and wherever they are led.”
How Disciples Take the Steps of Obedience
One of the first things a disciple must do is lay aside their doubts and trust in God completely. Miriam Seyler poses the question, “What might our lives look like if we graciously accepted this grace of God, of which Paul speaks, as the terribly expensive gift that it is? If God could give to all humanity this extravagant gift of salvation, can we offer anything less than unfettered obedience in return?” Where He calls you, He will provide a means of transportation and what He calls you to do, He will equip you with the necessary giftings. God does not build staircases that go nowhere and He is intentional in what He has called each of us to do. As a disciple begins to trust and believe in God we see Jesus move from being a Savior to a Master and finally as being a Commissioning Officer. Earley in his obedience model equates it to, “Coming to Jesus, Being with Jesus, and Going for Jesus.” In obedience, a disciple of Christ is always looking to take the next step with total disregard of self, out of complete faith, and commitment.
During the second stage of commitment, the disciple moves into a deeper relationship with Jesus as they learn to pray, love one another, and live a life centered around community. Faith should lead to obedience as James Thomson illustrates: “The Christian faith, like all things that enter upon the mind of man is never free from the dangers of a one-sided emphasis. The Gospel is a ‘Divine-Human Encounter,’ having its origin in God, but intended to be realized in the lives of men.” All of our desires come from God and our most basic desire is to love and be loved by. This is why the story from Genesis to Revelation is about relationships. Humanity is created in the image of the Triune God and as believers we are invited into the Godhead by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives. As a disciple learns to devote themselves to one another the next step is learning to love one another. If we love the Lord we will obey His commands. This powerful declaration is rooted out of love. Just as Christ loves us, He commands us to love one another.
The more we immerse ourselves in the word of God, the more we discover not only the nature of God, but also who we are in Christ. It is here where the believer must count the cost of what it now means to move from being a believer to being a follower. One of the best examples is the story of the rich young ruler. Canon McAdams illustrates, “His desire for eternal life is strong, but misguided. He can’t bet everything on Jesus. He needs a back-up plan in case Jesus and His God don’t or won’t deliver.” This story has a very sad ending, but no one should follow Christ without first understanding the cost. When we surrender completely, we catch a glimpse of the unending love God has for us. Ogden conveys, “We love God with our minds by absorbing the truth about who God is as revealed in Scripture and aligning our lives accordingly; in other words, it is through the absorption of Scripture into our way of thinking that we take on the mind of Christ.”
The final stage of obedience occurs when everything we do and everything we are is about advancing the kingdom of God and bringing glory to His name. Charles Spurgeon said it best, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor.” Everywhere we go is a mission field and we are commanded by Jesus to be missionaries; the question remains if we will be obedient? Before attaining this final stage you must be able to answer yes to that question. As Robert Garrett concludes, “The greatest missionary in history was Jesus Christ.” Jesus was not only sent into the world to save us; He was also a Rabbi and disciple maker. Jesus sacrificed everything for humanity as Earley conveys, “Jesus willingly left His Father, home, possessions, position, culture, comfort, convenience, safety, and security in order to come to earth and carry out His assignment.”
In summary, Jesus sent His disciples into the world to make disciples. That mission has been passed to Christians today. Jesus emphasizes the urgency when He said, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.” The fact that only two percent of believers regularly share their faith with others, that only five percent have ever led someone to Christ and barely half of born again believers know what the Great Commission is does not look well for the future of Christianity. It should compel us when we contemplate that over one hundred people die every minute because death is only the beginning. Whether one wants to admit it or not, we all have everlasting life; where we spend it is determined solely on whether you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As disciples, we are being called and sent out into the world so that through our love, all would know we are His disciples and through deep personal relationships we are able to open the door to evangelize and lead others to the same loving Savior who rescued us. Jason Dukes eloquently summarizes our mission as, “The Sender has sent you and me to be His letter of love unto humanity. May we live sent daily and may we begin now.”
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