Spiritual Formation & the Cross

lens of the cross

       This discussion board will use the information from Wilhoit’s Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered, to evaluate this writer’s experience and dependence on the Cross, for salvation and sanctification. Secondly, it will show how the view of the necessity of the Cross has changed over time and what specifically influenced that view. Lastly, by knowing that dependence on the Cross is the fundamental factor of spiritual growth, this forum will discuss ways that church leaders can inspire greater dependence on the grace of Christ in the lives of believers?

Dependence on Cross for Salvation and Sanctification

            Ever since humanity was exiled from Eden, they lived in a state of brokenness and as James Wilhoit illustrates, “Unless the brokenness is a prominent orientation, we will not catch the truth that the church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners.”[1] Sin separates humanity from God, creating a spiritual chasm that cannot be crossed without divine influence, which came in the form of the cross, allowing humanity to bridge the gap, once they received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. When Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden, there was a constant movement to the east, and this migration away from God carries on through much of the Old Testament narrative.

       The cross can be best described as a bridge back to God and without it, there would be no salvation or sanctification. The remission of sin required the shedding of blood and Jesus Christ became the spotless lamb, thus taking on the entirety of humanity’s sins and curses. Jesus voluntarily paid the ultimate sacrifice, He lived a sinless life, and He experienced the death that every human deserved. This writer is eternally grateful for what Christ did and he lives each day with the ethos that everyday is God’s gift to us and what we choose to do with it is our gift back to Him.

How Views of the Cross Have Changed Over Time and Influences

            The history of the cross and crucifixion has deep roots that can be traced back to the Old Testament and was one of the primary reasons many Jews did not believe Jesus could possibly be the Messiah; in fact, a crucified Messiah to the majority of Jews was an impossibility. From the Dead Sea Scrolls and some other early writings, there was a precedent that the one hanged on the tree to die is a traitor or a blasphemer, so to be hung on the cross came to mean they were also accursed by God and men. In Deuteronomy 21:22-23, there is a great example of why the Jews believed a man hanged on a tree is cursed by God, as Peter C. Craigie illustrates:

To break the law of God and live as though he did not matter or exist was in effect to curse him; and he who cursed God would be accursed of God. To break the law of God and incur thereby the penalty of death was to die the worst possible kind of death, for the means of death was a formal and terminal separation from the community of God’s people. Hence the use of this verse in Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians is very forceful. Christ took upon himself the curse of the law, the penalty of death, thereby redeeming us from the curse of the law. The manner of his death, crucifixion, symbolized dramatically the meaning of his death. His separation from the family of God made possible our admission to the family of God, because the curse of the broken law—which would have permanently barred admission—had been removed.[2]

            To die by crucifixion was one of the worst ways to die and the Romans had perfected this barbaric and tortuous means of death as they conquered the known empire. It served as a compelling reason not to go against the Romans or break the law. The cross also became closely associated with immense suffering, which points to Jesus being the suffering servant.[3] In fact, John N. Oswalt, demonstrates, “It is difficult to escape the conclusion that it is not accidental that the only extended metaphor in Isaiah 53 involves sheep, the primary animals of sacrifice. The Servant is to be struck down on account of the rebellions of his people (v. 8), and he will go as a lamb to the slaughter. “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’”[4] [5] While believers are encouraged to boldly approach the throne of grace,[6] they should humbly approach the cross, because through it, Jesus became the final Passover lamb.

How Dependence on the Cross Leads to Spiritual Growth

       As Wilhoit explains, “Much of our failure in conceptualizing spiritual formation comes from our failure to keep the gospel central to our ministry.”[7] Jerry Bridges explains, “Our first problem is that our attitude toward sin is more self-centered than God-centered.” Viewing others through the lens of the cross serves as a reminder that Jesus has become the mediator between God and believers. As this perception of others and their circumstances becomes the norm, it will lead to closer fellowship with God, as well as being able to speak into the lives of the lost and hurting. As Wilhoit demonstrates, “[Dependence] on the cross seems to become a means of transportation rather than God’s means of transformation.”[8] He shows, because of our blindness and self-justifying behavior, we can only perceive a small cross. This causes the perceived need for grace to fall drastically short of one’s actual need for grace, which is infinite.[9]

       Real spiritual formation and growth is possible; the problem, as Wilhoit highlights, is “Culture and sadly many churches seek to squeeze believers into a mold of simply being nice and seeking a sensible consumer-oriented faith that meets our needs and avoids offending anyone else.”[10] Paul, in his letter to the Romans tells them not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of their mind.[11] God calls His children to be in this world, but not of it. Douglas Moo demonstrates: “For while belonging to the new realm, we continue to live, as people still in the “body,” in the old realm. Paul’s command that we “not conform to this world,” then, builds on the theology of Rom. 5-8 (and of Rom. 6 especially) and calls on us to resist the pressure to “be squeezed into the mold” of this world and the “pattern” of behavior that typifies it (see 1 Cor. 7:31).”[12]

How to Inspire Greater Dependence on the Grace of Christ

            Wilhoit contends, “From personal brokenness and reflection I have come to see that the gospel is not simply the door of faith; it must also be a compass I daily use to orient my life and a salve I apply for the healing of my soul. It is in returning again and again to the cross that we receive the grace that transforms us.”[13] Greater dependence on the grace of Christ is best explained as a transformation that is never-ending. From the moment of salvation, the believer is made new, but that is only the beginning of the metamorphosis. The longer one walks with Christ, the more they should embody His likeness. Andrew Murray said it best, “The fruit of a life in Christ is a life like Christ.”

       The local church plays a huge role in spiritual development, but over the last few decades, most have lost their way. Instead of teaching sound doctrine based on the promises of God, many churches have instead strived to become the most hip or cutting edge church focused on flair and not real life change. Instead of preaching messages that would initially convict and allow a deeper and closer relationship with God, they preach messages centered on naming and proclaiming or feel-good messages. These churches would rather their people wear smiles on their faces, so the offering plate is full, even if every part of the attender’s life is falling apart and their smile is a mere façade. Wilhoit illuminates that personal loss, tragedies, changes, and disruption can contribute to spiritual formation. He says, “We need to put structures in place that emphasize deep compassion, care, and empathy as well as formative guidance.”[14] He also says, “We are formed to serve and we are formed by serving, so cultivating the instinct to act on the gospel teaching is crucial to our transformation.”[15] David Henderson best illustrates, “As our hearts are transformed by faith, we will then move to conformity with God.”[16] The more one serves, the greater their dependence upon the grace of Christ becomes.

            All spiritual growth springs forth from God’s grace, which leads to Wilhoit’s premise that, “We are all born homesick, longing for a land and a way of life we have never directly experienced, but which we know is somewhere, or at least ought to exist.”[17] This notion rings more true as each generation emerges feeling less a part of society and being ostracized for their differences. Carol Lakey Hess illustrates: “If we are centered in ourselves, we experience the strangeness and restlessness of the homeless human spirit that yearns for God. Even if we are centered in God, we groan at the brokenness of creation and yearn for redemption.” Our brokenness leaves us empty, broken, and thirsty. Jerry Sittser then demonstrates, “[Our] brokenness forces us to find a source of love outside ourselves and that source is God.” Without God in our lives we will never find meaning or purpose in life. He is the source of all our longings.

Bibliography

Craigie, Peter C. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Deuteronomy. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Moo, Douglas J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Oswalt, John N. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Wilhoit, James C. Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: Growing in Christ through Community. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2008.


[1] James C. Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: Growing in Christ through Community, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2008), 58.

[2] Peter C. Craigie, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Deuteronomy, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 284.

[3] Isaiah 53

[4] John 1:29

[5] John N. Oswalt, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 391.

[6] Hebrews 4:16

[7] Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation, 27.

[8] Ibid., 28.

[9] Ibid., 107.

[10] Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation, 33.

[11] Romans 12:2

[12] Douglas J. Moo, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 754.

[13] Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation, 29.

[14] Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation, 122..

[15] Ibid., 149.

[16] Ibid., 159.

[17] Ibid., 64.

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Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership Book Review

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John Dickson, in his book Humilitas, attempts to show how the virtue of humility can make any leader great, but he cautions the reader, “as soon as you think you have it, you probably do not.”[1] This paradox is the springboard to Dickson’s love-hate relationship with humility, yet the longer he contemplated humility, the more he came to love this virtue for both its aesthetic qualities and its practical benefits.[2] His goal is to show how humility demonstrates one’s inherent worth, while also seeking to better the lives of those around the individual. Dickson’s academic background is in the field of ancient history, so he uses this knowledge to analyze events and leaders from the past to ultimately learn from them, which he states, “is the ultimate exercise in democracy.”[3] His entire thesis is based on the assumption that the most influential and inspiring people are also those marked by humility. Having previously read Good to Great, by Jim Collins, this writer can attest to Collins’ level 5 leaders possessing the attributes of determination and an attitude of humility.[4] The definition Dickson assigns to humility is, “the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself, [which is] a willingness to hold power in service of others.”[5] On the basis of this definition, Dickson asserts true humility assumes the dignity or strength of the one possessing the virtue. He then contrasts humility with humiliation, showing humility is willing, social, and a choice one makes for the sake of others, while humiliation is cast upon individuals.

Next, Dickson applies humility in the context of leadership by showing how humility is persuasive. He parallels how leadership and humility are all about others as leadership is essentially the art of inspiring others to contribute their best effort towards a common goal.[6] Leadership motivates, inspires, and at its core, Dickson believes that it is being able to cope with change, since change is inevitable, but growth is optional. Good leaders must possess ability, authority, persuasion, positive example, and sound character ethics, because these traits bring out the best in other people. Dickson then shows how leadership is fundamentally relational, so possessing these traits, as well as effective communication and building trust are essential. In the end, Dickson concludes humility is the key ingredient to enriching a leader’s effectiveness.[7]

In order to possess humility, Dickson offers six exercises to reflect on: (1) we are shaped by what we love; (2) we should reflect on the lives of the humble; (3) we should conduct thought experiments to enhance humility; (4) we should act humbly; (5) we should invite criticism; and (6) we should forget about being humble.[8] A truly humble person is never concerned about appearing humble, so in one’s pursuit of humility, Dickson illustrates the first step in the pursuit of humility is to recognize we are not humble by nature.

Critique

Overall, Dickson makes a solid attempt of defining humility and arguing why it is an important virtue to possess. Due to our nature, we are attracted to the good and repelled by the bad, so Dickson is correct in his conclusion that, “we are more attracted to the great who are humble than to the great who know it and want everyone else to know it as well.”[9] Despite the truth of this statement, the majority of society strives to succeed by any means necessary. While most may be repelled by pride, their inherent nature is rooted in their selfishness and pride.

Dickson’s use of prominent members of society was a great addition to this work, but some of his errors and omissions left one to question some of his other data and reasoning for including them.[10] Despite that, Dickson did include many great examples such as Albert Einstein, not known for being a religious believer nor an atheist, so this writer found his statement during a lecture in Vienna in 1921 to be most fascinating: “I do not believe in the God of theology who rewards good and punishes evil. My God created laws that take care of that. His universe is not ruled by wishful thinking, but by immutable laws.”[11] Einstein’s understanding of the harmony of God’s created nature humbled him. Dickson makes a very logical argument how, “the mysterious harmony of the laws of nature should lead thinking people – whether believer or otherwise – to an attitude not far off humility.”[12] He then demonstrates how humility involves both a sense of finitude and a sense of inherent dignity, which led to his conclusion that, “there is a certain logic to keeping pride in check and conducting ourselves, regardless of our various competencies, with humility towards others.”[13] Essentially, this means we will always trust the humble person more than we trust the proud to act in our best interest. Dickson also displays a comprehensive understanding of the importance of knowing the difference between society’s key axis points of: good vs. evil, honor vs. shame, pleasure vs. suffering, and prosperity vs. poverty. He rightly demonstrates how western-history is shaped by the event of Jesus’ crucifixion, which was regarded as the most shameful and most brutal form of capital punishment.[14] This humility revolution, caused by Christ’s crucifixion, led the Apostle Paul to write, “In humility, consider others better than yourselves… Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ.”[15]

Overall, Dickson does a good job illustrating how humility keeps pride from rising up, why we are attracted more to those who are humble, how Jesus – the model of humility-caused a revolution, how humility is an inspiration to those around us, and even how humility allows us to respect someone with conflicting beliefs. What this writer has a hard time agreeing with Dickson on is the subject of tolerance, which he says is, “often the answer to the harmful effects of absolute truth claims.”[16] This writer agrees with Dickson regarding the importance of learning to respect even those with whom we disagree with, as this posture allows one to move past mere tolerance to humility, which is the key to harmony at the social level.[17] What does not track biblically is softening one’s convictions or relaxing claims to knowledge and truth. If something goes against the very nature of God, to do anything less than reject it would mean sin. Dickson claims tolerance means agreeing that all viewpoints are equally true or valid.[18] While perception is reality to each individual, that does not mean one’s convictions should be toned down or made to be more tolerant. While Dickson may be right stating the basic human values that unite us are stronger than the forces that pull us apart, his reasoning is problematic and illogical. There is a fine line between conviction and compassion and while an open mind is good, G. K. Chesterton best illustrates, “an open mind is like an open mouth: its purpose is to bite on something nourishing. Otherwise, it becomes like a sewer, accepting everything, rejecting nothing.”[19]

Evaluation

Humilitas is a great resource for anyone wanting to become a better leader. It would have had a much greater impact on those in pastoral ministry if there were more than one chapter dedicated to Christianity, more specifically Jesus and how He embodied the virtue of humility. Jesus in the parable of the wedding feast says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”[20] This would have been a great place for Dickson to speak on what God is and is not impressed with. Throughout Humilitas, humility is framed in view of society and culture, but nowhere does it trace humility back to its source. Being Christ-like means reflecting the image of Christ and humility was a huge part of what He did and why He did it. In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, Jesus again says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”[21] This would have been a great place for Dickson to speak on the motives behind one’s actions, as this story represents someone who claims superior status for himself, while the other comes to God in humility and receives compassion and restoration. From Proverbs, we learn, “The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor; and the reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life.”[22] Zephaniah 2:3 instructs to, “seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, who do His just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the LORD.” Paul instructs the Philippians to, “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”[23] Colossians calls for voluntary humility and cautions against false humility. Achieving humility is a constant endeavor, just as one’s walk with Christ is, each with infinite rewards, both temporal and eternal.

Bibliography

Dickson, John. Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

[1] John Dickson, Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 11.

[2] Dickson, Humilitas, 14.

[3] Ibid., 17-18.

[4] Ibid., 20.

[5] Ibid., 24.

[6] Dickson, Humilitas, 33.

[7] Ibid., 47.

[8] Ibid., 174-182.

[9] Ibid., 69.

[10] Aristotle 3rd vs. 4th Century BC? (p. 87 & 41); Opinionated views of Americans from an Australian

[11] Dickson, Humilitas, 61.

[12] Ibid., 61.

[13] Ibid., 66.

[14] Ibid., 105 & 109.

[15] Philippians 2:3-4

[16] Dickson, Humilitas, 164.

[17] Ibid., 170.

[18] Ibid., 164.

[19] Ibid., 170.

[20] Luke 14:11 (ESV)

[21] Luke 18:14 (ESV)

[22] Proverbs 15:33 & Proverbs 22:4 (ESV)

[23] Philippians 2:3 (ESV)

Final Act of Devotion

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I found myself in tears this morning, as I read the morning paper about an older couple that perished in a house fire on Monday. The act itself was tragic, but the final reconstruction and last moments of their lives are what opened up the floodgates. The gentleman was a Vietnam disabled veteran who lost his legs and suffered brain injuries, as the result of stepping on a landmine. The sweet couple met as kids in school and they were inseparable.

As the fire engulfed their home, the wife was attempting to rescue her husband from the blazing inferno and instead of just saving herself, she stayed right beside the man she loved, so they would be inseparable in life and in death. This type of love is rare and this type of heroism is something you only hear about on the battle field, while in the home, our families are disintegrating and the person we once said, “I do” to now only receives disdain, contempt and little concern or value. This is not the model God instituted and our disregard for His word has led our country to have the highest divorce rate in the world and has caused over 27 million children to grow up in a fatherless home.

This story of love and compassion shown by the veteran’s wife is what God has called each of us to do. The culture and de-narration of life makes you believe you can go through life simply believing you are the most important thing and that you don’t need family and community to exist or to be happy. Each of us must find something and someone we are willing to die for because if something or someone is not worth dying for, then it is certainly not worth living for. Each of us has a part to play in something so much bigger than ourselves, but if we can’t demonstrate love in our own homes, how are we going to share it with the lost and hurting world God has called us to reach?

Everybody should know what it’s like to love and be loved by; it is through this realization that we find our hope, meaning, purpose, and our sense of redemption. My thoughts and prayers go out to the family members and friends for their loss, and I hope it is a reminder to everyone who reads this story of not only what God has called us to do, but also the sacrifice Jesus made when He laid down His life to save our own. True love and devotion is shown by what we are willing to sacrifice.

Photo by: JENNIE McKEON
315-4434 | @JennieMnwfdn
jmckeon@nwfdailynews.com

How and Why We Must Make Disciples

Caesarea Philippi

INTRODUCTION

Before the subject of making disciples can be detailed, the definition of what a true disciple is must be established. To do this, one must look to the scriptures, specifically in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus starts by saying, “If anyone comes to me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” While this passage uses strong language, it does so to portray a disciple’s love for Christ must be greater than any other person, place, or thing. Jesus continues saying, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” This essentially means a disciple must be willing to lay down their life by surrendering their complete will to God. Finally Jesus says, “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not sit down first and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?” This passage illustrates disciples must ask themselves if losing everything, possibly even their life, is worth the cost of following Jesus.

Ultimately, being a disciple requires sacrifice, relationship, and transformation. As Dr. Rod Dempsey says, “A disciple is someone who knows Christ, grows in Christ, goes for Christ, as well as someone who shows and shares Christ with others.” With a proper definition established, this paper will give a detailed description of how disciples are made in the context of the local church and a Christian community. In addition, it will also highlight the specific roles and importance of the local church, pastors, saints, and the spiritual giftings God has equipped followers with to make and prepare new disciples in order to fulfill the Great Commission.

DISCIPLE MAKING IN THE LOCAL CHURCH

While each church is unique operating with different visions, they all have the same mandate from God, which is to fulfill the Great Commission. At Caesarea Philippi, a place full of pagan idols, temples, and a place of horrible sacrifices where the blood of babies flowed down the streams, Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” After this declaration, Jesus told his disciples, “”I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” This passage contains the first mention of the word church, so a proper understanding of the context and exegesis is critical. The word church here refers to an assembly of called out ones and as R.T. France illustrates, “The gates [of Hades] thus represent the imprisoning power of death: [but also how] death will not be able to imprison and hold the church of the living God.” Ultimately, the church was meant to become the fulfillment of the kingdom of God with a specific mission: to complete what Jesus had started. God sent His Son to save the world, but He would have to die on the cross in order to make atonement for humanity’s sin. Because of this, Jesus commissioned His disciples saying, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” Leon Morris portrays how, “The charge given added solemnity from being linked thus to the mission of the Son: their mission proceeds from His. It is only because he has thus accomplished His mission, and indeed precisely because He has accomplished it, that they are sent into the world.”

While the Great Commission should be the mission of the church, the Great Commandment should be the church’s primary motivator. Jesus came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it and through this New Commandment, He had essentially reduced over six hundred laws down to two: love God and love your neighbor. These can only be accomplished when one loves the Lord with their entire heart, soul, strength, and mind and it is only out of a complete devotion to God and submission to His will that a disciple will be truly effective in advancing the kingdom of God.

For a local church to be successful in making new disciples, they must focus on three things. They first must be intentional; with their motivation rooted out of love for God and others for it was the love of God that made a way for everyone to be saved. Second, they must focus on the individual by identifying giftings, callings, and helping them grow by learning how to use their gifts to advance the kingdom and make new disciples. Lastly, they must be missional by teaching disciples it is their mandate to reach a lost and hurting world by pointing people to Jesus. The more a church can help their disciples reach their full potential, the greater impact the church will have in fulfilling its purpose.

Disciple making is going to look different in every church to some extent, but as Malcolm Bartsch illustrates, there are several key principles, which must not be overlooked:

While extensive and careful work has been done on the concept ‘discipling’, there are at least two areas, which seem under-represented in the discussion. One of these relates to the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion and their significance in the discipling process. While various church traditions place different emphasis on sacramental theology, the treatment of one of the key texts relating to ‘discipling’ (Matthew 28:18-20) gives baptism only a brief passing reference, while Holy Communion is only obliquely referred to. The other area of concern relates to the person and work of the Holy Spirit, particularly in the gospel of John. While there is brief mention of the Holy Spirit, this receives surprisingly little development considering the emphasis placed by Christ on the role of the ‘Helper’ (John 14-16) in the future work of his disciples.

DISCIPLE MAKING IN THE LOCAL COMMUNITY

As the church helps believers grow in their spiritual maturity and become active in fulfilling the Great Commission, the next step is for the believer to start evangelizing in their local community, within their family, their places of employment, and everywhere they go by sharing what God has done in their life. Jim Putnam identifies these individuals as, “Spiritual Parents [who] live out God’s Word in their daily lives. They are kingdom-centered and God-dependent.” The more a disciple grows in Christ-likeness, the more they will find purpose, worth, and identity. It is important to note a disciple can never teach someone something they themselves do not know, just as they can never lead someone to a place they have not yet been, so it is crucial for every disciple to continually stay focused on growing closer to Christ.

People are constantly watching and it is often during times of trials and persecution where one’s devotion is tested and when the true depth of one’s faith is revealed. It has been said Christianity and the process of discipleship is something that is more caught than taught, so being imitators of Christ is crucial especially in times of great adversity. Paul said it best, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” Despite being imprisoned, Paul still found joy in serving the Lord and wrote four of his letters to the churches. He did not allow his circumstances to deter him from living a Christian life. Paul, in spite of his suffering and persecution allowed God to use him in a capacity that would not have been possible if he had lost faith or given up. Instead, he counted it as pure joy and the more the world and life attempted to stop him, the more his circumstances seemed to motivate him in spreading the gospel and serving God.

Relationships are critical in making and training new disciples in the community. In this culture, it is necessary to earn the right to speak into someone’s life and this normally takes time, but there are small windows of opportunity, which God opens up that followers of Christ must always be ready to capitalize on by speaking truth into a situation or by being able to help through acts of service rooted out of love. The goal of every believer is a transformation that happens with the renewing of one’s mind. In essence, after coming to faith, an individual is given a new lens to view the world through. It reveals just how broken we are, but also how lost and hurting the world is and the only remedy is Christ Jesus. As followers of Christ, it should be one’s ambition to make coming to church and faith as easy as possible, but for many churches they have instituted high walls of entry and low expectations after coming to faith. God wants to see every believer grow in faith, not just stay where they are when they come to faith and that is why living a transformed life is more about the process and journey and not just about attaining perfection, which is only possible on the other side of eternity.

The message of the Gospel is all about love and reconciliation; God through Christ has reconciled Himself to us and as followers of Christ we must never forget that. At the moment of salvation, we are a new creation; the old has gone and the new has come. Essentially, the Gospel transforms our perspective of life and through the development of one’s spiritual formation a transformation of the heart takes place. What breaks the Lord’s heart begins to break ours and the love and compassion the Lord has for His children begins to be poured out through us. We live for the glory of God and by loving others, by leading them to Christ, and by helping them grow in their faith realizing their full potential is the greatest way we can bring glory to His name.

ROLE, PURPOSE, AND GOD’S PLAN

Just as the Gospel transforms our heart, it also transforms our purpose. Before Christ, everyone lived according to his or her own agenda and goals, but after coming to faith, every believer has a new identity and purpose found in Christ. That purpose is to be ambassadors of God’s kingdom exercising love, hope, peace, and reconciliation as our message to a lost and hurting world. Believers must learn how to allow God to not only to work in them, but also through them as they fulfill the Great Commission.

Church

The primary role of the church, as Jim Putman suggests is, “To create biblical disciples in relational environments.” The church is the body of Christ and all parts must be working together to achieve maximum efficiency. The body grows in love and becomes healthier when all parts are functioning correctly. This means, with and through disciples, the mission Jesus passed on to the church must be intentional and focused on individuals. In a world where four babies are born and two people die every second, there has not been a greater need for the church to become what God intended it to be. The churches’ first goal should be to win people to faith in Christ. Secondly, it should be to help believers find their giftings and callings by providing an environment where they can refine their skills, and lastly it should be to send them out to make new disciples teaching the same principles which they were taught. Every believer has a part to play and the church has the potential to become what God intended it to be when people find their role in the body and engage collectively proclaiming the Gospel.

Another characteristic of the church, which must be defined, is why does the church exist both globally and locally? As Ruth Ann Sigurdson illustrates:

When we looked at the church in a global sense it was for the purpose of sharing the love and gospel of Jesus Christ… It serves the community and has strong doctrinal teaching… It also offered a service to them and our families in weddings, funerals, and baptisms. The question was more difficult to answer than we had anticipated because we soon came to realize that locally it was to meet our own needs and globally it was to meet the needs of others.

The church must also teach believers how to study, interpret, and apply the word of God to their life. By observing some of the habits of the early church the importance of several things are apparent: they regularly studied the Apostle’s teaching, they fellowshipped with each other, they shared meals together, they prayed together, and they regularly met and praised together. The culmination of all these habits led to unity in the church as well as favor with all the people. A sad reality Tim Nichols highlights is:

Across North America today most churches are experiencing very limited growth or even decline. There are multiple factors that contribute to this systemic problem. These factors include, but are not limited to (a) a maintenance mentality, prioritizing the sustaining of church programs and facilities; (b) pastoral dependency, limiting lay member’s participation; (c) apathy and complacency about the lost in the community around the church; and (d) the lack of clear vision, purpose, and direction to unify and inspire the energy and resources of the congregation.

God does not want the church to play it safe as is illustrated in the parable of the talents. He desires His followers to have a heart for the lost and hurting rooted out of love. God’s will for the church is centered on discipleship and how to teach believers to be in this world, but not of it. The foundation of discipleship must be helping people grow in their love, obedience, and reverence for God. One area of major disconnect occurs between a believer and God when their relationship with Him is not intentional and all encompassing; if it is not then they truly do not love the Lord. God requires our all and if we truly love the Lord, we will obey what He commands. The importance of the church is critical to the discipleship process as Dietrich Bonhoeffer illustrates, “No one can become a new human being except by being within the church, that is, through the body of Christ. Whoever seeks to become a new human being individually cannot succeed. To become a new human being means to come into the church, to become a member of Christ’s body.”

Pastor

As Nichols illustrated above, “One of the greatest needs in the North American church today is to energize a shared ministry between clergy and laity.” This primarily rests upon the pastor to cast a vision to the visionless, one they can be a part of and rally behind. As God’s word says, “Where there is no vision, the people will perish.” Bill Hybels asks the question: “How does a leader best communicate vision? [They do so:] By embodying it. By personifying it. And By living it out.”

It is also the role of the pastor to equip the saints so they are able to do the work of service. By helping saints grow spiritually, they are able to grow closer to God. In addition to equipping the saints, pastors must also teach about God’s love, because the more they learn to love God, the more they will love others. In a like manner, the more one reads the word of God, the more they will understand His ways; the more they understand His ways, the more they will learn to trust Him; and the more they trust the Lord, the more confidence they will have standing upon His promises.

Upon examination of I Peter 5:2, we see Peter addressing the elders proclaiming, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care.” As Putman points out, “This verse points to the pastor’s responsibility to see that the people are being cared for spiritually.” Peter Davids elaborates further on this imagery illustrating, “The image of shepherding God’s people ‘or His people’s being his flock’ is an OT image that is common in the NT, but the command to elders to shepherd is found only here and in Acts 20:28-29. Both places significantly connect shepherding with ‘watching over it,’ showing that shepherding is a job of oversight.”

As shepherds over God’s flock, pastors are often called to oversee, rescue, feed, comfort, lead, cast vision, and protect those under him or her. It is the job of the shepherding pastor to find the lost sheep and bring them home. Sheep are notorious for wandering off and getting lost. In fact, in extreme cases of sheep wandering off, the shepherd would actually break the sheep’s legs, mend them, and then carry the sheep on his back until they were healed. Upon healing, the sheep would no longer stray away from the pastor’s side. The question every believer must ask themselves is would they rather have a little discomfort now or do they want to be completely lost with potentially no way of being found again?

The writer of Hebrews says, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Essentially this means that pastors will be held accountable for how they lead, just as the flock will be held accountable for how they follow. The best example of a pastor was Jesus and He lived a life of service and sacrifice. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” As with most principles in life, all you must do is observe what Jesus did and figure out how you can replicate His methods in your own life.

Saints

Paul’s letter to the Romans is often considered the guide to living a Christian life. In chapter twelve he urges believers to offer their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God equating it to a spiritual act of worship. He warns them to not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of their mind. Paul cautions the reader to not think too highly of one’s self, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

Paul describes the church as the “body of Christ” noting each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. In addition to the various parts, we also have different gifts, according to the grace given us. Some will have the gift of teaching, serving, encouraging, contributing, prophesying, governing, or showing mercy; the important principle is to use whatever gift God has given you in proportion to your faith. Douglas Moo draws a comparison between the parts of the body and spiritual gifts saying, “Moreover, the parallels between the sequences of exhortations here and in other Pauline texts also suggest that Paul may be rehearsing familiar early Christian teaching. Note especially how Paul, as in 1 Cor. 12-13, follows a discussion of gifts with a reminder of the importance of love.” It was by one’s love that the world would know we were His disciples and what better way to show love than by all parts of the body working together as the saint discovers and identifies his or her gifting.

Paul also warns the saints to hate what is evil, while clinging to what is good. We are to be devoted to one another, submit to authority, love one another, and honor one another, while being joyful, patient, faithful, and hospitable. Lastly, Paul address trials and persecution saints experience instructing them to bless those who persecute you; rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn; live in harmony with one another, do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited, do not repay anyone evil for evil and be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. Paul urges saints to live at peace with everyone while not seeking revenge in order to leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Unbelievers are not the enemy and they should instead be viewed of prisoners of war in this spiritual battle for souls and while Satan has the gates of hell, Jesus has the keys. The only way to overcome evil is with good and the only way to not be overcome by evil is to continually do what is right and good in the eyes of the Lord.

Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, continues to emphasize the importance of unity within the body. He urges believers to be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing one another’s burdens in love. Paul stresses the importance of peace in unity saying, “There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called–one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Paul also identifies it was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers in order to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. By speaking the truth in love, Paul proclaims we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ. In Christ we are a new creation, so Paul instructs saints to put off their old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Paul closes this chapter warning saints not to sin in their anger and never to let the sun go down while you are still angry: a timeless principle! His reason for this was to stop the devil from gaining a foothold in the saints’ life. He also cautions not to let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen while getting rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling, and slander, along with every form of malice. Instead, he encourages the saints to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ forgave you.
The final role of the saints is to evangelize. This presents an area for debate especially when using Ephesians 4:11-12 as context. While this passage does say, “He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” it does not mean evangelism is reserved for a select few. Regardless of misinterpretation, the main reason for not evangelizing comes down to spiritual apathy and laziness turning the Great Commission into the great suggestion. Donald Whitney points out, “God does gift some for ministry as evangelists, but He calls all believers to be His witnesses and provides them with both the power to witness and a powerful message.” Every believer should proclaim the goodness of Christ and be witnesses in all they do and everywhere they go.

Spiritual Gifts

Paul, in I Corinthians 12 is dealing with the issue of what it means to be spiritual as well as the abuse of gifts: mainly speaking in tongues. In verse 11, Paul establishes every Christian has at least one spiritual gift, given by the Holy Spirit, which God wants us to use for His glory. The question for some is how do they find what their gift is but the more apparent dilemma is after finding it; why do most choose not to use it? For some, they may be embarrassed or confused how to, so they simply hide it or choose not to acknowledge what God has given them. However, this is an affront to God because He expects us not only to use our gifts advancing the kingdom, but He also expects us to grow in those gifts by using them.

Just as spiritual gifts were a topic of debate in the early church, they continue to be today as Michael Horvath illustrates how, “Spiritual gifts have quickly moved into the forefront of discussions of personal spiritual growth.” While there are different types of gifts, they are of the same Spirit. Even in the diversity of gifts, one can observe unity because God is a god of order. Horvath defines spiritual gifts and their roles as:

Individual difference characteristics that are relevant to behavior in a Christian context. Second, spiritual gifts are not argued to be specific to the professional pastorate; all Christians are thought capable of possessing them. Third, most definitions include the provision that spiritual gifts are either new abilities, or newly augmented natural abilities, that are given to individuals after they become Christians. This is in contrast to natural abilities, which are characteristics possessed by all individuals.

The primary role of spiritual gifts, as Gordon Fee illustrates, is rooted out of love for the edification of the church:

Their passion for tongues in the assembly was further indication of their failure to love one another. Love, however, is not set forth in contrast to tongues, but as the necessary ingredient for the expression of all spiritual gifts. The reason for the gifts is the edification of the church, which is precisely what love aims at, but uninterpreted tongues does not.

Paul in Ephesians 4:7 says “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Again in Acts 1:8 Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” These gifts are to be used in spreading the gospel from our within our neighborhoods and communities to the four corners of the earth while also in building up the body of Christ. As believers in and followers of Christ, we exist solely to glorify God and we do this most effectively by testifying of His love, mercy, grace, and redeeming power. As part of the body of Christ everyone has a part to play and if a spiritual gift is not being used, it is the equivalent of missing a body part. As the body of Christ, we are meant to be connected and we are meant to use our gifts in conjunction with each other’s as I Corinthians 12:12 states, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.”
God’s greatest gift is love, so it should be no surprise He expects our attitudes and actions to be rooted out of love. The Great Commandment is at the heart of the New Testament and played a pivotal role in the spread of Christianity as Claire McLisky illustrates:

The idea of Christian love has been central to the Christian religion since its inception [and] Christian love played an important part in early Christian theology… In teaching Protestant Christianity, Martin Luther believed, the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith. For Luther, Christian love was universal and undiscriminating, mirroring God’s love for humanity. The aim of the Christian faith was, therefore, to cultivate a “pure heart” and be so in accord with God’s Word and his example that he will wish everyone well and do good to all, as God wishes him well and gives his divine love to him.

CONCLUSION

Disciples are the legacy of Jesus. Out of pure love, God sent Jesus on a mission to save the world and upon completing His task, He has now entrusted the church to complete the mission. This paper has shown a disciple is someone who knows Christ, grows in Christ, goes for Christ, as well as someone who shows and shares Christ with others. First and foremost, a disciple must make sure their relationship with God is in order and that they are using their gifts to edify the church. Then one needs to be intentional about making and equipping disciples in the church and local communities. Followers of Christ must show love to all because that is how the world is supposed to know they are His disciples. Christians must also deepen their relationships with the people in their lives by focusing on the individual and their needs. Lastly, believers must maintain a missional mindset because Christ died for everyone, so one’s focus cannot be limited by their own thinking. God has called us, He has equipped us, and now He is sending us out to find, feed, and rescue His lost children by winning them to Christ, growing them as disciples, and sending them out as witnesses of God’s glory. Becoming a disciple is a choice made at the moment of salvation. It is one that demands complete love, sacrifice, and submission to the will of God. While the cost may be great, it will never amount to the sacrifice and price Christ paid.

Bibliography

Bartsch, Malcolm. “Making Disciples: The Significance of Jesus’ Educational Methods for Today’s Church.” Lutheran Theological Journal 40, no. 1 (05, 2006): 44-5. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/213743289?accountid=12085 . (accessed 11-18-15).

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 4: Discipleship. Minneapolis, MN: First Fortress Press, 2003.

Davids, Peter H. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle of Peter. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Fee, Gordon D. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

France, R. T. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Horvath, Michael. “Spiritual Gifts Inventories: A Psychometric Perspective.” Journal of Psychology and Christianity 32, no. 2 (Summer, 2013): 124-33. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1437251886?accountid=12085. (accessed 11-18-15).

Hybels, Bill. Courageous Leadership. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 2002

McLisky, Claire. “And They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love”: Exploring the Role of Christian Love on Maloga Mission, 1874–1888. Journal of Religious History, 39: 333–351. 2015, doi: 10.1111/1467-9809.12181, (accessed 11-18-15).

Moo, Douglas J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Morris, Leon. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Nichols, Tim Nichols. “THE PASTOR’S ROLE IN VISION-BASED LEADERSHIP.” The Journal of Applied Christian Leadership 2, no. 1 (Summer, 2007): 20-31. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/751869916?accountid=12085. (accessed 11-18-15).

Putnam, Jim, Bobby Harrington, and Robert E. Coleman, Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.

Sigurdson, Ruth Ann. The Purpose Driven Process: a Church Asks Some Hard Questions and Unearths Some Uncomfortable Answers.” Presbyterian Record July-Aug. 2006: 30. General Reference Center GOLD. Document Number: GALE|A150910354. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA150910354&v=2.1&u=vic_liberty&it=r&p=GRGM&asid=70382952919dad2e74ae770435039d37 (accessed 11-18-15).

Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014.

Spheres and Stages of Discipleship

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INTRODUCTION

In order to go anywhere, you must first know two things: your current location and your intended destination; only then can you implement steps and directions needed to reach your objective. This paper will begin by recognizing how lost and dead individuals are before coming to faith in Christ, but also how after coming to faith, a new destination has been programmed in which also comes with a new mission as a disciple of Christ. Through our death we find life and by applying Jim Putnam’s five stages of discipleship and four spheres of life as directions, this paper will show the path to reaching one’s God-given purpose and calling in life. In addition, this this paper will stress the centrality of Christ referring to the call to the cross while emphasizing the importance of complete submission to Christ in all areas of one’s life.

FIVE STAGES OF DISCIPLESHIP

Anyone who has attempted to learn something new can attest that discipline without direction is nothing more than drudgery. This is an important principle to understand because most believers do not have a clear picture of what their true God-given potential could be if they simply applied themselves to growing closer to the Lord. This writer firmly believes if God were to teleport someone twenty, thirty, or forty years in the future to show what reading His word daily would accomplish, more people would start reading the word. By reading the Bible, one comes to understand the Lord. As one comes to understand the Lord, they learn to trust Him. Finally, once you learn to trust the Lord, you will have the confidence to stand upon the promises of God as well as living your life as a testament and living sacrifice to the Lord.

Before coming to faith, everyone was dead in his or her transgressions, but through the atoning sacrifice Jesus suffered and died for on the cross, He made a way for everyone to have restored communion with God. Donald Whitney points out that as a Christian, “We must understand what we shall become as God’s elect [because] God’s eternal plan ensures that every Christian will ultimately conform to Christlikeness.” Knowing and truly understanding this means as followers of Christ, God intends for us to grow and pursue holiness. While no one besides Christ is or ever was perfect, we are forgiven and when Christ is the priority, the Holy Spirit will generate an unquenchable hunger for more of God in every area of one’s life.

For a new believer, it can be very overwhelming to explain everything God has done as well as what He expects out of them. One of the best ways to start the discipleship process is to explain how coming to faith is just the beginning of the journey and as Jim Putnam suggests, “[Realize] the responsibility for spiritual growth never rests on the disciple maker alone.” Putnam identifies three major components in the process: your part, their part, and God’s part. The only part you are responsible for is yours because you cannot do their part and you certainly cannot do God’s part. The rate of spiritual growth is different for every individual, so Putnam encourages disciple makers to focus more on the path of progress and the direction, which leads to development.

The first stage of an individual is level one: Spiritually Dead. This may sound harsh, but as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “You were dead in your transgressions and sin.” This stage refers to people who have not accepted Christ and as F.F. Bruce highlights, “It was necessary that the readers should be raised to life, because they were spiritually dead, severed and alienated from God, the source of true life. Their spiritual death was the result of their trespasses and sins.”

Putnam suggests several excuses for remaining in this stage: “They may reject God, they may be seeking God, they may call themselves spiritual, the may even claim to know God or call themselves Christians, but there is no true fruit in their lives.” Believing in God is not enough; even the devil and demons believe in God. Followers of Christ are expected to bear fruit because that is evidence of the Holy Spirit dwelling inside. Putnam poses a very real question: “What would you expect from a dead person?” As anyone would conclude: not much… Because of this, one should not be surprised by the way those who are spiritually dead act. You should be focused on introducing them to who they are in Christ instead of being concerned about their behavior. Unbelief and even rebellion are common characteristics of someone who is spiritually dead because without Jesus living within them, they will always be empty. Disciple makers should focus on sharing what Jesus has done in their life and what He would like to do in theirs. Putnam also emphasizes they need, “Love through honest friendships and relationships with believers, …they need to be introduced to Jesus and to see the life of the gospel lived out, …and they need a clear explanation of the gospel and an invitation to trust and follow Jesus.”

The second stage of an individual is level two: Infant. In this stage you commonly find new believers, but unfortunately you may also find longtime believers who just never matured in their faith. I Peter 2:2-3 illustrates newborn babies craving pure spiritual milk so they can grow in their salvation. While people in this stage are considered to be spiritually alive, the problem arises when one is content with just milk. Hebrews addresses these individuals stating, “By this time you ought to be teachers, yet you still need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” It is here, Putnam reminds the disciple maker, “They are not unintelligent; they are simply uninformed and in need of truth [and they] are often the product of the culture they live in.” If the spiritually dead act according to their dead nature, then an infant is going to be messy and in need of constant care. This is to be expected and one should not be surprised how much energy and time they require; the problem presents itself when they choose not to continue to grow spiritually. The goal is to eventually teach them how to feed themselves on the word of God while guiding them through this vulnerable stage. The habits they form during this stage will form their entire life as a follower of Christ, so it is crucial to teach them truth while also walking in humility.

The third stage of an individual is level three: Child. In this stage the believer has progressed from being an infant or as we will discuss later, has possibly regressed. The goal in this stage is continual growth with God, but a new element is added as believers learn to form not only vertically relations with God, but also horizontally as they develop relationships with other believers. The more they are able to apply the word of God in their daily lives and conclude the world does not revolve around them, the quicker they will mature. As with the infancy stage, someone who reaches the child stage can also be a new believer as well as a person who has been saved for many years. Putnam argues, “It is not the amount of time that passes that marks the difference between the mature and immature; it is what has happened or not happened in a relational discipleship process during that time.” In this stage, they are still dependent on a caregiver or mentor for guidance, so they may do things they are told, either without an understanding why they are doing it or just doing it because it is expected of them. This stage highlights their level of commitment by asking the question: “Will you still serve when the benefits no longer outweigh the cost?” This is a very vocal stage and much can be revealed by the words they speak because what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart. Putnam illustrates their primary need is a, “Strong relational connection to a mature believer so they can make the transition to a more God and kingdom focused life. They need someone who will help them learn how to make the developmental transition from dependency to learning how to spiritually feed themselves.” This is also a stage where they are very aware of those around them and are highly impressionable to what others are doing instead of learning to trust and be obedient to God, so it is imperative not to cause unmet expectations. The more they continue to make their life about God, the more they will grow spiritually learning to do the right things for the right reasons.

The fourth stage of an individual is level four: Young Adult. It is in this stage the believer has applied the word of God to their life and overcome the Evil One. Putnam identifies, “Spiritually young adults [as people who] are making a shift from being self-centered to being God-centered…[and are becoming] doers of the Word.” It is at this stage where the believer has the realization God has created them with a specific purpose and has given them the giftings and tools to accomplish it. Putnam lists several needs for believers at this stage to thrive: “First, they need a place where they can learn to serve, they need a spiritual mentor, …they need deep ongoing relationships with people who offer encouragement and accountability, and they need help to establish boundaries.” It is important for these believers to have realistic and attainable expectations while also fostering their giftings and callings.

The fifth and final stage for individuals is level five: Parent. In this stage, the believer moves into more of a parental or mentoring role as they start to disciple other new believers. By Putnam’s definition, “If they are not discipling someone, they are still spiritually immature because spiritually mature people make and reproduce new disciples and if they are capable but are not parenting, then they are really just young adults at best.” II Timothy 2:1-2 speaks of disciples who have grown and matured to the point where they are now qualified to teach others what they have learned. It is important to note, just because the believer has arrived at this stage does not make them perfect because everyone is human and subject to their flesh and sinful desires. The difference is at this stage they are intentional about putting Christ first in their relationship. As spiritual parents, the need for relationships with other spiritual parents is crucial, so they can share one another’s burdens and not get burned out.

FOUR SPHERES OF LIFE

Discipleship has a direct correlation to relationships and as Putnam illustrates, “As a disciple abides in Christ, each sphere of his or her life is transformed.” There are four spheres of life a disciple can grow in: their relationship with God, their relationship with God’s family: the church, their personal relationship and home life, and their relationship to the world. In each of these spheres as Putnam highlights, “A disciple understands God’s commands and submits to His authority (head), is transformed by Jesus (heart), and joins Jesus on a kingdom mission (hands) in all these areas of their lives.” In each of these spheres it is important to maintain realistic expectations so the disciple maker can best help the believer grow where they currently are.

The first sphere of an individual is the centrality of a relationship with God. In Ephesians, Paul reminds the readers they are adopted by God and this sphere as Putnam illustrates is, “The hub that unites the other spheres together [and] … our most important sphere is our relationship with Jesus.” If Christ is not the motivating force behind one’s motives and actions they will find bearing fruit impossible because Christ is the vine. Matthew Thomas proposes, “That we have to take the story of Jesus as the starting point for a radically new, revolutionary understanding of the world. With this clue, one should set out, not only to understand the world, but also to change it.”

The second sphere deals with relationships with the family of God: the church. Using Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, after he establishes the importance of maintaining one’s relationship with Jesus, he shifts the focus to developing relationships with other believers. Putnam identifies this sphere as, “Where we grow as the body of Christ [and] … if the first sphere of relationships is our relationship with Jesus, it should naturally lead us to living with and loving others in the second sphere.” Susann Liubinskas also illustrates how, “The metaphor of the church as the body of Christ describes a real, although not literal, relationship that exists between Christ and the church. This suggests that this metaphor is not simply illustrating unity and diversity in the Christian community, even though that is part of its meaning. Rather, the church is the body of Christ in the sense that it is constituted by Christ and enlivened by his indwelling.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer elaborates further on the importance of relationships stating, “Formation occurs only by being drawn into the form of Jesus Christ, by being conformed to the unique form of the one who became human, was crucified, and is risen. This does not happen as we strive to become like Jesus, as we customarily say, but as the form of Jesus Christ himself so works on us that it molds us, conforming our form to Christ’s own.” Essentially, he is saying Christians do not form the world with their own mind; instead it is Christ forming us into His image. Craig Nessan adds to this claim portraying, “The church as a community, like other forms of community, consisting of diverse individuals who nevertheless together come to constitute a collective person. This collective person displays its own unique pattern of distinguishing characteristics, [but] in the case of the church this community is not entirely of human origin but also of divine origin.”

The third sphere deals with relationships at home and the family. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians continues to explain what the biblical model of the home should look like. Husbands should love their wives, wives should respect their husband, and children should honor and obey their parents. Putnam points out, “This sphere is important for us to address, because it is possible for people to grasp the concepts of the gospel but fail to apply them in the home.” As disciple makers, it is imperative to make sure your family is not sacrificed on the altar of ministry. The only way this can be assured is when Christ is truly first in your life and the Holy Spirit is allowed to permeate every sphere of your life. Families go through life together, they love together, and they mourn together; what is important in this stage is for individuals to lose their self-centered love and replace it with family-centered love.

In the fourth sphere, the relationship with the world is addressed. This sphere as Putnam suggests is based on, “Our relationship with Jesus affecting how we live and work in the world.” In our relationships it is important to remain humble and transparent even in failure because the world is watching and if one’s lifestyle is counter to their beliefs; they are doing more harm than good in spreading the Gospel. The end goal is to have all these spheres come together under the control of Christ. Only then can one become truly effective and move from just informing people to truly equipping them. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God and the only way real life change is going to happen is by applying God’s word so the transforming power of the Holy Spirit can renew your minds.

CURRENT STAGE

Being completely transparent and honest, I find myself predominantly in the parental stage, but there are times where I find myself regressing to the young adult stage. In the past, this has been the result of disappointment, trials, and unmet expectations. During these seasons I had essentially forgotten God had created me for a specific purpose and as a result my confidence and trust in God was strained. I had failed to remember, “ For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

There have also been times where compassion fatigue has set in making ministry burn out not far off. On my own, I am powerless, but through Christ, I can do all things. Thankfully, these seasons are long since past and I strive to maintain this healthy balance by keeping God as the focal point of my life, followed by my wife, then my children, and then my job. With these priorities established, I can now tell when this hierarchy is out of balance or when life is attempting to attack this pivotal sphere. I hold my complete faith and trust in God alone because, “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Areas Needing Submission

One area I must daily remind myself of is in the area of significance. Our worth and value are found in God alone, not in people or things. Salvation was not free; it cost Jesus His life and he endured such suffering and rejection so everyone would have a way to find significance, peace, meaning, purpose, and restored communion with God. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Apart from God we are nothing and our righteousness is compared to filthy rags. I am also guilty of blurring some of these spheres when life gets hectic. Keeping the relationship with God first is the only way to assure all the other relationships are in balance. As a believer, you cannot teach someone something you yourself do not know just as you cannot bring someone along in spiritual maturity to a place you have not yet reached. This is why it is crucial to not only have a teachable spirit, but also to be continually learning and relevant. I do well in this area, but struggle with complete transparency because of past wounds, but by not allowing God to use even our failures we are robbing God of what He may want to do in and through us. His word says He causes all things to work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose. This is a conditional promise, which means it is dependent upon allowing God to use everything, including our failures and the lessons learned along the way to advance the kingdom and bring glory to His name.

Centrality to the Cross

Bonhoeffer’s call to the cross highlights the centrality of Christ in our daily walk. As believers, we are called to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Jesus. Bonhoeffer states, “The call to discipleship is connected here with the proclamation of Jesus’ suffering…[and]… when we know only Him, then we also no longer know the pain of our own cross.” It was necessary for Jesus to suffer and be rejected and any attempt even by His own disciples was rebuked. As followers of Christ, each believer must endure the specific amount of suffering and rejection God has preordained for them. Bonhoeffer concludes, “God honors some with great suffering and grants them the grace of martyrdom, while others are not tempted beyond their strength. But in every case, it is the one cross.”

The cross every believer must bear is unique, but is in direct relationship to our allegiance to Christ. After becoming a Christian, you first encounter the cross; for some they are ostracized for their faith, but once you are able to turn your living into dying you will gladly follow Christ as he calls every follower to die to themselves daily. Bonhoeffer suggests, “Christ’s own suffering is the only suffering that brings reconciliation … thus suffering becomes the identifying mark of a follower of Christ.” While Paul does not specifically mention the passion of Christ, as Will O’Brien explains, “Every time he mentions the cross, he as well as his hearers and readers understood the reference: the gruesome torture, the unbridled violence of state terrorism, the perversion of justice that consumed Jesus.” Paul understood the importance as well as the call to the cross and O’Brien shows, “Paul boldly throws the cross back at the executioners, taking Rome’s symbol of ultimate power and using it as a sign of God’s ultimate power. When Paul speaks of Christ’s victory, the unwritten but very clear assumption is that the losers are those who pretentiously claim power.”

Mark Miller suggests, “Imitating Christ on the cross is commonly thought to consist in bearing suffering without complaint or question… as a way of remaining faithful to God, for the pain and hardship are part of God’s plan to punish, to test, or to improve us.” By bearing our cross we are acknowledging as Miller puts it, “The cross [was] punishment that Christ bore so that we would be spared destruction, a kind of payment to God or the devil for our sins. In gratitude and sympathy, we bear our small crosses just as Christ bore the sins of all humanity.”

CONCLUSION/SUBMISSION TO CHRIST

When someone is brought to faith in Jesus Christ, they are saved for a purpose and they are a new person. In this message to the church at Corinth, Paul wanted them to know his mission and calling were the direct result of Christ’s love and Paul Barnett illustrates how, “The evidence of Christ’s love is to be seen in his death and resurrection for all, in consequence of which all “die” [to self-centered living]. The purpose for which Christ died and was raised is that those who live, as by spiritual resurrection, now live for him.” While salvation is wonderful, God does not intend anyone to stay at the first stage of infancy. No one truly knows how lost and dead in his or her transgressions and sin they were before they accepted Christ into their life, but after coming to faith, a new mission as Disciples of Christ should become their driving force.

Through our death to ourselves daily, we find abundant life and by applying Jim Putnam’s five stages of discipleship we move from self-centered living to God-centered living and by applying Putnam’s four spheres of life we understand the importance of oneness with Christ, relationships, encouraging one another, and bearing each other’s burdens. Only then are we able to discover our God-given purpose and calling in life. Christ must always be at the center and focal point of what we say and what we do as we live our lives in humility and transparency giving God all the honor and glory He deserves. Putnam claims, “No one stage of discipleship is more important than any other,” but I would argue moving someone from spiritual death to at the least infancy should be of the utmost importance. Make no mistake about it; there is a spiritual war being raged and Satan hates losing what was once his. The devil is constantly looking for the opportunity to inflict the most damage to the believer and their ability to be a disciple maker. You must always remember natural death is only the beginning as our spirit lives on either in the magnificent presence of our Savior or in the depths of hell surrounded by the gnashing of teeth.

In addition, by understanding the centrality of Christ and recognizing our constant call to the cross we find submission and suffering to be a joy. Putnam brilliantly concludes saying, “It is in our best interest [to be] under His control, as we tend to make a mess out of all we try to be lord over.” Bonhoeffer takes submission one-step further stating, “In the middle of the most terrible torment that the disciples bore for their Lord’s sake, they experienced the greatest joy and blessedness of His community. Bearing the cross proved to be for them the only way to overcome suffering.” Being a disciple of Christ is being bound to the cross and the suffering of Christ, but as James said, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James understood the battle that raged between good and evil and knew the importance of the centrality of Christ. When suffering and trials present themselves, often it is only through embracing the suffering you will be able to overcome it, and as James Adamson illustrates, “As a goldsmith, who allows the silver in the fire and the gold in the crucible to be purified not longer than necessary, so God purifies the righteous each one according to his rank and his deeds.”

Bibliography

Adamson, James B. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle of James. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Barnett, Paul. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 4: Discipleship. Minneapolis, MN: First Fortress Press, 2003.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Ethics, ed. Clifford J. Green, trans. Reinhard Krauss, Charles C. West, and Douglas W. Stott. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2005.

Bruce, F.F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Liubinskas, Susann. “The Body of Christ in mission: Paul’s ecclesiology and the role of the church in mission.” Missiology 41, no. 4 (October 2013): 402-415. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost. http://rx9vh3hy4r.search.serialssolutions.com/?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&ctx_enc=info%3Aofi%2Fenc%3AUTF-8&rfr_id=info:sid/summon.serialssolutions.com&rft_val_fmt=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:journal&rft.genre=article&rft.atitle=The+Body+of+Christ+in+Mission%3A+Paul’s+Ecclesiology+and+the+Role+of+the+Church+in+Mission&rft.jtitle=Missiology%3A+An+International+Review&rft.au=Liubinskas%2C+Susann&rft.date=2013-10-01&rft.pub=SAGE+Publications&rft.issn=0091-8296&rft.volume=41&rft.issue=4&rft.spage=402&rft.epage=415&rft.externalDBID=n%2Fa&rft.externalDocID=10.1177%2F0091829613495267&paramdict=en-US (accessed November 12, 2015).

Miller, Mark. “Imitating Christ’s Cross: Lonergan and Girard on How and Why.” The Heythrop Journal, 54: 859–879. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2265.2012.00786.x. (2013).
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/doi/10.1111/j.1468-2265.2012.00786.x/full (accessed 11-12-15).
Nessan, C. L. “What If the Church Really is the Body of Christ?” Dialog, 51: 43–52. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-6385.2011.00653.x. 2012. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/doi/10.1111/j.1540-6385.2011.00653.x/citedby (accessed 11-12-15).

O’Brien, Will. “The passion of the apostle: Paul is much maligned by ‘progressive’ Christians. But maybe he is more radical than we have thought–and a powerful witness to how we can live the gospel in a fallen world.” The Other Side July-Aug. 2004: 18+. General Reference Center GOLD. http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/ps/i.do?p=GRGM&u=vic_liberty&id=GALE%7CA120392049&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon&userGroup=vic_liberty&authCount=1# (accessed 11-12-15).

Putnam, Jim, Bobby Harrington, and Robert E. Coleman, Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.

Thomas, V. M. The Centrality of Christ and Inter-Religious Dialogue in the Theology of Leslie Newbigin (Order No. NN17701). 1996. Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (89302648). Retrieved from http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/89302648?accountid=12085 (accessed on 11-12-15).

Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014.

Nothing is Impossible With God

Even though it feels like I have a long way to go, I have begun my journey and every journey begins with a single step!

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” II Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)2_Corinthians_12_9

This means the more afflicted we become, the more beat down we feel, the closer God is getting ready to lay the smack-down on our foes because He will never allow one of His children to sink beneath any of His enemies

The more I have released my limitations to God, the more empowered I have felt myself become.

God’s supernatural power fills in every void, crack and crevice relating to any physical, emotional, or spiritual need or scar we have or ever will. In times of danger, darkness, despair, and sickness, the safest place to be is in the presence of God!God's Closer Than You Think

Each new day, my pain is evolving which I hope is a good thing. Instead of throbbing, stabbing, burning, shooting and piercing, it’s tight, deep, penetrating, and rigid. I wouldn’t classify it as being better yet, but it’s definitely different!

If you find yourself needing more of God in your life, just ask! Lately, I have found myself falling asleep praying to God. I’ve done this for a couple of reasons:

 The first is to take my pain and give me rest! When the pain was beyond what I could take, I would just call out the name of Jesus.
 The second is in case I don’t wake… What better way to go than praying to the One who never slumbers and waking in His arms.
WirelessConnection2

Jesus Gave His All

As the needle pierced my spine, the surgeon and his team rushed to sedate me…

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5

Lying on the surgery table undergoing a procedure called a discogram; I had no idea what I was in for. The point of this procedure was to isolate the cause of my severe back and leg pain. One year ago, I was hit by a speeding truck while riding my bicycle, but the pain of the accident paled in comparison to what I was now experiencing as a needle longer than my arm was plunged into my back. As the dye was released into my disc, the agony I experienced caused one of the nurses who had just started to break down in tears watching me scream in pain.
Surgery Room

In no way am I comparing myself to Jesus or the suffering He endured on the cross for our sins, because as I had a 22 gauge needle inside me, He had a spear thrust into His side; He had a crown of thorns driven into His head and He endured 39 lashes that ripped the flesh from His body. It was for our sins that Christ endured this suffering and ultimately sacrificed His life so we could be made whole.

By the stripes that were laid upon His back, we have healing!

jesus-on-cross

By the blood Jesus shed, we receive atonement for our sin!

Take a moment right now and thank Him for the sacrifice He made. Realize what He did at Calvary was the ultimate expression of His love for us. I thank God my healing is on its way and I praise Him in advance for what He is going to do. If you have a need in your life whether it’s physical or other; just know the price Jesus paid on the cross will more than cover any cost.