Summary: Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if he were I.
It is one of the most commonly used terms in the church and yet it may very well be one of the least understood concepts in all of Christianity. It is often viewed as some kind of standardized method, much like an assembly line, that is intended to keep churning out a standardized product. But ironically, it seems that no two people can agree on exactly what that method should be. But the one thing that everyone can seem to agree on is that the church isn’t doing it particularly effectively.
I’m speaking this morning of discipleship - a term that is embodied in our church’s mission statement:
“Developing mature disciples who
follow, serve and proclaim Jesus as Messiah”
That mission statement is based on what we commonly refer to as Jesus’ Great Commission:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
(Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)
In that passage Jesus defines discipleship for us. It is the process of developing disciples. But in order to understand what that means, we obviously need to define what it means to be a disciple.
• Let’s begin with a dictionary definition. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a disciple as:
1: one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another: as
a: one of the twelve in the inner circle of Christ's followers according to the Gospel accounts
b: a convinced adherent of a school or individual
• We can get even more “Biblical” in our understanding by looking at the underlying Greek word that is translated “disciple” in the New Testament. The simple definition of that word that you’ll find in most Greek lexicons is something like “learner”, “pupil”, or “apprentice”. But the word has a much deeper meaning. A “disciple” is also someone who has adopted the lifestyle of his or teacher as Jesus confirmed:
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,
(John 8:31 ESV)
While that academic exercise – especially understanding the meaning of the term used in the Bible – is somewhat helpful, I don’t know about you, but it still doesn’t give me a really good picture in my mind of what discipleship is supposed to look like. So I’d like to suggest another definition of discipleship that I think takes this out of merely the academic realm and paints a picture of discipleship that actually helps me envision what it might look like in my life:
Discipleship is the process of becoming
who Jesus would be if he were I
Since I really love this definition, I’d love to take credit for creating it on my own, but it is actually a paraphrase of one of the things that a Christian philosopher, Dallas Willard, wrote about discipleship in his book “The Divine Conspiracy”. Here is how he described this process further:
As a disciple of Jesus I am with him, by choice and by grace, learning from him how to live in the kingdom of God… I am learning from Jesus to live my life as He would live my life if He were I. I am not necessarily learning to do everything He did, but I am learning how to do everything I do in the manner that He did all that He did.
What I really like about this approach is that it recognizes that all of us are unique individuals who face greatly different circumstances in our lives. So discipleship is learning to apply the life principles that Jesus lived out on a daily basis in His life in a way that is in harmony with who God made each of us to be and which is appropriate for the unique circumstances in which we live. And that is not going to look exactly the same for any two of us.
But while the process and the end product of disciple ship may look a bit different for each of us, the one thing that we all share in common is that if I really love my church, I am going to demonstrate that love by actively participating in the discipleship of my church, the same way that I love the church by participating in the worship of my church and protecting the fellowship of my church.
Obviously the process of discipleship is so broad that we can’t possibly begin to give it all the attention it deserves in just one message. But I think we can cover enough to help us all leave here with a deeper understanding of what it takes to develop our ability to live like Jesus would if He were I and to help others to do that as well.