In recent years there has been much talk around evangelical church circles about discipleship. So much so, until doing discipleship seems to be the latest evangelical craze. Amid all the talk on discipleship, one of the things I’ve noticed is just how little is said concerning the end result of our discipling, what exactly are we trying to produce in these disciples? Most of the talk on discipleship has to do with methods; how to do small groups, how to do life on life, how to do missional communities, etc. Very little is said on what a mature disciple actually looks like. It’s as if the goal has become simply getting people in a discipleship group, a method has become the message.
Although the early christians were called disciples in the Bible, yet, when talking about spiritual growth, the Bible never uses the term discipleship. The Bible speaks on this topic using such terms and phrases as, “dying to sin” (Rom. 6:1-14; Col. 3:5-9), “crucifying the flesh” (Gal. 2:20; 5:24; 6:14), “putting off the old man” (Eph 4:22; Col 3:9)
“life in Christ” (Phil 1:21; 2 Cor 5:17; Col 2:6), “walking in the Spirit”(Rom 8:4-8; Gal 5:16-19), “putting on the new man” (Eph 4:24; Rom 6:4; Col 3:10) etc. The bible also speaks of the Christian life using such language as; pursuing and following after holiness, righteousness and godliness (1Tim 6:11; Heb 12:14; Tit 2:12). When considering these verses and others, it becomes clear that the goal of the christian life is to be totally conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom 8:29; Phil 3:10). Which is essentially to be like Him in righteousness and holiness of life and character.
The term which the bible uses to describe this process of becoming like Christ is the word sanctification. Words are significant. They communicate ideas and concepts. The word sanctification communicates such concepts as holiness, purity, seperation, total consecration to God. These are the things being implied when the bible talks about dying to sin and putting on the new man as mentioned above. Oftentimes, in using the term discipleship when discussing the christian life, we fail to communicate the real essence of christian living. The word discipleship has become a generalized, overused term which only conjures up ideas of getting together with our missional group, or spiritual mentor. We talk about the need to disciple people, and of getting them in a disclipleship group. Unfortunately, oftentimes, that’s where the conversation stops. Nowadays, we talk very little about sanctification, holiness, godliness and the like. We no longer even use those terms. The Christian who talks about crucifying the flesh, or about pursuing holiness is oftentimes looked upon as being an extremist or fanatic.
My purpose here is not to suggest that we do away with the word discipleship. Not at all. My intention is to help stimulate thought about the true nature and essence of biblical discipleship. I believe we have reduced the idea of discipleship down to something very superficial. I would like to hear more discussion concerning what a true disciple looks like. I also believe it is time we consider getting back to using some of the old biblical terminology when discussing christian living, terminology which triggers thoughts about its high and costly nature. There is nothing trivial about holiness. The essence of real discipleship involves dying completely to sin, self and worldliness. It involves having our mind, will, affections and behavior totally conformed to the will of God. It involves having a mighty, burning zeal for acquiring holiness. It will take nothing less than a total absorption of ourselves in the things of God; the preached word, corporate prayer, corporate worship, sacraments, bible study, private prayer, solitude, fasting, and meditation as well as discipleship groups. Discipleship is much more than something we do with a group for a few hours out of the week, it is a comprehensive, all encompassing struggle to put away sin, and to be completely conformed to the image of Christ.