When I started to take discipleship seriously, I sought to find out about discipleship through a combination of study and practice. I began reading the Bible seriously for the first time in my life. I also started reading a lot of John Wesley’s writings—the founder of the Methodist movement in the eighteenth century who wrote a great deal on grace, salvation, and the Christian life. In many ways, Wesley became a spiritual mentor to me. His writings helped me understand the biblical witness much more clearly.
Together with my studies, I began to take the practice of my discipleship more seriously. I came to the realization that discipleship wasn’t just about “doing the right thing” out of a sense of duty or obligation. Instead it was about loving the Lord my God and loving my neighbor. If I got those things right, then all the activity of day-to-day life would follow. I was fortunate at this time to have mentors and friends much wiser than me, who showed me the right path again and again. They were God’s instruments in my life.
Eventually I became convinced that three things were absolutely essential for real discipleship. They are discipleship’s three necessary ingredients, you might say. Without all three of them, you will end up with something that might resemble discipleship in a surface way, but in reality, it is something quite different. Those three components are:
The right kind of community is essential for true discipleship because none of us can go it alone. There’s a reason that Jesus called twelve disciples together instead of just one. There’s also a reason that the church stuck together as a community after Jesus’ resurrection rather than splitting up. Without a community around you to teach you, support you, and hold you accountable, you will never grow to be a mature disciple.
We also need discipline in order to become real disciples of Jesus. For the same reason that an athlete will never achieve excellence without dedication and practice, we will never become the kind of disciples God wants us to be without those same things. It took me a while to come around to this understanding. I knew it was true for sports, just as I knew it was true for academics and business. However, I never applied the same standard to my faith. When I began to realize that my faith was the most important part of my life, I also saw how much I had missed by approaching it in a lackadaisical and haphazard fashion.
The last thing we must have for true discipleship is the experience of transformation. This one is a little tricky, because we can’t make it happen. We don’t transform ourselves. Rather, we experience transformation by God’s grace. Yet, the very way that God’s grace works means that we can expect to be transformed as we commit ourselves to the practice of discipleship within a community of faith. In other words, God promises us that we will be transformed when we live faithful lives over time.
I really think that these three elements—community, discipline, and transformation—are very counter-cultural today. They make up what I would call the “way of discipleship.” Our culture gives us a different pattern for how to live. We will call it the “way of the world.” Where God calls us to be a part of a community, the culture promotes individualism at every turn. Likewise, where true discipleship calls for true discipline, our culture encourages rabid consumerism (which means nothing more than saying “yes” to every felt desire we have). And where the gospel promises transformation, our culture promotes a kind of materialism that says we should not put our faith in God but rather in the things of this world.
I spent long enough embracing the way of the world that I came to realize how empty it is in the end. I am still very much a disciple-in-training. There is plenty that I don’t do well, and there’s plenty else that I still have to learn. I need all the help I can get! But I am convinced that the only life worth living is a life following Jesus Christ. It’s in that kind of life that the only true happiness can be found.
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Explore more seeds: watch the Seven Minute Seminary video on the means of grace by Andrew Thompson; Leah E. Hartman writes a thoughtful reflection on the means of grace in her life; watch Bob Stamps as he shares on Jesus and the means of grace in this Seven Minute Seminary video; read the doctrinal significance of the means of grace from Timothy Tennent in his 30 Questions series.
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