Discipleship as Journey
Phil. 1:6 – “He who began a good work in you, will be faithful to complete it”
Phil. 2:12 – “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling…”
Matthew texts – the parable of seed growing secretly, mustard seed parable, the parable of the sower, fruit/growth principle
John 15 – Vine and branches
2 Peter 3:8 – “one day is like a 1000 years and a 1000 years are like one day”
Thesis – Discipleship is essentially and definitely defined as “following Jesus”. Discipleship is more of a journey than a destination. It is a journey of grace, mercy, love, and power through the Holy Spirit. It is a journey that closely accompanies the “ups and downs” of a person’s emotional and chronological maturity. To say that spiritual formation or growing “maturity” as a disciple “trumps” ones normal development would unfairly thrust a person into adhering to a performance-based maturity paradigm. A disciple never “arrives”…the gospels are a story of disciples being called, responding to that call, and engaging in a journey of discovery and discovering more of the “new and abundant life” that comes in and through Jesus. Discipleship is a journey that is specifically Jesus dependant…it is a move from immaturity to a growing maturity (that can be observed and monitored as it is “lived” out in one’s life). Discipleship cannot be reduced to a list of spiritual benchmarks. Even so, many people continue to describe discipleship as a list of “to do’s” that eventually reveal a performance-based discipleship paradigm.
Essentials of Discipleship
“Christianity who the living Jesus is inevitably Christianity without discipleship and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”
“Only he who believes is obedient and only he who is obedient believes.”
A disciple is someone who follows Jesus.
Bonhoeffer commented on discipleship in Cost of Discipleship:
“Follow me” means “run along behind me”
Jesus gives us no intelligible program for a way of life. He gives us no goal or ideal to strive after…no cause which human calculation might deem worthy of our devotion…Jesus calls us to discipleship purely for the sake of discipleship…for the sake of that call and a relationship with Him.
A disciple “burns his boat and goes ahead.”
A disciple is:
Called out of their old life.
Completely surrendered to Jesus.
Called out of “finite and into infinite possibilities.” (Bonheoffer)
Is not a “mere theological, doctrinal system which renders discipleship superfluous and following Jesus inconsequential.”
Is called to a life of love and obedience to Jesus.
One who embraces a life of obedience to Jesus, suffering with Jesus and sacrifice for Jesus.
A disciple’s character is transformed (made clear through traits exemplified in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5).
A disciple is a part of a “visible community” – salt and light to the world.
A disciple practices the “righteousness” of Jesus – the Kingdom lifestyle that is made real in and through a Kingdom LIFE in Jesus.
Lives a Kingdom “call” where the reign of God is experienced in every area of life (e.g. seen in how we care for others, love God, experience/share peace, experience and share wisdom, it is one that is rooted in God’s story, lived out in memorial experiences, seen in our values and worldview, and lived through our vocation and relationships). A Kingdom life permeates all aspects of life.
A disciple grows in Jesus Christ…”making disciples” is at the core (in the very essence of one’s spiritual DNA) of a disciple’s identity.
Being a disciple involves denying self, picking up a cross-marked identity, and following Jesus.
Being a disciple involves the disciplines of prayer, bible reading and study, worship, growth in the knowledge of God, growing clarity/ownership of one’s identity in Jesus, being filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit, being obedient to Kingdom living as revealed in Christ and His Word, experiencing spiritual warfare and sharing of the resources that God has given graciously.
Being a disciple involves INCARNATIONAL, MISSIONAL, and RELATIONAL living (Leonard Sweet).
Being a disciple occurs in the context of our REAL lives…we experience physiological development (we have bodies); we experience emotional and relational development (we are inherent “image based” beings – multi-faceted, spiritual, emotional, complexities that are a reflection of the God in whose image we were created); we are fragile and have life experiences that can derail us in our growth and development; frequently change/transformation occurs following times of “wilderness” (i.e. emotional, relational, or situational breakdown); we are connected with other life “systems” that require us to change. Frequently, each “breakdown” in life throws us or propels us to embrace issues and developmental realities that have occurred in our past. In other words, we return to “younger” or “less mature” stages in life as we process life’s challenges. That’s why growing spiritual maturity/discipleship can never been seen as a linear process…it is a journey filled with joys, sorrows, victories, and defeats…it is not an ascending into perfection program but rather a lifestyle of dependence upon a loving and transformative God in whose life we have discovered our true identity.
“In, through, over and above so-called normal development the human spirit surges, struggles, sustains, submerges, and reemerges with the newness of life. Those who have seen spiritual transformation in its wondrous and joyful intention to transcend linear expectations and repeatedly reconfigure life’s set patterns, yet without loss of continuity in selfhood, have little difficulty in recognizing and accepting the analogy between this and the rebirth of life after death according to God’s promise of resurrection and redemption for all creation beyond time and history…in actuality, human development is never experienced as a cycle or a sequence, it often feels more like a few decades of searching, finding, and losing an uncertain fulfillment…when the longing for that intimacy is satisfied by the spiritual presence of Christ, the face of God…a lifetime is an unfinished act of God’s love….as each life unfolds, gets torn open, stripped of its survival techniques and its passing pleasures…it appears from under the surface that we have been created for nothing less than the pure love of God…” James Loder, Logic of the Spirit
Human life unfolds over time – clocks, calendars, “to-do” lists, benchmarks of spiritual performance and maturity “lists” cannot supply a definitive framework for spiritual formation.
The Holy Spirit causes transformation of a disciple’s life IN THE REAL LIFE of the disciple. New life and our new identity IN JESUS takes shape over time but does not necessarily “trump” the God’s creative process and the miracle of human development embedded into each unique individual. God is in the sanctification business yet that work is NOT a linear work…it is best described as a journey…a circuitous journey that closely parallels the ups/downs of one’s growing, emotional maturity. Can a “miracle” of growth that astounds one’s emotional development occur? Yes, most definitely. Even so, spiritual formation appears to be closely related to how a person grows and develops emotionally and psychologically during the duration of their lives.
Significant questions – what can we realistically expect out of a person’s growth as a disciple? What transformation potentiality is there at any given emotional development stage? Could it be that we are expecting something to happen in one’s spiritual, discipleship maturity than we can realistically anticipate given one’s emotional and chronological development? Are specific spiritual formation traits more apt to emit and demonstrate their “aliveness” in one’s life given the specificity of their age and maturity in development?