We all have someone in mind we want to emulate. We dress like others. We talk like others. We do what other people say is best. We take pieces of other people and put them together to build the best version of who we want to be. Whether good or bad, we all emulate someone who came before us. That being said, we also have more influence than we could possibly imagine.
With each conversation and encounter, we are shaping others.
In his book, Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands, Paul Tripp says, "The bottom line is that you cannot have a relationship without being a person of influence. You give and receive counsel every day. It is not a task confined to paid professionals; it is woven into the fabric of human relationships. The problem is that we don't often recognize the powerful impact of those everyday encounters."
For Christians, however, there is a distinctive call: a call to be disciple-makers (Matt 28:19). But the best part of being a disciple-maker in Christ is that we are not trying to get people to be like us. As a disciple-maker I am pointing women to something and someone greater than myself. In return, I get the distinct privilege of watching people become greater than me. Not only that, I get to become greater than me. As I experience God's redemption in beautiful and shocking ways, I become more like Christ as I strive with my disciples towards holiness. This is Christian discipleship. The goal is not simply to act like Jesus, but to be characteristically like him as "we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor 3:18). But facilitating this experience is often far messier and more confusing than many of us would like to admit.
What are the goals of discipleship? In the midst of our frailty, failure, and sin, are there or should there be qualifications to the one teaching and leading? Should we use methods for discipleship? Should it happen in organic, natural relationships? How do we teach about the grace offered by Jesus, but also work to put off sin?
Knowing the Gospel
In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus commands His disciples to "go out into the world baptizing" other people. These are Jesus' instructions just before ascending to sit next to his Father in heaven. He is offering the local church a huge opportunity: to be a part of his body and experience him. Because Jesus calls them to baptize, we can deduce that the first step to discipling others must be salvation. Because confession and repentance are the first steps toward salvation and obedience to Christ, our disciples must first know the gospel. Only after salvation and baptism does Jesus instruct the disciples to "[teach their disciples] to observe all that [Jesus] has commanded."
Nevertheless, just because someone can tell you the gospel story does not mean they believe or understand a gospel reality. In order to observe all that Jesus has commanded, we must be taught the gospel, not just for salvation, but also as an ongoing impact on our daily thoughts, struggles, and deepest personal desires. We must be diligent to return to the gospel as our Christian foundation, searching for cracks of unbelief and weak theology.
How does the resurrection apply to your personal hardship? In what way does Jesus' perfection affect your view of the homeless person on your street? Does the ascension impact how you work? How should the free gift of grace change how you interact with your friends?
If the gospel is the underpinning for our personal theological convictions (and therefore way of life), then we must daily seek to make that gospel foundation secure. When a crack in understanding or a point of unbelief about god and his Word is detected, we work to assess and restore that belief by putting on faith so that the disciple's perspective is grounded in truth. Therefore, the gospel of both grace and truth must be the dwelling place of discipleship.
My goal as a biblical counselor is always to work myself out of a job. Part of this goal is teaching the one receiving counsel to study scripture on her own. While many would confess that "all scripture is breathed out by God" and therefore helpful for all of life (2 Tim 3:16), this is often not how our daily lives or ministries actually operate.
If your disciple knows how to study and use scripture in a way that is "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 3:17), then she will be equipped not only to deal with her own heart, but also competent for whatever "good work" God may have for her. If the goal of discipleship is to love, glorify, and emulate Christ, then knowing how to find motivation to study God's life-changing Word will accomplish that goal. (Col. 3:17)
As a disciple-maker, my objective must be to show how useful and relevant the Bible is. I need to help foster their relationship with Jesus and give them the tools needed to apply scripture in a way that promotes genuine faith and spiritual maturity (I often use books like Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin, and Crosstalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet by Michael R. Emlet). When people know how to truly study and apply the Bible, the result will be a "gospel-rich, kingdom-focused, Christ-centered symphony in their ears, with the result that the alternative (and ultimately false) voices and stories that beguile them are drowned out increasingly to insignificance" (Emlet, page 75).
Training in Righteousness
Colossians 3:16 tells us that the result of dwelling deeply in God's Word and gaining wisdom will then result in "teaching and admonishing one another." In general, sin does not disappear the moment we become Christians. In fact, the more we see the holiness of Christ, the more we will see the depths of our own sin. When we have spent years learning and choosing sin in particular ways, it should not come as a surprise that we would need to work at "putting it off" (Col 3:8-15; Eph 4:22-24). We must practice righteousness because we have spent so long practicing sin. While our flesh is no match for God's confounding grace and love, we are called to work at putting our flesh to death . . .though we have gospel freedom, God tells us to make no provision for the flesh (Rom 3:14).
Exploring specific points of unbelief at the root of sin helps expose cracks in our understanding of God's Word and his gospel, therefore helping us to build up and encourage disciples more towards Jesus in very specific ways. "Better is open rebuke than hidden love" (Prov 27:5). For many discipleship relationships, this can be a test of how much we sincerely love the person sitting across from us.
Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head. Psalm 141:5
To love someone truly is to gently speak the truth to them, even (or maybe even especially) about their sin (Eph 4:15). However, we should never leave a brother or sister with just a rebuke, but offer help and hope from God's Word toward what to "put on" in place of a particular sin. The amazing reality is that God has given us his Spirit to do just this (Jn 16:13). Knowing the point of unbelief behind sin will motivate transformation from the heart, as opposed to just behavioral change. We confess specific sin so that we may see our exact point of unbelief and can change in detailed ways. For instance, if a person is struggling with pornography and confesses that it stems from a desire to have comfort, it is highly possible that she believes true comfort comes outside of the "God of all comfort" (2 Cor 1:3). If you follow the trail, we could find out that she ultimately believes God is neither who he claims to be nor that what he has to offer is sufficient (2 Cor 1:4). In return, she is essentially calling God a liar and saying his comfort is not good enough for her through her sinful actions. This is an inordinately high view of self and low view of God. To repent of not trusting the perfect honesty of God and that you actually believe you know more than God are different confessions than repenting of looking at pornography in general. Our everyday actions flow out of our true beliefs. I don't want women simply to act like Jesus; I want them to be like Jesus from the inside out.
Discipling with Gratitude
Discipleship is a gift from God to his people. It is an opportunity to walk by the Spirit, diligently participating in his cultivation of flesh into holiness and love for him. It is a gift to watch God confound humans with his grace and to experience his beauty while participating in redemption. It is an astonishing reward of salvation to encounter our perfect Creator at the most personal level as he changes the sickness of our flesh into the likeness of his beauty. It could be called the "most important activity in the entire universe" (Tripp, 237). God is taking rebellious, selfish people and changing them into holy creatures for his glory by his power. For this purpose and to this end, he has called every Christian to repent and incarnate his presence and care through discipleship. What a wonderful God we serve and what a privilege to be part of his work.
Rebekah Hannah is a biblical counselor at The Grace Center for Biblical Counseling in Jacksonville, Florida. She is married to Andrew and has three daughters.