Doing Spiritual Good
Discipling is deliberately doing spiritual good to someone so that he or she will be more like Christ. Discipleship is the term I use to describe our own following Christ. Discipling is the subset of that, which is helping someone else follow Christ. The Christian life is the discipled life and the discipling life. Yes, Christianity involves taking the road less traveled and hearing a different drummer. But not in the way that Frost and Thoreau meant. Christianity is not for loners or individualists. It is for a people traveling together down the narrow path that leads to life. You must follow and you must lead. You must be loved and you must love. And we love others best by helping them to follow Jesus down the pathway of life.
Is this how you’ve understood Christianity, and what it means to be a Christian?
What Is a Disciple?
Before we can disciple others, we must become disciples.
We must make sure we are following Christ. What is a disciple? A disciple is a follower. You can do that by following someone’s teaching from afar, like someone might say he follows the teaching and example of Gandhi. And being a disciple of Christ means at least that much. A disciple of Jesus follows in Jesus’s steps, doing as Jesus taught and lived. But it means more than that. Following Jesus first means that you have entered into a personal, saving relationship with him. You have been “united with Christ,” as the Bible puts it (Phil. 2:1, NIV). You have been united through the new covenant in his blood. Through his death and resurrection, all the guilt of sin that is yours becomes his, and all the righteousness that is his becomes yours.
Being a disciple of Christ, in other words, does not begin with something we do. It begins with something Christ did. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep (John 10:11). He loved the church and therefore gave himself up for her (Eph. 5:25). He paid a debt that he didn’t owe, but that we owe, and then he united us to himself as his holy people.
You see, God is good, and he created us as good. But each of us has sinned by turning away from God and his good law. And because God is good, he will punish our sin. The good news of Christianity, however, is that Jesus lived the perfect life we should have lived, and then he died the death we should die. He offered himself as a substitute and sacrifice for everyone who will repent of their sin and trust in him alone. This is what Jesus called the new covenant in his blood.
So Christian discipleship begins right here with the acceptance of this free gift: grace, mercy, a relationship with God, and the promise of life eternal. Our discipleship to Christ begins when we hear those two words and obey them: “Follow me.”
How do we accept this gift and unite ourselves to him? Through faith! We turn away from our sins and follow after him, trusting him as Savior and Lord. At one point in his ministry, Jesus turned toward a crowd and said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).
Our discipleship to Christ begins when we hear those two words and obey them: “Follow me.”
Friend, if you would become a Christian, regardless of how any other teacher you have heard puts it, listen to Jesus. He says that being a Christian involves denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following him. The fundamental response to God’s radical love for us is for us to radically love him.
Real Faith Yields Discipleship
To be a Christian means to be a disciple. There are no Christians who are not disciples. And to be a disciple of Jesus means to follow Jesus. There are no disciples of Jesus who are not following Jesus. Ticking a box on a public opinion poll, or sincerely labeling yourself with the religion of your parents, or having a preference for Christianity as opposed to other religions—none of these things make you a Christian. Christians are people who have real faith in Christ, and who show it by resting their hopes, fears, and lives entirely upon him. They follow him wherever he leads. You no longer set the agenda for your own life; Jesus Christ does that. You belong to him now. “You are not your own,” Paul says, “You were bought with a price” (see 1 Cor. 6:19–20). Jesus is not just our Savior—he is our Lord.
Paul explained it this way: “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor. 5:15 NIV). What does it mean to die to self and live for him? Don Carson has said, “To die to self means to consider it better to die than to lust; to consider it better to die, than to tell this falsehood; than to consider it better to die than to . . . [you name the sin].” The Christian life is the discipled life. It starts by becoming a disciple of Christ.