Discipleship is really messy and more of a slower process than we want or realize. The strongest among us can find ourselves in the most difficult of circumstances, the lowest of spiritual times, and even find ourselves in difficult patterns of sin. The same is true of every believer.
Discipleship has often been viewed as an up-and-to-the-right straight process of successful growth, but discipleship is way messier than that, involves setbacks, patience, and a belief in the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to overcome every sin, struggle, and trial. The only way we will make actual disciples of Jesus instead of religious look-alikes is to embrace the mess, get dirty ourselves, and push through the mud to model Jesus’ incarnation.
Discipleship is: a process of becoming like Jesus Christ in our affections, our thoughts, and our behavior.
A Process Of Becoming Like Jesus Christ
The scriptures all point to Jesus and Romans 8 directs us to the aim of our salvation as being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. It begins with God’s work of regeneration and in Romans 8:30 it moves quickly from justified to glorified, but a lot happens in the middle.
The stress, struggles, and sinfulness of life gets in the way to remind us that we are not like Christ at all. We find ourselves discouraged if we keep looking at these snapshots of our lives that involve fear, guilt, and shame. It can leave us wondering if we will ever “get there” as a disciple.
If we begin to see discipleship as a process with many iterations, like the iOS system on an iPhone, we would find more peace, joy, and hope in the struggle of everyday life. Each day then allows us to experience more of God, realize more of our need to be conformed and trust that God’s word is true; that He will conform us to Jesus.
We can then see ourselves as being formed into a beautiful statue worthy of the Louvre, but needing pieces carved away, refined, and added to fully look like the artist’s design.
The first area that God seems concerned with is our affections. When Jesus is asked what is ultimate, He immediately goes to love in the greatest commandments. He follows that with the great one another, revealing we are disciples by loving fellow brothers and sisters as Jesus Himself loves us. Only then does mission make any sense.
Our desires overwhelm our thoughts and move us to action. The most intellectual can be swayed by the cravings within them. Each day our actions reveal a depth of desire that needs to find its spring in Jesus and no longer in our self. In light of this, worship, scripture, prayer, fasting, and other devotional practices actually appear to be the gifts that God declares them to be, the means by which our affections get redirected and conformed appropriately.
Our Designer recognizes our need and gives us a new heart in our new birth, so our affections can have a reset button to be more like Jesus.
But God has not made us as beings only governed by our heart, which is great news for all of us. As He gives us a new heart, He has also written eternity on it so that it can join God’s word in renewing our mind.
The challenge from the scriptures is to take every thought captive and conform it to Christ, but we are typically too lazy and prideful for this activity.
We need the space to be challenged, have our thoughts exposed, and find a hospitable place where we can be vulnerable about the natural thoughts of the mind. Instead of embracing our individualism, we must embrace our identity in Christ as the new definer of our thoughts.
We will then begin to see that right loves with right thoughts lead to right behavior.
Our behavior is where most of us in church start as we consider what needs to be changed. Our natural desire is to make everything a religious do-this, don’t-do-that law that would make our hearts and minds satisfied.
The order of my definition was intentional. God’s covenant promise is to change our hearts, purifying us by the blood of Jesus Christ, transforming us by His death and resurrection, so that our lives will be drastically different. Lasting and significant change comes from the inside out, not merely by cleaning up the outside.
I’ve seen no one change their behavior for a long period of time without their loves and thoughts changing first. Anyone who has tried this has found that they become more frustrated in life, and begin to live 2 different lifestyles without any real joy.
But we also can’t shy away from calling people to change in their behavior to be like Jesus. Our behavior reveals our thoughts and our affections, allowing us to address the full breadth of conformity to Jesus.
One Day The Process Will End…
The good news is that one day the process will end. The mess will become marvelous, the ashes will become beauty, and the perishable will become imperishable. Jesus will come to get us at a trumpet’s blare or welcome us home at physical death and we will experience that final rest and perfection we want.
Until then, Jesus promises rest, peace, joy, and patience as His Spirit works in us to be reminded that we are sons or daughters of God by faith in Christ, not our progress in the process of discipleship.