What is discipleship? Discipleship is building an ongoing relationship with Jesus through growing in personal conviction about Jesus, aligning one’s views or beliefs with the teaching of Jesus, and willing to suffer for the sake of Jesus or the gospel in this world. How do we live it out?
The Call of Christ
Paul in Philippians 3:12 said he was still not perfect in knowing Christ even though knowing Christ is worth everything in life (3:7-11). Instead he was pressing to make this journey of knowing Christ his own journey because Christ Jesus has made him his own (3:12b). In other words, Paul has started on his journey of knowing Christ because he now belonged to Christ.
Paul began his journey of knowing Christ when he was confronted by Christ on the road to Damascus. Paul was temporary blinded by a light from heaven. He heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” When he asked “who are you, Lord”? Jesus replied, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” From that day onward, he started his journey of knowing Christ (Acts 9:3-20).
Discipleship begins not with our effort to follow Jesus but with Christ Jesus calling us to follow him. While our called to discipleship may not be as dramatic as Paul’s experience, it is nevertheless the call of Christ Jesus that starts us on the journey. It is Christ Jesus who initiates our discipleship with him.
When we responded to his call by trusting in him as our Saviour and Lord, he sealed “the promised Holy Spirit” in us “for the day of redemption” (Eph 1:13-14, 4:30). The role of the Holy Spirit is to guide us in our discipleship. Holy Spirit assures us that we are God’s children (Rom 8:14-16). He helps to put to death the sinful deeds of the body (Rom 8:13). He helps to pray when we do not know how to pray for our situations (Rom 8:26-27).
Therefore, in living it out, discipleship is not merely our effort. We are to depend on the Holy Spirit to live it out. This means praying constantly for the Holy Spirit to help us put to death our sinful deeds, assuring us that we are God’s children even when we are not yet perfect, and to search our hearts to intercede before God.
Praying for Self-awareness
When we pray, we should pray for self-awareness. There are ungodly values or false beliefs in our heart (Mar 7:14-23). These values and beliefs come from the world through our family and friends, education system, commercial practices, and government’s ideology (1Pe 1:17-18). Many of the world’s belief system and values are incomparable and incommensurable with the teaching of Scripture (1Jo 2:15-17). Since we live in this world, more or less these ungodly values or false beliefs have remained in our hearts as conscious or unconscious residues even though we have started to follow Christ.
Thus, we need to pray for God to transform our mind by making us aware of our ungodly values or false beliefs operating in our hearts and controlling behaviors. If we seek to obey Paul’s command “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2), we need to start identifying what are the ungodly values or false beliefs motivating us to conform to this world. When we identify these values and beliefs, we are to renew our minds by discarding them for biblical values. We need God to help us to be aware of both the conscious and unconscious residues of ungodly values or false beliefs.
We should pray daily in this way, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts (values and beliefs)! And see if there be any grievous way (ungodly value or false belief) in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (renewing my mind with God’s truth)!” (Psa 139:23-24). God will answer your prayer.
Prayer of Confession and Repentance
As God answered your prayer, you will need to confess and repent before him. Whenever God reveals any ungodly value or false belief in our thinking we are to agree with God that these values or beliefs are contrary to his truth in Scripture. Confessing and repenting before him is the beginning of our alignment with God.
In 1st John 1:7-10, the author reminded us that if we are walking in the light with Christ Jesus, the blood of Jesus, the son of God, cleansed us from all sin (ungodly values or false beliefs) (1:7). Although we have been cleansed with the blood of Jesus, we cannot say that we have no sin (ungodly value or false belief). Such thought is self-deceiving. It shows that God’s truth is not in us (1:8).
On the other hands, whenever we confess our sins (ungodly values or false belief) God who is faithful will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness that come from these ungodly values or false beliefs. If we say that we are not being influenced by ungodly values or false beliefs, we are making God a liar and his truth is not in us.
Therefore, whenever God reveals ungodly values or false beliefs in us we should be quick to confess and repent. We should not even say “maybe I have ungodly values or false beliefs.” Instead, we should admit by faith that we have ungodly values or false beliefs even though consciously we may not fully realize what are these values or beliefs in us. When we confess and repent, we are beginning the process of renewing our mind with the truth of Scripture.
Praying for self-acceptance
As you start on the process of renewing your mind, you will realize how sinful you are. When your relationship with God grows more intimate, you will see more of your sinfulness. You will realize that there are many ungodly values or false beliefs controlling your behaviors. Like Isaiah, when he saw the holiness of God, he fell down and cried “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips (ungodly values or false beliefs) and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips (ungodly values or false beliefs); for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isa 6:5)
When this happens, you will be tempted to either stop the process of renewing your mind or you will wallow in self-pity because you could not accept the fact that you are truly and utterly sinful before God. If you still have any false hope that you are a good person, not a bad person, you will be utterly disappointed with yourself.
At this point, some will stop the process of renewing their mind because they do not want to be confronted with their sinfulness. They do not want to be disappointed with themselves. They do not want to think that they are utterly sinful before God. They want to preserve some false sense of hope that they are better than the average. When this happens, their relationship with God will stagnant in term of intimacy.
Another group will also be horrified that they are utterly sinful. Like Isaiah, they would cry out “Woe is me!”. At this point, if they realize that God has already accepted them as they are because God knows the secrets of their hearts (Psa 44:21), they will be aghast with God who loves them despite knowing their secrets. They have to learn to live with the fact that they are sinful beyond all measure and yet rejoice that God has accepted them, now lives in them and continues to transform them.
So, they have to pray for self-acceptance on the basis of God’s love. Some will find it hard to believe that they are utterly sinful yet God still loves them. If they do not believe, they will live in misery. Thus, pray for self-acceptance.
Praying for a penultimate plan
While we pray for self-acceptance on the basis of God’s love, this does not mean we do nothing to deal with our ungodly values or false beliefs. God is working in us but we are to work out what he is doing in us (Phil 3:12-13). We need to have a penultimate plan.
A penultimate plan is useless without God working in us. Such plan is what we can do to corporate with God but by themselves they are powerless to change us. We should discipline ourselves to pray and read the Scripture. This is a penultimate plan. Praying and reading will not transform us unless the Spirit uses what we pray and read to change us from inside out.
We should discipline ourselves to meet with spiritual companions and voluntarily makes ourselves accountable them. This is a penultimate plan. This act will not change you unless the Spirit uses your openness and the wisdom of your spiritual companions to produce the transformation.
We should discipline ourselves to come for community events such Sunday worship and cell group meeting, where we open our lives up to others and vice versa. This is a penultimate plan. Unless the Spirit of God uses the regular worship and meeting to transform us, these disciplines are good but powerless to make us like Christ. So, the ultimate transformation comes from the Spirit of God inside us.
Discipleship is not merely conceptual but also practical living it out. It did not start with your choice but it starts with God who calls you through Christ Jesus to himself. When you answered his called, you embark on the journey of discipleship, which is building an ongoing relationship with Jesus. He seals his Spirit in you to guide you but you have to talk to his Spirit. Prayer is the key to building this relationship.