Discipleship Principles

1.     Discipleship is about a Relationship

Michael Wilkins has defined a disciple of Jesus as one who “has come to Jesus for eternal life, has claimed Jesus as Savior and God, and has embarked upon the life of following Jesus.”[1] His very presence in my life and his promise to never leave nor forsake me, encourages me to daily follow Him.  At the heart of following Him is this undeserved relationship I have with Him.

2.     Discipleship is enabled and empowered by the work of the Holy Spirit who transforms us into the image of Christ.

The Holy Spirit indwells and fills believers (Eph. 5:18), guides us into all truth (John 16:13), brings forth fruit in our lives (Gal. 5:22-23) and empowers us for ministry in the church and in the world.[2]  The Spirit is God’s presence in us (Rom. 8:11) to confirm that we are indeed children of God (Rom. 8:16) and to convict us of sin for the continuing process of conforming us into the image of Christ.  Understanding the role of the Holy Spirit encourages the response of submission to His sanctifying work.

3.     Discipleship is grounded and guided by the Word of God

The Bible is our authority in all areas of life.  “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). Consistent nourishment is a vital component of one’s spiritual growth (Psalm 1, John 15).

4.     Discipleship is nurtured in community

Community with other believers is a vital part of our growth as disciples.  We were made to be in fellowship with one another.  Thus the imagery of the body of Christ portrays how vitally linked we are to one another.  In such community we are able to fulfill the command of loving one another and with this community then to love the world.

5.     Discipleship is a continuing process of being transformed from the inside-out

“The ultimate goal of the believer’s life is to be conformed to the image of Christ (Ro 8:29).”[3]  Jesus described a radical way of life in the sermon on the mount.  In a world in which righteousness was very much regarded by one’s outward actions, Jesus emphasized the transformation of the heart.

6.     Discipleship produces spiritual fruit

As the Holy Spirit works to transform the individual and change is made from the inside-out, the characteristics of God become evident in the believer’s life:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).

7.     Disciples of Christ who are in the process of inward transformation, yield to the Spirit’s leading in service and mission.

Spiritual formation is both about the inward change of heart and the outward manifestation of that changed heart.  Christ modeled the life of service for His disciples and commands us to serve in humility and love while proclaiming His truth in a lost world.

8.     Disciples are called to share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings

As we live in a sin-cursed world, we bear the effects of sin on a daily basis.  With the presence of Christ and the promise of future hope with Him, we are able to endure the pain and even be transformed in the process. Paul writes of this truth in 2 Cor. 4:17: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”  God invites us to suffer for His sake, for living to honor Christ in a world that is hostile toward Him.  In this, we share in his sufferings and bring glory to Him.

9.     Disciples Must Count the Cost 

Following Christ as His disciple means letting go of one’s own will and seeking the will of God in all things (Luke 9:23).  Nothing must take the place of Jesus as the “focus of allegiance,” as Wilkins explains.[4]

10.   Discipleship is a Life-long Journey

In my own life, describing my faith and discipleship in terms of the journey metaphor has been vitally important on many different levels.  As I come to different forks in the road, or experience difficult trials, knowing that Jesus is my trustworthy Master and Leader, is my sole comfort and motivation to continue in this journey of faith.  We must continue to realize and endeavor to endure the trials of faith that come with renewed commitment to following Christ on a daily basis.

 


[1] Michael J. Wilkins, Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 40.

[2] Michael Glerup, “The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Formation,” in The Kingdom Life: A Practical Theology of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation, ed. Alan Andrews (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2010), 251.

[3] Michael J. Wilkins, Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 133.

[4] Michael J. Wilkins, An Outline Study Guide to “Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship,” 69.