Discipleship 101: Goals of Discipleship
February 23, 2017 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
This is part one of a multi-part series exploring discipleship in the local church. Jesus declares in his final, “great” commission that his followers are to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). The mission of the church is to make disciples. As followers of Christ, we are to be disciples and to be making disciples. What is involved in discipleship? What does discipleship look like in our individual lives and for our church?
Can you imagine playing any sport without knowing what the goal was for that particular sport? The coach puts a bat in your hand and tells you to walk up to the oddly shaped “plate” where someone is throwing a ball awfully close to you. You could have the best gear but, without knowing the goal of hitting the ball and running the bases, you would be at a loss on the field.
The need for goals to direct our actions applies to all sorts of areas in our lives. Education. Our jobs. Relationships. Even our faith in Christ and how the church is to function. We can have all of the right tools and gear for accomplishing the various tasks at hand, but without a clearly defined goal, we could cause more harm than help.
What is the goal of discipleship?
The apostle Paul speaks about the goals of his ministry at several times in his letters. Since he is the apostle chosen by God to preach Christ among the Gentiles (Gal. 1:15-16), we can expect that Paul’s goals for his ministry would be similar to the goals placed on us for our discipleship. Hear a sampling of what Paul says about goals:
“I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (Gal. 4:19)
“We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15).
“I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Phil. 3:8-9).
“[Christ] we proclaim, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28).
Do you see a pattern? Christ is the goal of Paul’s ministry. Christ formed in us. Grown up into Christ. Gain Christ. Found in Christ. Mature in Christ. What do these phrases mean and how do they shape our understanding of the goal of discipleship?
1. Christ alone is our salvation. Perhaps we think this truth is only for the initiation of the discipleship process, not the goal of the process. If we understand salvation, however, as not only our forgiveness of sins, but also our redemption from the corruption and defilement of sin, we begin to understand that we are still in the process of “being saved.” For Paul, especially in his letter to the Galatians, it was crucial to understand that we add nothing to the work of Christ in our salvation. The first goal of discipleship, then, is to deepen our “receiving and resting” in Christ alone for our salvation.
2. Christ alone is our righteousness. I’ll admit, this is a restatement of number 1 above. I believe, however, that it is worth restating. The natural human inclination is to think too highly of our selves. Paul aimed in his ministry to humble people into celebrating Christ alone. Yes, we are called to holiness and obedience, but our obedience never substitutes or supplements Christ’s righteousness. So, another way of thinking of the goal of discipleship is to speak about growing in humility and dependence on Christ alone.
3. Christ is the perfect man. When Paul speaks about “growing in every way into him,” he is highlighting that Christ is the perfect standard. Christ obeyed God perfectly. He submitted to God perfectly. He glorified God perfectly. If we are to be perfect, we are to be like Christ. We must keep in mind, though, that that perfection is not our work, it is Christ’s work in us. Notice the passive voice of the verb here: “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). So, the goal of discipleship is to be like Christ, conformed to his image. This, too, is a restatement of number 1, for what is salvation but to be like Christ, enjoying the Father for eternity?
If you are a follower of Christ, you are a disciple. Do you know what is God’s goal for you? Do you keep this goal in mind as you live as a disciple? Without the goal clearly before us, we will hardly make progress.
I acknowledge I have jumped into this subject without even defining discipleship or what is involved with being a disciple. We’ll consider these in the coming weeks. I wanted to start with the goal and allow that to shape how we think about discipleship.
Is Christ your goal?