A disciple is one who has accepted the teachings of Jesus Christ as set forth in the Bible and is in the process of being transformed so that his/her life reflects the character of Jesus. Discipleship begins the moment the individual accepts Jesus as Savior and continues either to death or Jesus’ earthly return. This process is also referred to as sanctification.
These two different names for the process highlight that this transformation involves both the will and work of the disciple and the will and the work of God. At conversion, the Holy Spirit indwells the new believer and begins imparting the heavenly resources that enable the believer to recognize the effects of the old nature, to repent of the attitudes and actions that proceed from the old nature, to desire to live out the impulses that rise out of the new nature that is the result of faith, and to take hold of the strength that the Spirit provides for living out this new desire.
Discipleship also refers to the work that the believer does to take hold of the resources for life change(e.g., the Scriptures, prayer, worship, fellowship, etc.). So, as I read the Bible, pray, participate in corporate worship(including attending The Lord’s Supper), support and encourage other believers in fellowship, I gain the strength that is necessary to experience this transformation.
This work is not simply mechanical—that I read the Scriptures and automatically my awareness of God’s kingdom is enhanced. Instead, I must diligently apply myself to the truths that the Bible reveals and make personal application of those truths so that my living conforms more and more to the truths I have read.
In addition, this work is not transactional. My relationship with God does not work in such a way that I may either give God something or give something up in order to get what I want. For example, when I practice some spiritual discipline in order to get an outcome that I desire. It might be a particular answer to a prayer request. I might be hoping for a door of opportunity to open at work. I might be asking that an impediment to a course of action I am hoping to take would be magically removed. In effect, I am attempting to leverage God by my practice of the disciplines. I may not be fully conscious of this motive. Nevertheless, when I become more diligent in some spiritual disciplines or introduce some new practice, I don’t receive some greater access to God or some greater favor.
This transactional approach to living the Christian life misses the point of my Heavenly Father’s relationship with me. I am a child of God, not to get something from Him, but to give myself to Him that I may glorify Him as God and Father. I have been redeemed for relationship, which is the very reason for which man was created in the beginning. He pours both challenges and blessings into my life-NOT because of my good performance, but because He is a good Father Who desires to give His children good gifts.
I am not only redeemed so that I can be in relationship with God, but also with all those others who have also been redeemed. I am related to brothers and sisters. Discipleship is not an individual activity, but we together pursue this transformation in community with each other. In fact, God has distributed gifts and graces to each one of us in order that these gifts may be shared with the result that God’s purpose in redeeming us is realized.
So I must practice the disciplines in order to live out my legacy as a child of the Heavenly Father. I am seeking to know Him so that I live in a way that allows others to recognize the family resemblance.