Discipleship Defined

Discipleship Defined

Anytime we put how in front of what, we end up in trouble.
For example, imagine teaching someone how to bake a cake before they even understand what a cake is.  They might be able to memorize a series of steps – add eggs, milk, flour, etc…  But without a clear picture of what they’re trying to create, they’ll have no desire to make it.  Even if they do start baking, they’ll be slavishly devoted to the one recipe you’ve given them.  They’ll never be able to adapt to create a different kind of cake.  Or worse, they’ll try to adapt in a way they think will improve the outcome (ditch the flour, double the sugar) but ends up ruining the whole thing.
Many of us approach discipleship the same way.  We spend a tremendous amount of time debating the “how” without ever being clear on the “what.”  We’re all trying to follow a recipe we inherited or downloaded from a blog but we’re not entirely sure what we’re trying to bake.  Nothing life changing is going to emerge from that confusion.
At Restoration City, we’re walking through 2 Timothy this spring and allowing that letter to shape our understanding of discipleship.  As we move forward, I want to offer a simple definition to keep us anchored on the “what” of discipleship:
Discipleship is the process of heart change that leads to life change.
The more you read about discipleship, the more you realize there is no single widely shared definition among authors, pastors and theologians.  We all recognize that the mission of the church is making disciples (Mt. 28:18-20).  There’s even widespread understanding of the word disciple in the original context.  The word meant “learner.”  But when we move to questions of what a disciple is today and what discipleship is, things get a little murkier.  My goal with this definition is to give us common language as a church and some clarity on the “what” of discipleship.
In reflecting on John 8:31 and what a disciple is today, John Piper offers the following:
For Jesus “true disciple” is the same as “true Christian” or “true believer.” Jesus is not saying that “true disciple” is a second stage in the Christian life. First believer, and then later you attain the level of disciple.
– John Piper
Simply put, a disciple is a Christ follower who is actively learning to follow Jesus.
If that’s the case, we need a correspondingly broad understanding of discipleship.  That’s why I think the definition I offered above, the process of heart change that leads to life change, is so helpful.  It encompasses the entire process of us becoming more like Jesus (that’s the life change).  But it also clarifies that life change always comes about through heart change.  Therefore, anything that catalyzes gospel shaped heart change is a form of discipleship – whether it’s a mission trip, a close friendship, a Community Group or mentoring an at risk child.
Understanding discipleship this way breathes a tremendous amount of freedom into the conversation.  It makes us open to a wide range of “hows” and frees us from the need to settle on any one “how” as the right way to disciple someone.  The reality is there are many ways to disciple someone or to be discipled.
On the other hand, it also helps us see that getting together for coffee once a week with someone can’t really be considered discipleship if there’s no heart change that’s leading to life change.   We’ll talk a lot more about how the gospel leads to heart change and what that life change looks like.  But, for today, I just want to get us all thinking about the same definition:
Discipleship: Heart Change => Life Change

The Gospel According To Martin Luther King


The life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr still ripples through our country and our world.  His dream still inspires us to work for a better tomorrow.  His courage reminds us that one man really can make a difference.  His humility reminds us that the only ones who make a lasting difference are the ones who live for something bigger than themselves.  His assassination reminds us that darkness hates the light.

His life and legacy also remind us of the power of the gospel to change hearts, cultures and nations.  MLK’s approach to racial justice was saturated in an understanding of the gospel.

A few miles from our house is a monument to Dr. King.  The last time I was there, I took the above photo.  It’s the essence of how MLK’s thinking was shaped by the gospel.  Notice how Dr. King wanted to bring about change, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate.  Only love can do that.”  That’s the gospel!

Dr. King knew that individuals and a country would only give up the dark sins of their past when they embraced the beauty of a better future.  He didn’t simply rail on the injustice of racism.  He invited a country to believe with him for a better day, a day when “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”  He gave the country a vision for something better, something that called us out “of the valley of despair” and into hope.  People, cultures, and nations change when we find something better than our small minded, self centered sins.

That’s the essence of the Christian gospel; Jesus is better and He’s calling you into something better.  He offers the forgiveness of sins, eternal life and intimacy with God.  He calls us out of our valley of despair and into hope.  Jesus is the ultimate “something better.”  Don’t try to fight your sins through self-discipline, will power and bashing yourself with consequences.  Draw so near to Jesus that He becomes your life and sin looks pathetic in comparison.

I love Dr. King and his influence.  He reminds me that the gospel isn’t just the good news of personal transformation.  It can also become the impetus for profound societal change as well.

In Defense of New Year’s Resolutions

Let me just come out and say it.  I’m a New Year’s Resolution kind of guy.  I love everything about them:  the reminder of a fresh start, dreaming about the future, reflecting on the past year and giving myself something to aim for in the coming year.  I’ve got a few Evernote files with potential resolutions on my computer right now and Laura and I will spend New Year’s Eve honing in on our goals as a family for 2015.

What surprises me most about New Year’s Resolutions is the increasing number of Christians who feel obligated to turn up their theological noses and reject New Year’s Resolutions as unspiritual or not gospel-centered.  The basic argument seems to be: resolve to love Jesus more and everything will change.  Awesome.  I totally agree with the theology behind that.  I just don’t think we need to take it so far that we aren’t specific about some of the changes we would like to see.  Paul seems to spend the second half of his letters being very specific about the kind of change a proper understanding of the gospel should bring about in our lives.

So, if you want to join me in coming up with a few gospel-centered resolutions for 2015, here are two questions I’ve been asking myself this past week.

1.  Would any of my resolutions be shocking to a non-Christian?  

If all you want out of 2015 is to lose a little weight, pay off a little debt and go on a nice vacation, you’ve got to ask yourself how much the gospel is really rearranging your priorities.  Everyone wants these things!  What are you praying for in 2015 that only makes sense if Jesus Christ is the Sovereign King and you know for sure you will spend eternity with Him?

There’s nothing wrong with getting in shape and being a good steward.  But don’t settle for that.  Push on to greater things – new ways to serve; people you want to see come to faith; new ways to be generous with your time, experience and money; new things you want God to do in your heart.  These are the prayers God loves to answer and these are the goals worth fighting for in life.

Yeah, it would be great to spend a week in Hawaii but what about a week on the mission field?

2.  What heart change is required to stick with this resolution?  

There is zero benefit in coming up with a long list of things you would like to have happen without developing a plan to make them happen.  If you don’t have a plan, it’s just a list of dreams.  If your plan doesn’t involve the gospel transforming your heart, you’re destined to abandon your resolutions just as quickly as you did last year.  If this is the 3rd year in a row you’ve vowed to pay off your credit cards and you’re more in debt now than you were three years ago, something clearly isn’t working!  Don’t take a 4th lap around the same bad track.  Dig deep into your heart…why do you keep acting the way you do?  What lies are you believing that keep leading you to the same bad place?  How does the gospel speak to this issue?  How would God lead you to freedom in this area?  This is where the real power in resolutions is found.  Don’t just make a list of things to do.  Ask what needs to change in your heart to start living differently.

Whether you’re a New Year’s Resolutions kind of person or not, I hope you have an incredible 2015.

I’ll start blogging regularly again on Monday, January 5th.  Until then, Happy New Year!