The Head, Heart, and Hands of Discipleship

Last week we talked about what a balanced diet of discipleship looks like. This week we are continuing our discussion on discipleship. One of the most popular buzzwords in Christian circles today is “discipleship.” We see it emphasized in almost every expression of the local church. But what is discipleship? What did Jesus mean when he said “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19)?

Simply stated, the goal of discipleship is to grow to be more and more like Jesus Christ in every aspect of life. Though man struggles with his thoughts, feelings, and actions (AKA truth, love, and community), Jesus was the perfect thinker, feeler, and doer. Discipleship is the process of taking each of these three categories and placing them under the lordship of Christ so that all of them may grow to resemble Christ more. Any discipleship strategy must, therefore, begin with properly implanted, gospel-centered truth. As this is learned, a person’s heart is able to cultivate gospel-grown love, which ultimately results in reproducible, gospel-driven community.

In regards to gospel-centered truth, the goal of discipleship can be further broken down into three categories: studying the Bible, knowing the Bible, and teaching the Bible. For a disciple to grow in the knowledge of God and his Word, they must first learn how to feed themselves in the Bible. Basic hermeneutical skills (skills in how to interpret the Bible) can allow any Christian to approach a text and come away with its original meaning, now applied to their lives and their context. In addition to learning how to read and study the Bible, it is also important for disciples of Christ to know what the Bible says and why they believe what they believe. This is where learning theology, doctrine, and apologetics is extremely useful. With the ability to learn from the Bible and an ownership of what it teaches, the third category under truth is the task of being able to share and teach God’s Word to others so that the church is able to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples…

Similarly, gospel-grown love can equally be divided into three smaller categories: affections from God, affections for God, and affections for others. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.” Therefore, it is of first importance in discipleship that Christians learn how to receive and be changed by the love of Christ. This determines a person’s foundational identity in Christ and the Gospel and sows the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” As a Christian is able to learn how God loves them and receives that love, the Christian will then, in response, grow in the love they have for God. As a person loves God and is loved by God, their heart is continually transformed into the likeness of Christ’s heart, which results in the Christian’s love for others.

Lastly, Gospel-driven community can be broken down into the actions of disciplining oneself, serving others, and sharing the Gospel. The Christian life is not meant to stay simply in the head or dwell in the experience of the heart; it plays out in the action of our lives. Practicing the spiritual disciplines in our lives is useful for learning and growing as a disciple of Jesus. Cultivating habits and practices such as Scripture memorization, prayer, and fasting serve as a means to the end of becoming more like Jesus. Through these disciplines, God is able to equip and motivate us to “own” our faith in action by serving others. While much of this service is found in meeting physical needs and caring for every aspect of a person’s life, the greatest element of service for the Christian is carrying forth the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8 by sharing the gospel. God uses the witness of his disciples to, in turn, create new disciples by regeneration and conversion that are then able to grow likewise into Christlikeness through Gospel-centered truth, love, and community. In Christ, all three of these areas (thinking, feeling, doing) find not only complete perfection but also beautiful harmony. Therefore, the church should also seek to weave these elements seamlessly into one another for how discipleship takes place. Just because discipleship is a popular word in the church today does not mean it is necessarily taking place. Are you growing and leading others to grow to be more like Jesus with your head, heart, and hands?