The Theology of Discipleship

Church Leadership Ministry

People sometimes think theology is only for pastors and professors, but nothing could be further from the truth. We do “theology” every time we think about God or the things of God. When we think biblically about the Christian life, we are formulating a theology of discipleship.

What is Discipleship?

Discipleship is being and making Christ-followers who, in turn, make other Christ-followers (Matt. 28:19; 2 Tim. 2:2). Anything less than this minimizes the impact of our discipleship efforts. In other words, while being a disciple is foundational, we must also make disciples — lest our discipleship becomes self-serving. Yet even then, those disciples must make other disciples before the biblical ideal is realized.

The Goal of Discipleship

Discipleship begins by receiving salvation in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). The Bible calls this justification (Rom. 5:1) or being born again (John 3:3). Once saved, the goal of discipleship becomes possible: Transformation (1 Thess. 4:3; 2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 12:2). Transformation’s corresponding theological terms are sanctification and holiness (1 Thess. 5:23).

Transformation is derived from “metamorphosis,” originally a compound Greek word meaning to “change form.” Like a caterpillar that undergoes a mysterious internal change resulting in the external formation of a beautiful butterfly, discipleship supernaturally produces a changed life through the mystery of godliness (Gal. 4:19; 1 Tim. 3:16).

It’s important to understand that transformation is the work of God and not a direct result of our own works of righteousness (Titus 2:14). Even so, God’s role of sanctifying us doesn’t remove our personal responsibility to cooperate with Him through obedience and devotional practices (Matt. 28:20; Phil. 2:12-13). As we do, God changes us from the inside-out, resulting in godliness (Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:6). As this happens, we become spiritual change agents capable of advancing the kingdom of God for the glory of God, which is the ultimate purpose of discipleship (Luke 4:43; Mark 1:13-14).

Understanding Discipleship

What does the bible mean by transformation? Transformation is when God makes us like Himself by sanctifying our souls. The soul has been described as our mind, emotions, and will. This is what the Bible means when it speaks of the “heart” (Prov. 3:5-6; Mark 7:21-23).

  • Surrendered Minds. Transformation begins with the mind’s renewal (Rom. 12:2). This is the executive center of the soul where cognition occurs. When occupied with the things of God, the mind has the ability to comprehend truth and override unruly emotions and sinful choices (Phil. 4:8). It is the home of reflection, imagination, thoughts, ideas, knowledge, beliefs, and discernment. A disciple with a transformed mind has devoted himself to pursue sacred imagination, pure thoughts, godly ideas, theological knowledge, biblical beliefs, and spiritual discernment.
  • Surrendered Emotions. Biblical discipleship also involves divinely changed emotions. Our hearts are intrinsically conflicted and duplicitous in ways we cannot fully comprehend (Jer. 17:9). God wants to change all that and give us new hearts of integrity (Ps. 51:10; Ezek. 36:26). Human emotions are the home of feelings, desires, passions, affections, attitudes, values, and convictions. A transformed disciple has surrendered his heart to God. This produces godly affections where feelings, passions, and desires are restrained under God’s control. Transformed emotions result in godly attitudes, strong values, and biblical convictions.
  • Surrendered Wills. Discipleship also concerns our actions. Volition is the deep well within our innermost being where our choices are made. The will is a person’s decision headquarters. This is where we choose what we will or won’t do (Phil. 2:13). The will is the home of moral choices, ethical decisions, bodily actions, behavioral choices, and personal lifestyles. A disciple with a transformed heart makes biblically informed decisions that produce internal peace within himself and relational harmony with others (Rom. 8:1ff; Eph. 2:10).
  • Transformed Relationships. As important as intrapersonal spiritual development is, discipleship must extend beyond our own lives and impact our relationships with others (1 John 3:15; 1 John 4:20; Eph. 5:28-29). Our love for people, particularly believers, is part of what legitimizes our faith (Heb. 12:14; John 13:35). Discipleship requires genuine expressions of love for those inside and outside the church (Gal. 6:10). Moreover, mature believers are marked by relationships of respect that are both solid and secure.

Biblical Discipleship Simplified

Discipleship is the centerpiece of the Christian life. It should be explored in depth and complexity. But it should also be easily understood. Jesus summarized discipleship at its irreducible level when he said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37-39). Discipleship is the essence of the Great Commandment. The theological principles of transformed minds, emotions, wills, and relationships are echoed and reinforced by the words of Jesus. At its most granular level, Christian discipleship is simply this: knowing Christ, loving Christ, living for Christ, and loving others.

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