Embarking on the path of discipleship (Matthew 28:19)

POST OVERVIEW. Thoughts about when I embarked on the path of sanctification and then on the path of discipleship and how I progressed as a disciple after that day. Distinguishing discipleship from sanctification. In practical terms, when does the sinner become a disciple?

Once I had passed from death to life (John 5:24), I became a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:19) and, whether I understood it or not, I had embarked onto the path of sanctification. On that day I was as unlike the Lord Jesus as I would ever be and I was as far from God as I would ever be. My years of running away from God, of willful disobedience, and of giving myself over to my own selfish, fleshly desires were abruptly ended. On that day, now alive in Christ (Eph. 2:4), my life’s direction was reversed. I was born again (John 3:3) and, as a newborn disciple, I began to take my first stumbling steps toward holiness, obedience, and usefulness. By the end of that first day, whether I could recognize that day or not, I was a little bit more like Jesus than I had been and I was a little bit farther from my most ungodly place. I was a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) and had begun my sanctification.

THE BEGINNING OF DISCIPLESHIP

But while my sanctification began on the day of my conversion (Phil. 2:13), I would argue that my discipleship, my “working out my salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), did not. To understand this statement, you must realize that, as declared in Philippians 2:12-13, the sanctification of the disciple has a divine component and a human component. The divine component is the sanctification which is conducted by the Holy Spirit that increases our Christlikeness. Beginning at my conversion and continuing until my physical death, the Holy Spirit is at work within me, working without my cooperation and even without my awareness, to conform me to the image of Christ. But the human component of sanctification, that which is worked out by fear and trembling, the sanctification that is the result of the disciple’s own Spirit-empowered effort, is what I am calling “discipleship.” Since discipleship is conscious, intentional, and purposeful, it is obvious that significant growth in discipleship only begins when the disciple chooses, by an act of their will, to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling.” Discipleship is not automatic, but rather is willful and effortful, and involves decision, commitment, and perseverance.

PRACTICAL CONVERSION

Another comment may be appropriate here in terms of practical application of the disciple’s justification. We know that the moment of conversion is when a person actually becomes a disciple, but rarely does a person recognize that moment when they first believed. Much more common is that the converted person is led by God’s providence to a church where the gospel is proclaimed and explained, and it is then that the person becomes aware of what has happened to them. In addition to that, the New Testament models for us over and over again that the prescribed pattern for the disciple is to believe in the Lord Jesus, then to be baptized, and then to be joined to a church where he can learn obedience. For example, we need look no farther than the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) to see this pattern in seed form. Make disciples (proclaim the gospel), baptize them into the local church, and teach them, in the church, what it means to be an obedient disciple. So, I would argue that the believer’s baptism is most often when he or she consciously and formally becomes a disciple.

SO MANY AREAS OF GROWTH

Because there are so many areas of development in which we, as disciples, need to grow, it may seem to us or to others that our growth is too slow and that there is something “wrong.” For example, I grew rapidly in Word and in knowledge of the Scriptures and in some prominent areas of discipleship (1 Cor. 8:1) but grew more slowly in putting sin to death and in personal holiness. There were areas of my life that were moving toward maturity, but there were other areas that were neglected and were lagging. Was something wrong? No, there was nothing wrong. God is sovereign in all things, including the sanctification of His children, and He was crafting my sanctification according to His perfect plan. Remember, “it is God (the Holy Spirit) who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

ILLUSTRATION OF PHYSICAL BIRTH AND PHYSICAL GROWTH

At the moment of conversion, every disciple, whether he realizes it or not, begins the journey of sanctification, of growing in increasing Christlikeness in all areas of life, and he continues on that journey until the day he dies. This is true for every true disciple of Jesus. As physical growth is the inevitable result of physical birth, so growth in increasing Christlikeness is the inevitable result of the second birth. Sanctification is certain for every genuine believer because this is THE work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity.

As there should be concern when physical growth does not follow physical birth, so there should be concern when tangible growth in Christlikeness does not follow a claim of second birth. While the new disciple’s growth, which is typically quick and obvious, may start slowly and imperceptibly, an absence of spiritual growth over an extended time is most often an indication of a false birth, that the would-be disciple was stillborn.

SDG                 rmb                 10/24/2022                 #583

The disciple’s sanctification (Phil. 2:12-13)

POST OVERVIEW. This post is the second part of a series of articles on Philippians 2:12-13, exploring how the disciple of Jesus can “work out their salvation with fear and trembling.” Having discussed justification in the previous post (#579), we now examine the disciple’s sanctification. We will also explore how sanctification relates to discipleship. This is a foundational article in my own consideration of the broad topic of discipleship.

FROM BIRTH TO ETERNITY

If we were to give a simplified sequence of events in the life of the disciple of Jesus Christ from birth to eternity, there would be four major components: condemnation, justification, sanctification, and glorification. Condemnation is the condition of being an unforgiven sinner and being subject to the judgment and wrath of God for your sins. All people are born as sinners and all people are therefore born into this state of condemnation (Rom. 3:23). Justification describes the event when God declares the sinner to be righteous in His sight because of the sinner’s initial confession of faith in Jesus Christ. In justification, the disciple passes from death to life (John 5:24), becomes a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), and no longer experiences condemnation (Romans 8:1). After the disciple has been justified (declared righteous), he enters the stage of sanctification, which lasts till the end of his earthly life. Sanctification is the process of growing in practical holiness and Christlikeness, which means decreasing sin and increasing obedience. (Note: “Discipleship” occurs in the sanctification stage.) The final state for every disciple of Jesus Christ is glorification, when all the saints are in heaven forever in glorified, resurrection bodies. All disciples will receive their glorified bodies on the last day (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thess. 4:14-17).

JUSTIFICATION, SANCTIFICATION, AND DISCIPLESHIP

Since this consideration of justification and sanctification is in the context of discipleship, we need to see how these two ideas of justification and sanctification relate to the disciple of Jesus. In simple terms, the event of justification creates a disciple. We know that, prior to justification, the sinner is outside Christ, “having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). At justification, when the sinner believes in Jesus and is thus declared righteous, the sinner is converted into a disciple of Jesus. But if justification creates a disciple, sanctification grows a disciple into increasing Christlikeness. This is the process whereby the disciple learns “to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel” (Ephesians 4:1). It is apparent that sanctification is only possible if justification has already occurred, but we also know that, if justification has truly occurred, then it will certainly result in sanctification.

COMPARING JUSTIFICATION AND SANCTIFICATION

In further considering justification and sanctification, we can say that justification is necessarily “monergistic.” “Monergistic” means that justification, the event whereby God declares the sinner to be fully and forever righteous based on the sinner’s faith in Jesus, is exclusively the work of God. In the act of justification, God is the only actor. When God justifies the believing sinner, He imputes Christ’s perfect righteousness to the sinner’s account as if Christ’s righteousness were the sinner’s own, while the sinner passively receives Christ’s imputed righteousness based solely on his profession of faith. The point is that in justification, God is active and the sinner-disciple is passive.

By contrast, sanctification – the progressive decreasing of sin and the progressive increasing of practical righteousness – is a joint effort between the disciple of Jesus and God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the clearest statement of this biblical truth is in Philippians 2:12-13:

12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

THE WORK OF THE DISCIPLE

In these verses, Paul is certainly speaking about the disciple’s sanctification. As we consider the bolded part of the passage, the cooperative, joint effort between the disciple and the Lord is apparent. First, Paul commands the disciple to “work out his salvation.” The apostle does not have in mind some ongoing work by which the disciple earns or merits his salvation, for the Bible rejects the idea of human works meriting salvation in many places. Rather, he is instructing the disciple who has already been justified by his faith to labor with all his might so that his changed life will be vividly displayed in the outward fruit of repentance. In other words, “work out your salvation” means “be diligent and vigorous in your sanctification efforts so that, as time goes on, there is a closer and closer agreement between the righteousness your life displays and the full righteousness that has been imputed to you.” The point is that progress in sanctification depends on the disciple’s active efforts to grow in holiness.  

THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

But while it is clear that sanctification depends on the disciple’s efforts, we also see that sanctification is dependent on the ongoing work of God the Holy Spirit. “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” When a disciple comes to faith in Jesus, then not only is the person declared righteous, but that person is also “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13). Thus, from the moment of salvation, the disciple is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and He, the Holy Spirit, immediately begins to accomplish the ongoing, unconscious transformation of the disciple. For example, the disciple receives the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). The disciple also receives a spiritual gift (1 Cor. 12), which allows him to serve and edify the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit reveals sin to the disciple and guides him into all truth (John 16:9ff). The Holy Spirit allows the disciple to put sin to death (Rom. 8:13), leads the disciple (8:14), testifies to the disciple that he is a child of God (8:16), and intercedes for the disciple in prayer “with groanings too deep for words” (8:26). This is the work of the Holy Spirit in all believers and the result of this unconscious work of the Spirit is that the disciple grows in sanctification.

We have seen, then, that the disciple grows in sanctification both by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, who is unconsciously and invisibly transforming the disciple, and by the disciple’s own efforts. While acknowledging the Holy Spirit’s necessary role in sanctification, we want to now turn our attention to the sanctification that is brought about by the disciple’s own efforts, for this is the sanctification that we can directly influence.

DEFINITION OF DISCIPLESHIP

Now we want to address the question, “What is the relationship between ‘discipleship’ and ‘sanctification’?” We remember that we defined sanctification as “the progressive decreasing of sin and the progressive increasing of practical righteousness in the life of the disciple of Jesus.” From this, we can say that a functional definition of discipleship is “the sanctification that is brought about in the disciple’s life as a result of the disciple’s  own conscious efforts.” This discipleship is what Paul has in mind in Philippians 2:12 when he commands us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Thus, in discipleship, the disciple of Jesus takes conscious actions to intentionally attack their sin and purposefully grow in their practice of righteous, Bible-approved acts until they finish the race.

Discipleship, then, is a logical outgrowth of justification, when the sinner passes from death to life (John 5:24) and is made a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Being made new in Christ generates in every disciple a desire for holiness and an ambition to be pleasing to the Lord Jesus (2 Cor. 5:9). This desire for holiness is part of the seed of justification and is a required product of the new birth such that, if the desire for holiness and the growth in Christlikeness are absent, the real occurrence of justification is brought into question.

In discipleship, then, the key words are “conscious,” “intentional,” and “purposeful.” This is because these conscious, intentional, purposeful actions to increase in holiness are the result of the disciple’s own planning and choices and reflections and efforts. This conscious, intentional activity is motivated by the disciple’s own desire for holiness and by his ambition to be pleasing to the Lord Jesus and is an example of the disciple “working out his salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). And while this activity is certainly empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit, its initiation and execution depend on the individual disciple.

THE DISCIPLE’S OWN RESPONSIBILITY

In the sense, then, that progress in discipleship depends on the disciple’s own wisdom and diligence and desire and activity and persistence, discipleship is similar to other human endeavors. In any human activity, those who are more diligent and energetic will make more progress in that activity than those who are less so. It is the same with the degree of sanctification you achieve from your own discipleship efforts. The spiritual resources for your sanctification have all been supplied. You have been set free from your slavery to sin (Romans 6), you have been sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13), you have been given full access to God’s throne to send Him your prayers (Hebrews 4:16), you have been placed in His body the church so that you have brothers and sisters to encourage you, and you have His Word to read and to meditate on. You have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3). Now, with all these resources available to you, you are commanded to work out your salvation. Both because the disciple has received apostolic command to work out his salvation and because the disciple has been entrusted with divine resources for working out of his salvation, discipleship is each disciple’s own responsibility.

SDG                 rmb                 10/19/2022                 #582

The disciple’s justification (Phil. 2:12-13)

POST OVERVIEW. This post begins a short series of articles on Philippians 2:12-13, exploring how the disciple of Jesus can work out their salvation with fear and trembling. The first post examines the doctrine of justification as background for study of sanctification.

The New Testament introduces us to the incarnate Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and has as its central theme the gospel of salvation. This gospel states that, for anyone who will place their faith in Jesus and confess Jesus Christ as Lord, God will forgive their sins and will save them from His wrath and give them eternal life. After this salvation event, the believer commits to walk with Christ for the rest of their life in obedience to His commands. One of the words the New Testament uses for the event of salvation is justification, and the believer’s subsequent walk of increasing holiness is called sanctification. This short series is mostly on sanctification, but we first need to understand justification in order to fully understand sanctification.

JUSTIFICATION

We have already spoken about the salvation event as justification, but we need to be a little more precise. Justification is the event whereby a sinner is declared fully and forever righteous in the sight of God because of the sinner’s professed faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

Three things should be noted about this definition. First, this justification is an event, not a process. Although the journey to the point of salvation may take years, justification itself occurs at a point in time. It is a one-time, once-for-all event that has eternal results. This is the moment when the sinner passes from death to life (John 5:24). This is the moment of spiritual birth when one is born again (John 3:3, 5). God justifies the sinner when he initially professes his faith in Jesus. So, event, not process.

But second, in justification, the sinner is declared righteous on the basis of their profession of faith in the Lord Jesus. God declares as righteous the one who confesses Jesus as Lord. Thus the believer, having been declared righteous upon their initial faith in Jesus, is forever viewed as righteous. This also means that all true followers of Jesus are equally justified and equally righteous, even though there may be great differences in terms of the disciples’ actual progress in practical holiness. Justification is God’s declaration of righteousness, not a reward for the disciple’s own efforts.

Third, justification is based solely on the repentant sinner’s initial profession of faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. That is, “having heard the message of truth, the gospel of salvation” (Ephesians 1:13) and having understood that Jesus has come from heaven to die on the cross as a “ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), the sinner believes in Jesus and publicly professes Jesus Christ as their own Lord and Savior.

JUSTIFICATION IS ENTIRELY THE WORK OF GOD

Notice that, in justification, God is the only actor. The Bible presents justification as entirely the work of God. God is the One who justifies (Romans 8:33). God is just and the Justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26 in the powerful verses of 3:21-26). God is the One who justifies the circumcised (Jewish people) by faith and the uncircumcised (Gentiles) through faith (Romans 3:29-30). All this attests to the fact that our God is the One who does the work of justification. In justification, God is active and the believer is passive. God declares righteous and the believer receives righteousness. God is the actor and the believer is the object. It is God alone who “delivers us from the domain of darkness and transfers us into the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13).

Having gotten a good handle on justification, in the next post in this series we will turn our attention to the corresponding subject of sanctification.

SDG                 rmb                 10/5/2022                   #579

The disciple’s job description (or “What is Discipleship?”)

INTRODUCTION. This post provides a link to what I am calling a disciple’s job description. This “job description” document attempts to describe the disciple of Jesus Christ in terms of the tasks and activities that the New Testament gives the disciple to perform. My upcoming book on Discipleship (targeted for completion some time in 2023) will include the finished version of this job description.

The job description is broken down into three categories: “Discipline and obedience,” which is what we might call “formal discipleship;” “Holiness,” which is the disciple’s conscious striving for practical righteousness as he wars against sin; and “Evangelism and witness,” addressing every disciple’s responsibility to proclaim the gospel and testify to the glory of Christ.

Here is the link to the current version of the list:

https://roysreflections.com/the-disciples-job-description-or-what-is-discipleship/(opens in a new tab)

SDG                 rmb                 6/8/2022                     #541

The Discipline of the Lord – Part 5 (Hebrews 12:5-11)

THE PASSAGE – HEBREWS 12:5-11

INTRODUCTION. Hebrews 12:5-11 is the classic passage in the Bible about “the discipline of the Lord.” This is the fifth and final post in a series of studies covering this section of Scripture, and this article will draw the series to a conclusion. In the last two posts in this series (February 21 and 23), we had worked to discover the exact nature of this “discipline of the Lord.” Now we are going to apply what we have learned and understand how we are to respond when the Lord brings His discipline into the life of the child He loves.

WHAT IS THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD?

What did we discover in our previous posts about the nature of the discipline of the Lord? Although the author of Hebrews does not speak in this passage of suffering, I think the best way for the believer to understand the Lord’s discipline is to see that the Lord is bringing the perfect amount of affliction and yes, even suffering into the disciple’s life for the purpose of bringing about the disciple’s greater holiness. We experience this as suffering and pain and affliction, for these are the human labels we attach to this anguish, but from the Lord’s perspective He is bringing His sanctifying discipline onto the child He loves. The Lord is demonstrating His love to the disciple of Jesus through the means of His purifying affliction.

EXTRAORDINARY MEANS OF SANCTIFICATION

Why does the Lord choose to use suffering to produce sanctification? He does this because of His immense grace to us. The Lord has given to His children many means for growing in holiness. He has sealed us with the Holy Spirit who allows us to understand His Word. He has given us the Bible so that we can be renewed in the spirit of our minds and can know what it is to hunger and thirst for righteousness. He has given us communion with Him through prayer. He has given us His church, where we can worship Him with other believers and disciple one another and spur one another on to love and good deeds. These ordinary means of grace allow the believer to steadily grow in practical holiness and to increase in usefulness to the Master.

But the Lord is so personal with His children that, when He perceives an obstacle to His child’s holiness that is resistant to the ordinary means of sanctification, He crafts extraordinary means which the stubborn obstacle cannot resist. This is “the discipline of the Lord.” This discipline often feels like suffering and affliction, but it is the Lord’s appointed means of purifying us with hyssop so that the stubborn, entrenched unholiness can be cut out of our life.

AMAZING GRACE

Consider the grace of this discipline of the Lord. First, the Lord is so concerned about His child’s greater holiness that He is attentive to when there is a stubborn unholiness that must be addressed. The Lord then crafts the perfect discipline for this specific unholiness. He custom designs the discipline so that it is painful enough to purge away the unwanted unholiness but is not so painful that it crushes the disciple’s spirit. The Lord Himself then brings the discipline into the life of the believer so that the believer can share His holiness (Hebrews 12:10).

THE HUMAN RESPONSE AND RESPONSIBILITY

How should we respond to the discipline of the Lord? We have already found much instruction in our study about how we are to respond, but before we review those responses, I wanted to make an observation from my own life. We have said that the Lord brings His discipline into our life to address an obstacle to holiness that He perceives. So, He knows the reason He is bringing His discipline, and what the intended result of the discipline is. But the disciple who is experiencing the affliction of the discipline of the Lord usually does not. When I have experienced the discipline of the Lord, I only perceived that the Lord was bringing suffering into my life, but I did not know the purpose of His discipline. By faith, I believed that the suffering I was experiencing was from the Lord as His discipline and was sent from heaven for the purpose of my greater holiness. This is the typical experience of the disciple, that they are aware of the suffering but do not know the specific reasons why or the details of the intended result. Even when the affliction is over, and the suffering has past, rarely does the disciple know the “whys” of the discipline of the Lord. But the Lord does. The disciple is called to trust the Lord and persevere through the affliction until the Lord determines that His intended greater holiness has been achieved.

We can review Hebrews 12:5-11 to remind ourselves of how we are to respond to His discipline. When we perceive that the Lord is bringing His discipline into our life, we are not to faint (12:5). We saw in post #493 (2/23/2022) what this meant: “We resolve to endure. Endurance and perseverance mark out our course because it is the enduring of the discipline that brings greater holiness and the fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:10, 11). To reinforce this point, we see that Hebrews 12:7 calls us to endure: “It is for discipline that you endure.” By faith, we are also to patiently “be subject to the Father of spirits” (12:9) and allow His extraordinary work to have its intended result. Finally, we are to be trained by His discipline (12:11) so that we will “yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

SUMMARY OF THE STUDY

This study of Hebrews 12:5-11 and “the discipline of the Lord” has yielded a solid understanding of the nature of the discipline of the Lord and of how the disciple of Jesus can respond when they perceive that the Lord is bring His extraordinary means of sanctification into the disciple’s life.

SDG                 rmb                 3/3/2022                     #496

Work out your salvation – Part 1 (Philippians 2:12)

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. – Philippians 2:12

SERIES INTRODUCTION: In preparation for a future book project, I have been spending time recently considering the twin ideas of “disciple” and “discipleship.” Over the next few weeks (or months?) I will be posting a series of articles on discipleship – what it is and how we bring the making of disciples into the life of the local church.

WHAT IS A DISCIPLE? WHAT IS DISCIPLESHIP?

What is a “Disciple?” What is “discipleship?” These are surely two of the foundational questions that must be answered before we can have an extensive discussion on discipleship, but these two questions are difficult to answer. Along these lines, some would suggest that discipleship is “an intentional, deliberate effort to do spiritual good in another believer’s life.” While this definition is accurate as far as it goes, in my opinion it is not sufficiently narrow. It does not adequately separate helpful activities of disciples of Jesus from those encounters designed to grow someone in Christlikeness.

What I mean is, with this definition, how do we distinguish ordinary encouragement, fellowship, praying with another believer, Bible studies, and the discussion of sermons or Christian books, from discipleship? Or are all these also discipleship? Are most of us actually deeply involved in discipling others without knowing it? And are the ones we are discipling likewise unaware that they are being discipled? I don’t think so. In my view, if some activity is intentional and deliberate, the participants must be aware of what they are doing. If discipleship is, indeed, a distinct Christian activity, then we need to be able to determine if we are or are not doing that activity.

A TIGHTER DEFINITION OF DISCIPLESHIP

While it is true that there should be spiritual encouragement and even edification and growth from unstructured Christian fellowship, I would suggest that the term “discipleship” necessitates intentionality and structure and energy (or “intensity”). Ordinary Christian fellowship and Christian living are not meant to hold the attention and concentration of believers long enough or intensely enough to affect significant change in believers.

NUCLEAR BOMB ANALOGY

I am not an expert in nuclear devices, but I have been told that, in a nuclear bomb, one slug of enriched uranium must be in very close proximity with another slug of enriched uranium for a definite period of time before the chain reaction of a nuclear explosion can take place. If the uranium slugs are not enriched enough, or if one sufficiently enriched uranium slug is not in close enough proximity with another sufficiently enriched uranium slug, or if the sufficiently enriched uranium slugs are not in close enough proximity for a long enough time, then the conditions are insufficient for a nuclear reaction. In other words, there is a potency requirement, and there is a proximity requirement, and there is a duration requirement, and if any one of these is missing, there is no nuclear explosion.

ENERGY, INTENTIONALITY, AND DURATION

Corresponding to this example, I would suggest that, for meaningful spiritual growth and transformation to take place in the life of a believer, there is an energy requirement, an intentionality requirement, and a duration requirement.

The energy requirement says that, for the disciple to be transformed, the disciple must enthusiastically desire to change and be motivated to change. The disciple must bring his own energy, he must bring his own “heat” to the encounter. Sustained zeal is a needed component of spiritual transformation.

The intentionality requirement means that there is a purpose for the encounter (the encounter is not random or haphazard) that creates movement toward a definite goal. Thus, there is an element of design in each encounter whose goal is to move the disciple toward greater Christlikeness in knowledge, in obedience, in holiness, or in usefulness.

The duration requirement acknowledges that transformation into greater Christlikeness requires spending significant time in that activity. Time must be expended, both in individual encounters (think sixty to ninety minutes rather than fifteen minutes) and in all the collective encounters over a lifetime. In discipleship, we adopt “the long view.” Having committed to the path, we likewise commit to spending the necessary time to follow the path to the end. This means that, while no single encounter is transformational by itself, each individual encounter is a necessary link in the transformational chain that is “producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).

Hopefully that gets us started into this exploration of discipleship. Next time, we will dig a little deeper and find out what activities make up discipleship encounters.

SDG                 rmb                 11/12/2021                 #453

Reprove them severely (Titus 1:12-13)

Clearly, Paul had given Titus a hopeless assignment, or at least it appeared that way.

For this reason, I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you. – Titus 1:5

In the best of circumstances this would have been a challenging task, to appoint qualified elders in every city as Paul instructed him, but Titus was not going to the best of circumstances. Far from it. Paul left Titus in Crete, and the Cretans had a well-deserved reputation for being an ornery and belligerent lot.

One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. – Titus 1:12-13

Even the Cretans themselves acknowledge that they are pretty incorrigible, almost as if their gross behavior is a badge of honor. Thus, Titus’ task appears hopeless. For how can “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” ever become “above reproach” (Titus 1:7) so that they can serve as elders? How can these Cretans, who are by nature vile sinners, become just, devout, self-controlled overseers of a local assembly of the church of the living God?

How, indeed! But this shows Paul’s and Titus’ confidence in the power of the gospel. “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).” The apostle believed in the power of the gospel not only to save from condemnation, but also to transform into righteousness. Through the power of the gospel, slaves of sin are changed into slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:18).

HOW DO YOU DISCIPLE A CRETAN?

But we now need to consider the practical challenges of discipling Cretans. Paul knew the nature of the men of Crete (Titus 1:12-13), and he also knew the qualifications of men who could serve as elders in the church (1:6-9), and, for most of the men on Crete, there was a large chasm between their character and the character of the biblical elder. How was Titus to help these men become elder material?

Paul’s instructions to Titus are direct and unambiguous:

For this reason, reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith. – Titus 1:13

Because “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons,” the training program for the Cretan who would grow in grace, who would walk in a manner worthy of the gospel, and who would be sound in the faith is simple. The disciple maker must reprove the Cretan severely. This sounds harsh to our American ears, but these are the divinely inspired instructions of an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith.” Sin is driven out of hardened sinners by severe reproof, not by gentle pleading or by appealing to reason. Before the gospel came, the Cretans had long indulged in degrading and disgraceful sin (Ephesians 5:12; 1 Peter 4:3), and now that they were in Christ, it was time for them to be reproved severely. If they would be sound in the faith, and if the church in Crete would display the holiness that the church is called to display (Ephesians 5:27; Hebrews 12:15; Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; 1 Peter 1:15, 16), then their sin needed to be exposed and they needed to be reproved so that they would abandon their evil practices and would embrace obedience to the truth. The Cretan disciple repeated the sequence of reproof-confession-correction-repentance over and over again until holy obedience began to replace open rebellion. Prior to Christ, the life of the Cretan was like an open sewer, but through severe and loving reproof and the power of the Holy Spirit, the moral sewer slowly runs as a clear flowing stream.

But for the Cretan, the key to sanctification is severe reproof, loving reproof that calls sin, “sin,” and insists that the one who names the name of Jesus must walk as He Himself walked (2 Timothy 2:19; 1 John 2:6).

“For this reason, reprove them severely.”

MODERN DAY CRETANS

The reason that I spent so much time talking about Cretans is that these types of believers are near to my heart. You see, when I came to Christ at 31 years old, I had long indulged in sin and my life was a moral sewer. Essentially, I was a Cretan and the best thing that could have happened for my sanctification and for my growth in Christ would have been for a brave man to come alongside me and begin to reprove me severely so that I would be sound in the faith. In God’s providence, that did not happen and, as a result, my sanctification suffered.

Because of our increasingly wicked society, many of those who come to Christ, especially men who come to Christ, come to Christ as Cretans. The days are evil, the sins of the flesh are available at an alarmingly early age and, without the power of the Holy Spirit to restrain them, many give themselves over to the desires of the flesh. Without knowing it, they become Cretans, and when they come to Christ, they need to be reproved severely. Sin has firmly established its residency in their flesh and the way to drive sin out is through severe reproof. The discipler sees sinful habits and reproves severely, and the disciple actively repents, and those who were formerly demoniacs are found seated at Jesus’ feet and are useful to the Master. In all this, God is glorified.

For those who would make disciples in our Cretan-creating world, learn to reprove lovingly but severely the ones you are helping to grow.  

For those who realize they are Cretans and who need help in displaying the holiness which believers are called to display, seek out one who would be willing to reprove you severely so that you may drive the sin out.

SDG                 rmb                 6/2/2021                     #412

The transformation of suffering (Hebrews 2:14-15)

The Lord is worthy of all praise, at all times and in all circumstances. There is, therefore, no circumstance of suffering that is not a suitable occasion for praising our great God. Romans 8:18 declares, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us.” As Jesus endured the sufferings of the cross because of the joy that was set before Him (Hebrews 12:2), so we are not to elevate suffering above its place but are to fix our eyes on heaven (Colossians 3:1-2). But neither are we to miss the purpose of suffering in our lives. Consider that suffering gives us fellowship with Jesus.

CONSIDER THAT JESUS SUFFERED

Jesus was sent from heaven to earth, into our world because it was necessary for Him to suffer. His mission required suffering and this world is the only place in the universe where suffering exists. He shared in our suffering so that, as we suffer, we can now share in His sufferings.

There is great suffering in the book of Job, and at that point in redemptive history, there was no evidence that God understood our suffering. God remained aloof, divinely removed from and above our suffering, and so the perception was that we suffered alone. Man suffered, and God observed, remote, stoic, and ready to judge. The impression was that suffering was a punishment for sin and where there was great suffering, there must, necessarily, be great sin.   

But now Jesus Christ has suffered, and so suffering has now become a divine activity. Now through suffering we, who belong to Jesus, share in the fellowship of His sufferings (Philippians 3:10). Thus, suffering is now an ennobled privilege. What formerly was a pointless product of the fall has now, through Christ, been transformed into a spiritual discipline. Now, we who suffer as guilty victims of Adam’s sin, can know, through our suffering, joyous fellowship with Him who suffered to vanquish our sin.

A WINDOW OF FELLOWSHIP

So then, in Christ, a window of fellowship has been opened, for Christ the sinless one has taken on flesh and blood (John 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8; Hebrews 2:14-15) so that He could suffer with us. Since the Holy One has suffered, those who call upon His name now suffer as a holy activity. Because of Christ, the suffering that formerly was miserable and meaningless has been transformed into a means of sanctification. Christ my Lord has suffered, and now I suffer. Hallelujah!

SDG                 rmb                 5/13/2021

Jesus, the Changer (Luke 8:35)

Tim approached me after the worship service because he wanted to introduce me to the pretty girl he was leading around the church. I was always glad to talk to Tim, and today was no exception.

Tim was 20 years old and had been a follower of Jesus for about 18 months. Before that, Tim had been a heroin addict and had done time in juvenile detention centers. His brother had died of a drug overdose and he appeared to be heading down the same street. Then Tim met Jesus, and Tim placed his trust in Jesus, and Tim was changed. Forever changed. Dramatically changed.

“Hey Roy. It’s good to see you. I want you to meet Angelina.” “It’s good to meet you, Angelina. How did you two meet?” Tim answered. “Well, I noticed her about nine months ago and then started getting to know her in groups and stuff. Then I finally asked her out. And now, Roy, the more I got to know her, the more I said, ‘This is such a godly girl. I want to marry her!’” Later I texted Tim and told him how much I enjoyed meeting Angelina. I also told Tim I was amazed at how much Jesus had changed his life. He texted back and said, “Please pray that my love for Christ grows so I can be a good husband in the near future.” Jesus changes people.

Three years ago, Zac was definitely struggling with figuring out life. Out of college, he had been a middle school history teacher at a public school and had been outmatched by the middle schoolers, so he had resigned after one year. His Chick Fil A job was not going to ever pay much, but he had no real plans for the future. He desired to be married, but he had no prospects and did not seem to have much of an idea how to find a prospect. But Zac faithfully followed Jesus and, step-by-step, Jesus had slowly changed Zac’s life. He had joined the Air Force National Guard, had gained a skill in military intelligence, and now had a full-time job with the Guard. On Sunday Zac was beaming from ear to ear because his girlfriend Lauren had accepted his proposal of marriage and was wearing her new diamond ring. Over the last three years, as Zac walked with Jesus, Jesus did what He always does with those who worship Him: He changed Zac and conformed him more into His image. Jesus changes people.

Jesus is the great Changer. He Himself never changes (Hebrews 13:8), yet He changes the lives of all those who follow Him.

In the Bible, those who encountered Jesus and who bowed to Him as King of kings were changed. The demoniac was screaming among the tombs and gashing himself on stones, breaking his chains and being driven naked into the desert. Then he met Jesus, and he was found “sitting down at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind (Luke 8:35).” Then, as Jesus was leaving the region, He sent the former demoniac out as a missionary, proclaiming what great things Jesus had done for him. From madman to missionary.

Saul was an angry Pharisee; self-righteous, proud, and zealous for his Jewish traditions, he persecuted those who followed the way of Christ. Then he met Jesus on the Damascus road, and was struck down in the dust and blinded by the glory of the risen Lord. Three days later, Saul regained his sight, was baptized, and began to proclaim in the Jewish synagogues, “Jesus is the Son of God (Acts 9:20).” Later, he changed his name to Paul and spent the rest of his life until his martyrdom preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the length and breadth of the Mediterranean world. From persecutor to preacher.

The New Testament is full of these stories, where broken, sinful people met Jesus and bowed down to Him as Savior and Lord. A Samaritan woman with a checkered past meets Jesus at a well and her life is transformed. A loathsome tax collector named Zacchaeus meets Jesus and immediately reforms his ways. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus in the dust of the streets of Jericho encounters Jesus, and Jesus gives him his sight and an entirely new life as the beggar follows Jesus, the Son of David. In the New Testament, when men and women met and followed Jesus Christ, their lives were changed.

But the Jesus who changed lives during His earthly ministry 2,000 years ago is the same Jesus who is changing lives now as He rules and reigns in heaven. When you meet a genuine follower of Jesus, you have met someone who is being changed by Jesus. Many of those who follow Jesus are radically changed, but all who follow Jesus are changed.

Some changes will be highly visible and immediate, and some changes will be less visible and gradual, but if you worship Jesus, He will change your life. He marks all those who are His by changing their lives. There is no exception. If you are His, you can testify to the changes that He has made and is making in your life.

If your life shows no marked change because of meeting Jesus, you have cause for concern. Pilate met Jesus, but his life was not changed. Judas spent three years as one of Jesus’ chosen apostles, but his life was not changed. The chief priests and Pharisees met Jesus, but they were not changed. Paul met Jesus and believed in Jesus, and his life was immediately and radically changed. Does your own encounter with Jesus seem more like Pilate’s or Paul’s? There is an eternal difference between these two encounters.

Note that religion of whatever brand or label does not change people, because no religion of what ever label has any power to change anyone. Jeremiah was speaking of the customs of the people when he said in Jeremiah 10:5:

They are like a scarecrow in a cucumber field,
And they cannot speak;
They must be carried,
Because they cannot walk!
Do not fear them,
For they can do no harm,
Nor can they do any good.”

All religions are just scarecrows in cucumber fields. They cannot do any good. Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field, a religion will never change you. If a sinner wants to break the chains of sin and be changed, then the sinner must abandon all religion and all works and commit themselves to Jesus with heart, soul, mind, and strength. Those who trust in Jesus will be changed. Those who cling to their religion will remain trapped in their cage of sin.

SDG                 rmb                 4/5/2021

Sin is crouching at the door (Genesis 4:7)

Do you have an issue with sin? I do. My issue with sin is that sin is constantly tempting me to disobey and to rebel against what God has commanded me to do. But I also have specific sin issues that plague me and lure me into specific disobedience, things like a lust issue, a greed issue, a coveting issue. Perhaps the most prevalent of my sin issues is the anger issue.

CAIN AND THE SIN OF ANGER

Cain was the very first person ever born. He was the first child that Eve bore to Adam and so he was the firstborn of all mankind. And Cain had an anger issue, and that was a problem. One day, Cain and his brother Abel both brought offerings to the LORD. “The LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So, Cain became VERY ANGRY, and his countenance fell (Genesis 4:4-5).” When someone is very angry, explosive things can happen. Cain is in a dangerous place, so the LORD graciously warns him of the danger.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why is your face gloomy? If you do well, will your face not be cheerful? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” – Genesis 4:6-7

The LORD warns Cain that “sin is crouching at the door.” Notice that Cain’s anger is not a minor flaw. Anger is sin, and all sin is dangerous. Sin is like a poised lion ready to pounce or like a coiled rattlesnake ready to strike. Sin will ruin Cain. Sin has the power to destroy Cain’s life. Sin is bad news.

The LORD warns, “Sin’s desire is for you.” The LORD is stating the danger in graphic terms, as if to say, “Sin desires to tear you apart! It is your enemy!” Cain was supposed to fight against the anger, against the sin, so it would not master him. “But you must master it.” As we know, Cain failed. He failed to master his sin. Instead, his sin destroyed his life. The Bible’s consistent message about Cain is, “Don’t be like Cain!”

US AND THE SIN OF ANGER

For Cain, sin was crouching at his door, waiting to destroy his life. And sin is still crouching at our door, having the power to destroy my life and to destroy your life. In the Garden of Eden, the cost of disobedience was death (Genesis 2:17). And it still is: “For the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).” “The soul who sins will die (Ezekiel 18:4).” God still graciously and loudly warns from His Word that sin’s desire is for me, but I must master it. Do not surrender to sin! DO NOT BE LIKE CAIN!

DEALING WITH THE PRESENCE OF SIN

In all this discussion about sin, there is good news to be proclaimed and to be kept constantly in mind. The good news of the gospel declares that Jesus Christ has defeated sin by His death on the cross. For those who have trusted Him as Lord and Savior, Jesus has broken the power of sin and He has paid the penalty for sin. So, the believer in Jesus has been set free (John 8:36; Romans 6:7).

But the believer also knows from personal experience that, in this life, we continue to live with the presence of sin. In this life, the disciple of Jesus will never be sinless, but the disciple of Jesus should see that, day by day and year by year, they sin less. This sanctification is not automatic but is rather something that we work out with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). The disciple of Jesus has responsibility in growing in their practical holiness. How do we become more effective in this process?

First, we need to grow in our awareness of sin. We need to read the Bible carefully with an eye to what the Lord regards as sin and not what we have decided is sin. I used to think that if I did not have explosive outbursts, then I was not sinning with anger. I did not realize that resentment, sarcasm, silence, and abrupt words were all manifestations of anger and were just as sinful as an outburst. Sin is deceitful, so sin uses many disguises to fool the naïve, but the Holy Spirit unmasks sin, if we listen to Him. The primary way to become more aware of sin is by exposing ourselves to God’s Word. Reading the Bible, listening to good teaching and preaching.

Second, the disciple of Jesus must recognize when “sin is crouching at the door.” Just as the LORD told Cain that sin was near, so the believer has the indwelling Holy Spirit to tell them when sin is crouching nearby. The key is to quickly recognize that sin is crouching before it can strike and cause damage. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and heed His warnings. Is this “discussion” heading toward an anger situation? Can you feel the heat rising? Sin is crouching at the door, and you must master it. Growth in this area asks the question, “How can I more quickly recognize ‘sin crouching at the door’?” Increase your hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). Spend more time in the Word and with God’s people. We become like those we spend time with.

Third, we must have a strategy for responding when “sin is crouching at the door.” Develop a strategy that replaces the crouching sin with a righteous response or with an act of obedience. Several strategies for dealing with anger were mentioned in our Community Group:

  • Get away from the situation until the emotions are under control
  • Talk to a spouse or trusted friend about what is making you angry to defuse it
  • Go through the alphabet with reasons to praise God
  • Pick a Scripture to obey in that moment, like 1 Thess. 5:16-18

The goal in all these strategies is to keep the door to sin shut! Sin is crouching, but do not let him in! Keep the door shut! Make the strategic response an automatic reflex that quickly goes into effect whenever you detect sin crouching.

After developing a strategy for dealing with anger, take these same principles and apply them to other sins. You should see your practical holiness grow.

SDG                 rmb                 3/16/2021