Discipleship is the pursuit of Christ which makes it more like a verb than a noun.
Discipleship is the personal, persistent pursuit
of knowing, reflecting, and sharing Christ
by means of critical spiritual disciplines
in the context of supporting relationships,
resulting in the distinctive marks of an apprentice of Christ.
Jesus broke with Jewish and Greek tradition in His concept of discipleship. The contemporary leaders of Jesus’ time, called people to follow their philosophy or explanation of the Torah. Jesus, however, called people to follow Him: His person making Him the true North on their personal compass. This timeless and universal invitation forms the common ground for all of His disciples; each one actively pursuing a personal and persistent relationship with Him. This pursuit, with dependence on the work of the Spirit, is the life style of a disciple.
The New Testament uses several metaphors to describe the effort needed to pursue and emulate Christ and His kingdom.
- Athletic: to walk or run
- Physical: to grow
- Warfare: to fight
- Architectural: to build
Each metaphor implies the need to overcome elements that resist and impede progress: fatigue, enemies, even nature itself. In like manner, spiritual progress is also resisted by our own sinful nature, the influence of the world and the devil (1 John 2:15-16).
Our efforts do not gain or sustain our position with Christ, but having been called and accepted on the basis of the merit of Christ, we now have the responsibility to work hard at training for and living out the kingdom life – not for acceptance but for victory.
The action verbs of discipleship (work, run, put off/on, take up, labor, follow, fight, build, obey) are all terms of personal responsibility. No one can do it for us. We have been given resources to use, but ultimately it will come down to personal choices.
We might think about our relationship and responsibilities in the same way a computer functions. Computers complete complex tasks at incredible speeds by using a series of simple electronic switches based on a binary code of yes/no or on/off. The binary code is the foundation for every computer’s operating system. Designers make use of this simple combination to program everything from smart phones to space travel.
The revelation of God in Scripture also has at its core a binary code which is the combination of covenant/kingdom or relationship/responsibility. This binary code has been the foundation of God’s dealing with His people from Adam to the present. On one side there is God’s covenant relationship offered by grace to His people. On the other side there is the responsibility to respond in acts of obedience. This code could also be expressed as identity/obedience or grace/effort. This binary code is the foundation for discipleship and could be called the “operating system” on the resurrection side of the cross.
The result is a life lived in the tension of these truths (seemingly opposing principles) without sacrificing one for the other. The NT letters basically give instructions that say, “Here is who you are in Christ and now here is what you are to do as a result.” Therefore, we must not abdicate our personal responsibility because of a distorted view of grace that leans towards passive irresponsibility.
The letter to the church at Ephesus in Revelations 2 gives helpful insight into our journey of discipleship. The church was commended for her defense of the faith but rebuked for her loss of intimacy with Christ. They had substituted the thrill of the battle for their love/pursuit of Christ.
Two words that help describe persistence are fortitude and faithfulness. Fortitude is not commonly used today, but it is one of the four cardinal virtues of antiquity. It means strength, resilience, courage, endurance, determination, and boldness. Persistence like fortitude involves determined action over time. It means to run the race of life with endurance all the way to the end (Hebrews 12:2; 2 Tim 4:7).
Faithfulness is another aspect of persistence. Faithfulness is a key virtue expected from the people of God throughout the biblical narrative. Israel’s unfaithfulness created God’s displeasure and even wrath. In the New Testament Jesus taught that we are to faithfully/daily follow Him even when we don’t feel like it (Luke 9:23).
Questions for reflection
- Think of a time in your life that required persistence/fortitude.
- Why do you think that so many people start their faith journey well but end poorly?