Christ is Central to Discipleship!

I had an assignment for class this weekend that focused on the centrality of Christ in discipleship.  While it was a big title, I found one key element, Christ is central in everything!  This is even more important when talking and walking with others as they come to know and grow in there faith.  If you up for it, read more below.  I know I learned a lot, I hope you find it helpful as well.

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Discipleship can be summed up in a single word, obedience.  From this all other aspects proceed in a follower’s life, no matter what they are following.  We can be obedient to a cause, political party or various figures throughout history.  The key component is obedience.  This is why as a Christian disciple, Christ must be the key figure that we are obedient to.  There would be no other reason to be called a disciple of Christ if first that person is not committing themselves to obeying Him.

Karl Rahner explained, “obedient surrender of the whole person to the incomprehensibility of the holy God.”[1]  This kind of surrender starts with the giving of a person’s inner and outer self-allowing transformation to start to take place.  This act of giving oneself over to Christ becomes a life transformed by Christ’s grace.[2]  If a person is not focused on Christ, then they are not going to be letting Christ in to transform them.  It is not by our power that we are moved by Christ, but it is by Christ that we are moved.  If there is no obedience to His will, there is no reason to call oneself a disciple or follower of Christ.

It is by Christ that also calls a person into discipleship.[3]  To answer the call of Christ suggests having obedience to what He is calling us to.  The recognition of the calling is important, but going back to who the person is following is the important theme.  Without a follower recognizing that it is Christ that they are choosing to obey, they will not truly be focusing on Christ.[4]  This is taking the follower out of the equation as Christ is the one who calls, Christ is the one who is recognized and Christ is the one who initiates the relationship.  There is no place that a disciple is in a position to hold power or sway in the relationship.  It is Christ doing the work, Christ doing the teaching and Christ doing the transformation of a person’s mind and heart.[5]  All we do is say “yes lord” and we are transformed by Christ for God’s glory.

Areas of Submission

            With obedience also comes the act of submission.  Once Christ is recognized as the One we are seeking after, we must come under His authority and how he is calling us to be.  This again is not a mere act of our own will, that would be taking away the centrality of Christ in the process of discipleship.  It is rather an understanding revealed by Christ and a change brought on through that understanding.[6]  Christ is the reason for the understanding and for the cause and completion of the change in a disciple.  At no point is a person able to say no to any aspect of Christ in their life, for if they say no to anything they are saying no completely to Christ.[7]

One of the main topics of submission surrounds around humility.  Humbling oneself and coming to Christ is the recognition and submission to Christs will in a follower’s life.  Without humility a disciple will be focused on themselves for; self-glory, will be self-reliant, boastful about themselves, care what others think rather than what Christ thinks, resist facing personal sin, weakness and failures, struggle with blessing s of others, more positional rather than sub missional, and want to control rather than delegate in ministry.  All of these issues stem from a focus of self rather than a focus on Christ.[8]  Again it removes Christ, telling Him no, causing a rebelling nature to take hold.  Understanding this will help in refocusing continually on Christ and draw from Him what we need to sustain our relationship with Him.

Part of being a disciple is that taking into account the cost of followership in Christ.  This is a thoughtful process to help the new believer understand the cost of following Christ. [9] Being a follower of anything takes full attention and focus to continually develop in pursuit, being a disciple of Christ is no different.  They must also be willing to carry the burden and sacrifice in life for Christ, the focus still is fully on Christ even at the cost of possessions, family, etc.[10] Disciples submit to Christ authority in study, his call to love others, and fulfilling His mission in their lives.[11]  Finally a disciple is one who is bearing fruit of their relationship with Christ by growing themselves as well as others in Christ.  All of this is fulfilled by the filling of the Holy Spirit who again was given to disciples by Christ for Christ’s glory.[12]

Three Stages of Discipleship

            In looking over the obedience and submission to Christ in the Discipleship process, three stages can be seen to emerge.  First this type of relationship is sacrificial, second it is relational, finally it is transformational.[13]  Each stage helps to develop the disciple into a new being over and over again.  This process does not stop until fully complete in joining with Christ in Heaven.  Thus, this will be a lifelong mission that the disciple has been called into and given the power to accomplish by Christ.

First looking at the sacrificial aspect of the discipleship process. This goes back to the initial decision to follow Christ.  The disciple needs to take an account of what they are going to give up in order to follow Christ.[14]  Are they willing to sacrifice family, friends, possessions, career and their life in the service to Christ?  This is a recognition that they are no longer in charge of their lives.  Christ is the head and they are following Him in every aspect of their lives.[15]  However in this process they are not alone as Christ tells them he will always be with them; “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”[16]  There is a comfort and a cost in surrendering to Christ sacrificially, one however is a calling that all must attain to as a disciple.[17]

Second principle is one of relationship.  As previously mentioned, disciples are not alone in the discipleship process.  There must be a love for God, neighbor and other disciples.[18]  This is not something that a person should or can go at alone.  There is an important element in focusing on relationship, it is an example of love.  Through relationship a follower finds their gifts that God has equipped them with.[19] It also takes effort to have relationship, causing growth and a show of love when interacting with those around them.  This is where they can find their mission in Christ in caring for those He has called them to serve.[20]  In this mission they get to reach out to others and share with them what they have found in Christ.[21]  This is where the faith meets action and begin to fulfill the great commission that Christ calls all disciples to.

Finally, discipleship is transformational.  As all are made a new creation at conversion in recognition of Christ as the savior, disciples are changed over a lifetime as He works within them.  Disciples should understand that spiritual growth is something that allows them to become more Christ like in each moment in word, thought, attitude and action.[22]  Forming spiritual disciplines help to connect them further to God and through this connection Christ is growing them more in maturity as a disciple.[23]  An important aspect of the transformational process is that it generates a more Christ like person, as this person is changed internally so will how they see and interact with the world.[24]  This helps to bring them closer not only to Christ over a lifetime, but drive them more to desiring and performing His mission.[25]  This process essentially is coming under Christs authority and allowing Him to change them into a new creation in Christ’s image.[26]

All three principles tie together to bring a holistic view of discipleship.  There is the sacrificing of one’s self to Christs authority and mission.  Then a relational aspect that helps to connect them with the Savior allowing Him to empower and grow them for the greater mission.  Finally, the transformation of the disciple themselves as Christ creates them into a new being that will then go out and love the world as Christ does.  Christ is the reason for all aspects of Discipleship, it is by His love that He instructs, changes and empowers disciples to be on mission in changing the world.

Bibliography

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, Geffrey B. Kelly, and John D. Godsey. Discipleship. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Earley, Dave, and Rod Dempsey. Disciple making is–: how to live the great commission with passion and confidence. Nashville, TN: B & H Avademic, 2013.

Linnane, Brian F. “Dying with Christ: Rahner’s Ethics of Discipleship.” The Journal of Religion 81, no. 2 (2001): 228-48. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1205541.

Merida, Tony. The Christ-Centered Expositor: A Field Guide for Word-Driven Disciple Makers. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2016. Accessed February 4, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Putman, Jim, Bobby Harrington, and Robert Emerson Coleman. DiscipleShift five steps that help your church to make disciples who make disciples. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.

Putman, Jim, Bobby Harrington, and Robert Emerson Coleman. DiscipleShift five steps that help your church to make disciples who make disciples. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.

[1] Brian F. Linnane, “Dying with Christ: Rahners Ethics of Discipleship,” The Journal of Religion 81, no. 2 (2001): , doi:10.1086/490821. 236.

[2] Ibid

[3] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Geffrey B. Kelly, and John D. Godsey, Discipleship (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003) 202.

[4] Ibid

[5] Jim Putman, Bobby Harrington, and Robert Emerson Coleman, DiscipleShift five steps that help your church to make disciples who make disciples (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013) 46-51.

[6] Ibid 48

[7] Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple making is–: how to live the great commission with passion and confidence (Nashville, TN: B & H Avademic, 2013) 25.

[8] Tony Merida, The Christ-centered expositor: a field guide for word-driven disciple makers (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2016) 36.

[9] Early, et. al, 22

[10] Ibid 23

[11] Ibid 24-25

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid 26-27

[14] Ibid 26

[15] Putman, et. al, 46

[16] Mathew 28:20 ESV. Unless otherwise noted all Biblical passages are in the English Standard Verson.

[17] Early, et. al,  27

[18] Ibid

[19] Ibid

[20] Putman, et. al, 50

[21] Ibid

[22] Early, et. al,  27

[23] Ibid

[24] Ibid 28

[25] Ibid

[26] Putman, et. al, 48

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