Discipleship OverviewRelated Media
In a church questionnaire for the men’s group, men were asked if they would like to be mentors or be discipled. When the results came back, many men wanted to be discipled, but very few men volunteered to be mentors. Many people are reluctant to take on the job of mentoring or discipling. Why is that?
Why Is There Such
Reluctance to Discipling?
One reason there might be a reluctance to discipling is because, if a person volunteers, it feels almost like he is saying that he has it all together. Well, nobody has it all together, and if you feel like you do have it all together, then you probably need to be discipled not be the discipler.
But if we have been walking with God for a long time, hearing sound teaching for a long time, studying on our own for a long time, then we ought to be further ahead than someone new in the faith. If we have lived more years than someone else, we ought to have many experiences that we can relate as examples of how biblical truths have played out in our own lives. So, just because a person commits to being a discipler, it doesn’t mean he thinks he is more spiritual than the next guy. In fact, it is my conviction that a new Christian, who is faithful with the little knowledge that he has, is going to receive more rewards that the intellectual who doesn’t apply much of what he knows.
Lack of Commitment
Discipleship takes a lot of time.
Fear of Being Open
Some people are afraid to open up because they are afraid they will be rejected.
Another reason people are hesitant to be a discipler is because they don’t know what to do. What will I teach the disciple? What should we talk about when we get together? What plan of action should I follow?
We will discuss the discipleship process and lay out a plan of action to follow. This is not THE plan. It is just a suggestion. But, I think it is a biblical one, and hopefully it will give a course of action to follow.
The following is an outline and proposed order of topics, but each disciple is unique, with his own special needs, background, etc. If he is an ex-Mormon or ex-Jehovah’s Witness for instance, you’d probably need to deal with areas of Christology in more detail. If he is having marital problems, we might need to deal with those areas up front.
Also, some of the passages used to explain Biblical truths are passages that have meant much to me. You might use others that have really spoken to your needs because you can explain those more easily.
The Benefit to the Disciple
When we bring a newborn home from the hospital, we don’t just sit down the infant seat and say, “Welcome to the family, Johnny. Make yourself at home. The towels are in the hall closet upstairs, the pantry is right here, the can opener is in this drawer. No crying after 10 p.m. If you have any questions there are lots of people in the family who would love to help you so don’t be afraid to ask.”
You laugh and say that is ridiculous, but that is what usually happens to new Christians. Someone gets saved and starts going to church but never gets much personal attention. We devote 18 years to raising our children, but don’t even spend six months helping a new Christian get started in understanding the spiritual world. As a result, many people have been Christians for many years, but have not grown very much. Hebrew 5:12 refers to this phenomenon.
So, new believers need someone to give them guidance and help them grow. Like a newborn, they need some personal attention.
The Benefit to the Discipler
There are two big lakes in Israel. The Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. The Sea of Galilee has a number of rivers flowing into it and the Jordan river flowing out of it to the south. The Sea of Galilee is a beautiful, healthy lake with much life in it. The Dead Sea on the other hand, only has rivers flowing into it. Nothing flows out of it. Consequently the mineral content has built up and nothing can live in its waters. They don’t call it the Dead Sea for no reason.
Many Christians sit in churches all their lives hearing the Word taught. They learn Bible doctrine. They experience life and learn from their experiences, but they never pass on their knowledge and experience to others. They benefit from their knowledge and experience, but never allow others to benefit.
When we sit in the pew for our whole lives and don’t pass on our knowledge and experience to others, we become like the Dead Sea.
1 Corinthians 1:3-4 says:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
God doesn’t want us to hoard all that He has taught us. He wants to use us to help others grow. That process is discipleship.
The Results of Preparation
Another good thing about discipling someone is it gets us into the Word. If we know we are going to have to teach a class next week for Sunday school, we are going to do some preparation. If we are going to be meeting with a disciple, we are going to need to be prepared with some idea of what we want to talk about. It may not be the purest motivation for getting into the Word, but Isaiah 55:11 says God’s Word does not return void and He will use the opportunity to speak to us if we will let Him.
Once we start learning really neat things in the Bible that transform our lives, we are going to want to share what we’ve learned.
The corollary to this is that if we aren’t bursting with the desire to share the new discoveries we’ve made, then maybe we aren’t making any. Maybe we aren’t growing. Maybe we need to evaluate ourselves and see where we might improve our study time.
When we start spending individual time with another Christian for the purpose of having a ministry in his or her life—time together in the Word, prayer, fellowship, systematic training—something happens in our own lives as well.
The Benefit to the Church
We live in an entertainment-centered, spectator-oriented society. Most people spend much time watching TV, movies, sporting events, etc. but little time actually involved in playing the sports they watch. Coach Bud Wilkinson, Oklahoma football coach, once described a football game the following way: Thousands sit in the stands in desperate need of exercise while 22 men are on the football field in desperate need of rest.
I think that we have carried the spectator mentality into the church. Although I don’t think we would get too many people to say it out loud, many people come to church to be entertained and to be ministered to. They have the idea that ministry is what the professionals do. We pay the pastor to minister to us. If we go back to our football analogy, we have a congregation full of people who need to get some exercise and a few professionals who are in desperate need of rest.
One or two pastors can’t possibly meet the needs of 500 or even 100 people with one or two messages per week. To really minister to someone you need to spend time with them and develop a close relationship. You can really only do that with half a dozen to a dozen individuals. The care groups churches have established is one attempt to address this problem. The discipleship process is another.
When we are learning and growing and passing our discoveries on to someone else, and they are doing the same, then the principle of multiplication will cause the church to grow. And it will be good solid growth with Christians in varying stages of maturity. Not a spectator church with a few professionals and a lot of babies.
The Discipleship Process
Be a Friend! Someone has said that we need to get rid of the teacher/student, guru/guree relationships and just be friends. I don’t think that we can totally do away with the teacher/student relationship. The idea of doing away with the teacher/student relationship is an over-reaction to the tendency of most discipleship programs to be nothing more than an information transfer. But we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water. There is a place and a need for learning doctrine along the way. We just have to understand that there is much more involved. I heard someone describe discipleship as friendship with a spiritual perspective, and I’ve also heard it described as friendship with a vision. I think these descriptions put discipleship in the right perspective because 90% of what a disciple learns is caught from our lives more than from our teaching. We should place our emphasis on being a friend and let people see how we deal with things, how we study, how we pray, how we love, etc. We don’t want to just give him all the facts. We need to allow him see how we work through various issues and help him work through the issues himself.
Deuteronomy 6:6f is a good model for what the discipleship process should be like. Just as a father and mother should take opportunities to relate daily events and actions to God’s sovereignty and our responsibilities, so the mentor can turn conversations towards learning opportunities and not just talk about the weather, sports, or computers.
Speaking of computers, let me give you an example: I love working with computers and I love to talk about them. The other day I was at lunch with someone (a computer programmer) and we were talking about one of our favorite subjects—you guessed it—computers. But in the midst of our enthusiasm about computers was an opportunity to discuss spiritual truth. With just a couple of questions, the conversation was turned toward a discussion of how he and I both have a tendency to use the computer as an escape from facing real life … and from working on relationships with others, about how the computer is a safe place where nothing is expected of us with regard to relationships. It is much easier and safer to go into the study and work on some project for several hours than to interact with people who will disagree with us, argue with us, disappoint us, etc. We had a great conversation, and now I can’t sit in front of my computer without questioning myself as to whether I should be there or be riding bikes with the kids or talking to my wife. This doesn’t mean I don’t use my computer any more, but now I make sure I’m there for legitimate reasons.
So, the process is friendship—friendship with a vision.
Philosophy of Discipleship
I’ve been impressed lately with the emphasis throughout Scripture on the importance of relationships—both with God and with other people. For example, in the midst of predictions of coming judgment for failure to love their fellow man, Amos calls for “justice and righteousness” (5:24) which showed that their worship was hypocritical (5:21-23). Micah calls for justice, kindness and humility before God (6:8) instead of empty sacrifice (6:7). Jonah epitomizes lack of love as he refuses to forgive the Assyrians and has no compassion for them, all the while espousing that he serves the true God. The emphasis in the Sermon on the Mount is on relationships—forgiveness, reconciliation, not judging, etc. The priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan knew the Law and had just been to worship God, but would not help/love the injured man. There are countless examples.
In the past I would have designed a discipleship plan around doctrinal content teaching everything from theology to eschatology. My course outline would have looked like a seminary curriculum with the emphasis on content. I think a lot of discipleship programs are nothing more than a transfer of information from the teacher’s notebook to the disciple’s notebook. But when the author of Hebrews says they could not handle deeper truth because they had not learned the elementary things, I’m convinced the problem was application. They did not practice what they had learned (Heb 5:14). And the thing that is most difficult to practice is loving one’s neighbor and building good relationships.
Therefore, I am designing my discipleship plan with an emphasis on relationships. Certainly, the doctrinal content is necessary.
To borrow an illustration from the Four Spiritual Laws booklet: The engine is Fact, the middle car is Faith and the caboose is Feeling. The caboose can’t go anywhere without the engine. We can’t have proper feelings without the facts. If there are no biblical principles guiding our love, it will be purely emotional and very up and down—mostly down. So we will list many topics to be covered in our discipleship plan. We will learn many facts, but rather than just teach a disciple a bunch of facts, the mentor needs to take special care to relate the facts to real life and take the time to discuss and evaluate how the disciple is progressing in his application of the facts to current situations.
The discipler needs to be open and show how the facts work out in his own life. We need to follow the model of Paul who said in Phil 4:9, “The things you have learned and received and heard in me, practice these things; and the God of peace shall be with you.” The discipler needs to be a model. And that involves more than just having the disciple watch you. You need to be open and talk about how things affect you too.
What is the goal of a discipleship program? When Jesus left the earth, He gave the disciples a final command. Matthew 28:19-20 says to go make disciples … teaching them to obey all that I commanded you.
Notice the word “obey.” Too often we skip over that word and just worry about the content. If we can teach them the facts, then they will be disciples. But application is the hardest part and that is where true discipleship really focuses. As disciplers, we will need to be involved in discussing the methods (how to do it), accountability (did he do it), evaluation (how well did he do it), etc.
Perhaps a good place to start in looking for things to teach a disciple is by looking at what Jesus specifically commanded His disciples. This is not to imply that the black letters in your Bible are not as important as the red letters. This is just a good place to start for seeing the discipleship process. After all, I think the reason Jesus waited three years to be crucified was so he would have time to train the disciples. In John 17:4, Jesus says that he had accomplished the work which God had given him. He hadn’t died on the cross yet, so what was He talking about? Training the disciples.
If we look at the words of Jesus and specifically at the commands He gave his disciples, we can narrow them into four categories. Therefore, the goal of our discipleship will be to teach and develop the following qualities in the disciple:
- Supreme love for God (Matt. 10:37-40)
- Study and devotion to God’s Word (John 8:31)
- Denial of self—God-ward and man-ward aspects (Mark 8:34)
- Reflection of Christ’s love toward others (Matt. 22:39)
These characteristics build on one another. We can’t love others until we have learned to deny self. We won’t deny self until we have studied the Word and seen why we need to deny self. We won’t have a devotion to God’s Word, until we have a supreme love for God and want to know what He has said in His Word.
If we have a formal discipleship relationship where someone has asked us to disciple them, then lay these out as goals and move through the commands sequentially. If we don’t have a formal discipleship relationship, then it is not necessary to tell the person that my goal is to instill the above characteristics in him, but we could still use this as our outline to give us a sense of direction as we practiced “friendship with a vision.”
As we move through these characteristics we will discuss many verses. In a more formal setting, we can have our Bibles out and work through them. In the less formal discipleship relationship, we as the discipler will need to have read, understood and applied these verses to our lives so we can discuss them as the topics come up in real life situations. That is the way Jesus did it. That is the Deuteronomy 6 model and that is the most effective way to disciple because we are meeting a need and dealing with relevant issues. But it is also the hardest to do.
Supreme Love for God
First discuss the passages which call for us to put God first.
- Matthew 10:37-40 (here are some of those red letters). This passage shows Jesus’ command to love Him the most. The issue is not hating family, but the surpassing love for God. Raise question of why someone might not be willing to be devoted to God. Ask the disciple what might stand in his or her way. Perhaps it is fear of what others will think, especially family members (context of Matt. 10:34-36). How do we reconcile the statement that Jesus came to set fathers against sons with the idea that God wants us to have good relationships with others? If a son or daughter forsakes the “family” religion, they may be disowned.
- Another question people have is, “Will this love for God cause my family to receive less of my love?” The answer is No, because one of the ways we show love for God is by showing love for others. (For example Ephesians 5:18f shows that if we are filled with the Holy Spirit, then that will affect our relationship with our church, spouse, children, employers, etc.)
- John 8:42. Love for God is a characteristic of one who is saved.
Evaluation: Ask for commitment to work on relationship with God and learn how he can show his love for God.
We’ve been commanded to love God, but why should we? What is our motivation. In order to have a supreme love for God, we need to have an understanding of the basics of anthropology, soteriology and christology. You’re probably thinking, “Hey! I thought your discipleship program wasn’t going to look like a seminary curriculum.”
The categories sound ominous for beginning sessions with a new convert, and they could indeed take a lifetime to study, but the emphasis should be on explaining, in a simple manner (maybe even without ever mentioning the theological words), the relationship between the three, and how one’s view of mankind (one’s anthropology) affects his view of salvation (soteriology) and of Christ (christology). Essentially the issue is, if he has a high view of man, he will have little need for God. We often say in reference to evangelism that you have to get them lost before you can get them saved. But this carries forward into the area of sanctification or growth. If a person does not have a realistic view of mankind, he will not appreciate his salvation. If he does not fully understand the greatness of his evil and the sacrifice God made for him, he will not have a supreme and incomparable love for Jesus Christ. Instead he will have a tendency to think he deserves God’s love and blame God when things don’t go just right.
How might we approach this subject in a less formal discipleship relationship? Undoubtedly we’ve all heard people say, “I think that there is a little bit of good in all of us …” or something to that effect. The next time you are with your disciple and you hear someone say that, ask him or her what they think about that. Do they think it is true? Why or why not? From there, you can point out what the Bible says.
If we have a more formal teacher/student relationship, then we would take one or two weeks for each topic—man, sin, and the Savior. It would certainly not be in depth, but the important thing is understanding the relationship of these issues so he will have a framework to build upon as we move through the study. One thing this will do is solidify the disciple’s assurance of his salvation. When he understands that he can’t earn his salvation and God’s approval, that will free him up from thinking he can do something to lose his salvation. The various topics covered should also demonstrate man’s sinfulness and make him appreciate God’s grace and result in a supreme love for Christ.
- Genesis 1-3 —These verses deal with creation, the fall, and separation from God. The emphasis is on breaking of the relationship. We know that man was created in God’s image and that it was not good for Adam to be alone, so God created Eve. Therefore relationships are very important and our relationship to God is most important. Emphasize that just as Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden broke their relationship with God, so does our sin today breaks our relationship or fellowship with God.
- Isaiah 64:6 —This passages tells us all of our good works are worthless. People usually compare themselves to others and think that relative to others, they are okay and that their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds. But God’s standard is not relative. It is absolute. Compared to his perfect righteousness, all our good deeds amount to nothing.
- Romans 1:18f and 3:21f —These passages show the depravity of man and his inability to earn salvation. This should result in gratitude for what God has done.
- Habakkuk 1:13 —God cannot have fellowship with sin.
- Isaiah 6: —This passages shows motivation. It was Isaiah’s vision of God’s holiness which convicted him of his sinfulness and caused his repentance and commitment.
- Romans 5:8f —God’s love
- John 3:16 —God’s love
- Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45 —substitution
This is not in depth by any means, but when a person understands his sinfulness and God’s holiness and how God overcame that barrier, it will result in a tremendous gratitude and supreme love for God.
Evaluation: Ask for commitment to work on relationship with God and learn how he can show his love for God. This love for God is foundational to the rest of the process.
What will it look like when we do love God with all our heart? Ask the disciple how he expresses his love for his girlfriend, or if married, to his wife when they were dating. If he took every opportunity to spend time with her, shouldn’t he do the same with God?
How do we spend time with God? Through prayer. If we have a supreme love for God, we are going to need to communicate with Him in order to build a relationship. Share with him how you talk to God, what you talk about with God, how you listen to God. Share how you look for answers.
- Matthew 6:5f, Luke 11:1-13 The disciples’ prayer as a pattern for prayer.1
- Assurance of answered prayer (Luke 18): Discuss the parable of the persistent widow. In that parable a poor widow goes to an unjust judge and pesters him until he hears her case. It is important to understand that this parable is one of contrasts. God is the opposite of the judge. God is just. We are the opposite of the widow. We are God’s children. We are related to God. If we don’t understand the contrasts we will think God must be pestered, argued with and bribed in order to get our prayers answered. The parable is not teaching that. God wants to answer the prayers of his children. We lose heart because we don’t understand God’s timing or purpose. We ask questions like, “When … Why now … How could you … ?” We challenge the justice and goodness of God. This parable deals with two issues: God’s character and God’s chronology. Persistent prayer is the demonstration of faith in the character of God’s attributes and the chronology of His actions. This parable teaches that the only legitimate reason to stop praying for something is the return of Christ. (vs. 8) It says, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” The demonstration of that faith is persistent prayer. When we stop believing a prayer will be answered, we stop praying. We have given up hope. We have no faith. Discuss with the disciple what items have dropped off yours or his or her prayer list that need to be put back on. God is a loving father who wants His children to keep coming to Him. If we are a parent, we should be able to identify with that.
- When a new Christian, especially someone who has not spent his whole life in church begins to pray, there will be a few theological problems with what they pray. For example: He might start off, “God, this is Bob, I’m here in George’s house … I pray that you will be with me as I …” Those kinds of prayers are honest, innocent and priceless. Don’t correct him and explain to him that God is omniscient and knows who he is and where he is and that God is omnipresent and has promised to always be with us. As he studies and learns doctrine, he will probably stop praying those things. But hopefully, the honesty and innocence of his prayers will not change. If we start correcting him and saying, “you’re doing it wrong,” he is not going to feel very comfortable praying.
- Another option is to take him through passages on prayer or find a good book on prayer and read it separately and discuss it during a meeting.
So, under the goal of developing a supreme love for God, we’ve discussed the biblical command to do it. We’ve discussed the motivation which is appreciation for all that a gracious and merciful God did for a wretch like me, and we’ve discussed a little bit about how we express that love to God in communication with Him. Prayer is how we communicate with God, but how does He communicate with us? Through His Word.
The next major characteristic grows out of and is an expression of love for God. Christ says, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Therefore, the disciple must know His commandments, which means he must be devoted to knowing and obeying God’s Word. The next characteristic also completes the communication process begun just above. If we pray to communicate with God, then one of the ways He communicates back to us is through his Word.
Devotion to God’s Word
Once a person is saved, interested in becoming a disciple, and has affirmed his love and desire for relationship with Christ, we should stress that Scripture is God’s instruction to us for knowing Him, knowing His will for our lives and for learning how to love God and people. He needs to have an understanding of the importance of the Word and a model for studying.
- John 8:31. Abiding or obeying God’s word is a sign of discipleship. It sets us free from Satan, sin, death, etc. This is motivation. John 14:15
- Psalm 119 makes many statements about the importance of God’s word and the benefits of following it. Go over some of the word pictures about scripture such as the Word is a lamp, sword, etc.
- Psalm 19 describes the communication process between God and man.
God speaks to us on the left side of the diagram through his world and His Word. We have called this natural revelation and special revelation.
We speak to God on the right side of the diagram. Our prayer is a response to His Word, His special revelation. Our praise is a response to His world, His natural revelation. Of course we can also praise Him for things we learned about Him from His Word, but most of the praise in the Psalms is about God’s work in creation.
Christ is central to this whole process. He is the final revelation. He is our intercessor. We go to God through Christ. We pray in Jesus’ name. John 1 says that the light came into the world and was the light of men… . Jesus was the Creator and has enlightened every man through creation (natural revelation) and He came in person (special revelation).
When Satan wants to attack this process and keep us from worshipping God, where does he start? Does he come into the church and have demons disrupt the service? Not usually. That would more than likely motivate Christians to stand strong against him. He is more subtle than that. Instead, he works on destroying the left side of the circle.
How has Satan attacked natural revelation? Special revelation? Christ? God?
- Through evolution which attacks the general revelation. It says, God didn’t make the world.
- Through rationalism, which says, God didn’t write the Word. The Bible is not the truth. There is no truth. Relativism is closely related.
- Through liberalism, which says, Christ is not God.
- Through existentialism which goes so far as to say God is dead.
Satan knows that if he can cut off the left side of the diagram, he makes the right side ineffective because we have nothing to respond to. Proverbs 28:9 says, when a person will not listen to the law, even his prayers are an abomination. If I’m not listening to the left side, my prayer is an abomination to Him. If we aren’t taking in the Word, we won’t even pray except when we want something. Our prayer is to be a dialogue, not a monologue of requests. So, if we aren’t taking it in, there is static on the line. That is the connection between the Word and prayer.
- Use the hand illustration from the Navigators to show the importance of the Word and the five things we need to do to get a firm grip on it. Hear (Rom. 10:17), Read (Rev. 1:3), Study (Acts 17:11), Memorize (Psa. 119:1,9) and Meditate (Psa. 1:2-3)
- 2 Timothy 3:16. Discuss profitability, inerrancy, inspiration.
We used the illustration of bringing a new baby home and how we wouldn’t dream of just letting him fend for himself from day one. We can go back to the baby analogy for this point. When your child is about a year old, he is going to want to try to feed himself. At first he is going to make a big mess. He will miss his mouth, get it in his nose, hair, ears, etc. Our tendency is to want to do it for him since we are much more efficient, and we don’t make messes that have to be cleaned up later. It is the same with a new Christian. He needs to be taught to study on his own. He can’t depend his whole life on the Sunday sermon for his information. At first he may not do it very well, he may make a mess, but with practice, he will learn to feed himself.
Using the model laid out in 2 Timothy 3:16, teach him the basics of studying the Word.
What does a passage teach us? Teach the disciple what questions to ask: who, what, when, where, why, how. This step involves observation of the broader context, and the details within the passage.
How should this passage convict us? How are we failing in this area? What should we stop doing?
What do we need to do? The Bible never gives a negative (reproof) without supplying a positive command to fill the void in our lives.
Instruction in Righteousness
What will it look like if we do the right thing? What will righteousness look like in the various areas of my life? We are going to talk about that in the next couple of characteristics of the disciple.
Howard Hendricks teaches a Bible Study Methods course at Dallas Theological Seminary and has four basic steps to follow: Observation, Interpretation, Application, Correlation. These four steps in 2 Timothy 3:16 parallel the four steps in Hendricks’ course.
4. Instruction in Righteousness
Evaluation: Ask the disciple if he will commit to consistently spending 30 minutes each day on his own, reading and studying God’s Word. And ask him to commit to meet with us each week so we can do it together. The first time, show him how to work through the four steps. Then in consecutive weeks, each person studies a passage on his own and then discuss each other’s findings during the meeting. As we work through the rest of the discipleship characteristics and study the verses associated with each, we should help him learn how to use this study method.
Also, as the disciple looks into the Word it will help him see himself and help him see things that he needs to change. One of those is his attitude about himself. Thus the next characteristic:
Denial of Self
The command to deny ourselves comes from Mark 8:34. The parallel passages are in Matthew 10:38 and Luke 9:23. These passages are addressed to both the multitudes and the disciples. Therefore, denial of self is a requirement of both salvation and sanctification. Paul says in Galatians 3 that we live the Christian life the same way we began the Christian life. That is why Jesus says the same thing to both unbelievers and believers. What does it mean to deny self, take up the cross and follow Jesus?
A person can control his life and refuse to drink alcohol or coffee, or smoke, or eat meat, dance, go to movies, watch TV, not drive a car, etc. Is that self-denial? Yes. Is that the denial Jesus is talking about? No. Biblical self-denial is not some monastic life of asceticism.
Galatians 5:16f is a good passage to look at as a background to this principle. This passage shows us that the desires of the flesh are the opposite of the desires of the Holy Spirit. That is why we need to say no to ourselves. There is a conflict between the works of the flesh—what we do—and the fruit of the Spirit—what God does through us.
Denial involves limiting ourselves and our natural desire to want to do things out of the energy of the flesh. Our natural tendency is to want to take control of our own lives, the situations around us and the people around us in order to find happiness. Someone who moves to a monastery, gives up drinking, smoking and women is exercising the ultimate fleshly control over his life. But that is not the self-denial that Jesus is talking about.
It’s interesting to think about monks and monasteries. I don’t think that God really likes that lifestyle. He wants us to be in the world but not of the world. But, in spite of that, God has used monks throughout history to preserve his written Word, to get it translated into other languages, etc. It just shows that God can use us even when we are lopsided in our theology or application of it.
What kind of self-denial is He talking about? Under this characteristic we need to deal with three issues:
- A proper self-identity—Before we can deny ourselves we need to have a proper view of ourselves.
- Self-denial in relation to God.
- Self-denial in relation to man.
A Proper Self-Image
Before we can properly deny ourselves we need to have a proper view of ourselves. People usually go to one of two extremes in their view of themselves. They either think too lowly or too highly of themselves.
Romans 12:3 is a good passage to launch this topic.
I went to an Exchanged Life conference a few months ago and it was very good. They dealt with the problem of having a proper self-identity. One of the speakers pointed out that we all have needs which need to be met. We perform deeds to try to meet those needs. As time progresses, we continue to do those deeds that worked for us and they become habits. After a time, those actions seem normal and we look at our deeds and begin to derive our self-identity from what we do. Some people have well adjusted flesh that seems to work well and usually have a fairly positive self-identity. Others have poorly adjusted flesh—maybe they are too passive, too violent, etc. Their flesh doesn’t work so well and they begin to have a negative self-image. What we need to do is have a self-image based on who we are in Christ. Our self-image is based on our relationship with God.
We might develop a study on the self-image to work through the different wrong attitudes that the disciple might have. Ask him questions that require him to describe his view of himself. When he identifies a characteristic that is too low or too high, we would take him to passages that show the balanced self-image.
Evaluation: Ask the disciple to evaluate his thoughts over the next week to see if he projects these wrong images and then help him think through the proper attitudes. Then move to the importance of self-denial and show him how he must deny himself in two ways: in relation to God and in relation to man.
In Relation to God
We have discussed the flesh and how it is opposite of what God wants to do through us through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is important to understand our insatiable desire to control every aspect of our lives—both circumstances and other people. The disciple needs to turn control over to God and follow His leadership. Since God has proven His love for us and He is omniscient, omnipotent, etc., we need to deny ourselves and place ourselves under His will and submit to His authority.
- Hosea 2:5-7. Gomer tried to find life in illegitimate relationships. We try to find life in the same way or through materialism, prestige, etc. God blocks our attempts to drive us back to Him. Show through the example of Gomer and Hosea’s responses this concept in detail. Discuss how you, the mentor, have learned this lesson. Reveal what you do to try to find happiness apart from God. How has God blocked your attempts to find life without Him?
- Jeremiah 2:14. Broken cisterns represent our futile attempts to find life apart from God. They don’t hold water.
- The life of Jacob is a great illustration of someone who spent his whole life trying to manipulate those around him. He finally gave up (during his wrestling match with God) and God was able to bless Him.
- Matthew 6:24-7:11 shows that God is our Heavenly Father and He will take care of us. If a person doesn’t believe this, he will never deny self (i.e. give up control). He will never let go of trying to control his own life. Discuss the issue of trusting in material things and why we won’t depend on our Heavenly Father who loves us and will do what is good for us.
- This vertical aspect of denying ourselves is necessary to fulfill Christ’s commands to “follow Him” in Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34 and Luke 9:23.
- Luke 9:57-62 shows self-denial in giving up comforts, cares, family in order to follow Christ. Discuss what that might mean for the disciple.
Evaluation: Ask the disciple if he is willing to stop trying to control his life, to trust God to provide for him and follow His leading. Ask him to evaluate whether or not he is too attached to the things of this world such as family, comforts, things, etc. How would he feel about going to the mission field, etc.? If we are not willing to go, then maybe we are too attached to our “stuff.”
In Relation to Others
Another way the flesh operates to control its surroundings is to try to control people. Although this really is part of surrendering control to God, how we deal with people is such a major area of our lives we need to treat it in great detail.
We naturally try to manipulate others to meet our own perceived needs and goals and to protect ourselves from pain.
There are several ways we can do this:
- We can withdraw—being a loner, introverted, giving someone the silent treatment, being preoccupied with projects, crafts, work, hobbies are all ways of keeping others at a distance so that they can’t hurt us.
- We can dominate others—by being dictatorial, demanding or pushy, overbearing, intimidating others (perhaps with a know it all or dogmatic attitude, by yelling or swearing at them, or by use of guilt).
- We can be self-sufficient—being a perfectionist, legalistic, etc. If we’re not dependent on others then they won’t let us down.
- We can be self-indulgent—impulsive, hasty, compulsive shopping, eating sprees, getting drunk, etc.
- We can be insensitive—uncaring, indifferent, unsympathetic.
- We might resist authority—be uncooperative, unteachable, argumentative, stubborn, etc.
- We can be pessimistic—if we always expect the worst, then we won’t be disappointed so much, or at least we deny our disappointment.
- We can be critical—always finding fault with others or myself.
These are some of the ways that we manipulate and control others.
We talked about the flesh being opposite of the Spirit; well these traits are certainly opposite of the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22. We often hear people say, “I’m just a loner, or I’ve always been a perfectionist …” like it is okay, and as if it is supposed to excuse us. But it is not okay.
We need to learn to deny self, deny trying to control those around us, and stop trying to protect ourselves from those around us. When we stop doing these things mentioned above it will leave us vulnerable—but that is where God wants us. That is where He can use us the most. Read Romans 12. The whole chapter shows that we need to sacrifice ourselves for the good of the community so we can serve others. What does it mean to sacrifice?
This is a very misunderstood concept. Usually people think of sacrifice simply as servant-like acts of kindness. Although those are included, a person can be subservient and act like a doormat without engaging in relationship with others. People can also perform the “sacrificial” acts of a servant and have a martyr attitude which in reality causes bitterness or withdrawal into a shell. The reason for the sacrifice is so we can move into the lives of others to make an impact in their lives and help them grow. Jesus is the example. He came to earth to die for us so that we could have a relationship with Him. His sacrifice was the willingness to be rejected, to be hurt and to die for us so that He could sanctify us.
- Ephesians 5:25f: Christ is our example. Show how this would work out in a relationship like marriage. For example: willingness to engage one’s spouse in deep conversation or confrontation and risking being hurt (the true meaning of sacrifice) in the verbal onslaught, silent treatment, etc. that might follow if the spouse is not receptive to the confrontation. Or risking ridicule if one is revealing hopes or fears. The preceding context of Ephesians 4:30 shows that it grieves the Spirit when we fail to enter into relationship with others. So, denial of self means denying myself the self-protection that I long for and denying myself the tendency to want to control my wife.
- Exodus 20:12-17: Why are most of the commands negative? Because loving others involves limiting oneself. Discuss why. Use Matthew 5-7 to explain full meaning of Ten Commandments.
- Romans 14: The law of love—not eating, drinking, etc. out of concern for others to avoid making them stumble. The way we might approach this topic with a disciple in a friendship context is when the topic of drinking comes up.
Evaluation: Ask the disciple if he is willing to work on limiting himself and his natural inclinations for the good of others.
Self-denial in relation to God and others is very important. We started off by talking about having a proper self-image. We can’t sacrifice ourselves and be vulnerable if we are insecure about our identity. If we derive our identity and security from our bank account or the way others respond to us, then we are not going to stop trying to control life and other people. What is ironic is that we cannot control life or others. It doesn’t work. That is why there are so many miserable people out there having panic attacks, getting divorces, caught up in various addictions, etc.
As the disciple begins to try to deny himself and tries to show love for others, he is certainly going to find himself with the same frustration as Paul in Romans 7. This may be a good time to discuss the role of the Holy Spirit in enabling him to deny himself and do the things he now wants to do. An explanation of Romans 6-8 and the old and new natures should be in order. In Romans 6 there is the new nature/disposition along with the old nature/disposition and we do not need to be subject to old one. In Romans 7 we see that we can choose to obey the new nature, but we cannot do it on our own. Romans 8 shows us we need the Spirit. Also use Galatians 5:16, Ephesians 5:18 to show the role of the Holy Spirit.
When we stop trying to control others and keep others at a distance to protect ourselves, it frees us up to really love others and that leads us to the next characteristic …
Showing Love to Others
This principle comes from Jesus when he summarized the law with the commands to love God and love our neighbor in Matthew 22:39 and Paul’s summary in Galatians 5:14; Romans 13:8f.
- Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). One of my favorite passages for showing this relationship between love for God and love for people is the parable of the Good Samaritan. Although the priest and Levite had just finished worshipping God (love for God), they refused to help the injured man (love for people) and showed through their hypocrisy that they did not love God. The one who showed love for his neighbor, proved by his actions that he really loved God more than the priest and Levite and he was the one who was on the inside (in the kingdom).
Ask the disciple what it would mean to love his neighbor and challenge him to broaden his concept of who his neighbor is. Teach how the principle of love for our neighbor works out in various areas of our lives. Which areas we focus on would depend on the disciple’s needs.
Ephesians 5:18f gives us a good outline for this: It says, be filled with the Spirit and if we are it will affect our relationships in the church, in our marriage, with our children, with our parents, with subordinates and superiors.
- Spiritual Gifts—Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4. The goal of our gifts is service/love for others in the body as seen in lesson 2.
- Unity—Ephesians 4:1f, 1 Corinthians, Romans 12.
- Judging—Matthew 7:1f. After sharing the ethic of the law in a deeper sense than the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus says don’t judge. The difficulty with all that we understand is that we become critical of others who don’t understand as much as we do. This is how subtle that bent of the soul is. Right when we think about loving, the tendency is to criticize someone for not loving the way we know they ought. “Do not judge” does not mean don’t discern, but does mean don’t condemn, criticize.
- Church discipline—Matthew 18: Involves confrontation procedures but the goal is restoration—repentance and forgiveness.
- Husband/wife relationship—Ephesians 5-6. Issues of love, sacrifice, authority, submission.
- Divorce and remarriage—Matthew 5:32; 19:9; 1 Corinthians 7. Issues of commitment, forgiveness and restoration.
Unforgiving Servant (Matt. 18:21f). Forgiveness means to cancel the debt and not try to make the offender pay us back. It is understanding that we are as evil as the offender and appreciating God’s forgiveness of us that allows us to do this. I’m convinced that most divorce is the result of not being able to forgive. And I don’t think it is any accident that the discussion on divorce in Matthew 19 follows the parable of the unforgiving servant.
Evaluation: Find out who he has not forgiven and ask him what it would mean for him to do so and challenge him to do it.
- Children—Deuteronomy 6:, Ephesians 6:, Proverbs—training, discipline,
- Parents—honoring, responsibility
- Relationship with superiors (Eph. 6). Example of Joseph’s loyalty, integrity, etc.
- Relationship with subordinates—Example of Nehemiah’s sacrifice and refusal to take extra portion allowed him.
- Relationship with peers (Matt. 18:21f). Example of the unforgiving servant—we can forgive because we have been forgiven.
- Honesty on the job—Proverbs
- Working diligently—Giving employer our best, not stealing from company—Proverbs.
- Responsibility to government—taxes, military service (Rom. 13).
- Responsibility for missions (Matt. 28:19-20). Spread of gospel in Acts as apostles moved out into the world.
In our discipleship process we see that this last characteristic—showing love for others—is dependent on successful adoption of the other characteristics. Unless we really love God and turn over control of our lives to Him, we won’t be able to love others.
Depending on the disciple’s needs we might use the following resources either at the end or during the process, as issues come up, to deal with special circumstances or problems he is facing. It will take several months to move through the above issues, but we should also take time to deal with any of the following areas:
- Perhaps take a book like Growing in Christ put out by the Navigators which walks through several of the basic doctrines and gives numerous verses associated with each. Those topics not already covered would be studied.
- Since we’ve been doing a lot of single verse or passage analysis over the last few months, we might teach him how to do synthesis of some book of the Bible like 1 Thessalonians, Habakkuk, Haggai, etc.
- If he is married we might take him through a book like The Marriage Builder by Larry Crabb which is excellent on explaining one’s tendency towards manipulation versus ministry.
- Perhaps use a book like Bold Love by Larry Crabb to talk about how to deal with problems with parents, spouses, etc. and deal further with issues of forgiveness, confrontation, etc.
Although this is an outline and proposed order of topics, each disciple is unique, with his own special needs, background, etc. We can’t just give a person a list of things to do to solve his problems. His problems will be solved or at least better handled when he adopts all of the above characteristics of a disciple.
Just remember, 90% of what a disciple learns is caught from the mentor’s life more than from his teaching. We need to place our emphasis on being his friend and let him see how we deal with things, how we study, pray, love, etc. Don’t just give him all the facts, help
Related Topics: Discipleship