Series: Discipling Category: Core Seminars, Discipling / Mentoring, Personal Holiness, Sanctification & Growth
Introduction: Brief Review of First 3 Weeks
Let’s start with a brief reminder of what we having been doing up till now. Week 1 – we started by setting out a definition of discipleship, which we defined as: The intentional encouragement of Christians on the basis of deliberate, loving relationships and training in God’s Word. Intentional or deliberate is the operative word here. It doesn’t happen passively. And we also talked about how you will be a conduit for the truth, passing on to others what God’s has give to you.
Week 2 – We thought about reasons why we should disciple – for your joy and for God’s glory. We were surprised by the first reason because we would have assumed having joy in this might be selfish, but we saw from Paul’s example that he found great joy in the fruit of discipling that came from his work and the ministry of others. We also wanted to be careful to not make this about us, but to put the focus in the right place—on God’s glory. He is the one who will sow the seed in people’s hearts, so also he will reap a harvest. We simply are privileged to be a means that God uses to help others.
Week 3 – We thought about barriers, excuses, and fears in discipling. Remember some of the examples: “I don’t want to be in a position of authority” or “I don’t have time.” In each case, we came to see how the bible dismantles our excuses and fears and redirects us to live without excuses.
For the next few weeks, we’re going to start narrowing our focus a bit as we study specific aspects of discipling, like studying Scripture together, reading a good book together, ministering to hurting people, etc. Today, though, we want to look at how discipling can engender personal holiness in the lives of both the people in a discipleship relationship.
My goal for our time together is that we understand the place that holiness has in a discipleship relationship and that we think together practically at how we can encourage personal holiness.
THE ULTIMATE GOAL OF DISCIPLING—OBEDIENCE
Let’s start by thinking about the importance of obedience in the Christian life. Above everything else, discipling finally comes down to obedience to Christ’s words and commands. That is the great goal of discipling. A person can read all the Christian books in the world or pray with an older Christian every day, but if there is not a real change in their life marked by growing obedience to Christ then that person is very likely not a disciple. Discipling is not simply about behavior modification; but about changed hearts that lead to changed lives.
Two reasons why obedience is an important goal of any discipling relationship.
First, obedience is important because God is glorified through the way we live. God is glorified in our lives as we display his character to the world around us, not only by what we say, but by how we live. If we call ourselves Christians but live in a way that is clearly contrary to God’s character, then we misrepresent God to those around us.
Another verse, Philippians 1:9-11: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” Why is Paul so eager for their love for Christ to grow/abound? Note the connector: “so that” – denotes that the purpose is coming afterwards. So that they can “discern what is best” (so they can say no to sin) and “be pure and blameless”(that is, they can be holy). And what is the overarching goal of these things? “To the glory and praise of God!” Again, what you see is greater love resulting in greater obedience. The two are inextricably linked.
If the way we live commends the gospel that we profess, then we will bring glory to God and provide a powerful witness to the truth of the gospel. Regeneration is finally about glorifying God.
Second, obedience is important because it is a mark of true Christians. Obedience springs forth from those who love God.
Jonathan Edwards spent a great deal of time considering all the marks of conversion that attend the work of the Spirit in the great awakening. In the end he finally concluded that growth in personal holiness over time was the most universal and most reliable evidence of a true work of the Spirit. It is the same for us today.
An internal change (e.g., a love for Christ) should manifest itself in an external change of life (e.g., greater obedience). Think about John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” There is an inescapable link between our love for Christ and our obedience to Christ. Our love for Christ births in us a desire to please Him. If we are truly regenerate and have the Holy Spirit living us, our greatest desire will be to do Christ’s will.
I John 1:3-6, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.”
How do we know we are in Christ? It is by our obedience! What does John say about the person who says, “I know Christ,” and yet does not obey His commands? That person is a liar! That may sound like a harsh statement, but it is important for us to know that the final test of Christianity is a changed life marked by increasing personal holiness!
This means that one reason we want to help someone else live a life that is characterized by greater obedience is because that obedience will give them an opportunity to show the love they have for God, providing assurance of their salvation. Obviously, that obedience does not make them a Christian; but it shows us about what resides within their heart.
So does this sound kind of backwards? If I see a field of flowers and want to make it bigger and brighter, I don’t go about doing that by massaging the leaves and painting them to brighten the colors. Of course not. I water and tend the plants, knowing that if the plants are healthy, bright flowers will follow. Just as nutrients and water are needed to produce bigger and brighter flowers, so also faith is the source of obedience. And if faith is the source of obedience, why are we talking so much about holiness and obedience? Shouldn’t we be talking about faith instead?
If someone is a Christian, then they will obey God. That’s true and yet part of your responsibility as a discipler is to help them grow in their obedience to God. “What’s the point?” you say. They are going to do it anyway if they are a Christian. True, God will cause his true children to produce true fruit, and yet, perhaps God can use you to help bring about that fruit of obedience? You can be a means by which God uses to help foster greater obedience in their life.
In addition, it’s important for us to realize that we are not aiming merely for external changes, nor mere internal theological knowledge. We are aiming to encourage an internal growth and knowledge that spills over into more godly living, greater love for Christians and the lost, and a holiness of life that evidences a changed and maturing heart. Truth is no good if it lives in an ivory tower. It must evidence itself in the way it changes the way we live, fostering a renewed heart and a redeemed life.
There is a seeming paradox here that is important to get our hands around if we are to be effective and helpful in discipling others. We recognize that true repentance and obedience is something that God alone can produce. And yet he calls us to help encourage the holiness of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember, you are but the conduit of God’s work in that person’s life. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that you are primarily helping to foster something in them that God has already promised to do. The joy of discipling is seeing God accomplish his promised work through you, not doing something that God could never have accomplished on his own without your help. But please remember also that your goal is not behavior modification, but maturity in Christ. If a person makes changes to their behavior simply to please you, then you have neither succeeded in glorifying God, nor have you shown them how to express love for Christ through obedience, nor have you helped them achieve true assurance of their salvation. But if you can help them identify areas in their life for increased obedience, and if you can provide encouragement and wisdom in that task, then you have helped them in a way that will serve them well.
[PAUSE FOR QUESTIONS]
ENCOURAGING HOLINESS IN THE DISCIPLE
So how is it that we can encourage holiness in the life of someone we’re discipling? Let’s start by differentiating between what happens immediately and what becomes a gradual process when someone becomes a Christian.
The Bible talks about several things that change immediately upon a person’s conversion. (have people look these verses up)
John 5:24, “24"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” Jesus says that the status of the person changes immediately. There is a change of outlook on life and a new hope in God’s promise of salvation. That can make an enormous difference in the way a person handles hardship almost immediately ( see also Eph. 5:8; Rom. 6:18; Heb. 12:18-24).
Mark 1:8, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." One of the things that happens immediately upon conversion is that the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us. As a result, we will be much more convicted about sin; our consciences will be more tender. (see also Rom. 8:13-14; I Cor. 3:16; Gal. 5:16-26)
Mark 2:5, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Our sins are immediately forgiven, which is another immediate effect of conversion. That truth can be the source of a new optimism about life, or gratitude toward God (see also Rom. 8:1; I John 1:9; Heb. 10:12-14).
When a person is converted, his identity changes. He is a newly justified, newly converted disciple of Christ. He is no longer what he once was, but he now has a new status, a new life, and new joy in Christ. This does not mean, though, that all of his bad habits and cravings will magically vanish. Look closely sometime at Romans 6. It is a wonderful passage about the Christian’s power over sin. It is interesting to see, though, that Paul never says a word about temptation being taken away. The same idea is spoken of in Galatians 5:16-17. Even after we are Christians, the sinful nature still wars against us. As Christians, though, we have the power of the Holy Spirit to help us to increasingly defeat sin.
Disciplers often go about things in a backwards way. We often want to see bad habits and cravings disappear immediately in those we are discipling. Don’t expect that! Expect to see God’s Spirit working effectively to take away those cravings and habits over some period of time. Theologians refer to this progressive sanctification, our gradual and increasing conformity to Christ-likeness. The change may be rapid and dramatic or it may be more slow and halting. God doesn’t promise that it will always be one way or the other. But he does promise it will happen, so don’t give up or be discouraged if it doesn’t happen immediately.
Rather, what you are looking for in a disciple of Christ is growing character, which can be defined as moral strength or constitution. Romans 5:3-4 tell us how character is developed. “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” In our hardships and struggles even with sin, God is developing character in us. And why does character produce hope? Because as we see God’s unfailing faithfulness in bringing us through hardship, we learn to rely on Him more and more. Remember, the goal here is not behavior modification, because that will never achieve the goals we have of bringing glory to God and providing assurance of salvation. Your goal is to gently and lovingly work to help strengthen the moral character of the person you are discipling so that on their own they can joyfully live life to the pleasure and glory of God.
So, very practically, how do we encourage holiness in the lives of those we disciple?
First and foremost, pray that God would give you insight into their struggles with sin and wisdom regarding how you can be of help to them.
Second, make sure that as you discuss models of obedience in Scripture or various biblical commands, you also discuss how your lives compare. The Bible is the best diagnostic tool you have to help that other person see sin in their life. Use it.
Third, do not shy away from sharing concerns you may have about various aspects of their life. Sometimes, sin is clear, and it is your job to confront your friend with the reality of what they are doing. “Do you understand from Scripture that lying is sinful?” “But you continue to lie to your boss?” “Are you willing to change and stop living that way?”
As is often the case, however, things are not that clear. Sometimes, you may suspect that there is a sinful attitude behind some action, but you can never be certain. Though it may be uncomfortable, and though you may be wrong, as a brother or sister in Christ in a close relationship with this person, it is your responsibility to ask them hard questions and to be willing to talk with them about it. As you do that, however, remember that you do not know their motives nor do you have a perfect picture of how they live their life. In humility, explain that, while God alone knows the state of their heart before him, from your perspective, the way they are describing a particular situation or the response of others to a particular action has made you concerned that there may be an underlying sinful attitude. And then discuss with them whether they come to the same conclusion as they are honest about their heart before God.
Sometimes, the issue is not that the state of their heart is unclear, it’s that their action is not necessarily sinful, but merely unwise. This seems to crop up a lot in dating relationships and in issues of someone’s finances. Perhaps they are spending too much time alone and are tempting themselves sexually. Perhaps they spend lavishly on things that seem somewhat foolish. Obviously, you are not their parent, nor are you the thought police. But as someone who also is indwelt by the Spirit of God, I think it is good share with them the wisdom and experience that God has given you. Remind them that our goal as Christians is not simply to avoid sin, but to seek obedience and wisdom. And warn them of the potential consequences of continuing down the path they are on.
Fourth, to the extent that God is doing good things in your life, do not shy away from holding yourself out as an example. We know you’re not perfect. But your life may be incredibly useful as a model to flesh out the principles of scripture in a very practical format. Give credit to God for the good things he has done in you. And let him use those good works to encourage other Christians. Always being careful to give the glory and honor to God.
Fifth, try as much as possible to ensure that whoever you disciple is under the authority of a local church (preferably your own).
Brian Fujito, one of the elders here at Capitol Hill Baptist church wrote the following about the value of a local church in discipling:
Twice in my life I have discipled individuals who became entangled in scandalous, unrepentant sin. In the one situation, that individual didn’t at first agree that what they were doing was sinful. We had long talks together, and with other Christian friends who I knew he respected. But ultimately, because he was not a member of a local church, at the end of the day, all I could offer was my sober opinion. In the second situation, the individual again did not agree that what he was doing was sinful, at least not initially. But I was not on my own, because he was a member of my church. And so I had help from others in the congregation, from the elders, and finally from the church as a whole as they exercised church discipline [ by excluding him from membership. ] That was a discouraging and difficult experience, but I knew that where my efforts ended, they were backed up by the stronger authority of an entire community of believing Christians. Church discipline is an important backstop as you encourage people on toward personal holiness. – Brian Fujito
I am not suggesting that you should view yourself as the holiness police, or that your job is to nit and pick at every detail. For some of you, it may be a great temptation to exercise high-handed control over the life of someone else, and for you, this is something you need to address in your own life lest you inflict damage on others. Remember that the author of Hebrews tells us to consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not exasperate or criticize each other to holiness.
HOLINESS IN THE DISCIPLER
Clearly, one way that you can avoid having an unhealthy attitude in discipling is that you too should be growing in holiness. And as you do, God will likely use you as a profitable example in the life of those who you are discipling.
After all, how does a disciple learn what it looks like to be holy? Look at John 13:15. Christ says to his disciples, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Jesus modeled everything the disciples needed to know about holiness. He not only told them how to be holy, He showed them how.
In the same way, we as disciplers must also be holy in order to set an example to those we are discipling. Look at these passages:
• I Corinthians 11:1, “1Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”
• Philippians 3:17, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” • I Thessalonians 1:6, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” • II Timothy 1:13, “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.”
These passages all talk about Paul’s example to the believers. Paul expected others to follow his example. Is that something that is unique to an apostle? No. Read Titus 2:7 – Here Paul tells Timothy to set an example for the younger men. Now read I Timothy 4:12 – Again he tells Timothy, a young man, to set an example for the believers. Being an example for others is every Christian’s duty and one of the most important ways that we teach and learn about holiness.
What are some ways to make sure that we remain holy in our own lives?
• Regular attendance at church • Regular personal time with the Lord • Regular reading about the character of God in his Word • Regular accountability to other Christians in your church • Regular effort to serve others (esp those in your church) • Etc.
Being an example does not mean that we will always do the right thing. After all, we all still sin. The process of being made holy is still happening even in the discipler! It means, though, that even when we sin, the younger Christian sees how we handle that sin. Do we laugh it off, or is it a serious matter? Do we make amends, or hope no one says anything? Sure, this makes us vulnerable, but there is no better way for a young Christian to learn than by watching us strive to be holy.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
Paul’s emphasizing our perseverance in the Christian life: “Run in such a way as to get the prize.” He wants us to make it to the very end.
Don’t know if you have ever heard of those who have cared for others well, have been fruitful in discipling others, and yet they (in the end of the story) do not finish the race themselves.
Don’t let that be you. While their holiness is important, so is yours.
• Growing in personal holiness is a primary goal of our encouragement in discipling relationships. • A faithful discipler will specifically encourage greater holiness in any friend being discipled. • Growing in holiness is essential for all Christians….disciple and discipler alike.
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