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A Thin Theology of Discipleship

I come from a spiritual environment where the term disciple is used often, and is generally preferred over Christian. I understand where this comes from as it is the preferred nomenclature of the New Testament over "Christian", as well as the term "Christian" (especially in North America) becoming watered down to the point where it really doesn't mean much or signify anything. I wonder though, is "disciple" becoming just as watered down?

Often I find that people's understanding of "discipleship", or being a "disciple", is thin. Many times it is essentially boiled down to a specific doctrinal understanding of conversion, and in particular baptismal regeneration, as though understanding that you are baptized for the forgiveness of your sins through your faith in Christ (c.f. Acts 2:38; Col 2:11; etc.) automatically makes you (and keeps you) a "disciple". In many ways this is a kin to a doctrinal understanding of "once saved always saved", but could be worded, "once baptized, always a disciple (and thus saved)".

Most would obviously not state this outright, but in practice I have seen this become a common thread for many. And while yes, most would say that actually following Jesus and practicing his teachings (c.f. Jhn 8:31-32) is wrapped up in what it means to be his disciple, unfortunately I see too often that this is not a belief that is actually practiced, over time especially, and the default position is, "at least I was converted (ie. baptized) properly". This is not a sound biblical theology of discipleship.

Biblical discipleship is not only an initial conversion to Jesus, but a continuation of following him and becoming like him. This is a consistent practice of sanctification (changing to become more like Jesus; holiness) and spiritual formation (walking with the Spirit through spiritual disciplines). It is also a continuing steadfastness to the great commission of being a disciple maker. One is never so spiritually mature that they are no longer called to be a disciple maker. Biblical discipleship is also a commitment not only to Christ's body, the church, but to one's community outside the church. In the West where the idea and practice of community is rapidly changing, dare I say fading away, this is perhaps one of the more important front lines of battle for Christ's disciples.

Our understanding and practice of discipleship must not be limited to our life in the church, but our live's amongst those in the world as well (1 Pet 2:12). A full, biblical, theologically sound, and robust understanding of what it means to follow Jesus as his disciple, is one that not only starts at conversion, but continues to greater sanctification and formation as we walk with God's Spirit and impact the world around us for God's glory.

A litmus test on whether we are still following Jesus as his disciple is to ask ourselves; are we still actively engaging in shaping the world around us, doing the work of continuing to usher in God's kingdom to the world around us, making disciples of Jesus as we go?


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