When I was a young believer, I wanted to figure out how to become a good Christian. I wanted to grow.
Is that you? Do you or have you looked for ways to grow in your faith? Is that important to you?
Anyway, I looked at Christians I admired, and I noticed a few things:
1. They knew a lot about the Bible.
2. They knew theology.
3. They were church leaders.
4. They were up front speaking.
Having no further guidance than that, I aimed to become those things. I went off to Bible college to learn the Bible, to learn theology, to become a church leader, to be the guy up front speaking.
Here I need to condense a 200-page story full of my own mistakes and disappointments down to a few takeaways.
Discipleship is the process that takes us from Christian newbie to Christian maturity. There are a lot of people out there hawking discipleship programs. Some are good. Some are horrible. Let me talk about the difference between the two.
Examples of Counterfeit Discipleship
“Follow me. I’m a prophet.” Well, hey, I’m a prophet too, and please don’t follow me; follow Jesus instead. I don’t want to be your pipeline to God; I don’t want to control your life in any way.
“Look at all the miracles I can do.” Great. Use those gifts to help hurting people and use them to showcase the goodness of God. Great gifts are a sign of great responsibility; they’re not a sign of maturity.
“I’ll make you rich!” Limousines, private jets, and beach homes are not the building blocks of Christian maturity. If you have them, great. Place them in God’s hands and let Him show you how to use them to bring good into your world.
“I’m Mr./Ms. Christian Big Shot.” Yeah. Maybe you are. Some people are leaders because they’re good leaders. Some people are leaders because they’re pushy and nobody bothered to push back. In any case, sit at the feet of Jesus; learn maturity from Him, so you can help your people find their way.
“You’re sinning all the time.” Some pastors and Christian leaders get stuck here. Every sermon is “yet another 15 ways in which you’re sinning and didn’t know it.” I’m not saying sin isn’t a problem, and I’m not saying we should be lackadaisical about it. But when I asked God, “Is it true that we’re always sinning?” His reply was, That’s not My focus. Let’s find God’s focus and make it our focus. Hint: Let yourself be loved by God; discover and experience His goodness, and then you won’t—as a rule—feel like sinning.
“I have hidden knowledge.” I’ve seen this come up a lot of ways. The Bible teacher who has unlocked all the hidden meaning in the book of Revelation. (Yeah, sure.) The Bible scholar with contempt for those who disagree. The person with their pet translation or teaching or interpretation. The person who works really hard to get the Bible to say what the Bible does not say. The person who condemns all Christians who don’t agree with their teachings.
Let me unpack that last paragraph a bit more. As we grow in Christ, our understanding grows. Things that were previously hidden from us become clear. But this wisdom from above (see James 3:13-18) comes to us as we experience the love of God, as we study the Bible, as we love God and love others, as we live a good life. If any of those elements are absent, our wisdom is warped.
“Vote the way I vote, attend my protest rallies.” Left or Right. The moment you try to paint Jesus red or blue is the moment you lose touch with the real Jesus and replace Him with your own Jesus wannabe. Should you support good causes and vote your conscience? Of course. But understand that Jesus has followers who vote differently than you do, and God has given them wisdom He didn’t give you. I’m not saying they’re right and you’re wrong. I’m saying we need each other.
By contrast, Real Discipleship
It works in real life. It’s relevant. It works in good times and in bad. It’s not anchored in platitudes, but it’s anchored in the nearness of God.
It results in love for God, love for people, the fruit of the Spirit, relationships characterized by understanding, respect, trust, and love.
It aligns with scripture, but it also bridges the gap from the page to our lives.
It’s transformational. It brings the broken places in our souls in touch with God. In the process, He grants us His perspective—the paradigm shifts that change how we think, what we feel, how we experience life.
Most of all, it invites Jesus in. Apart from Him, we can do nothing.
Hopefully, all of us can become connoisseurs of the real deal and not be led astray—as I sometimes have been—by the counterfeits out there.
My wife and I (okay, blame it on me) own what is probably the ugliest garden in America. But I do have a game camera out there, and it does capture some of the critters who visit, prowl, feast at our expense, or just slink on through in the middle of the night. I have videos. Would you like to see them?