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What does a mature disciple really look like? Did you know that someone can be an outstanding preacher, a knowledgeable Bible scholar, a visionary leader, and even a missionary martyr, but still not be a mature disciple? In this lesson, you’ll learn from Scripture what the final product of biblical discipleship should really look like.
What does a mature disciple of Jesus Christ look like?
First and foremost a mature disciple is someone who is marked by love.
We saw earlier that Jesus’ commission to make disciples culminates in his command to teach his followers how to obey all his commandments. When someone asked Jesus which of the commandments is the most important, he responded by teaching it is love for God and others. (Matt 22:34-40)
Then Jesus said, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:40). In other words, Jesus is teaching that loving God and loving others is the essential application of all of God’s commands in Scripture.
The first tablet of the Ten Commandments contains the first four commandments that teach us how to love God. The second tablet contains the last six commandments that teach us how to love others.
In 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, the Apostle Paul says that someone can have remarkable virtues, but if they are missing love, they are nothing.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
This means someone can be an outstanding preacher, a knowledgeable Bible scholar, a faith-filled leader, and even a missionary martyr, but still not be a mature disciple if they don’t have love.
Paul continues in the next verses giving several practical examples of what a loving person looks like. If we substitute the words “a mature disciple” for love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, we have an insightful description of what the final product of biblical discipleship should look like:
(A mature disciple) is patient and kind; does not envy or boast; is not arrogant or rude; does not insist on their own way; is not irritable or resentful; does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.
The Signs of Health
A mature disciple is also spiritually healthy. What are some essential marks of spiritual health?
We learned earlier that the Bible gives us several vital signs of a spiritually health church body, including:
- Worship: They were praising God (2:47)
- Learning: They were devoted to the Apostles’ teaching (2:42)
- Fellowship: They were devoted to the fellowship (2:42)
- Prayer: They were devoted to the prayers (2:42)
- Evangelism: Those who were being saved were added (2:47)
- Mercy: They distributed proceeds to any who had need (2:45)
- Missions: They laid their hands on them and sent them off (13:3)
The only way a church body can be healthy is if the church members are spiritually healthy. So a healthy, mature disciple is a microcosm of a healthy mature church.
This means that a mature disciple is devoted to worship, learning, fellowship, prayer, evangelism, mercy, and missions.
The Restoration of Relationships
It’s helpful to see these vital signs of spiritual health in light of the good news of God’s redeeming and restoring work of all things lost in the Fall through Jesus Christ.
As a result of the Fall of humanity into sin, three primary relationships were broken: 1) our relationship with God, 2) our relationship with others, and 3) our relationship with the world.
The good news is that the Father’s creation, ruined by the Fall of humanity, is being redeemed by Jesus Christ and restored by the Holy Spirit into the kingdom of God. A disciple of Jesus Christ is someone who is being swept up into God’s cosmic restoration project and experiencing Christ’s redemption and restoration in all these relationships of life.
We focus on developing the vital signs of spiritual health as a means of helping disciples flourish in the redemption and restoration of all these relationships. Therefore, growing in worship, prayer, learning, fellowship, evangelism, mercy, and missions is essential to growing in our relationship with God, others, and the world.
Although all the signs of health can help restore all the vital relationships in life, it’s helpful to focus on ways that specific signs of health can uniquely help strengthen certain relationships.
Restoring Relationships to God through Worship
Mature disciples grow in their relationship with God when they regularly gather with other disciples to worship God in spirit and truth.
By making the first two of the Ten Commandments about worship, God reveals that he sees worship as the highest display of love for him.
Biblical worship is the most significant vital sign of spiritual health because it contains the essential means of grace God has ordained for spiritual growth, including preaching, sacraments, praying, etc.
Restoring Relationships to Others through Fellowship
Although gathering regularly with other disciples for public worship is essential for the spiritual growth of a disciple, it’s not adequate.
God designs us in his interpersonal, Triune image so that we cannot grow to maturity in our relationship with him apart from having meaningful relationships with other disciples in his church.
Although the Bible doesn’t command us to structure a local church in groups, it presents us with a call to community that requires believers to be in groups in order to have meaningful community. Discipleship should be taking place as a normal way of life when followers of Christ meet together regularly to encourage one another to love and good works. (Heb 10:24-25)
Under the oversight of godly pastors and shepherds, the leaders of these groups, over time, should help members with the balanced development they need to be healthy, growing disciples.
Restoring Relationships to the World through Service
The gospel restores more than our broken relationship with God and others. It also restores our broken relationship with the world. Therefore, a mature disciple’s love for God and others will be reflected in their love for the broken world.
The Apostle Paul teaches that God is now, through Christ, “reconciling to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col 1:19).
This means the world is not rigidly divided between the sacred and the secular. Instead, the good news is that Jesus is now Lord over all areas of life and reconciling to Himself all things.
First and foremost, God is now reconciling lost people to himself through Christ by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said he came “to seek and save the lost.” And when Jesus called his disciples, he called them to be “fishers of men.” From the New Testament perspective, this means if you are a follower of Jesus, it is assumed that you are a fisher of men, devoted to evangelism.
Mature disciples are also devoted to seeing the invisible kingdom of Christ made visible throughout every sphere of life by not only words of truth but also relentless acts of mercy and justice. Living justly means living in recognition of all the kinds of spiritual darkness in the world that desperately needs the light of the gospel in word and deed.
Disciples of Jesus are called not only to walk humbly with God, but also to do justice and love mercy. (Micah 6:8)
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