Biblical Discipleship

Biblical Discipleshipto teach the believing student how to think as a believer before God, training them to have a sound relationship with the God of the Scriptures; to discover their expression in the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Armor and Discipleship

If someone doesn’t trust you, they will want you to wear their armor. That is what king Saul did to David on the battlefield before he faced Goliath, I Samuel 17:38-39. The person pushing his or her armor upon another doesn’t trust this person, and in fact, the pusher foremost does not trust the way of Christ Jesus in his or her own life. Nor does the pusher understand the battle, as a leader should, Ezra 7:10, James 3:1-12, 1 Timothy 1:15. A student’s motivation must go beyond being like the teacher, or the student will not take his or her stand.

Disciplers who try to put his or her armor on another is the chief error I have observed in Christian Discipleship. The Body of Believers shouldn’t make this error, Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:4-26. The job of the discipler is to help the student to discover who they are in the Lord. Students do not need to be made into a “little you.” That is an offense to the Spirit, to Jesus and to the Father. It is God who speaks, and God who supplies strength in and through each believer so that in all things He is glorified through Christ, to whom alone belongs the glory, 1 Peter 4:10-11.

The leader (discipler) must train and intentionally encourage the student to discover and grow into the unique expression of God that He has for him or her. Many students (and leaders) feign confidence, love and faith by looking at others and copying their behavior. Like a chameleon, immature leaders and students allow their surroundings to determine how they think and act. One young adult, who frequented our home for several months, later wrote to my wife and I, “Most people just want to make little ‘copies’ of themselves in a proposed mentorship/discipleship (relationship). However, I don’t think that I’ve just copied your behaviors, because you guys set up boundaries to keep that from happening. Instead you gave me the ultimate opportunity to learn who God is, who I am, and how He and I interact on a daily basis.”

Biblical Discipleship is not wearing the leader’s armor, to act like the leader or have even the same interests or expressions as him or her. In fact, it is unlikely that Biblical Discipleship will result in any of the leader’s characteristics becoming the foremost expression of the student for long. The student must outgrow dependence upon the leader, while at the same time quickly leaving behind any desire to imitate the leader and receive Christ as their very life on a moment by moment basis, Colossian 3:4, 17; James 1:21. The student must learn to continually live life by the Spirit, who is speaking plainly of Jesus. This way of living is imperative, of vital importance, according to Jesus, John 15:18-27. It is the normal Christian life, Galatians 2:20.

Danger and Discipleship

Nearly two decades ago, by the Spirit I realized how to train believers to walk with the Lord and to not be content to express themselves like me or anyone else, which includes their own parents. A woman I know, who has been training young ladies for many decades to walk with God, heard about my method. She called me years ago to get a written copy of my plan. After reading it, she called me back. “Are you really training people to think for themselves?” she asked. (The response that follows tells the reader I had been asked a similar question before.) “Yes. I have learned it falls short of God’s best for them if I do anything else. My job as a discipler is to teach the student how to think as a believer before God, to train them to have a sound relationship with the God of the Scriptures. I find in that environment, God works out their theology and unique expression for them. Surprisingly to most, the student’s theology ends up in a sound place with few exceptions, plus their individual expression becomes as unique as the creativity of God. When soundness is expressed with creativity, it is a powerful expression. It is the second part, the unique creative expression of God in each believer, which most every discipler fails to allow or encourage in the student. We start out assuming that other believers need to have the same theology and expression as we do. I was trained to believe that, too. But the Spirit has corrected my thinking. Now I find the student quickly outgrows any confidence they had in expressing themselves like me, and turns their confidence to foremost be in constant communication with God,” I replied. I could hear the woman chuckle and smile on the other end of the phone. “Well, some would say that is dangerous,” she said. It was then that I realized she had been operating with the same approach for a long time.

Freedom and Discipleship

Saul underestimated David, and the Lord’s interest in directing David, 1 Samuel 17:33, 37. Saul lived as if he believed the best thing he could do for David was to make him look like Saul’s idea of a soldier, 1 Samuel 17:38. If Saul could get David to wear Saul’s armor, he could excuse himself from the results as having at least done something to correct the naïve David before he entered the battle. After all, in Saul’s mind, the boy was doomed to fail. Saul expected it, “You are not able to go against the Philistine to fight him; for you are but a youth while he has been a warrior from his youth,” 1 Samuel 17:33.

The reality unknown and never understood by Saul, is that David had already successfully entered this battle in a manner of speaking, 1 Samuel 17:45-47. Unlike Saul, David had already left behind the things that would get in his way today, 1 Samuel 17:20-22. Saul was, from his chicken-flesh, self-focused beginning as king, content to sit among the things that were in his way, 1 Samuel 10:20-22. The people of Israel had to physically remove Saul from hiding among the common everyday baggage just to crown him king, 1 Samuel 10:23. Saul didn’t want to leave the common way, and in fact never did learn the freedom to be found from the things you leave behind.

Error, Rebellion and Discipleship

My early experiences in Christendom taught to put my armor on the student. No one openly said that to me, nor would they have publicly agreed with the idea. But the religious system in the church I attended encouraged only that, as those who thought alike, spoke alike, acted alike and dressed alike were held up as the leaders. Today I know to think and live this way is to underestimate the creativity of God. At best, what I witnessed was error. At worst, trying to put your armor on another believer is rebellion. Rebellion is worse than error.

Over the years I continue to observe more men than not, in more churches than not, in more discipleship relationships than not, try to make the student wear their armor. With few exceptions, the result is the same – more of the same error and rebellion. Who will step up and risk trusting God more than themselves, more than their own experiences?

In one sense, my instruction today is a plea to student. Look elsewhere for discipleship when a leader insists you wear their armor; adopting their theology and expression as your own. If imitating the leader is what you have to do to earn their trust, trust will never happen, because the leader foremost don’t trust God. Therefore the leader will not trust Christ’s armor to mature on you.

In another sense, my instruction today is a plea to the discipler. There is much freedom yet to be discovered by you if you leave your expectations for the student to think and act like you behind. Your thoughts and actions may be right on schedule before the Lord for you, but the student is not on your schedule. More importantly, and dare I say, the Lord is much more creative than what you see in the mirror each morning.

May each believer trust God to bring about His unique sound expression in each believer, and not be content to stumble among the everyday baggage of this life.

 

How do we get armor, if not by imitating another?

Paul taught the believers at Ephesus that each is to put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:11-17), but how does that happen, by “being strong in the Lord and in the power of His might,” Ephesians 6:10. To become strong in the Lord and to live by the power of His might doesn’t just happen by imitating someone. If it did, the WWJD (What would Jesus do?) movement would be enough to rescue the world from sinning, spiritual death and the lake of fire.

Christian armor for living is put on as each believer is tested before God in a relatively tough spot, 1 Samuel 17:34-36, 39. David said, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” Tested means to prove something to be true or false by trying to solve a problem with it.

The idea of proving something with a test is what the queen of Sheba did when she came to speak with Solomon, 2 Chronicles 9:1-12. She proved what she attributed to be Solomon’s wisdom (2 Chronicles 9:7) by testing him with difficult questions, 2 Chronicles 9:1.

More relative to our thoughts about discipleship and armor is what we learn in Daniel 1. There we find a Babylonian commander and a teenage Daniel both testing something or someone under relatively difficult circumstances, Daniel 1:8-16. Daniel asked the commander of the Babylonian officials, “Please test your servants for ten days, and let us be given some vegetables to eat and drink. Then let our appearance be observed in your presence,” Daniel 1:12-13. The commander did just that, in an effort to prove Daniel right or wrong, “So he listened to them in this matter and tested them for ten days,” Daniel 1:14.

We know that the queen found Solomon to be all and more than she had imagined, 2 Chronicles 9:2-4. We also know that the commander found Daniel to be healthy and brighter than any of those who had eaten the king’s food, Daniel 1:15-16. But notice a key that preceded what each found to be true, there had to be a season of testing, of creative risk rather than safe imitation. The leader refused be contained by their experience alone, or we would have never known these things in Solomon or Daniel and his friends – these unique expressions of God.

In this way the queen of Sheba and the commander of the Babylonian officials led those around them better than did king Saul before David. The queen and the commander, even as unbelievers, were willing to trust in another person to prove them right or wrong. In doing so, the God of the Hebrews exposed them to things they didn’t know about God, 1 Kings 10:6-9.

Daniel discovers God’s armor

Most importantly to our discussion, in the risk Daniel took to prove God right, a young Daniel grew stronger “in the Lord and in the power of His might,” Ephesians 6:10. Daniel learned how to put on armor forged by God for him. Daniel hadn’t gotten it all right on this day; he hadn’t refused to be assimilated into the norms of the Chaldeans, which included astrology with pagan beliefs upon human affairs, Daniel 1:4. But after ten days Daniel now knew God could be trusted in a way he hadn’t known before. Daniel, given the opportunity to prove God, had become stronger in the Lord and in the power of His might. This has even happened under the consent of a pagan commander who was willing to allow Daniel to prove him right or wrong!

Biblical Discipleship

Do you see the truth about Biblical Discipleship? It is not so much that the student needs to imitate the discipler or leader. It is that God’s method of discipleship allows for sound creative risk under the watchful eye of the wise leader for a season. The leader needs understanding from God in order to know where to encourage these risks. This is perhaps the most important thing the leader needs to be able to provide for the student, because the Lord’s way always serves everyone in the Body and the unbelieving world much better than imitating even an earthly king, Daniel 1:8.


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