What does a disciple look like?
I have already, in the last few weeks, alluded to this many times – for example…
Luke 6:40 A disciple is not greater than his teacher but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.
Remember? The goal of a disciple of a rabbi was to be like the rabbi. Disciples are students of Jesus learning from Him how to be like Him.
What does a disciple look like? Jesus.
I am going to put a number of passages on the screen. We don’t have time to explore them all so pick some at random and notice that they all say that the goal of our spiritual growth is to be like Jesus.
1 Corinthians 15:49
2 Corinthians 3:18
Ephesian 4:13, 15
1 John 2:6
1 John 4:17
Look at Romans 8:29. What is God’s goal for His people? To be like Jesus. What is God’s goal for you?
Write down as many things as you can that describe Jesus – what was He like? What did He do?
You might include things such as:
Knew the scriptures well
Died on the cross
Obedient to God
Are there things there that you would not want to also see in the lives of followers of Jesus?
There are some things that clearly are unique to Jesus. No one else could die for the sins of the world. Some things are unique. But others should be true of us even if on a different level. We too are called to take up our crosses and to die. We too are children of God.
Next question: Were the original apostles Christ-like after they had spent that time with Jesus?
They weren’t perfect, but they were transformed men. We could go through that list of Christ-like qualities and most of them were true of those men. They prayed; they knew the scriptures, they were willing to die for Jesus (and most of them did); they were compassionate; they were purposeful; they made disciples; they were patient; they performed miracles; they were obedient to God…
Wow! They didn’t start out that way but they ended up being like Jesus. Real transformation is possible in the lives of those who spend time with Jesus. Don’t you think that is absolutely incredible? God’s goal for you is that you be like Jesus. What an absolutely fantastic thing! If you look at that list, do you find that prospect exciting – that you might be prayerful, faithful, obedient, compassionate… This is the world’s greatest make-over. God offers to take you and turn you into someone like Jesus.
The fact that the Bible says that the goal of our spiritual growth is Christ-likeness, should fire our ambition: “That’s my goal. This is what my life is about. My number one ambition is to be like Jesus.”
And if the apostles could become like Jesus then God can do that in our lives too.
Does being like Jesus inspire you? Is it an ambition that you are putting effort into achieving? What if you could take that list of characteristics and put your name at the top? Is that inspiring? Why? Because you would look pretty cool? You certainly would but you would have to cross “humble” off the list!
Does that inspire you because that is what God wants for you? He has predestined you to be like Jesus. Does it inspire you because a life like Jesus’ would honour God? Does it inspire you because your life would be a powerful witness to Jesus?
Jesus is the inspiration. Jesus is the goal. And Jesus is the way to get there.
How can we become like Jesus? We cannot do it ourselves, can we? This inner transformation is a work of God; it is something the Holy Spirit does in us. We will come back to that in a minute.
I’ve been talking about our own discipleship but this is crucially important when we think about making disciples too. What is the goal of our discipling of others? That they become like Jesus.
We are not commissioned to make little copies of ourselves. We are not saying to people “Be like me.” Our goal, and their goal, must be to be like Jesus.
In as much as we are like Jesus then we can say “Be like me.” That is why our own discipleship is so crucial before we think about discipling others. We will never be perfect but let’s not put off discipling others until we are perfect. Remember, Paul said, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ. In as much as you see Jesus in me, copy that. When you see compassion in me, that is not the natural me; that is a little reflection of Jesus. Copy that. If you see love for the unlovely in me, that is a little reflection of Jesus. Copy that. At times I will fail because I am still learning too. I am still seeking to be like Jesus. I hope that when you see me fail, you will also see me repent and seek Jesus for victory in that area of failure. Copy that.”
As we become more like Jesus, then we have something worthwhile for other people to see and copy. That list of characteristics of Jesus is our curriculum. The goal is Jesus – Christ-likeness.
In most churches, if someone is well-known for being short-tempered, we simply say that that is just Jim (or whoever) and we simply manage it. What about our responsibility to help Jim become more Christ-like? Most churches are quite content for people to be church members for many years and never grow.
And yet, Jesus said, “As you go through life, at every moment and in every situation, make disciples.” Someone should sit down with Jim and say, “Jim, have you noticed that when you fly off the handle some people feel really intimidated and it creates some very awkward situations? Jesus got angry too but it was different. He didn’t just lose it for no apparent reason, or for selfish reasons. Jim. do you want to be more like Jesus? I am sure that we could work on it and see some real progress if you were interested.”
…or however you might approach it. You probably would do it much better but my point is: do we value spiritual growth? Do we expect spiritual growth? Or are we content with immaturity?
Many of the problems in churches are the result of immaturity. People behave badly. People use emotional manipulation to get their own way; people are controlling; people talk behind others’ backs and create discontent; decisions are made largely on the basis of what suits me. “I want my church to be this way because that suits me.” Church life is often dysfunctional and ineffective and unattractive to outsiders because we have become used to immaturity and we accept immaturity.
Let’s keep in mind a biblical concept: Christ-likeness.
Imagine how different churches would be if the members were making real progress towards Christ-likeness. People flocked to Jesus. What might happen if we were like Him? If church members were gracious, compassionate, forgiving, friendly, obedient to God, prayerful, steeped in the scriptures, wonderful teachers, and miracles were happening, what would church life be like? What would the community think?
The goal of many churches is simply to maximise the number of people at worship and maximise their giving. The main measures of success are numbers, giving and a flash building. What if we measured some different things? What if the number of people was less important than the maturity of the people?
This sounds great but how can we possibly achieve it?
READ 1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Paul was clearly frustrated by their immaturity. “I should have been able to address you as spiritual people but I couldn’t. I should have been able to feed you solid food but I could only give you milk.” Paul describes them as being not spiritual; people of the flesh; mere infants in Christ.
This is the word of God. I don’t think it was only Paul who was frustrated. I think God expects more.
Paul says, “How do I know that you are immature? Bad behaviour in the church: bickering, division and competitiveness. That is not Christ-like. That is human and carnal. It is childish.
How can we be different? How can we grow people towards Christ-likeness? We can’t! Only God can. Spiritual transformation is a work of the Holy Spirit. We cannot do it. Paul said “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” In fact, he says that neither the planter nor the water-er is anything. Only God can make things grow. Paul and Apollos, he says, are nothing. Nothing.
That is a crucial lesson for us. We cannot do it. Without Jesus we can do nothing. Even Jesus relied on His father and the empowering of the Holy Spirit. If we are going to be like Christ, then we too will rely on God and be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Like Jesus we need to be constantly prayerful.
But, Paul also says that those who plant and water will receive a reward and he calls himself and Apollos “God’s fellow workers”. On the one hand, we are nothing and utterly dependent on God. On the other hand, we are God’s partners and we will be rewarded by God. It all depends on God but actually God works through people.
The gardening image in this passage is telling. No gardener in the world can make a plant grow. But the gardener can provide the best conditions for growth. The gardener is to provide the environment so that God can do the work. Maybe that is our role spiritually too – provide the best environment.
The very best environment is to be in the presence of God. So we encourage spiritual disciplines – Bible reading, prayer, fasting, worship, solitude and so on.
Another growth environment is relationships. God has made us in such a way that we learn from each other. That means that friendships, small groups, families are all potential growth environments.
Another growth environment is serving. We grow when we are actually involved in ministry – doing the work of God, helping others.
A fourth growth environment is suffering. You probably have noticed that sometimes the most gracious people are those who have suffered the most. God can bring great maturity through suffering so we should make people suffer! We don’t have to do that. There is enough suffering already. But we can walk with people through that suffering, caring, supporting, maybe asking questions, recognising the tremendous potential for growth.
Some of our cooperating with the Holy Spirit is simply about our attitude – being open to what God wants to do; being willing to change – in fact, desiring change because we want to be more like Jesus.
We are called first to be disciples and secondly to make disciples. I find it kind-of astounding that the Bible talks about me and Christ-likeness in the same sentence. Christ-likeness seems aloof and impossible but I look at the apostles and I realise that they were very ordinary people – people just like us – and actually Jesus did change them. They were different people at the end of that time than they had been at the beginning. And it was because they were transformed people that they could then be used by God to bring transformation to other people.
For us as a church, and for us all as individuals, the goal is Christ-likeness.
And God has given us each other to help us get there. Go and make disciples.
- What do you think about the Bible passages that talk about being conformed to the image of Jesus?
- Does the concept of Christ-likeness surprise you at all? Does it scare you? Does it inspire you?
- Does Christ-likeness seem realistic for you?
- Make as complete a list as you can of the characteristics of Jesus. Discuss it with others to extend the list further.
- What items on that list do you think God is highlighting for your growth at the moment?
- How might you grow? What place will you give to i) time with God, ii) learning from other Christians, iii) obedient serving? (You don’t have to deliberately seek suffering!)
- Who is God asking you to help grow to be more like Jesus? (That could be some non-Christians as well as Christians.)