Discipleship from the inside out
In Matthew chapters 5–7, we find some of Jesus’ most profound teaching. He covers a range of topics related to the attitudes, motivations, and actions of His disciples — and much of what we know as “discipleship” can be found there. We find Jesus addressing topics like how to handle legal matters, how to treat neighbors, prayer and fasting, anxiety, possessions, and certainly how to love one another.
I find it both interesting and instructive that Jesus begins with a talk about who we are on the inside, and ends with a discussion of foundation. The beatitudes and the familiar parable of two men who built houses on two different kinds of land are brilliant reminders of where Kingdom life begins.
Which brings us back to disciple-making.
When a new believer enters the kingdom-family, it is easy to focus them on the things we can measure: attendance, service, stewardship, study, reproduction, etc. And certainly, these things are critical parts of what it means to be a Christ-follower.
But what of internal things? What of foundation? Do we owe it to the newborn disciple to offer them a place to live from? I think we do, and I believe Jesus had these very things in mind as He trained his own disciples. His promises and commands related to our life with Him demand that certain foundational realities not be missed.
After 30+ years of one-on-one discipling, I’ve observed that many folks deal with similar doubts and concerns:
- Am I really “saved”? And what does that word actually mean?
- Why do I feel guilty all the time?
- Is God ever going to run out of patience and kick me to the curb, if He hasn’t already?
- I keep trying so hard, but I can’t seem to get it right. Is there help out there?
There are a few key concepts related to our life with Christ that my friends and I like to call “internals.” You may have heard that word before, but let me explain what it means to us.
Internals are the things that characterize our relationship with God … and they’re the things that need to be right if we are to live out the important “external” things I mentioned above.
If the Christ-follower is going to join, serve, learn, give, pray, and witness the right way, he or she must know who they are in Christ and how He empowers their living.
First, there’s the relationship itself. What does it mean that one has been saved? Who does the saving? How is the relationship made and how is it kept? I’ve found that there is immense freedom for those who have assurance in the nature and security of this great salvation. We who presume to make disciples cannot presume that understanding. Our new brothers and sisters deserve better!
Second, every new Christian will, sooner or later, choose to believe something or someone, instead of believing God. This lack of faith will result in something we call sin. Again, we owe the new Christian a clear understanding of God’s great love and His plan for forgiving our sin. The alternative is misery; something Christ never intended for His people.
Third, the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. Misunderstanding this “internal” item is crippling for the Christian. Too many in our churches simply don’t know Him well. Consider what is at stake with the Spirit of Christ. He empowers our faith and our obedience, our witness, our praying, our service. He is the one whose presence produces the fruit of Galatians 5 and instills gifts for ministry. The Spirit’s presence endows us with the very mind of Christ. And the Spirit is the one who reminds us continually of the truth we’ve learned from God’s Word. You do not want to attempt this life without Him!
Picture if you will, a new Christian who understands their relationship with God and their identity in Christ; who knows what to do with their sin, according to scripture; and who is living a life empowered by the Holy Spirit himself. This person has freedom from the prison of performance and a strong foundation to live from — and their future in service to the kingdom will be a sight to behold!