In his life and letters, Paul defines discipleship as extending the invitation/challenge to “imitate me, as I imitate Christ.”
That is, the direction of discipleship is
Christ < me < those I disciple
Christ > me > those I disciple
Discipleship is not asking, “What, in my experience, is relevant to your need?” That approach is limiting in the extreme – in terms of our capacity to make disciples, and in terms of the value of our discipleship.
Discipleship is not therapy. (I have nothing against therapy or therapists, but discipleship is something different.)
Discipleship is not concerned with helping you be a better version of you, but with helping you grow into the likeness of Christ.
Being discipled is not about you meeting my agenda, but rather about you giving me opportunity to submit my agenda – however well-intentioned it may be – to his.
Discipleship is the invitation/challenge to look away from yourself to me, and beyond me to Christ.
Or, being discipled is the invitation/challenge to look away from myself to another, and beyond them to Christ.
Only by accepting this do we begin to see the distance between our current selves and our true selves in Christ. Only by accepting this do we begin to see the possibility of movement, of growth, of fleshed-out transformation. Only by accepting this do we begin to see the journey we have already made, from provisional self to true self.
We are charged, by Jesus, to go and make disciples. And this requires of us that we are able to say, “In [this area] I have grown in Christlikeness, as I have intentionally sought to imitate him.” That is, only disciples can make disciples.
“In knowing that the Father loves me, I have grown in Christlikeness.”
“In trusting that my heavenly Father will provide for all my needs, I have grown in Christlikeness.”
“In hearing and responding to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I have grown in Christlikeness.”
“In...I have grown in Christlikeness.”
And this is profoundly counter-cultural for British Christians. We have been conformed to the idea that to say that we have grown in Christlikeness in any given area of our lives is arrogant; that to suggest to someone else that they might imitate our life is presumptuous. We need to be transformed, having our minds renewed, in order that we can describe ourselves with sober judgement as opposed to, yes, arrogance on the one hand or – and I’d suggest this is the bigger problem in our context, with ‘arrogance’ the excuse that justifies it - false modesty on the other. False modesty that perpetuates confusion about what it means – and hides our unwillingness – to be discipled.
“I have grown in Christlikeness, in this area, to this extent, a work in progress, begun...”
The scope of discipleship is no less than to share everything that we experience in knowing that we are known by God – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – with those who are drawn to our experience. Whether it is directly relevant to them – in our limited perception, or theirs – or not (what have we to hold out, except what we have received?)...whether they continue to walk with us, or not...whether we reach the place where we have to say, “I’ve taught you everything I know; if you want to go further, you’ll have to learn from someone else” or not.
In what areas of your life can you see that you have grown in Christlikeness?
Who helped you see what Christlikeness looked like, in that area of life?
Who are you challenging to imitate you, as you imitate Christ?