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Aug 25, 2013

The Disciplines of a Disciple, Pt. 1

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Disciple Making Disciples

Keywords: spiritual disciplines, discipleship, disciples


This message looks at the relationship between discipleship and the spiritual disciplines. If we are going to be able to invite people, as Paul did, to "follow me as I follow Jesus Christ," then we must be engaged in the things Jesus did in order to connect with the Father.


Disciplines of a Disciple—Part 1

August 25, 2013



We’ve all been influenced positively by some people in our lives.  The most common may have been coaches, parents, good friends, teachers, mentors or bosses. 

  • WHO do you think of when you’re asked to name someone you have known personally that lived out a particularly admirable character quality…and WHAT was that character quality?
  • In what context of relationship did you come to admire that person’s character quality?


If you were with us last Sunday, you know that we took the morning to look at Jesus’ call to anyone who claims to be his disciple to become, in turn, a disciple-maker of other people. That command (not “suggestion”) is found in the very last words St. Matthew records for us in his Gospel, chapter 28. It is Jesus’ last “commission” to anyone who claims to be His follower, his “disciple.” That is one reason it is called “The Great Commission.” Here’s what he commanded us.

“Therefore [having gone],make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”


What does it mean to “receive a commission”?  Well, that might depend upon what line of work you are in, right?

  • If you are a salesperson, what do you get when you get a “commission”?  (A certain percentage of the monetary value of the sales of the product you are selling people.)
  • If you are a politician then you may be a part of some governmental commission tasked with holding hearings or looking into some aspect of public policy. 
  • If you are in the military, and you receive a “commission”, it means that you have been appointed to a certain rank with certain responsibilities.

But Webster’s on-line dictionary gives a couple of definitions which seem to both strike at the heart of the “commission” every follower of Jesus Christ has received.  Look at these definitions:

1.)    an authorization or command to act in a prescribed manner or to perform prescribed acts : a charge

2.)    a : authority to act for, in behalf of, or in place of another

b : a task or matter entrusted to one as an agent for another


That is precisely what our Great Commission is about as followers of Jesus.  We’ve received “a command to act in a prescribed manner” and to “perform prescribed act[ions]”.  We have been given authority to act on behalf of and in the place of Jesus Christ, basically as his agents or ambassadors in the greatest privilege ever entrusted to mankind, that of telling, showing, modeling, and living out what anyone near enough to see our life in action would need to know to become a follower, a disciple, of Jesus Christ.


As I mentioned last week, that can seem like a pretty overwhelming task, right?  So here is what I want you to do. 

            Things are only overwhelming when you don’t know how to do them, right?

ILL:  Trying to change the oil in our old green Chevy station wagon for the first time when I was a Junior in high school. Result? I totally destroyed the old oil filter and two filter wrenches trying to get the filter off…dirty oil running everywhere…me as furious as I’ve ever been in my life…one of my first (but unfortunately not last) experience with real rage in my soul.  My poor parents had to have the car towed to the auto shop where they were able to get it off. 

            My response to being overwhelmed by my own incompetence in the face of the need to get something done which I had never even watched someone do before was…rage.  Being asked to do something you feel totally or even significantly ill-at-ease doing can be overwhelming.


Jesus doesn’t want that to be the case with his greatest commission to us in life—to make disciples.  Neither do I as your pastor. 

So here is what I would like you to do before we do anything else:  write down what you would like to learn in the next few months about becoming a disciple-maker of other people so that you can begin to experience the joy of obeying this command and seeing God work through you.  Complete this sentence:  “In order to obey this Great Commission of Jesus, I need to learn how to….”  You fill in blank. What do you need to know or experience in order for this command to be something you say, “Yes, by the grace of God and the help of the Holy Spirit, I know WHAT I need to do and I know HOW to do it.”

As your pastor, I’m far more interested in actually teaching you whatever it is you need to know to walk obediently with Jesus Christ than I am in delivering any number of fine-sounding sermons that don’t hit the target when it comes to helping you experience Christ more fully.  I’ll look at your responses and shape the next few weeks (and possibly months) of teaching and worship to help us ALL become Christ-like disciple makers of people for the rest of our lives. 


[Give 60 seconds for people to respond and collect responses.]


The Apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 10:31ff,

“31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.”

Then he goes right on and says in the very next verse, (11:1)—Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”


This is what being a disciple…a follower of Jesus…is all about:  living as much of life as we possibly can in such a way that we can say to people, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.”  Did Paul always follow Christ’s example?  No.  That’s why he qualified this command, “…as I follow Christ.” 


But we must ask, “Why is ‘following Christ’ in every corner of life so important? 

Because that’s where real life is found.  Growing into as much of the nature and image of Christ in this life as possible is where the fullest, richest and deepest possible life as human beings is found. 

That’s why Jesus said to his disciples over and over again, “Follow me.” In essence he was inviting them to watch everything he did, how he did it, learn from his teachings about how to live life to the full, and actually DO IT with him.  Once his disciples had done that, they were ready to go out and invite others to do the same. 

And we know from Paul’s statement there in I Cor. 11:1 that you don’t have to have been one of the original 12 Apostles in order to learn to “follow Christ” in such a way that you can say to others, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.” 


If making followers of Jesus Christ is our life’s Great Commission and passion, then making “following Jesus” our experience must become of paramount importance to us.  We will never get to the place on this earth where everything we do and the way we do it and the attitude we do it with is perfectly in line with the life of Jesus Christ.  But hopefully every day of our life we are growing closer to that ideal because we are growing up in Jesus Christ “who is [our] life” ( according to Paul in Col. 3:3-4).


Take a look at something else Paul told us in Romans 8:29.  (We’re going to see the role Romans 8:28 plays in becoming Christ-like in just a moment.) 

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son….”

I find that very encouraging.  There are lots of debates about what “predestination” means in terms of salvation.  But God puts the emphasis in this passage upon something he has “predestined” for every follower of Jesus Christ, His Son.  The entire will, work and purpose of God for our lives as believers in Jesus Christ is at work conforming us to the image/nature/ likeness of Christ.  That is our destiny…that is God’s pre-destiny for us. 


So, HOW do we become conformed to Christ in life so that we can say to others, “Follow me as I follow Christ”?  What is the mechanism or process God has given us to learn to do that? 

I would propose that there are 3 primary catalysts for growth in Christ in a believer’s life.  Here they are.  You’re free to disagree with me, add to them, subtract or (heaven forbid) perhaps even agree.  J


Catalyst #1—Other people

This entire commission to “make disciples” plus everything we see and hear in the N.T. indicates that God will use other believers to disciple each of us into more Christ-likeness.  Every relationship in the family of God has the potential to lead us into Christ-likenss…every one! 

It’s not just the really good and godly followers of Jesus that can lead us to experience Him more every day.  It’s also those who are not-so-Christ-like, not so godly and not so easy to live with that can teach us what NOT to do, how NOT to live, what attitudes NOT to have.  We can learn just as much from negative examples as positive ones.  It’s just a lot more painful and trying!  J

God also uses non-Christ-followers to mature us in Christ.  Whether your parents, your boss, your teachers, your President, your neighbor, your spouse, your sibling or your coworkers and customers are believers in Jesus or not doesn’t really matter.  God can use their imperfections and even their sinfulness to mature you in Christ.  That’s why suffering at the hands of even our enemies is something God says should lead us to pray for those who persecute us.  If people bent on destroying us and our faith in Christ can be God’s tool to become more like Jesus, then there isn’t anyone on this earth God can’t use to help us become more like Jesus. 

ILL:  Corrie ten Boom’s experience of sharing her life story of living in Nazi concentration camps and losing her entire family in those camps.  After one of those meetings where she had talked about learning to forgive and growing in her experience with Christ even in that hell-hole, one of the Nazi guards who had been at that prison camp…who she had remembered…who had  been one of the guards who leered at the naked women as they were herded into the common showers (not knowing if they would be gassed or given a shower), came up and told her, through tears, how much her talk had meant to him. He didn’t even recognize her, but she recognized him.  And in that moment realized that she needed to grow in her forgiveness towards this man who had done such unspeakable evils toward her sister who had died, towards her and toward tens of thousands of other innocents.  His evil was the means by which God called her into deeper Christ-likeness. 


The family/families we were put in…the people we work around…the teachers, bosses, governmental authorities we have over us…the friends and enemies we know…everyone who will ever impact our lives, no matter how godly or how ungodly they are, can be God’s tool to lead us into Christ-likeness. 

            Most of the people who are in our lives are not there by our choice.  Neither are they there by chance.  When we begin to see that they are there because God put them there, horrible and evil as they may be, then every relationship can become redeeming.  Every human encounter has power to make us better disciples of Jesus. 

            OR…you can hate them, fight against them, be miserable around them, etc. and see what kind of person that turns you into! J


This first catalyst is largely under God’s control, not ours…as is the second.

Catalyst #2—Life circumstances.

There is an awful lot of life that is not under my control.  I couldn’t choose the family, the city, the nation, the economic condition and a host of other very important circumstances into which I was born.  And a whole lot of life that happens to me will be beyond my control too (just like a lot of it is a result of my decisions and mistakes).  But this is precisely where God’s “predestination” comes in.  Look again at Romans 8 but back up one verse to vs. 28.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…”

Financial pressures, tough marriages, difficult children, bad health, weather disasters, anything and everything that ever comes into our lives God says he will use for our good.  And certainly the best “good” any of us can imagine is to become more like Christ, right? 


But while our responses to circumstances are usually something we can control (if the Spirit is controlling us), lots of life circumstances are often largely beyond our control.  So these first two categories—people and circumstances—are not something we can schedule and always choose. 


But there is a third catalyst that God has given to us for developing Christ-likeness that IS largely within our control.  We can choose to engage in this catalyst or not.  Every day we can decide how much, how frequently, how deeply we will access different components of this third catalyst for growing to be like Jesus. 


In the previous two catalysts (people and circumstances), God works largely from the outside-in on our growth.  But in this catalyst, God works largely from the inside-out. 

So just what is this 3rd catalyst?  It’s what we call spiritual practices or spiritual disciplines.  I personally prefer the term “spiritual practices”.  But for this series, I’m going to use the term “spiritual disciplines” for a reason.  The root of both “discipline” and “disciple” are the same.  A disciple is one who has shown enough discipline to involve himself closely enough with a teacher/master/coach/leader so that his/her life shows the marks and characteristics of having spent significant, meaningful time with that person. People who have no discipline to order and arrange their lives so that they can learn from a leader will never be counted as a “follower” or “disciple” of someone.  It is the same with Christ.  If I lack any discipline to reorder my life so that I am actually growing in my connection and relationship with Jesus, I will never become a fruitful, fulfilled disciple of Jesus. 


Please don’t misunderstand me.  Iron-willed discipline for discipline’s sake is not what I’m talking about.  That’s legalism.  The spiritual disciplines are designed to do something similar to what marriage can do to two very different people:  they can lead us into deeper, more transforming relationship to Christ than we will have if we do not experience them. 


ILL:  When someone gets married, it can radically change the way they live and the person they become…or it can change them very little or not at all. 

            I could have married Sandy 31 years ago last week in Portland, Oregon…and not changed a bit.  (Sounds kind of like what a lot of people think they are doing when they “receive Jesus” but never allow that new relationship to change anything about them.) 

  • We could have had the wedding and kept living in our separate apartments.  (Wow! That wouldn’t have been any fun!)
  • We could have signed the marriage license and never had a joint bank account, never taken vacations together, never had kids together, never lived all over the world together, never seen each other at the beginning and end of most days, never shared a meal together, never argued, never had a misunderstanding, never hurt, never cried, never laughed, never shared any of life together…

But we would have been “married” officially. Not much of a marriage, I think we would all agree.


Rather, after we said, “I do,” to each other, we began to enter into the “disciplines” of marriage. 

  • We began to live together and share lots of life together.
  • We began to shop together, eat together, go to movies together, pray together, camp together, raise kids together, minister to people together, set up a home together, make decisions together, take walks together, read books together, etc., etc. 

Every time we made a decision to do something together or even do something apart that would bring us closer to each other ultimately, we entered into the disciplines of marriage. 

            Anywhere along this journey we could STOP those “disciplines” or “practices” of marriage.  It’s our daily choice.  And some of them we have.  Some have been replaced by other disciplines.  Some we’ve just “lost” over time and it would probably be better for our marriage if we rediscovered them. 

            But everyone of them is our choice every day. And both of us make that choice every day.


If we are going to grow in our love for and relationship with Jesus, we’re going to have to enter into some “disciplines of discipleship.” 

            Paul put it this way to his “disciple” young Timothy in 1st Timothy 4:7.

Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. 10 That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.”


This verse was originally written in Greek.  The Greek word for “train” here is gumnasia.  It’s where we get our English word “gymnasium,” a place of physical training for people who want to get in shape and enjoy life with through a healthy body. 


The spiritual disciplines are spiritual exercise that enables us to really enjoy this life in Christ to the full.  Exercise is sometimes painful, sometimes fatiguing, sometimes a bit boring.  But most of us who actually exercise know that both the athletic experience itself and certainly the end results of strength, more energy and better health are well worth the temporary and short-term hardships of the exercises, right? 


What is the difference between most good athletes and bad athletes?  Usually discipline.

What is the difference between most good musicians and mediocre ones?  Usually discipline.

Between most solid students and most failing students?  Discipline.

Between most good employees and most bad ones?  Discipline. 


No matter what the area of our lives, discipline is key.  Disciplining ourselves about what we eat, how much exercise we get, what we read, what we watch, what we learn, what we do with our spare time, how hard we work, and on and on will determine for most of us really how enjoyable life is.  Yes, personal abilities, talents and gifts play into it.  But God has given all of us enough to work with to find life full and rewarding if it is lived in Jesus Christ.  But living in Jesus will also require discipline just as being successful in any area of life will. 


ILL:  As kids, hopefully all of us got involved in developing some skills that made life more enjoyable.  Whether it was sports or music or drama or accademics, developing skills that make life enjoyable almost always require some discipline.

            For me, that discipline took place primarily in the hobby of music—playing the cello.  There were many days I didn’t want to practice 1-2 hours after school.  But as I began to develop more proficiency, I began to experience more joy, fun and fulfillment in being a cellist.  I got to play some really cool music.  I got to travel to Europe and all over the U.S. with musical groups.  I even got to play a Stradavarious cello one day. 

            If I had never practiced the cello and become proficient at playing, I could still have appreciated a cello concert by Yo-Yo Ma or a symphony by the Vienna Philharmonic…but never like I did once I gained what disciplined practice every day could do.  My capacity for joy and enjoyment grew because of discipline.  That discipline didn’t feel restrictive; it felt exhilarating.  Practicing, even today, isn’t something I dread.  It’s something I miss…wish I could do more…and love when I actually take time to do it. 


The same is true of spiritual disciplines.  Doing them becomes a channel of God’s grace into our lives.  Doing them leads to greater joy and opportunities, greater freedom to do what I really love doing in life, not less.  Doing them actually makes me a different person…they make me more like Christ.  And that is what godliness and love of God is all about!


Vance Havner has said, “The alternative to discipline is disaster.”   Having lived 56 years now, I’m very inclined to agree with him.  Perhaps that is why our spiritual lives are so frequently in disaster mode: we fail to apply the spiritual disciplines of life that God has given us to experience more of Him.  So we limit what God will do in us, what He will say to us, how He will use us and bless us and fellowship with us. 


I have yet to see a Christian who is regularly and rightly practicing even a handful of spiritual disciplines who is not experiencing more of the life of Christ in their lives day by day.  But I know a multitude of supposed Christ-followers who practice few if any of the spiritual disciplines and whose lives are weak, frustrated, dissatisfying and empty. 


If we would experience the kind of deep, meaningful life and relationship with the Father that Jesus did, we must be found side-by-side with Him, doing and experiencing the things Jesus did to cultivate that kind of loving Father-Son relationship.  If we would know the voice of the Father, we need to learn to cultivate conversation with the Father as Jesus did, to disengage time to time from things that clog our spiritual hearing and other spiritual sense.  We NEED the spiritual disciplines!


So just what ARE they?  Just what kinds of spiritual exercises am I talking about?  Many things can be spiritual disciplines.  The list can be quite large.  But for this morning, let me give you two categories of spiritual disciplines that help me figure out a little better what my soul may need at any given time. 


Disciplines of Engagement   Disciplines of Disengagement

Bible reading                                 Silence

Bible study/learning                      Solitude

Bible memorization                       Fasting

Bible meditation                           Frugality/Simplicity

Prayer/Intercession                        Secrecy

Worship                                         Sacrifice

Thanksgiving                                 Giving

Evangelism                                    Watching

Serving                                          Rest/Sabbath

Journaling                                      Submission

Fellowship                                     Chastity





These are different “exercises” or “disciplines we can learn to engage in that have a strong possibility that they will connect us more deeply to God and allow us to disciple others effectively.


APP:  Take the slip of paper I had you write on earlier stating what you would like to learn in the next few months about becoming a disciple-maker of other people.

Look over this list of spiritual disciplines. 

Asking God to guide you, write down the 5 disciplines you believe YOU need to grow in most in order to become an effective discipler of others in this life. 

[Give 60 seconds of silence again…followed by this YouTube video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwyAtgF8nxs


What you have written will become a good bit of what I teach on the next few weeks.