What is the Essence of Christian Discipleship? The “Implanting, Writing, and Realizing of the Gospel in our Souls.”

The majority of people have a desire for relational connection on a deep level to experience love and to be loved. Such a sincere desire is in response to our longing to have our broken pieces repaired.

Many dedicated Christians affirm our journey towards becoming transformed into Christ’s image is not an endeavor without problems while being transformed into His image. The journey for change often leaves people baffled by the numerous conflicting perspectives on how to change, leaving many confused and discouraged.

The heart of the majority of those seeking after Christ is a desire to be transformed into the image of Christ to see righteousness in our lives. Though they may know the intentions of our faith in Christ, we are often left feeling lost in the midst of our journey. I have faced such moments like those of you who are hopefully reading this. Through these times, I have had to remind myself that these moments of confusion occur to anyone that takes their faith seriously are bound to face questions and concerns about their faith. The important thing is not to allow yourself to fall victim to believing you are faithless for having honest doubts in seeking clarity and change. We must remember that the change we desire takes a lifetime of progressive change that often occurs in the midst often a complicated, beautiful mess in His eyes.

Skewed Ideas & False Expectations

The reality is that many Christians are facing difficult times in their faiths due to skewed ideas or false hopes about Christianity. I have experienced and witnessed numerous well-intended people teach and learn any particular biblical or theological doctrine while forsaking some other aspect through the years. The net result of such biblical and theological construction typically leads individuals to have skewed ideas and false expectations concerning Christianity as a whole and about their personal faith in Christ. There always seems to come a time when someone begins to comes across such potholes in their faith that slowly and but progressively does damage to their faith emotionally or intellectually.

There is no doubt that we should find people are not being aware of though individuals are missing particular biblical or theological teachings are scary. Nevertheless, some teachings trump such concerns due to the reality that various theological views concerning God’s grace and mercy in numerous ways. Such lessons seen in these areas have resulted in people believing that it is alright for them to continue consciously in matters that any serious Christian should forgo.

The question of cheap grace is addressed in The Cost of Discipleship. In this work, Dietrich Bonhoeffer states that “cheap grace… amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs.” He further adds,

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Need for Being Centered in the Gospel.

The reality of cheap grace in all our lives in some way is not the ultimate danger in our efforts of becoming conformed to the image of Christ. The greater concern is the various approaches to discipleship or spiritual formation that are rooted in our noble efforts while ignoring the power of God’s grace in our lives. The sad reality is that those that utilize such a legalistic approach to Christianity are merely undercutting the essence of the Gospel. Approaching the Christian life in this way does nothing but leave people with a religion that is nothing more than an individual being judged on their performance.

In The Centrality of the Gospel, Tim Keller articulates a picture of the gospel-centered balance that devout Christians need in their lives.

The key for thinking out the implications of the gospel is to consider the gospel a “third” way between mistaken opposites… Tertullullian said, “Just as Christ was crucified between two thieves, so this doctrine of justification is ever crucified between two opposite errors.” Tertullian meant that there were two basic false ways of thinking, each of which “steals” the power and distinctiveness of the gospel from us by pulling us “off the gospel line” to one sided or the other. These two errors are very powerful, because they represent the natural tendency of the human heart and mind… These “thieves” can be called moralism or legalism on the one hand, and hedonism or relativism on the other hand. Another way to put it it: The gospel opposes both religion and irreligion. On the one hand, “moralism/religion” stresses truth without grace, for it says that we must obey the truth in order to be saved. On the other hand, “relativists/irreligion” stressed grace without truth, for they say that we are all accepted by God (if there is a God) and we have to decide what is truth for us. But “truth” without grace is not really truth, and “grace” without truth is not really grace. Jesus was “full of grace and truth. Any religion or philosophy of life that de-emphasizes or lose one or the other of these truths, falls into legalism or into license, and either way the joy and power and “release” of the gospel is stolen by one thief or the other.

These two thieves that Keller discusses have lingered around the Church since its beginning. We must be careful of the damage that they have caused and can cause in the present and future. Thus, it becomes apparent that becoming gospel-centered is necessary to live our faiths out to experience the truth and sufficiency of Christ above our thoughts, beliefs, desires, and deeds.

Jigsaw Discipleship in Action.

Those following Christ will often experience spiritual growth in surges as they realize the beautiful nature of Christ’s work in the gospel and the ways He works in our hearts. The journey of spiritual formation is not complete at this point since everyone faces the need to fight daily against sin and the need for a repentant faith in Christ Jesus. Hence, in consideration of these dynamics, the reality of spiritual formation being a matter of putting together a puzzle for the sake of personal change as seen through the power of the gospel.

Despite there is confusion, followers of Christ will often experience spiritual growth in surges as they realize the beautiful nature of Christ’s work in the gospel and the ways He works in our hearts. The journey of spiritual formation is not complete at this point since everyone faces the need to fight daily against sin and the need for a repentant faith in Christ Jesus. Hence, in consideration of these dynamics, the reality of spiritual formation being a matter of putting together a puzzle for the sake of personal change as seen through the power of the gospel.

The biblical and theological studies I have pursued at Talbot School of Theology have been undergirded by a searching to understand the issues concerning personal transformation in the Christian context. Through my time at Talbot, I have come to realize that many authors focus upon one or two aspects of spiritual formation with little or no consideration of the other integral areas in Christian spirituality. Nevertheless, Talbot has done an excellent job of integrating the various aspects of the spiritual formation extremely well. It is disheartening that many people do not have the chance to attend such a school or organization. It is my hope to help begin a conversation about this issue by presenting a primer focused on the process of spiritual formation appropriately fits and how it fits into the life of a follower of Christ.

I have realized through various discussions and reflections on various aspects of life how much growth we all have left to reach. The contemplating of these things caused a desire to articulate several things I have learned from personal experience and formal education in spiritual formation and discipleship about a unified gospel-centered approach to understanding to living out our Christian lives in a concise fashion to stimulate thought and conversation.

There is no doubt that anyone of us can quickly become discouraged in desiring to see our shortcomings changed and not having an understanding to tackle them for the sake of transformation. I might be wrong, but I believe that the solution to this issue is much simpler than we tend to make it. We often make our change about what we can do to improve ourselves through doing something new or stopping some old habit we do not like.

I want to assert that God’s purpose is to transform progressively our lives to become more like Jesus. The maturity in which we desire and seek must fit within a proper view of Christian maturity in correlation with God’s design for humanity.  In The Forgotten Blessing, Henry Holloman states that “Christlikeness is God’s goal for Christians and… sanctification is His way for a believer to become more like Christ.” The essence of our transformation back into God’s intention for our lives rests in striving towards understanding and applying the essence of the gospel in every aspect of our lives.

The pieces of the puzzle concerning such a transformation come together when we consider several issues. First, the roots of personal change. Secondly, the effects of personal change through holiness, mortification. Thirdly, God’s grace. Fourthly, and our quest for His joy. Lastly, the application of spiritual methods or disciplines into our lives and intentional, relational community with fellow Christians, which both help encourage a more authentic relationship with Christ.

The essence of this discussion is centered on us never getting beyond the heart of the gospel in our Christian lives for something we believe to be more advanced. In The Centrality of the Gospel, Timothy Keller adds breath to this emphasis.

The gospel is not the first “step” in “stairway” of truths, rather, it is more like the “hub” of a “wheel” of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but A to Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make all progress in the kingdom.

We are not justified by the gospel and then sanctified by obedience, but the gospel is the way we grow (Galatians 3:1-3) and are renewed (Colossians 1:6). It is the solution to each problem, the key to each closed door, the power through every barrier (Romans 1:16-17).

The essence of Keller’s statement beautifully captures the power of the gospel that is our hope for personal transformation. In furtherance, a statement made by John Owen concisely articulates the overall point undergirding the foundation to this entire article. He stated in Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit that

holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing, and realizing of the gospel in our souls.

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