If only we would let Jesus ravish our hearts! If only we would see that the opportunity of our lives is to be Jesus’ beloved disciple!
Right now — at this very moment — the resurrected Christ is smiling at you and I! His arms are open to us. The glorious Lord Almighty is our friend and he is ready to teach us how to follow his example of love.
With the Apostle John we can exclaim: “I am the disciple Jesus loves!” (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20) Yes! Our discipleship to Jesus is the best foundation for our identity; it is the source of love, joy, peace, meaning, and power.
Jesus Christ is the Master Teacher. He is the Smartest Person alive! He knows how to deal with your problems. He knows how to make best use of your opportunities. What incredible things we can learn from Jesus! What a great strength he has to give us. If only we will apprentice ourselves to him, making our lives — whatever we’re doing right now — his classroom.
Discipleship to Jesus Christ
Did you know that the word “disciple” occurs 269 times in the New Testament and the word “Christian” is only found three times and it was used to refer to disciples of Jesus? Biblically speaking, to be a Christian is to be a disciple of Jesus, but today we try to get people to become Christians and then maybe later we tell them about discipleship. (This is quite the “bait and switch!”)
The New Testament is a book about discipleship to Jesus, written by his disciples and for those who were or wanted to become his disciples. It is full of many wonderful promises from God for us, but these blessings only come to those seek to be Jesus’ disciple, not to those who seek the promises themselves. Love, joy, and peace and all God’s blessings are a natural byproduct of being devoted to love and serve Jesus Christ as his disciple.
A disciple is a learner, student, or apprentice. Everyone is a disciple of someone. When you admire someone you tend to become his or her disciple. We have many “stars” in our culture who are not worth admiring and following! I’m sure you would say that you want to follow Jesus as your hero. What does this mean? Dallas Willard says, “Disciples of Jesus are people who do not just profess certain views as their own but apply their growing understanding of life in the Kingdom of the Heavens to every aspect of their life on earth” (The Great Omission, p. xi).
When we live as true disciples of Jesus our life’s mission and all our service will naturally flow out from our life in Christ. You can’t separate discipleship from ministry to others. Jesus told us to make disciples to him as we go about our daily lives, immersing them in Trinitarian reality, and showing them how to obey Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).
To become Jesus’ disciple is to become more like him. For Charles Sheldon, author of In His Steps, discipleship to Jesus begins with asking the question “What Would Jesus Do?” or WWJD? He’s inspired and challenged millions of people with this idea. Unfortunately, as Dallas Willard says:
The book is entirely focused upon trying to do what Jesus supposedly would do in response to specific choices… There is no suggestion that he ever did anything but make right choices from moment to moment. And… there is no suggestion that his power to choose rightly was rooted in the kind of overall life he had adopted in order to maintain his inner balance and connection with his Father. The book does not state that to follow in his steps is to adopt the total manner of life he did. So the idea conveyed is an absolutely fatal one — that to follow him simply means to try to behave as he did “on the spot.” …There is no realization that what he did ini such cases was, in large and essential measure, the natural outflow of the life he lived when not “on the spot.” (The Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 9)
The real question Dallas says it not “WWJD?” but “HWJDI?” or “How Would Jesus Do It? If Jesus were me in this situation how would he proceed?” It’s the way Jesus did what he did — his attitude of submission to the Father, his unhurried pace, his reliance upon the Holy Spirit, and his demeanor of love — that is so important for us to imitate. The way of Jesus is the secret to his wisdom, power, and love. It’s the same for us. (See “Jesus’ Rhythm of Life.”)
What a wonderful adventure our lives become when we apprentice our selves to Jesus, learning to do all that we do from within the reality and resources of his kingdom of the heavens in our midst! (The Kingdom of God is not just a far off and a way later it is wherever Jesus Christ, the King, is in action; it is where what God wants done is done; Matthew 4:17 and 6:10.)
Just as everyone is a disciple of someone so also we could say that everyone is getting a spiritual formation. The question is who or what is forming you? An anxious person is formed by fears and worries. An alcoholic is formed by alcohol and the atmosphere around his or her drinking. The movie buff and coach potato are probably being formed by Hollywood’s values — even though they may list loving God and following Jesus as their top priority in life. Following the way of Jesus or becoming his disciple is to be formed by him so that in daily life, even under stress, we tend to love other people as the Lord loves us.
In Renovation of the Heart Dallas Willard defines spiritual formation for the Christ-follower as, “The Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself” (p 22). It’s an inside out process in which we experience God’s love to us through Christ and become a more loving person on the inside so that we naturally and routinely love others. This happens by the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word working deep within us as we heed the advice of Paul, “Train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7). Dallas explains:
“That Christ be formed within you,” is the eternal watchword of Christian spiritual formation (Galatians 4:19, par). This word is fortified by the deep moral and spiritual insight that, while “the letter of the law kills, the spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6, par)…
Spiritual formation is, in practice, the way of rest for the weary and overloaded, of the easy yoke and the light burden (Matthew 11:28-30), of cleaning the inside of the cup and dish (Matthew 23:26), of the good tree that cannot bear bad fruit (Luke 6:43). And it is the path along which God’s commands are found to be not “heavy,” not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). (Renovation of the Heart, p 23-24)
How does spiritual formation proceed? What are the crucial aspects of this inward transformation in Christlikeness? It proceeds by Grace from God!
But what is grace? The standard definition of grace that pastors learn in seminary and pass onto people is that it’s “undeserved merit.” Jesus died for our sins on the cross and if we will believe this then we will go to heaven when we die. Christ took on our sins and by faith we are forgiven and we receive his righteousness — we are accepted by God even though we don’t deserve it. We have a credit on our account in heaven. This is called justification and it’s a free gift of God’s grace for us to receive — we can’t earn it. This is true and wonderful! But it is not an adequate definition of grace.
Look up “grace” in a concordance of the New Testament and read the context of the passages and you’ll see that grace has to do with power for living. (See our Bible Study, “Grow in Grace and Power for Daily Living.”) A better definition of grace is that it’s God acting in our life with generosity and power to do for us what we cannot do on our own. This includes the idea of undeserved merit but goes far beyond that to address our practical, every day needs. We need God’s grace flowing through us not only to be forgiven of our sins, but to endure trials and remain joyful, to strengthen us to minister to the poor and needy, to bless those that curse us, or to do anything of significance.
We would need God’s grace even if we’d never sinned! God’s favor and power are what we live off of. A Christ-follower burns grace like a 747 jet on takeoff!
The Triangle of Soul Transformation
Peter teaches us to “grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18) and “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1). How do we grow in grace? What does grace have to do with discipleship to Jesus and becoming more like him?
In my book You Can Live in Jesus’ Easy Yoke I developed the “Triangle of Soul Transformation” to summarize what’s involved in the process of interacting with God’s grace to be transformed to become more like Jesus. It shows that the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, the beauty of creation, and the Body of Christ (people who are “Christ’s ambassadors” to us and we to them, 2 Corinthians 5:20) are all ways that God’s grace comes to us in our environment. From there it’s up to us to respond to and interact with the grace of God. We cannot make change happen on our own nor can we be passive and expect God or someone else to do it for us.
There are three fundamental ways (the points of the triangle) that we can interact with God’s grace to grow in the holiness and wholeness of Jesus. Each involves a challenge.
- Enthrall Your Mind with Jesus and his Gospel. Jesus is magnificent! If we behold his beauty and goodness in our hearts we’ll be captivated by him and his Father. We’ll delight to submit to God and follow him in all things, day-by-day. To do this requires replacing our false personal narratives (the lies spread by our culture) with the wonderful truths of Scripture, primarily Jesus’ Gospel: “Re-think your strategy for life because God’s Kingdom is open to you now.” (Matthew 4:17, par)
- Accept Trials and Trust Others to Grow. Many people make the mistake of throwing their trials away! No one wants to go through pain, disappointment, or hardships. But not only are the difficulties of life inevitable that are tremendous learning opportunities. Trials are tests of how we’re doing with actually becoming more like Jesus, more patient and kind. At these times we tend to see our sins, emotional struggles, and weaknesses of character for what they are. Then we can share these with spiritual friends who will listen to us, pray for us, give us feedback, and thereby help us to rely more on Christ. Based on what we learn we can revise our spiritual formation plan for becoming more like Jesus. (See John 16:33, James 1:2-6)
- Practice Disciplines to Develop Habits of Love. There is a great variety and balance on our “Spiritual Disciplines List.” For instance, it includes ways to: pray Scripture and “put on the new self”, deny ourselves to “put off the old self” or make space for God, and serve other people in Jesus’ name. Disciplines work by indirection — they are activities that we can do (like fasting from food for a meal) that enable us to do things that we have not yet been able to do (like remain silent and pleasant when we don’t get what we want). We do spiritual disciplines experimentally, meaning we try one out and see what God teaches us. We’re training with Jesus as his disciples, applying his Gospel to your life and learning to obey him from your heart. (See Matthew 6:1-18, 2 Timothy 4:7)
Apprenticeship to Jesus
Let’s come back to the invitation of this article: are you living as a disciple of Jesus? For most of us, the word “disciple” doesn’t hold the same weight that it did in Jesus’ day. So let’s use the term apprentice. To become Jesus’ Apprentice brings in the applied meaning of following Jesus. It’s relational and practical. For instance, someone learns to become a plumber by serving as an apprentice to a licensed, experienced plumber. (See our Soul Shepherding Moment, “Learn from the Plumber.”)
Have you apprenticed yourself to Jesus? How can we describe our opportunity to be an apprentice of Jesus in the school of daily life?
Imagine if you were a young and aspiring basketball prayer and Michael Jordan offered to tutor you personally for a few weeks. You could work out with him on the basketball court. You would do exercises, dribbling drills, shooting practices, and strategy lessons with him. And you’d learn all the intangible things about basketball that are the most valuable of all: his love for the game, the way he thinks and feels about basketball, the way he holds the ball in his hands, how he sees the court, his respect for the game…
Wow! As a teenager and a great Chicago Bulls fan I would’ve jumped at the chance to study basketball from Michael Jordan. Any aspiring basketball player would. Being Jesus’ apprentice needs to be like that to you and I.
Do you want to enroll in Jesus’ Master Classes and become his apprentice? How important is it to you? Jesus said: “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men [and women] lay hold of it” (Matthew 11:12, NIV84).
Longing for Jesus
In the Gospels we see examples of what Jesus was talking about: people determined to be a part of the kingdom of the heavens, people who saw the kindness and goodness of God in Jesus and wanted to be governed by him, not Caesar, not the legalistic religious leaders, not their own sinful selves. They wanted to do whatever it took to get in on Jesus’ kingdom rule. These “forceful” people were ordinary people like you and me — they were not Rambo types! Some were ambitious and others were insecure and fearful. All were desperate for Jesus.
In the Gospels we see that the people who followed Jesus shouted out at the top of their lungs and made fools of themselves to get his attention! They pushed their way through crowds or crawled in the dirt in between people’s legs to touch him! They walked across deserts, sat in the hot sun for hours and hours, and skipped meals to listen to him teach! They left their businesses and their families and they endured ridicule and abuse to become his disciples! They jumped out of trees! They ripped the roofs off houses! They gave up their life savings and fell at his feet to anoint them with perfume and worship him as the Son of God!
What is your Response to Jesus?
Are you that eager and resolved to rely on Jesus as your Master Teacher? (I’m talking to myself right now too!) Think about it with me…
Will you make being with the Master your first priority each day? Will you study and pray with Jesus? Will you hang out with Jesus’ friends? Or do you have something better to do?
Will you submit yourself to the King, listening for his guidance and following his leadership in all that you do? Are you sure you want to be governed by the Lord in your daily life? Does your calendar show that you spend time listening to him? That your life is organized around your discipleship to Jesus? Does your checkbook show that your treasure is in heaven? When you lead a meeting or help someone are you relying on yourself or the hand of God to move?
Will you learn from the Smartest Person who ever lived the best way to approach your family? Your job? How you drive your car? Even when you get stuck behind a slow driver or people cut in front of you?
Will you trust that all the instructions the Lord gives you are good for you and that they are possible for you to learn to do if you rely on Jesus Christ with you? For instance, Jesus says you could learn to bless those that curse you — not through gritted teeth or with slumping shoulders, but with a genuine smile and your shoulders back. Our Heavenly Father continually blesses us though we do not deserve it. Have you grown to become the kind of person who naturally and routinely extends mercy and grace to people who are unkind or difficult? (Matthew 5:44-45).
Does your face light up when Jesus looks your way? Do you ever daydream about him? Do you think about Jesus and his words in the spaces of your day, perhaps meditating on Scripture while you do the dishes or wait in line? How about smiling to him right now? As you’re reading these words he is right beside you to encourage you!
How to Start Apprenticing Yourself to Jesus
Where to begin? It only takes a mustard seed — as long as it’s the seed of faith in the reality of God’s Kingdom and it’s planted in our hearts (Matthew 13:21 and 17:20). For instance, you could teach yourself to make the first words you think or say in the morning to be an expression of love for Jesus. You might try adoring Jesus like a child, as Ray Ortlund taught me to do years ago, and simply say, “Jesus, I love you because __________.”
Then set your will on being with Jesus to become like him as you go about the activities of your day. Make your whole life Jesus’ classroom. Ask him to teach you how to do all that you will do that day as Jesus would do it if he were you with your personality, life context, and opportunities. Then only do things that you can do with Jesus.
Try praying my Apprentice Prayer at the beginning of each day for a month and watch to see how you grow spiritually! God used this daily prayer to help usher in a great spiritual renewal in my life that started in 2002.
Along with Kristi and I, many pastors, ministry leaders, and others that we have worked with have experienced tremendous freedom and spiritual growth by submitting themselves earnestly to learn how to live as Jesus’ apprentice. (“How to Become Like Jesus” looks at a specific example of how to work a “VIM Plan,” using spiritual disciplines for personal transformation in Christlikeness.)
Much of the understanding I’ve communicated in this article about apprenticeship to Jesus in God’s Kingdom comes from my mentor and friend, Dallas Willard. Here are my “Reflections on Dallas Willard’s Ministry to Me.”