July 16, 2013

A God-Centered Philosophy of Discipleship

What are we trying to do in people’s lives? It is easy to talk about discipleship without having a clear idea what it is or why we do it.

Several years ago I developed this tool to train ministry teams. My goal was to help us think about the heart of discipleship in a way that is biblical and God-centered. There are hundreds of things that could be said about discipleship but my intent was to create something simple and memorable.

Our ultimate goal is to Glorify God by helping people to Treasure Christ as their Prophet, Priest, and King resulting in a continuous and life-long Change of their Thinking and Actions.

Glorify God 
First and foremost, the ultimate goal of discipleship is to glorify God. This is because the ultimate goal for everything is to glorify God. It is the reason God created us. It is the reason we exist. As Romans 11:26 states, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.”

This is non-negotiable. It is crucial to have a God-centered view of discipleship rather than a man-centered view. We are not the center of the story. Although many great blessings often come as the result of growing in Christ, God is not a tool that we use to get something else that we really want. He is the focus. He deserves it. His glory is worth it.

So, what exactly does it mean to glorify God? The next part of this model is meant to help us grasp what this means by saying the same thing with different words.

Treasuring Christ 
But how do we glorify God? Do we do this by building a giant golden statue of Jesus or getting God the most “likes” on a social media site? No. The real way that human beings glorify God is by treasuring Him in their hearts. Whatever our hearts delight in the most is the thing that has the most worth to us. The more our hearts value God’s worth, the more God is glorified in us. As John Piper puts it, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Real discipleship aims at the heart. Real Christian growth is about what we love.

Christ is the focus of our worship, but what do we treasure Christ as? Is it okay to treasure Christ as our magic genie, or perhaps as the ideal humanist role model? As I thought about this, I recalled the three Old Testament offices that Christ fulfilled: Prophet, Priest, and King. I realized that Christian growth will always be deformed unless we treasure Christ in all three of these roles.

The prophet was the mouthpiece of God. The main function of the prophet was not to predict the future. The most important thing about the prophet was that God spoke His message through him. In Deuteronomy 18:18 God tells Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of this promise. In Hebrews 1:1-3 we read that in these last days God has spoken to us by his Son…the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature. In John 1:1 Jesus is even called the Word of God.

To treasure Jesus as Prophet means to treasure Him as the one who teaches us what is true. We want to believe what Jesus believed and taught. This especially means that we believe the Bible as God’s Word. Jesus taught that the whole Old Testament was the Word of God (Jn. 10:35) and He told his disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit to guide them in all truth (Jn. 14:26). Jesus confirmed the Old Testament and commissioned the New Testament. As followers of Jesus we need to adjust our beliefs to everything God teaches through the Bible.

Let me be clear, we need to believe everything the Bible teaches, not just the “red letters” of Jesus. Printing Jesus’ words in red letters is a modern invention. “All Scripture”—black and red—“is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

In the Old Testament the priests were the ones who made sacrifices to God on behalf of the people. The book of Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus is the final and permanent fulfillment of the office of priest. For example, Hebrews 4:14 states, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” Not only does Jesus present the sacrifice for us, Jesus gave himself as the sacrifice for our sins (Heb. 7:27). He took the wrath that we deserve when He went to the cross in our place.  

Treasuring Jesus as our Priest means treasuring Him as Savior. You are not a true Christian if you do not treasure Jesus Christ as the one who sacrificed Himself to pay the price for your sin and to make you right with God. As Christians, we never outgrow our need for God’s grace. We need to grow in our appreciation for it every day. We also need to realize that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16).

In the Old Testament, the king was the one who rules with authority. In the New Testament, Peter declared, “let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). Jesus is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords (Rev. 19:16).

To treasure Jesus as King means to treasure Him as Lord or Master. He is the one who deserves our obedience. He is the one with authority over our lives. He is the one who we must gladly bow the knee to. Jesus is the King and we need to recognize that fact and live like it—all the time. We need to stop living like we are on the throne.  

The problem is that the sinful human heart hates the fact that Jesus is King. That is why some churches neglect Jesus as King. It’s a big turn-off to rebels. It is much easier to fill a church talking about Jesus as a great humanitarian role model than as the Lord to whom we must bow the knee. We need to focus on Jesus as Prophet and Priest and King. If we neglect any of these three roles, discipleship will be unbalanced. 

Change, Thinking, Actions
When a person genuinely treasures Christ as their Prophet, Priest, and King there will be change in their life. Change may be dramatic, but usually it is a gradual process. It will be from the inside out—the way it is supposed to be. Lasting change is change that starts in the heart and flows outward to the rest of life. Romans 12:2 calls us to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The result that God is aiming for is to conform the believer into the image of Jesus Christ (Rm. 8:29). As we treasure Christ as our teacher, Savior, and Master we will grow to become more and more like Him in every way possible.

Please notice that life change is at the end of the process, not the beginning. This is important because, on the contrary, too often it is the main thing that people are after. For example, imagine some parents whose main desire is for their kids to stay off drugs and keep from getting pregnant. These are good things to desire, but it would be a shallow victory if their kids avoided scandalous sins but didn’t have hearts that cared about Jesus.

If you just change the outside, the change is fake and temporary. If you change the inside, the outside will follow. Don’t make the mistake of trying to change behavior without changing hearts. The true goal is not behavior modification, but heart change for the glory of God.


There you have it. My guess is that you could now take out a piece of paper and draw this diagram yourself. There is much more that could be said about discipleship, but I hope that this model will help you to think about Christian growth in a way that is (1) God-centered, (2) Heart-targeted, and (3) Biblically-balanced.

Related: A God-Centered Discipleship Reading List

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