I continue with what I have written about discipleship in my book, Beginnings, soon to be released by P&R Publishing: In my opinion, the core problem with discipleship, as it is now understood in the Evangelical church, is not with methodology but with content.
In one form or another discipleship is typically the teaching of what a Christian is to believe and how they are to live. The emphasis is usually on what are called the “Christian disciplines” such as Bible reading and prayer as well as church participation and service to others. Rather than trying to repackage that basic approach we need to go back and recognize that the essential element of discipleship needs to be the gospel. The term I have been using for this is gospel discipling. When I use the phrase “go back,” I mean that I believe that this was how Paul followed up his converts. He kept teaching the gospel both before and after men and women came to believe it.
An excellent example of this is the book of Romans. We treat it too often as an abstract theological masterpiece, but it was written by a missionary who led people to faith in Christ and then was constantly working to see that faith grow. Review the introductory verses to his letter (Romans 1:1-17). Paul carefully defines the gospel in his first words (1:2-4), and wrote that he was coming to “preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome” (1:15). Who was he writing to? “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (1:7). He had already been inspired by reports of their faith (1:8, 12). In other words, he was coming to preach the gospel to the church, those who already believed it because they had experienced God’s call to belong to Jesus Christ. Therefore, Romans defines preaching the gospel in a context of discipleship rather than evangelism, to use our modern distinction. This gospel “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (1:16). It is important to note that the word “believes” is in the present tense, which is best translated in a progressive sense, “is believing.” Therefore, the power of God for salvation is much more than that aspect of salvation that occurs at conversion. As people continue to believe the gospel, and gain even more insight into its depth, they will also continue to be empowered by the gospel. This is the essence of gospel discipling.
This ends the quote from Beginnings. For those who would like to take further steps into the actual substance of gospel discipling, as I understand it from Romans, I refer you to the archives of our New Life blog. Last year I wrote four posts on the four “steps” of gospel application that I saw in Romans (found in the “opening the Word” archive). Here are the four steps:
1. Know the Gospel itself
2. Know how you came to believe the Gospel
3. Know the benefits of believing the Gospel (gospel doctrine)
4. Live a life that flows from the Gospel (gospel obedience)