Cathryn and I remember fondly the days when our two kids were newborns and we brought them home from the hospital. Each was truly a bundle of joy. There is nothing like an angel-faced baby to touch a parent’s heart deeply.
Like all parents, we expected our kids to grow up, not to remain infants. Over the years, the changes in our children were slow and gradual. Only when we look through old family photos do we realize how much they have grown up and, I must admit, how much we too have changed.
What is true physically is also true spiritually. God expects His children, born into His family by faith in Jesus Christ, to grow up. Frankly, we are very much like babies when we are first born again. The apostle Peter acknowledges this state of spiritual infancy when he encourages believers to, “like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).The writer of Hebrews also encourages us to “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” (6:1).
Growing up to be like Jesus is more than mere childhood development, although that is not a bad place to start in our thinking. The Bible gives us glimpses into the early years of Jesus from Bethlehem to Nazareth. For example, Luke 2:52 says of the boy, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” At the very least, this describes a young Jesus that developed intellectually, physically, spiritually, and socially— balanced in mind, body, soul, and spirit. Parents do well to follow this pattern in rearing their own children. However, growing up to be like Jesus, or what we call discipleship, involves so much more.
Jesus commissioned His followers to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20). However, many believers, let alone the churches they attend, don’t have a clear plan for how to implement this command. What is a disciple, anyway?
A disciple is first and foremost a learner that follows a leader or teacher. The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible defines a disciple as “someone who follows another person or another way of life and who submits himself to the discipline (teaching) of that leader or way.” It goes on to make the point, “Wherever there is a teacher and those taught, the idea of discipleship is present.”
A disciple is a learner with the goal of also becoming a leader. That is, he or she is one who eventually leads others to follow Jesus, a disciple that multiplies by making more disciples. The apostle Paul certainly had this in mind when he urged the Corinthians to follow his example as he followed Christ’s. He also urged Timothy, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (1 Corinthians 11:1; 2 Timothy 2:2).
Age and maturity are not the same. Being born into the family of God by faith in Jesus Christ does not guarantee you or I will advance into spiritual maturity. The Bible does say “he who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). However, how much of that work God completes in this life depends on our cooperation with the Holy Spirit in sanctifying us, and on how willing we are to follow Jesus fully. This is why some children of God advance in maturity and others, sadly, remain in spiritual diapers.
Jesus was not afraid to set high standards for His followers. He expected His disciples to prioritize Him over the members of their own family, give up everything, and be willing to carry their own cross. Or, He said pointedly, you “cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-33). He compared following Him to building a tower. “Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” The answer to Jesus’s rhetorical question is obviously yes. The clear implication is that while salvation is free of charge, discipleship comes at a mighty high cost. That’s why some people stopped following Jesus and others said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
Discipleship is active not passive spirituality, a life marked by personal sacrifice, self-denial, and surrendering to the will of God. It requires a daily and determined decision to follow hard after Jesus, fueled by a deep desire to know Him and be like Him. Disciples must also walk in the Spirit and resist the daily distractions of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Needless to say, following Jesus is not for spiritual wimps. But the life Jesus lays out for us is the most exhilarating and exciting we can ever imagine. So, are you ready to grow up to be like Jesus? Grab your cross and let’s follow Him.
This blog is an excerpt from Starting Point: A Disciple's First Steps. Starting Point is an online discipleship coaching experience by Dr. Ron Jones.