Discipleship 101: What Does Success Look Like?

March 9, 2017 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement

This is part three of a multi-part series exploring discipleship in the local church. Jesus declares in his final, “great” commission that his followers are to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). The mission of the church is to make disciples. As followers of Christ, we are to be disciples and to be making disciples. What is involved in discipleship? What does discipleship look like in our individual lives and for our church?

So far, we have seen that the goal of discipleship is “Christ formed in you” (Gal. 4:19); and we have seen that discipleship is a process of learning and enjoying all that God has done for us through Christ, while having such faith modeled for us and others. What does success look like for discipleship?

I remember vividly one of the first sermons I heard from John Piper. He was preaching on Romans 7 (“I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”), making the case that this was the experience of a Christian. In the middle of the sermon he made a statement like this: “I am not impressed with your sanctification. In fact, in this life, we make very little progress in sanctification.” Facing the reality of indwelling sin, Piper was seeking to temper any unrealistic expectations of progress in holiness. Of course, Piper would clarify that the lack of great progress doesn’t mean we should throw in the towel and give up.

So, what does progress and success look like in discipleship? We must acknowledge that we live in a culture saturated with a lust for instant results and clear indicators of success. We are tempted to give up any task that doesn’t seem “worth our while.” A clear picture of success in discipleship will help us persevere, even when we face times that don’t appear to be “successful.”

1. Success in discipleship is growth in contrition. If our victory over sin isn’t “great,” what does a follower of Christ look for? Contrition. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). God speaks in Isaiah 57:15, “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.” David confesses, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:17).

Contrition is antithetical to worldly standards of success. Contrition says, “I can’t do this.” The world says, “Look at what I have done!” Without some measure of contrition, we will never treasure Christ as our substitute. Growth in contrition is a natural outcome of progress in discipleship. As we learn more of all that God has done for us in Christ, we will become more aware of our own shortfalls. We join with John the Baptist in saying, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

2. Success in discipleship is delight in Christ. I stated last week that discipleship is learning Christ; as we learn more of Christ, that knowledge shapes who we are. At the core of our renewal and growth is our heart and our delights. Measuring growth in holiness by mere outward moral reform is condemned by Jesus (see. Matt. 23:27-28). Rather than evaluating our progress or success by our moral victories or failures, let’s look for the less quantifiable growth in delight. If Christ formed in us is our goal, then progress to that goal is not so much what I accomplish than it is a resting in what Christ has accomplished for me.

3. Success in discipleship is growth in faithfulness. Discipleship is returning to contrition and delighting in Christ over and over again, day by day. Success is being faithful in this life of repentance. This faithfulness is rooted in trusting God and his ways. “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Phil. 1:6). Faithfulness is resting in God for fruit.

We are called to be disciples of Jesus. Our perseverance in this process of learning and growing in order that Christ is formed in us is dependent on our understanding of success. Success in discipleship is not always measurable. We need to be looking for the qualities of contrition, delight, and faithfulness in our lives.


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