God never intended for you to walk alone, so he gave you his Son, his gospel, and his church to strengthen you on the journey.
THE MODERN AMERICAN DISCIPLESHIP MODEL
In the last 60 or 70 years, we’ve seen American evangelicalism approach discipleship and spiritual growth with these priorities:
- Personal / Individual – We call people to a personal decision to receive Christ and have a personal relationship with God and then do personal Bible study for personal growth.
- Church on Sunday – Then we then invite people to get to church, get baptized, and attend church regularly. We put tons of money and energy into Sunday experiences that have to be generic enough to appeal to a broad array of people.
- Small Groups… Maybe – We tend to think Sunday gathering is pretty essential and, whenever possible, Christians should also get into a small group for deeper Bible study.
THE ANCIENT NEW TESTAMENT DISCIPLESHIP MODEL
The New Testament accounts of the early church’s growth show a flipped order:
- Small Groups – The upper room, Lydia’s riverside gathering, Paul’s “house to house” study of the gospel… the New Testament church grew in micro-communities.
- Church on Sunday – The weekend gathering is both a celebration of God’s work leading up to Sunday as well as instruction and inspiration for the week ahead, but not the primary driver of spiritual growth.
- Personal / Individual – The idea of discipleship being primarily individual is an Enlightenment-era idea. We become like Christ as we grow spiritually in community.
I want to expound on this from a passage that seems somewhat unlikely…
Mark 1:12-13 NRSV
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts, and the angels waited on him.
Luke sheds a little more light on a couple of important details…
Luke 4:1-2 NRSV
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.
- Jesus ate nothing at all, learning to have nothing but fellowship with God.
- Afterward, Jesus was famished. He felt hunger as we all feel hunger.
Option 1: Most of the time, when we preach about the wilderness wanderings of Jesus, we address the issue of temptation – how Jesus was tempted, how he withstood, and how we can withstand similar temptations today.
Option 2: Sometimes we even approach this passage like a challenge to be alone and to fast for forty days so that we can endure what Jesus endured. The problem is, we can never endure what he endured in the wilderness because he now lives to walk us through our days in the wilderness.
Option 3: We can see from this story that…
Jesus endured his longest, hardest days alone so that we would never have to walk alone.
- Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness were spent, alone.
- His most intense seasons of prayer were spent alone.
- In the Garden, after the Last Supper, Jesus’ friends fell asleep, leaving Jesus alone.
- Jesus went through his trials and walked the Via Dolorosa alone.
- At the cross, his disciples forsook him and fled, leaving him to die alone.
But then, after Jesus’ resurrection, everything changed.
- The disciples await the promised power of the Holy Spirit together.
- They begin to fulfill the Great Commission in the power of Jesus.
- They fan out and God adds to their number daily.
We’re currently living through the season the church has termed Lent. During this time, we practice self-denial, simple living, repentance of sin, and dependence upon God.
So yes, do all of those things, personally!
And if you have never trusted Jesus, do so personally. But… don’t do life alone.
You were meant to become like Christ in the context of relationships!