The Path to Greatness: Discipleship

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I love that clip because it rings so true in my life. I don’t know about you, but I’m much better at making resolutions than I am at keeping them. In fact if I had a doughnut for every broken promise I’ve made myself, I could open my own Krispy Kreme. This “broken promise” dilemma defines the futility of my will power and paralyzes my desire for change. I know I need change, but I don’t know how to be changed.

And this disconnect between what I expect and what I experience also discourages many Christians. Be honest! I bet every person who really knows the Lord in this room has, at one point or another, been bewildered at the sin in their lives. I was talking with one of my discipleship students the other day and, when I asked him about a particular sin he was struggling with and why he was struggling with it, he couldn’t give me an answer.

By the way, that very conversation was itself part of the answer. You see, our new emphasis on discipleship here at Peace grew out of the very frustration I’m describing. When Doug Rogers joined the staff, here, he introduced us to the concept of life-on-life discipleship and I knew it was what we needed to do. Why? Because I had seen the people who had made professions, but didn’t stick with it. I was tired of Christmas Theaters, many of which I myself had directed, which yielded 30 or 40 first time decisions for Christ, but with very few long-term results. I was tired of personally leading people to the Lord who ended up just walking away and never coming back. I knew that part of the problem with our church was a lack of follow-up and discipleship, but I didn’t know exactly how to change it. Praise the Lord! He sent someone to show us how and now I can report to you that God is using several of our members and staff to bring about real life change in the hearts of others through life-on-life discipleship.


And I realize that you’d expect me to be convinced, right? After all, I’m the preacher, I’m supposed to believe, but my confidence may not be yours. I’m aware that in this congregation some of you aren’t that certain about this whole discipleship emphasis. For some of you it’s a matter of information. You are, quite simply, uninformed. You still haven’t made the discipleship connection because you don’t even understand exactly what we’re talking about. I want to do a little bit of explaining today and I want to encourage you to seek further information. God may even want you to take Doug’s class on discipleship offered in Life University. I want you to find out about this whole discipleship thing because I do believe it can solve the change dilemma.

Others of you aren’t uninformed. You know what life-on-life discipleship is all about, but you’re not sure it is the answer we believe that it is. You’re not uninformed, you’re unconvinced. You think we’re pursuing a path that is either ineffective, unsustainable, or unnecessary. Listen this morning. I want to tell you why discipleship is so important.

For others, you’re not uninformed or unconvinced, you’re simply uncommitted. You understand the concept and you may even believe it’s what we need to do, but for whatever reason, you’ve just not become involved. I want to give you some biblical reasons to commit.

I take those reasons from Philippians 3. We’ve been talking about this chapter and discussing how good enough Christians can become great believers. If you wanted to summarize the main thought of this message you could do it with this statement. Good believers become great by being properly discipled. Did you catch that? Here it is again: Good believers become great by being properly discipled. You see a picture of this discipleship drawn in Phil 3:17 where Paul says:

Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern

Paul, in this very brief description, tells us that life changing discipleship involves at least 2 actions. In the first place,



Now you may be a little hesitant about the word imitation. You may be afraid that you’ll simply be a copy of someone else if you become a disciple or, even worse, you may be afraid of absolute humiliation.

I read that President Calvin Coolidge invited some people from his hometown to dinner at the White House. Since they did not know how to behave at the White House, they thought, “Well, I’ll just watch the president and do what he does.

Things went ok until it came time to serve coffee. When President Coolidge’s coffee came, he poured it into a saucer. As soon as the home folk saw what he did, they did it too: They poured their coffee into their saucers. They kept watching as the President poured some milk and a little sugar into the coffee in his saucer. The home folks added milk and sugar too. They thought for sure that the next step would be for the President to begin sipping that coffee concoction from his saucer. But he didn’t do that. No, He leaned over, placed the saucer on the floor and called his cat.

Maybe that’s how you feel about this whole discipleship, imitation thing. You fear it means giving up your individuality or it means turning you into a mind-numbed robot. That really isn’t the case.

This imitation of Paul was no formal copying of the apostle. It was not a mindless or mechanical activity. Instead, it impacted both the attitude and the behavior. When Paul had been physically present with the Philippians, he had set a concrete, godly example for them to follow. Now that he is physically absent, this letter becomes his substitute. He is exemplifying with his words the conduct they are to assume. He expects them to imitate him.

And what is it that he wants them to imitate? He wants them to imitate his attitude about Jesus expressed in vv 8-11. He wants them to hunger for God the way He does. He wants that hunger to take them beyond feeling to action. He wants them not to just know Jesus, but to become Jesus in their love for and relationship to those who are lost around them.

And just in case they couldn’t figure out what Jesus would do in some situation, he tells them to simply do what they knew he would do if he were there. He says, FOLLOW MY EXAMPLE!

This isn’t the first time the Apostle has asked his spiritual children to imitate him. In fact when he wrote the church at Corinth, he told them to imitate him as he imitated Christ. He told the church at Ephesus to imitate God and then he told the church at Thessolonica to imitate him and the Lord. That word “imitate” in the Greek is mimetai and it is related to our word “mimic.” Paul is saying “mimic” me. Do what I do!

This is the essence of discipleship! It is taking a believer who doesn’t know how to really live for the Lord and loving them enough to spend time teaching them the Word of God and then caring enough to show them how to live out that Word in their lives. Discipleship is imitation!


Apologist and author Ravi Zacharias recounts a story found in Marie Chapian's book Of Whom the World Was Not Worthy (Bethany House, 1980). The book follows the Yugoslavian Christian church's suffering under a corrupt church heirarchy:

One day an evangelist by the name of Jakov arrived in a certain village. He commiserated with an elderly man named Cimmerman on the tragedies he had experienced and talked to him of the love of Christ. Cimmerman abruptly interrupted Jakov and told him that he wished to have nothing to do with Christianity. He reminded Jakov of the dreadful history of the church in his town, a history replete with plundering, exploiting, and indeed with killing innocent people.

"My own nephew was killed by them," he said and angrily rebuffed any effort on Jakov's part to talk about Christ. "They wear those elaborate coats and crosses," he said, "signifying a heavenly commission, but their evil designs and lives I cannot ignore."

Jakov, looking for an occasion to get Cimmerman to change his line of thinking, said, "Cimmerman, can I ask you a question? Suppose I were to steal your coat, put it on, and break into a bank. Suppose further that the police sighted me running in the distance but could not catch up with me. One clue, however, put them onto your track: they recognize your coat. What would you say to them if they came to your house and accused you of breaking into the bank?"

"I would deny it, " said Cimmerman.

"'Ah, but we saw your coat,' they would say," retorted Jakov. This analogy quite annoyed Cimmerman, who ordered Jakov to leave his home.

Jakov continued to return to the village periodically just to befriend Cimmerman, encourage him, and share the love of Christ with him. Finally one day Cimmerman asked, "How does one become a Christian?" Jakov taught him the simple steps of repentance for sin and of trust in the work of Jesus Christ and gently pointed him to the Shepherd of his soul. Cimmerman bent his knee on the soil with his head bowed and surrendered his life to Christ. As he rose to his feet, wiping his tears, he embraced Jakov and said, "Thank you for being in my life." And then he pointed to the heavens and whispered, "You wear His coat very well."


How well do you wear His coat. The answer to that question reveals the impact of your discipleship. Which is exactly why some of you aren’t involved. You know that, if you are to be imitated, you must have purity. To set an example means that you’re going to have to have a life worth imitating. While no one is perfect, there still must be victory over sin and a warm heart towards God. There must be a real realationship with Christ and a powerful intimacy with Him. Imitation requires purity.

It also requires presence. If you’re going to disciple someone, the teacher has to be around to do it. That means you’ve got to make time in your busy schedule to spend with someone else. I know you’re busy. In fact, it sometimes seems we’re busier than we’ve ever been, yet we still find the time to play video games and “wii” ourselves to a mind-numbed stupor. If you’re going to make a disciple, the way the Lord commanded, however, their must be a determination to take the time to be present. Ther must be purity and presence

And there also must be transparency. You can’t go into this relationship pretending to be something you’re not. It’s much too intimate for that. When you’re eyeball to eyeball with another believer, it just gets harder and harder to keep up the pretense. You must be transparent.

And most of all, you must be consistent. Nothing will shake the confidence of your student more quickly than your inconsistent lifestyle.

Now, lets just be honest: Being a discipleship teacher is a daunting task requiring great courage and supernatural strength. It will not work without the power of God. I think this may be the main reason that mature believers don’t get involved. They’re frightened of the commitment.

And it’s no less daunting for the disciple. Following another’s example requires a great deal of humility. In short, you must have a genuinely teachable spirit. Know-it-alls destroy real discipleship. Humility is required.

Along with humility must come surrender. There must be a willingness to lay off your own plans and listen to the Lord. Real growth results from a surrender to the kind of uncomfortable changes that discipleship brings. This “imitation” is a risky business.

But it is a rewarding business! From the time Jesus called His first disciple to follow Him, there were many starts and stops; many times of disappointment. But in the end, that investment He made in those fickle fishermen paid off. You and I are here today as followers of Christ because He cared enough to make 12 disciples, and they cared enough to imitate their teacher. Going from good to great is a matter of discipleship and discipleship is matter of imitation. Discipleship is imitation and, also,



It is interesting to note the actual Greek construction behind the English text in v17. The word that gives us the English translation, “Join in following my example” is really just one Greek word: Summimetai. I told you that the word “mimetai” was the word “imitate,” or literally “mimic.” But the word is summimetai, not simply mimetai. The sum prefix means “together” or “join”. The idea is that we are to join together in imitating. In other words, Paul is saying, “start a mimicing club. Be joint imitators of me. Join together in your imitation of my example.

And the last part of the verse amplifies that thought further. He says, “and note those who so walk . . .” The word “note” means to look critically at something and evaluate it. The idea is that we are to look critically at others and evaluate whether or not they are imitating the example of Paul, set in his life and in his Spirit-inspired writings.

The implication is that once we have noted who is following that example and who is not, we are to embrace those who are following it and avoid those who aren’t. When it comes to the example we imitate, we are to be careful to join with those who are walking in a godly manner and avoid those who are not. We must be careful whom we imitate.

Which just means that discipleship is not just a matter of imitation, it is also a matter of association. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I am to find other believers who are living by God’s word and deliberately associate myself with them.

Why? Why is this association so important? Because it strengthens your ability to life for God. Association brings strength to your commitment and success to your endeavor.


The world knows this!

With a new year just around the corner, most of us are busy scribbling down resolutions. We desire radical change in the way we look, the way we behave, the way we make our living. But if research regarding New Year's resolutions is at all true, most of us will fall short of our goals. Why? In his book Who's Got Your Back?, author Keith Ferrazzi says it's because we too often go it alone when trying to change. Consider the story of Jean Nidetch:

Jean was overweight as a child, she was overweight in high school, and despite endless diet regimens, her waistline kept expanding throughout her twenties and thirties …. [She fit the medical definition of "obese." Jean tried diets and pills that promised to take off the pounds, but she always gained back the weight she lost.

In 1961, at age 38, Jean started a diet sponsored by the New York City Department of Health. After 10 weeks she was 20 pounds lighter, but starting to lose motivation. She realized that what she needed was someone to talk to for some support …

Since she couldn't get her pals to make the trek with her to Manhattan to sign up for the official health department regimen, she brought the "science" of the program to their living rooms in Queens. Jean and her friends would all lose weight together. Out of those first meetings grew Weight Watchers, widely recognized as one of the most effective weight-loss programs in the world. Nidetch's idea was simple: Losing weight requires a combination of dieting and peer support. She held weekly meetings with weight check-ins and goal setting to promote accountability, coupled with honest, supportive conversation about the struggles, setbacks, and victories over losing weight.

Eventually, Nidetch, who'd lost seventy-two pounds, rented office space and started leading groups all across New York City. In 1963 she incorporated. As of 2007, Weight Watchers International had retail sales of over $4 billion from licenses, franchisees, membership fees, exercise programs, cookbooks, portion-controlled food products, and a magazine. Nidetch retired in 1984, leaving behind a legacy that has saved the lives of literally millions of men and women. As the company's current CEO, Dave Kirchhoff notes, "Though the science of weight loss has evolved over the years, the core of Jean's program—support and accountability—has remained constant."

Association brings strength to your commitment and success to your endeavor. To whom are you accountable in your Christian life? Who is accountable to you? Isolation breeds failure.


If that is true, how can you go about dumping isolation for intimacy. How can you develop the friendships that bring spiritual success.

Well, if you are going to be discipled, you must open up. You’ll never get help until you become transparent. There must be a willingness to let go of pride. I was talking to a man a couple of weeks ago who has just been through the emotional wringer in his life. He lamented his own problems in his relationships and then he made a statement I knew was true: He said something like this, “Pastor, there’s a lot of bad relationship stuff going on in this church, but people often just sweep it under the rug.” I thought about that statement as I prepared this message. If what he said is true, and the counseling I have done says that it is, then there will never be spiritual progress here until people open up. If you’re going to be discipled, you’ve got to make yourself vulnerable enough to admit what’s going on in your life.

If you’re going to be discipled, you must open up, and then you must join in. The larger this congregation has grown, the more spectators we have attracted. Now spectating isn’t necessarily bad if this is your first or second Sunday to attend. But if you’ve been here a while and you’re simply coming and observing, but doing nothing, you need to join in. Listen, being around God’s people and sitting in a pew will do you no good until you determine that you’re going to actually do something. Until you actually decide that you will be a summimetai a “fellow imitator.” So are you a spectator or a disciple. If you’re going to be discipled, you must open up and you must join in, and last of all:

You must let go. This is where some of us are. We’re holding on to this hurt or that sin and you’re stuck. Maybe it’s a believer you trusted in the past and they hurt you and when that happened you decided that you’d never make yourself that vulnerable again. Maybe you need to let go of a relationship that is dragging you down. Maybe you know that, for real discipleship to begin, you must stop living with your boyfriend before marriage or make right some wrong in your past. I don’t know what it may be that has you stuck, but I want you to know that whatever it is, there is no bondage or difficult step that can overcome God’s grace. If you will just ask Him, He can give you the courage to let go.

Listen church! God did not put us here together to remain isolated and become experts in deception. He didn’t put us here to figure out how we could look good on the outside while we were dying on the inside. He put us here to associate with one another and to imitate Him. And here’s the powerful truth: When we are willing to obey Him in this association of imitation. Some really powerful things can happen:


Video: Finding Support in a Life Group.

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