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Are They Developing in Character?
The second dimension of a disciple is that they are progressively developing the character and competencies of Jesus in their life. Remember that a disciple is one who actually follows a master teacher to become like him. Therefore, a disciple of Jesus is someone who has chosen to follow Jesus and is progressively becoming more and more like him. Theologians call this “sanctification”—the process by which the Spirit of God molds and shapes believers into the image of Christ.
Jesus prayed this for his disciples the night before his death: “They are not of the world even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by your truth; your word is truth” (John 17:16-17, NASB). The basic meaning of “sanctification” (hagiazon in Greek) is to be separate or set apart. Just as Jesus was set apart for a redemptive purpose to ignite a global disciple making movement, so his followers have been “born again” and set apart to join Jesus in his mission (John 3:7; 20:21). That involves walking as Jesus walked and doing what Jesus did (1 John 2:6; John 14:12).
There are two primary areas where a disciple needs to develop: inner character and core competencies.
This is from Craig Ethredege’s eBook, Invest in a Few. Download the eBook here in your favorite format at no cost.
The Inner Character of Christ
First, a disciple must develop the character of Jesus. This is Christ-likeness on the inside. Paul was referring to this when he urged the Philippians, “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Philippians 2:4-5, NLT). The word “attitude” (phroneo) here means to think in the same way or have the same disposition. Paul was encouraging these new believers to have the same attitude, thoughts, character, and internal disposition as Jesus. He just mentioned a few ways they could do that: by being like minded, not looking out for their own interests, caring for the interest of others, and considering others more important than themselves. All these are attitudes reflected in the life of Jesus. So what are the character qualities of Jesus?
You probably can’t find a better list than in Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (ESV). These are called the “fruit of the Spirit”, and since Jesus, too, had the Spirit, he perfectly lived them out. He expressed ultimate love and joy; he exemplified peace and patience in all circumstances; he modeled kindness to the forgotten, goodness to the wayward, faithfulness to the faltering, and gentleness and self-control in even the worst of situations. A disciple is growing in these areas of character, learning, day-by-day, to let the Spirit of God control them, change them, and lead them. This person is not who they used to be. Are they perfect? Not even close. But are they making progress? Absolutely.
The Core Competencies of Jesus
Second is developing the core competencies of Jesus. This is Christ-likeness on the outside. When Jesus called his disciples to “follow him”, he trained them over a period of years to be like him and to carry on his work. In order for this to successfully happen, they needed to master certain core competencies to do the job.
Think about how this works when someone learns a trade. When a master electrician, for example, trains a new apprentice, his goal is to make that novice competent in every area of their job. Certain skills must be mastered in order for the novice to become a master—certain problems that need solved and certain pieces of knowledge that need to be learned to carry on the work. In the same way, Jesus trained his men in certain competencies so they could carry on the work he had begun.
You may ask, “What kind of competencies did Jesus train in his disciples?” As you read through the Gospels, some of these competencies come quickly to the surface. For instance, Jesus trained his disciples in God’s Word. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus quoted the Scriptures over seventy times. Jesus also trained his disciples how to pray. Sometimes he would even pray all night before big decisions or when facing the heavy pressures of ministry.
Jesus also trained his men how to communicate the gospel. He modeled public and personal evangelism and sent out his disciples to do the same. He trained his men to invest their lives in others to make disciples as he made disciples of them.
Jesus prioritized relationships, choosing to invest the majority of his time in a few people rather than give all of his attention to the clamoring crowd. In this way, Jesus was training his men to invest in a few others. He knew this would make for optimal impact.
Now these are just a few of the competencies Jesus developed in his disciples. True disciples of Jesus are progressively growing in these competencies by learning to carve out time for prayer and God’s Word, intentionally building relationships with people far from God, and sharing the gospel—investing their life in a few people in order to show them how to walk with God.
Written by Craig Etheredge
A gifted communicator, author, and Bible teacher and the Lead Pastor at First Colleyville, a thriving church in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, Craig Etheredge is the host of Morning Thrive, a radio program that covers central Texas. He is Founder and President of discipleFIRST ministries and a regular speaker at the FlashPoint Conference across the United States. Craig is also Adjunct Professor of Discipleship at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas and is actively involved in his local community serving on various boards.