The second dimension of a disciple is that he is progressively developing the character and the competencies of Jesus in his own life. Remember, a disciple is one who follows a master in order to become like him.
Accordingly, a disciple of Jesus is someone who has chosen to follow Jesus and is in the process of becoming more and more like him. Theologians call this sanctification. It’s the process by which the Spirit of God begins to mold and shape the new believer into the image of Christ.
Jesus prayed this for each of his disciples. The night before his death he prayed, “Father, 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). The word “sanctification” (hagiazon) means 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 from above” (John 3.3) and have been set apart to join Jesus in his mission (John 20.21). That involves walking as Jesus walked (I John 2.6) and doing what Jesus did (John 14.12).
There are two primary areas where a disciple needs to develop. First, a disciple must develop the character of Jesus. This is Christ-likeness on the inside. The second area of growth for the new disciple is developing the competencies of Jesus. This is Christlikeness on the outside.
Developing the character of Jesus.
Paul was referring to this when he urged the Philippians to, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…”(Philippians 2.4-5).
The word mind (phroneo) means to think in the same way or have the same disposition or attitude. 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 likeminded, not looking out for their own interests, caring for the interests of others, and considering others more important than themselves.
All these are attitudes reflected in the life of Jesus. What are the character qualities of Jesus? You probably can’t get a better list to start with than in Galatians 5.22-23.“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…”These are called the “fruit of the Spirit,” but they were perfectly lived out in the life of Jesus. 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. He is learning, day by day, to let the Spirit of God control him, change him, and lead him.
Developing the competencies of Jesus.
When Jesus called his disciples to “follow him” he trained them to be like him and to carry on his work. For this to happen they needed to have certain competencies mastered.
Think about it this way. When a master electrician trains a new apprentice, his goal is to make that novice competent in every area of their new job. There are certain skills they need to master. There are certain problems they need to solve. There is a certain baseline of knowledge they will need to have 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 be asking, “In what kind of competencies did Jesus train his disciples?” As you read through the gospels, some come quickly to the surface.
For instance, Jesus trained his disciples in God’s Word. Throughout the gospels, Jesus quoted the scriptures over seventy different times. He quoted scripture when he was tempted, when he was confronting the Pharisees, and as he taught.
In every way, Jesus was training his men to understand God’s Word. Jesus also trained his men how to pray. He often retreated by himself to seek his Father’s face. Sometimes he would pray all night long before big decisions or when facing the heavy pressures of ministry. At least twice, we see Jesus teaching his disciples how to pray.
Jesus also trained his men to communicate the gospel. He was called a friend of sinners (Luke 7.34). He cared for people far from God, not because they were a project, but because they mattered to God. He modeled personal and public evangelism and then sent his disciples out to do the same. Jesus also trained his men to invest their lives in others. Jesus prioritized relationships, choosing to invest the majority of his time in a few emerging leaders rather than give all of his attention to the clamoring crowd. In this way, Jesus was training his men to invest in others for optimal impact.
These are just a few of the competencies Jesus developed in his disciples. The true disciple of Jesus is progressively growing in these competencies, as well. He’s learning to carve out time for prayer and God’s Word. He is intentionally building relationships with people far from God and sharing the gospel. He is investing his life in a few people and showing them how to walk with God. When people don’t know what to do, they do nothing. But when a person is shown how to walk with God, then he is empowered to walk with God his whole life and help others do the same. I am forever grateful to the men who trained me in these things.
Living Christ-centered and Christ-controlled.
Jerry was one of three businessmen who discipled me when I was a young pastor. He owned his own business building runways for the government all across the United States. Jerry was a passionate disciple maker. He would often say, “Craig, left to ourselves we can never live the Christian life. It’s impossible. We can’t make ourselves change on the inside, no matter how much willpower we have. What we need is someone from the outside to come to us and change us on the inside. And that someone is Jesus. The way to live the Christian life is by being Christ-centered and Christ-controlled. Each day we make the choice to either acknowledge Jesus as the center of our lives around which everything else revolves, or put ourselves in that place. Every day we make the choice to either voluntarily surrender the control of our lives to Jesus, or to grab the reigns and assume control.”
I’ve never forgotten Jerry’s words. Over the years, there have been times when I lived Christ-centered and Christ-controlled. In those moments, the Spirit of God produced in me the character of Jesus and a desire to live out the competencies of Jesus.
But honestly, there have been days when Jesus hasn’t been the center of my life. I’ve been busy working out my plans, my ways, my efforts. On those days Jesus hasn’t been in control of my life. The result is that I give very little thought to the character and competencies of Jesus.
We’ve all got room to grow. I’m not saying that a disciple has all of this down, but what I am saying is that a true disciple of Jesus is moving in this direction. The Spirit within him is working on him, and his desire is to live just like Jesus. The Apostle Paul told his young disciple, Timothy, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress”(I Timothy 4.15). The key word is progress! He didn’t say, “Timothy you have to be perfect. You must have it all together all the time.” He just said—keep moving forward.
That was Paul’s goal even for himself. I love how the Apostle Paul put it: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own”(Philippians 3.12). Paul wasn’t perfect. He hadn’t reached full maturity. He hadn’t planted his flag on the mountaintop of Christ-likeness, but he was pressing toward it. He was making progress. His desire was to be like Jesus on the inside and on the outside. And that is the desire of every true disciple.
This blog originally appeared at: How to Live a Christ-Centered Life by Developing the Character and Competencies of Jesus – discipleFIRST and features an excerpt from one of their books, Bold Moves.