The Bible and Discipleship
An excerpt taken from Discipleship Handbook by Bobby Harrington and Josh Patrick
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. 2 Timothy 3:16
The Word of God is living and active; by it we encounter Jesus and learn to form our lives around him.
Discipleship is to form our lives around Jesus as Lord. This means that discipleship is first and foremost about how we live. Are we truly following Jesus, being formed by Jesus, and faithful to the mission of Jesus? Too many people have made discipleship about knowledge of the Bible. And that is it; they equate discipleship with education. But the focus of discipleship is practical and life oriented, on how we live every day.
But at the same time we do not go too far away from study because discipleship requires knowledge of Jesus and his ways. Jesus’ Lordship is expressed when we carefully follow the teachings of the Bible. The apostle Paul described it this way in 2 Corinthians 10:5:
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
Notice that last phrase, “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” If obedience to Jesus Christ is our goal, then it requires a certain way of thinking. In Romans 12:2-3, the apostle Paul puts it this way:
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
“Transformation,” Paul says, is first grounded in “renewing the mind.” So knowledge is not the focus of discipleship, but it is vitally important. How we think is the biggest determiner of how we live. Understood properly, it is impossible to overstate how important it is to get people into the Bible.
Discipleship requires a manual and the most basic manual of all is the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 describes the place scripture is to play in the life of a disciple:
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
According to this passage, and commensurate with countless others, scripture finds its origin in God. It is God who inspired and “breathed into” it. God speaks to us through the human authors who wrote the Bible.
Consequently we must be very careful to teach those we are discipling to follow the teachings of the Bible. We are warned about the importance of knowing and adhering to the teachings of the Bible.
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:1-4)
The Word of God is our ultimate and final authority. This applies when we feel like it, and when we don’t; when it suits us, and when it doesn’t; when we are ready for it, and when we are not. It requires great patience and careful instruction. If we do not follow this path, those we are discipling may be taken captive to the myths of false Christianity.
The following guidelines are given so that you can lead people along the discipleship journey to study and apply the Bible in their lives. It is very important that we get people into scripture itself. Too often disciple making focuses on secondary books or teaching about the Bible without a proper focus on the explicit teachings of the Bible.
1. We get into the Bible with people because it helps them develop faith in Jesus.
It would be a mistake to think that you cannot understand anything about the Bible until you first become a Christian and receive the indwelling Holy Spirit. We believe that one of the best places to start in one’s search to know God is by studying the Bible in a group of three to five people. And for those on the journey, personal Bible study is essential to ongoing growth.
There are some sections of the Bible that are particularly encouraging in this regard. The first is Romans 10:14-17. In this section of the Bible, the Apostle Paul points out that it is impossible to believe in Jesus Christ until we hear and understand the teachings about him. The primary way for people in the first century to hear was for someone to come and tell them about Jesus (without printing presses, books were rare). Once people were exposed to these teachings, they could believe and be saved.
“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? . . . Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Rom. 10:14-17)
The central factor in faith development is exposure to the word of Christ. The same principle is at work today: spiritual seekers will not be able to become disciples of Jesus until they are exposed to and understand the clear teachings in the Bible about Jesus.
The Romans 10:17 principle also applies to people who are Christians. The famous nineteenth century Christian leader D.L. Moody described his spiritual growth with these words:
I prayed for faith, and thought that some day faith would come down and strike me like lightening. But faith did not seem to come. One day I read in the tenth chapter of Romans . . . I had closed my Bible, and prayed for faith. I now opened my Bible, and began to study, and faith has been growing ever since.
The key to developing and seeing your faith grow is active exposure to the teachings of the Bible, especially those about Jesus Christ.
This same principle is taught in Hebrews 4:12. Although the primary reference here is the spoken word of God, the principle applies equally to the written word of God: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” This same principle is stated in Isaiah 55:11 where God says that when his word is given to people that, “It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
2. We approach the Word of God with a mind sensitive to the Spirit of God.
There is one thing that is ultimately important in Bible study and Bible interpretation. The Holy Spirit’s personal presence is necessary for God’s Word to have true impact in our lives. The apostle Paul described it for us this way.
“We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us . . . The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:12-14).
We are consistently amazed to meet non-Christian people who will tell us they spent a little bit of time reading the Bible and it just doesn’t make sense. At times it almost seems like they are saying, “You Christians must be weird because you can understand that strange book!”
Then, on the other hand, we know of countless Christians, even teenagers and new Christians, who simply and easily grasp even profound Biblical teachings. They not only grasp them, but they see how to apply these teachings to their lives. When one group gets it and one group does not get it, the difference is often the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit.
The starting point to understand and apply the Bible is that you must have a heart for the author. The Christian leader Martin Luther described his experience this way:
“The Bible is alive, it speaks to me. It has feet, it runs after me. It has hands, it lays hold of me.”
The power in effective and life transforming Bible study is a person’s spiritual disposition before God. Teach those that you are discipling that their spiritual disposition before God is fundamental.
3. We view the Bible with a special focus on Jesus and His ways.
There is an old expression that I (Bobby) really like: “major on the majors, minor on the minors.” Nowhere is this principle more important than when you are guiding others in a Bible study. There are many things in the Bible, but not all things are central or primary. Jesus is central. The person and teachings of Jesus guide us in how we understand those teachings which are not central and primary. The religious establishment of Jesus’ day missed this principle. In Matthew 23:24, Jesus described them as blind guides, who would strain out a gnat (focus on a small, incidental teaching) but swallow a camel (miss a major teaching).
The Bible teaches us that certain doctrines are fundamental and central. The central message of the Bible is that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the focus, for the gospel is all about him – his life, his teaching, his cross, his resurrection, and his ascending to the place of highest honor in heaven, as he now is our reigning Lord (Acts 10:38-43; 1 Cor. 15:1-8). As much as we emphasize Jesus’ Lordship, we want to emphasize that it is a natural response to all that Jesus is and all that Jesus has done for us, especially in his grace. It is all a gift – even the Holy Spirit’s empowerment within us so that we can respond in faith and faithfulness.
There are numerous passages that point us to the centrality of Jesus and how to form a mindset for Bible study by focusing on Jesus. Here are just two examples:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
The mindset revealed in these passages, and others, shows us what is at the heart of Christianity.
Mark Twain once said, “Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture which they cannot understand: but as for me, I have always noticed that the passages of Scripture which trouble me most are those which I do understand.” Most of the Bible is not as hard to understand as it is to live out. For example, it is not natural to love your enemies and forgive those who have hurt you. This was Twain’s point. If we put Jesus at the center of our study of the Bible, he will always draw us into that which is most important. It is this mindset which should be formative in how we study and apply all that is within the Bible.
4. We read the Bible with an earnest commitment to personal responsibility and obedience.
The only legitimate way to develop an authentic faith that is grounded in what God says is to study the Bible for ourselves. We love the example of the people in Berea described in the book of Acts. They were compared to the Thessalonians and, unlike the Thessalonians, they carefully looked into the scriptures to see what was true, so that they could know the way of God and properly follow him for themselves. They are highly commended for seeking to know the truth of scripture and searching out the true meaning.
“Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures everyday to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11)
Like the Bereans, if we truly want to be noble in God’s sight, we must examine the scriptures in all things to determine the truth for ourselves. Disciples need to be taught this by their disciplers.
Yes, we may need teachers and aids to help us. Yes, there are often complex issues involved. And yes, different well-studied and highly educated Christians understand some things in different ways, but we do not follow people; we follow Jesus through the teachings of the Bible. As a disciple I am responsible for my faith and the choices that I make. We teach people to depend on God, not on us.
In the end there is no excuse if we do not form our own conclusions about forming our lives around Jesus through our own study of the Bible. In fact, there are some things that we will not know for ourselves until we seek out God’s teaching in scripture by ourselves! It is a fundamental principle of the Christian life:
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
“‘You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:13)
The best way to come to know God and know the teachings of the Bible is by studying scripture, not the thoughts, traditions, and teachings of men.
To download a free copy of Discipleship Handbook: 6 Elements Of A Discipleship Lifestyle, click here!