There are some very real, tangible benefits to being a disciple of Christ (this is primary), and to being part of a discipling relationship (this is secondary) that should motivate you to want to get involved in this type of relationship. Remember, we are talking here about a two-fold relationship:
- a personal commitment to be a disciple of Christ – this occurs individually.
- a commitment to be a disciple of Christ within a relationship with another believer(s) – this relationship strengthens our primary commitment to Christ and is a necessary part of being a disciple of Christ and a part of the church.
I will outline just a few benefits of discipleship here, but there are many, many more. They are taken from multiple sources, including Dallas Willard’s book, The Great Omission.
Before we can begin to discuss the benefits of discipleship, we need to understand one very important reality – Jesus taught that he is either both our Savior and our Lord, or he is nothing to us. About 40 years ago A. W. Tozer observed that a notable heresy had worked its way into many corners of the evangelical church and, unfortunately, it still exists today. It is the idea that we can accept Christ as Savior and not as Lord; that we can accept Christ’s sacrifice in order to be saved from hell, but we have the right to postpone our obedience to him as Lord as long as we desire. Or to put it differently, we can have faith in Christ as Savior without repenting of our sins and accepting him as our Lord. (I Call It Heresy, Harrisburg, PA.: Christian Publications, 1974, p. 5f). This heresy, Willard notes, has created the impression that it is quite reasonable to be a “vampire Christian.” Essentially our relationship with Jesus is this – “I’d like a little of your blood, please. But I don’t care to be your student or have your character. In fact, won’t you just excuse me while I get on with my life, and I’ll see you in heaven.” Clearly, this is an unbiblical idea. A true disciple of Christ submits to him as both Savior and Lord. A true believer is not interested in mere ‘fire insurance’ but is willing to place his heart, soul, mind and strength under the Lordship of Christ.
The first benefit of discipleship is that it brings true inner transformation – we are molded into the image of our Jesus Christ. The disciple is one who is grafted into the vine of Christ (cf. John 15) and who is transformed in mind, soul, character, attitude, disposition, etc. on account of this union with Christ. This is something that Christ does in us and brings about on account of his grace. Yes, we must press on, yes we must train ourselves, yes we must put the effort in, but, it is Christ that changes us. This is not about work, but about humble submission to Christ and to his ways of transforming us. We benefit from his work and transforming power as we submit ourselves to his means of grace – the true preaching of the word, the sacraments of the church and discipleship together with others in the church. The fruit of the Spirit continues to grow within us as Christ continues to transform us.
The second benefit of discipleship is related to the first, it gives us the ability to actually live the way God wants us to live. Our behavior reveals our character. As Willard observes, “[b]ehavior is driven by the hidden or secret dimension of human personality, from the depths of the soul and body, and what is present there will escape.” We want to be true disciples and not the Pharisees of Jesus’ day,
The Pharisees were in many respects the very best people of Jesus’ day. But they located goodness in behavior and tried to secure themselves by careful management at the behavioral level. However, that simply cannot be done. Behavior is driven by the hidden or secret dimension of human personality, from the depths of the soul and body, and what is present there will escape. Hence they always failed at some point to do what is right, and had to redefine, redescribe or explain it away–or simply hide it. (Willard)
If Christ transforms us, our behavior will follow suit. We cannot expect it to work any other way. As Christ transforms us he will exercise his power in and through us and will make us mighty servants in and for his kingdom. As he changes us we come more and more under his lordship, which brings us more and more of his transforming power, which brings us more and more ability to do that which God asks us to do.
The third benefit of discipleship is the joy that it brings. This occurs not only as we look at our own lives and what God is doing within us, but it occurs as we look at what God is doing in those around us. There is great joy in walking together with others in the faith and seeing them grow and change as God works in them. There is great encouragement for all of us when we walk in spiritual intimacy with others, when we push others toward God’s grace in Christ, when we preach the gospel to each other, and when we see God transforming people into his image. If you don’t find yourself wanting other Christians to grow and if you do not desire to participate with others in their growth, there is something wrong with your faith. Our pleasure in seeing God use us to encourage others and build up others is an important biblical motivation. Walking with others in a life of discipleship is one of the greatest joys of our Christian walk.
The final benefit of discipleship has nothing to do with us, but must be seen as the greatest benefit – God is glorified. Let’s think about this in the context of John 15:1-17. What brings the most glory to the Father? Our bearing much fruit. Our discipleship, our growth in the grace and knowledge of Christ on account of God’s transforming grace within us brings glory to God. If we are true disciples of Christ this will be our ultimate desire. It will also show how far our discipleship has progressed.
Soli Deo Gloria