How to Help Others With the Gospel: Part 7 of a (probably) 10 part series on Discipleship
Once again it has been far too long between blogs. Once again, I apologize to all of you who have been waiting.
Due to the distance between blogs as of late, let me summarize briefly where we have been. We have come to understand that when we believe in Christ for our salvation we have become his disciples. In fact, we have seen that disciple and Christian (if we are genuine believers) are really the same thing; a true follower of Christ is a disciple. A disciple is one who is intent on becoming Christ-like in everything; both in who they are and what they do. They seek to mortify sin in their lives and to live a life that is Spirit filled. We also saw that it is important for a disciple to be engaged with others in the context of the local church. God does not intend for us to grow in our faith alone, in fact it is clear that this is not really possible. We also saw that there is a great barrier to growing in our relationship with Christ – sin. We understood that it is a pervasive problem for us that cannot be solved by anything we can do. The last blog examine the need for the gospel alone to reverse our sin problem. The gospel is easy enough to understand in four words – God, Sin, Christ, Response – but is so often neglected when we seek to be disciples of Christ or help others in their discipleship. The gospel is, as Tripp says, our only hope — “Hope is only to be found in Jesus Christ… In him, lasting, personal change is possible. Any other message encourages false hope.”
I want to change our focus in this blog from our own personal discipleship to helping others with their discipleship. This isn’t so much a change of focus as a change of emphasis; since we have already discovered that our personal discipleship necessitates our involvement with others in the community of believers, the church, as well as being engaged with other believers on an intimate level. Very briefly, I want to ask: How do we help each other to focus on the gospel in our discipleship? Or to put it differently, if sin is our fundamental problem, and the gospel is the only way to victory over sin, how can I help another believer to apply this victory in their life?
(Note: I am not talking about spiritual mentoring here – when one person who is a pastor, for example, mentors a young man who is new to the ministry or desires to become a pastor. I am speaking about mutual discipleship relationships that we develop within the church that is concerned with our personal sanctification.)
To help answer this question, I want to look briefly at 2 Corinthians 5:14-6:2. (With the help of Paul Tripp)
First, we need to understand that in order to help others with their sin we need to possess a particular kind of attitude. Two necessary traits are massively important:
Loving courage and honesty – True Christian love is not sentimental. It is not afraid. It does now cower in the face of conflict. It does not avoid difficult conversations about sin and truth. It does not seek to get along with other people at the cost of believing or doing what is right, good and true. True Christian love is concerned with the truth. Love is willing to be courageous enough to say what needs to be said, at the right time and in the right manner, in order to speak the truth. Love is honest about the threat of sin, and the gospel as the only solution to sin. Love calls out hypocrisy, Pharisaism, legalism and any non-gospel means of gaining victory over sin. Love is willing to do and say whatever is necessary to help others see what they need to see concerning the sin in their hearts and the need of the gospel.
Humility and approachability – Because we are sinners helping sinners, we must be honest about our own sin, and open to correction as well. Since discipleship is always something that goes both ways, we must be willing to accept the same correction and guidance with the gospel that we are willing to give.
Grace upon grace upon grace — The foundation for helping others in their discipleship is to understand that since we are trying to reach the heart with the gospel, we must begin with what underlies the gospel and that is grace. Grace must be the central theme of all of our discipleship and grace does not permit us to reduce heart change to a set of principles to live by. Why not? Because grace focuses us on our absolute inability and Christ’s all-ability; it focuses on something done to us and in us from outside us rather than by us. It focuses our attention away from ourselves and toward the salvation that Christ has won for us and the Holy Spirit applies to us.
Scripture declares that personal transformation takes place as our hearts are changed by God’s grace and our minds are renewed by the Holy Spirit. We don’t change anyone; it is the Saviour alone who changes people. We are simply his instruments. (Tripp, Instruments, 18) Or to use Paul’s image in 2 Corinthians 5, we are Christ’s ambassadors charged with the ministry of reconciliation. What does this mean?
What are ambassadors? They are representatives of the King. Ambassadors recognize that they are not the King, nor are they mini-kings. They possess no authority of their own, no message worth hearing that would be their own. Thus they set aside their desire for self-importance. Ambassadors die to their own desire to be the focus, to be heard, to be significant in order to properly represent the King. An ambassador speaks only the official word of the King. Paul states that, like him, we are appointed by God to administer the gospel on Christ’s behalf as his ambassador. That is our sole job as we seek to aid others in their discipleship. As an ambassador of the King to others, we are to represent three things (Tripp, Instruments, 107). These things become the core of what it means to help others in their discipleship:
We focus on delivering ONLY the message of the King – An ambassador is always asking, “What does my Lord want to communicate to this person in this situation? What truths should shape my response? What goals should motivate me?” In other words, we understand Scripture, we understand the gospel as the center of Scripture and we seek to apply it, through the wisdom God gives to us, to the lives of another.
We seek to use ONLY the methods of the King – There are all sorts of ways that our pseudo-Christian culture tries to set us free. But since we are ambassadors of the Great King we are to use his message and his methods. We must be honest about what Scripture says regarding the nature of change in ourselves and others. Here we ask, “How does the Lord bring change in me and in others? How did he respond to people here on earth? What responses are consistent with the goals and resources of the gospel?” Our goal is to mirror the methods of our King.
We desire to reflect the character of the King – This means that we are to make sure that we are taking care of our heart and mind. We need to be motivated by things that God is motivated by. Here we ask, “Why does the Lord do what he does? How can I faithfully represent the character that motivates his redemptive work? What motives in my own heart could hinder what the Lord wants to do in this situation?”
Discipleship that is centered on the gospel, and reflects our King, will be valuable for people and will actually help them to mortify sin and increase in their sanctification. Anything else may look spiritual, may feel Christian, but ultimately will not be what people truly need. Discipleship is pretty simple actually. Sin is the problem, the barrier that prevents us from the fullness of our salvation. The gospel is the ONLY solution to the problem of sin. Our role in disciple-making is to graciously, patiently and constantly point people to this gospel, as ambassadors of Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria