Key Questions to Understanding Christian Discipleship

Over the last few posts in this series, I have explored this definition for mature discipleship: Mature disciples of Christ actively cultivate the attitudes, understandings, and habits of abiding in God’s Word in a variety of ways throughout life.

Building a Life of Discipleship

Why have this definition? Well, the life of discipleship, or life as a baptized believer in Christ, has a lot of complexity to it. There are a lot of pressures and responsibilities in life. Yet, in John 8:31-32, Christ points to a central truth. We are to abide in God’s Word, not just at certain points but throughout life in many ways. Abiding in God’s Word is not just hearing it or reading it, but meditating on it during the day and putting it into practice in different ways throughout our daily lives.

We cannot create or sustain faith. The Spirit working through the Means of Grace does that. As God’s people, we are called to cultivate the habits, attitudes, and understandings that encourage us to abide in God’s Word in our thoughts, words, and actions. As we cultivate these different aspects of our lives, the Spirit will empower us to abide in God’s Word more and more.

What Are “Understandings?”

There’s a reason why the topic of understandings comes after posts discussing habits and attitudes. “Understandings” are where things get a bit messier in definition. In rough educational terms, “understandings” are things people should know or be able to do. Whereas habits are the routines that one lives out, or how we live, and attitudes encompass motivation and outlook, or why we do what we do, understandings have more to do with what we learn.

In school, understandings were often seen through the lens of subjects and objectives. We had different subjects, or areas of study, that we spiraled around every year. These included areas like math, science, and literature. In each class, we had specific objectives that we focused on. As we moved from class to class, completing objectives, we built up our understanding of important areas of content and practice. Unlike basic facts and information, which are necessary to learning, understandings are things we continue to grow in throughout our lives through different experiences and chapters in life.

When it comes to abiding in God’s Word, there are important understandings we should focus on. These understandings, or domains of discipleship, focus on two key questions to understanding the Christian life: who am I, and why am I here?

“Who Am I?” 

Identity, one could argue, is the hot-topic issue of the day. Identity, personhood, and what makes a human truly human are at the heart of every aspect of cultural discourse. The prevailing message of the world is that we make our own identity. This identity is based in our psychological happiness or in being true to ourselves. We see billboards with the tagline “You be you,” and we’re inundated with positive messages like, “You can be whatever you want to be,” in our books, magazines, and screens.

But this message, though it sounds positive, is not the Christian understanding of identity. It is not true to the Bible, and it is certainly not true to reality. Though we are God’s creatures, we are broken by sin. We cannot by our own reason or strength come to God, and our nature is not good but is in fact sinful and broken. Our natures need to be restored, and by the Spirit working through the Means of Grace, we have a new identity. It is the identity of being a redeemed child of God through Christ.

Instead of turning inwards, to society, or to the media to understand the question “Who am I?” where do disciples turn? We turn to the truth of God’s Word. One way to categorize the way we understand who we are through the Word of God is to think of three areas of understanding:

  • Biblical literacy: What is the Bible and what does it say?
  • Lutheran doctrine: What does God’s Word teach?
  • Christian heritage: How have people understood what God’s Word teaches through time?

Each of these three domains, or areas of understanding, provides a perspective on understanding who we are in this world and in Christ. These do not avoid hard teachings or understanding the history of the Church, but embrace them to gain a richer understanding of who we are in Christ. Abiding in God’s Word will inevitably lead us to return to these questions to understand our place in God’s epic plan of salvation.

But there’s a second key question to understanding the Christian life . . . 

“Why Am I Here?” 

This question is all about purpose. What is the purpose of existing, and what does it mean to live a meaningful life? The world will tell us that mankind’s purpose is to find personal happiness. That happiness is usually found in the pursuit of pleasure. And though personal happiness is not a bad thing in and of itself, a life in the pursuit of personal pleasure is by its very nature selfish. It is turned in on itself and turns a blind eye to the needs of others.

In contrast to this worldview, we Christians understand our purpose as something very different. As human creatures, God calls us to a life looking outside ourselves. God calls us to be stewards of His creation, receiving His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, and then loving and serving our neighbor. In this light, one way to categorize how we approach our purpose in life is to think of these three categories of understanding:

  • Worship life: How do we receive the gifts of God’s Word in our lives?
  • Works of love: How does God’s Word impact how we live?
  • Confessing the faith: How do we faithfully communicate God’s Word in our daily lives?

These three domains provide a perspective on our purpose as God’s people. Mature disciples abide in God’s Word in a variety of ways throughout life. Abiding in this Word includes striving to put it into practice. The Spirit through the Word continually forms and transforms us, and as we mature as disciples of Christ our understandings of why we are here, focused outward toward God and neighbor, will also mature.

Though there are necessary answers to understanding what it means to abide in God’s Word as revealed in Scripture and unpacked in our Confessions, understanding discipleship is a lifelong process. By asking the right questions and focusing on the right areas of content and practice, we can better focus on the life of faith, and grow in our understanding of who we are and why we are here. As we receive God’s gifts, we will be continually conformed to the image of Christ and love and serve our neighbor.

Turn to the original text on Lutheran discipleship with Luther's Small Catechism: A Manual for Discipleship and order below.  

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Written by

Pete Jurchen

Rev. Dr. Pete Jurchen is an editor of Bible resources at Concordia Publishing House. In addition to his MDiv, he holds a BSEd in secondary education, an MSEd in curriculum leadership, and an EdD in instructional leadership with a focus on adult learning. He works to cultivate lifelong learners of God’s Word so that the ordinary is transformed into epic. He lives in Imperial, MO, with his wonderful wife, Deb, and his five children.

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