How do you grow as a disciple, or follower, of Jesus? What does it look like? Is there a secret to growing in our faith?
I suspect I’m not alone in having asked questions like these, even if we have some knowledge of their answers. After all, many of us understand discipleship on some level as a process. It’s the cumulative effect of formal and informal instruction and activities throughout every area of life, in all times and places (Deut. 6:4-9; Acts 20:17-24). The classes we take, the books we read, the one-on-one conversations we engage in, the podcasts we listen to—all of these play a part in our growth in spiritual maturity. But when I think about my own growth in maturity, I see that the times when I’ve grown the fastest and healthiest have all had one thing in common: I wasn’t alone.
As I’ve talked with others, I’ve found many of us have similar stories. Spiritual growth isn’t just a matter of private reading, study, and prayer. Spiritual growth is also the result of our relationships with other Christians. The church is the context of discipleship, as we welcome new believers, build one another up in the gospel, and remember the gospel together.
Welcoming New Believers into Gospel Community
When we trust Jesus, God adopts us into His family as beloved children. Simultaneously, He makes us members of new community, the church. In response, all believers are commanded to be baptized (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38). Baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Baptism is our first step as disciples. It is our first act of obedience. It is a never-to-be-repeated event that symbolizes our faith in our crucified, buried, and risen Savior:
- our death to sin as we are plunged into the water;
- the burial of our old life as we are below the surface;
- our resurrection to new life in Christ as we are raised again.
A believer’s baptism is an event to be celebrated. It is the recognition of God’s work in giving new life to a lost sinner, and with baptism we welcome him or her into fellowship as our brother or sister in Christ. And that celebration leads us to build one another up in the gospel.
Building One Another Up in the Gospel
The word we often use for this work is edification, which refers to encouragement to grow and mature both individually and collectively. Whether through preaching and teaching in formal settings (Eph. 4:11-13), one-on-one counseling, or informal gatherings, edification does two things:
- It encourages us to grow deeper in our understanding of our identity as believers—new creations, beloved children of God. We have been delivered from darkness. We now belong to the kingdom of light, in which we become more and more like Christ (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:1-10,19; Col. 1:13).
- It equips us to live on mission as ambassadors of the kingdom of God (2 Cor. 5:20).
Edification is discipleship in the truest sense, the work of building one another up as believers, encouraging each other as we live in relationship together (1 Cor. 12:26; Gal. 6:2).
Remembering the Gospel Together
Discipleship grows as we seek to build one another up in the gospel. And it deepens as we remember the gospel together in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper, or communion, is a symbolic act of obedience. Baptized members of the church partake of bread and the fruit of the vine in a powerful and multisensory reminder of the gospel:
- In the bread, we remember that Christ’s body was broken for us.
- In the fruit of the vine, we recall that His blood was shed for us.
The Lord’s Supper tells us that the life we now live, we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal. 2:20). It creates a sense of longing for the day when He returns and we see Him face-to-face and fully know as we are fully known (1 Cor. 13:12). The Lord’s Supper reminds us of both the cost and the promise of our discipleship.
Growing into Godliness Together
Hopefully you recognize something of your own experience in what I’ve shared, even if it’s only to the tiniest degree. After all, no church is perfect. Sin rears its ugly head even in the most consistent and faithful of our communities. And some of us bear the scars of wounds caused by other believers—wounds so painful that growing together seems impossible. But no matter how discouraging our experiences may seem, God’s means of growing His people hasn’t changed. Discipleship is, as it always has been, a communal activity, as we welcome new believers into fellowship, as we build one another up in the gospel, and as we remember the gospel together.
This post is adapted from chapter 24 of Devotional Doctrine: Delighting in God, His Word, and His World, a free ebook from The Gospel Project exploring the essential doctrines of the Christian faith and how doctrine shapes our devotion. Get your free copy here.