Discipling holiness

While studying the idea of discipleship, I have come across two thoughts. One is that discipleship is best defined as a one-on-one mentoring of another person. The other is that discipleship can also be handled from the pulpit. While you may agree with or disagree with these statements, they are probably both true. Discipleship is one person teaching another person what Jesus taught (Matt. 28:18-20). With God’s help, we need to make disciples.

While my topic involves discipling holiness, I think that we should first consider what the Bible says about making disciples. During our study we will consider the purposes of discipling, the means of discipling, and then the discipling of holiness.

  1. The Purposes of Discipleship

    What is the goal of discipleship? Jesus told the disciples to make disciples by teaching everything He had taught them. If we were to limit our study to the Great Commission, we might miss some of the other goals of discipling found in the New Testament. In my study, I have found four biblical goals for making disciples.

    To make you something you are not (Mark 1:17).

    At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he gathered twelve men to be his disciples. These men were from diverse backgrounds and skillsets. But all of them were in need of something that they did not have. Jesus pointed that out when he called Simon and Andrew from their nets. He called them to follow Him so that he could make them fishers of men.

    Jesus’ goal in calling them to follow Him was to make them something they were not. They were fishermen who could catch fish, but they were not believers who could bring men to Christ. However, their time with Jesus paid off and they became what they needed to be.

    To provide an example to follow (Phil. 4:9; 1 Cor. 11:1).

    Paul worked with the believers in Philippi and Corinth. How long did he stay at each place? He seems to have only stayed in Philippi for a few days (Acts 16:12) while he was a year and a half in Corinth (Acts 18:11-12). But in both cases, he was there long enough to have shown them an example to follow. In Philippians 4:9, he told them to do the things they had learned, received, heard, and seen in him. In 1 Cor. 11:1, he told the believers to imitate him as he imitated Christ.

    It is interesting that in both cases, whether a short time or a long time, they were able to see Paul’s example long enough to learn from it. This was the goal of Jesus and of Paul. Their close proximity to their disciples gave them the opportunity to showcase what a Christian should be like. This is why it is so important to be a godly example to others. People are watching.

    To train future teachers (2 Tim. 2:2).

    During Paul’s ministry, he mentored a young believer named Timothy. Timothy traveled with Paul and saw his example. But Paul didn’t just show an example, he also taught Timothy what he needed to know about the Lord. Later, when Paul wrote his second epistle to Timothy, he told the young preacher to pass along these teachings to faithful men who would do the same.

    Paul’s discipling of Timothy was not an end in itself. It was designed to broadcast the Christian message to more and more people. Paul didn’t just disciple one person and consider his job done. He wanted many people to keep up the good work. And this was done with a right mindset. Mentor a young believer and prepare him to do the same over and over again.

    To address a variety of needs (2 Tim. 4:2).

    Lest you think that discipleship always results in perfection, Paul reminds us that correction is needed at times. Working with people will require difficult responses. This is why Paul told Timothy to “convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” This makes me wonder if Timothy had written a letter asking for help with the people at Ephesus. Whatever the case, you notice that Paul’s recommendation covered a wide variety of situations.

    Have you ever considered how different people are? Each of us has different needs and these needs change based on maturity, time of life, health, personality, and many other variables. Sometimes, it takes time to work with someone to convince them of their need or what the Bible is teaching. Other times, there is need for rebuke. Some need the exhortation of a friend to do what God commands. But in all cases, the one discipling needs to be patient and to continue teaching.

    Each of these goals has an application in holiness. First, we have a need to become what we are not. We are not holy and often need the help of a spiritually mature Christian to help us to become holy for the Lord. Second, we need a holy example to follow. While Jesus is the ultimate example, it sure does help to have an example in front of us living the way we should. Third, discipleship has the goal of creating future teachers. If these teachers don’t disciple the next generation about being holy, we will be in big trouble. Fourth, there are a variety of needs. When a spiritually mature believer spends time mentoring young Christians, he or she will soon see that not everyone is the same. And that means that there is no cookie-cutter plan for helping individuals.

  2. The Means of Discipleship

    We know what discipleship is and its purposes, but do we know how to do it? When Jesus called the twelve disciples to follow Him (Mark 3:13), this was a formal selection of those who would be closest to him from all of his disciples. In their case, they actually lived with and traveled with Jesus for several years. As He discipled them, what means did He use to teach them? You might be surprised that He and other early Christian leaders used a variety of means to disciple others.

    Personal interaction (1 John 1:1-3)

    Can you think of Bible examples of someone discipling another person? How about Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Jesus and the disciples, and Paul and Timothy. Much of what each learned from his “master” was from personal interaction. In the case of Jesus discipling John, the disciple heard, saw, watched, and touched Jesus. In other words, he learned by being with Jesus. There are some things that you learn just by being with another person. And eventually that personal interaction will bear fruit. Do you remember when the Sanhedrin confronted Peter and John? They couldn’t understand why these ignorant fishermen were so bold until they noted the impact that time with Jesus had on them (Acts 4:13).

    Public and Private teaching

    The disciples were with Jesus when He preached to the crowds. So, we can’t discount the discipling that took place when the Bible is being preached publicly. Any time God’s truth is being taught can be a time of discipleship. But also note that Jesus took the time to teach the smaller group of disciples apart from the crowds (Mark 4:10, 34). This special time enabled Him to explain things more fully than He could with a larger group. In this instance, He was explaining the meaning of parables which had been hidden from those who had rejected Him. This private teaching would also allow for more personal applications and answers to specific questions the disciples had.

    During a recent Sunday evening service, we were preparing to commemorate the Lord’s Supper/ One of our church members approached me with a puzzled look on her face. Since I had been studying discipleship, I immediately thought that this might be a time for one-on-one teaching for someone who was struggling with an issue. When she walked up to me, she said, “Pastor… you bought prune juice not grape juice.” I guess my example wasn’t the greatest to follow that day.

    Writing (1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon)

    While Peter and Paul often had men traveling with them (discipleship), there came a time when they would go in different directions. But even mature Christians need instruction from time to time. That’s where the ministry of writing came in for them. Paul’s epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon accomplished what he could no longer do in person. If you have read these epistles, you know how much of an encouragement they must have been to Paul’s disciples and to all who later read them.

    It would be easy to talk about making disciples and only deal with one-on-one conversations because these conversations can be a place where people learn the most. But this is not the only way to disciple another person. In fact, you may know of other means that can be used. Whatever the case, we need to take advantage of every means possible to help others to become like Christ. Use the time you are given wisely to teach others and help them to grow. And part of that is our next section.

  3. The Discipling of Holiness (1 Pet. 1:13-16)

    Now that we have a better understanding of the purposes and means of discipleship, let’s look at how we can teach others to be holy for the Lord. As we look at this passage, let us consider how we can help others apply these truths to their own lives.

    Be prepared (1 Pet. 1:13).

    When Peter tells us to “gird up the loins of your mind,” he is telling us to prepare our minds for what we will face every day. “This is a figure of speech based on the gathering and fastening up of the long Eastern garments so that they would not interfere with the wearer’s vigorous movements.”1 Peter’s first-century readers would have understood this. When someone in a long robe wanted to move quickly, they needed to pull up the bottom of the robe to their waist and tuck it into their belt. This would shorten the length and restrictiveness of the robe so that they could move freely.

    As Christians, we need to keep close control over our thinking. If our thoughts aren’t right our actions will not be right. So we need to actively prepare our thoughts on a regular basis by thinking about godly things. Paul said something similar in Ephesians 6:14. He said, “Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth….” If we are not filling our minds with good things, we will have a hard time having prepared minds.

    If you were meeting with a new Christian who had trouble with his thoughts, how would you help him? When unholy thoughts are filling a young man’s mind, he can be hindered spiritually for a long time. What would you tell him? I think that this kind of discipleship is best dealt with in a one-on-one conversation. Not many people care to share publicly their struggle with sinful thoughts. But if they know that you genuinely care for them, they might listen and learn in private conversations.

    Where do unholy thoughts come from? They come from inside. So we need God’s help to change our thinking.
    What can influence our minds? Good – the Bible, friends; Bad – worldly books, entertainment, companions
    What should I do? Increase the good input (Phil. 4:8) and refuse the bad (Psalm 101:3).

    Be sober (1 Pet. 1:13).

    While intoxication is forbidden for Christians (Eph. 5:18), I don’t think that is what Peter meant. Instead, he is telling us to be self-controlled in all aspects of our lives. We are not to allow our actions to become out of control. He is also telling us to make sure that our thoughts are clear. We are not to let our minds wander or lead us astray. He is also telling us that our attitude needs to be one of vigilance. We are to keep our eyes open and be ready for anything that might seek to pull us away from God. Every aspect of our lives needs to be controlled by the Spirit and what the Bible teaches.

    As each of us seeks to be holy for the Lord, this characteristic of self-control ought to be seen in our lives. This is where the means of personal interaction would be helpful. As another believer sees your self-control and the holy life that results from it, they will learn from your example. Have you considered how the things you choose to do, say, or take part in affects other believers?

    Have any of you read The Reel Story by Larry Vaughn? It has been many years since I read it, but I do remember an illustration from that book that fits this principle of self-control and discipleship. At some point during his journey toward becoming a Christian, Larry was invited over to a pastor’s house. During the meal, the pastor drank alcohol and became a bit tipsy. The pastor lost his usual self-control and also lost his testimony. You can see how a lack of self-control can be a problem for those watching. But so can the example of self-control. That is why Paul told Timothy to “be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).

    Be hopeful (1 Pet. 1:13).

    Peter tells us to fully rest our hope on the grace which we will receive when Jesus is revealed. There are three parts to his statement. The first is our hope. This is “an attitude of confidently looking forward to what is good and beneficial.”2 We are to put all of our confidence on what God has promised. The second is God’s promise to give us grace. Peter tells us that grace will be brought to us. That means that it is something that we don’t yet have. But we now know that God has this grace in store for us in the future. The third is the revelation of Jesus. Peter is telling us that Jesus will one day appear and be known to all. To sum things up, Peter is telling us to pin our hopes on the future grace God will give us when Jesus comes back.

    Living a holy life can be difficult. There are times when the pressures and temptations are strong. We want to be left alone. We want to feel good. We want to hide from our duties. And during those times, we may be tempted to loosen are standards and to give in to temptation. But when we look forward to what God has in store for us, it gives us hope. The grace that will be given to us when Jesus returns will be greater than anything that we will face in this life.

    I think that discipling this kind of holy hope should be part of public teaching. While it should be seen in our lives and may also be taught in smaller groups, this hopeful living should be taught broadly to all. It should permeate our preaching. If you look back at Peter’s introduction to the epistle, you will notice that he talks about all that we have in Jesus. When you add our future hope to that, it changes the way we live our lives. We are no longer constantly fretting about now because our hope is fixed on the future.

    Be unconformed (1 Pet. 1:14-16).

    Peter tells us that we are to be holy. This holiness should be seen in our obedience. We are to be like children who obey their parents. This holiness should be seen in our unconformity. We are not to be conformed to our former way of life when we ignorantly lived to fulfill our lusts. This holiness should be seen in our godly character. We are to conduct ourselves like the holy One who called us.

    We ought to be known as people who are different. It may come as a surprise to the world that we don’t go to the same excesses they do. Why are we morally pure? Why are we honest to a fault? Why do we not watch certain movies? Our goal is to be holy for the Lord. And this involves looking at our lives in the magnifying glass of the Bible. Sometimes, we don’t even realize that we have become conformed to the world. So when God shows us an area of our life where we have become more like the world, we should remove it as quickly as possible.

    Holiness doesn’t seem as important to Christians as it once was. The label “Christian” has been added to music, movies, clothing, and even breath mints; but holiness doesn’t seem to be a part of the final outcome. Much of what had been labeled as Christian has very little to do with Christ and is not much different than the world. As a whole, this movement is not holy but has become conformed to the world. And we all know what God thinks about that. The Bible tells us not to be conformed to this world (Rom. 12:2). We need to take a stand in this area of holiness so that other Christians are kept from falling into the same trap.

    Part of discipleship is addressing specific issues. While it is good to teach principles for holy living, if we never apply those to specific situations, we can be left with the same thing that happened in the Book of Judges. “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25). Sometimes discipling about holiness may need to include personal rebuke, teaching about contemporary issues, sharing individual struggles, and giving of personal tips. In this way, we can help others to make wise choices in holy living for the Lord.

Conclusion

Holiness is something that God is. We must never forget that. Holiness is also something God wants us to be. We must strive for that. And as we move toward becoming more holy for the Lord, there are others who are also on the same journey. Is it possible that the Lord could use you to disciple them? To do so, it will take time and commitment. But that time will be well worth the effort. There will be ups and downs, failures and victories. But this is what God has called us to do. I hope that you will consider how the Lord can use you in someone’s life as you seek to be holy for the Lord.

There is one more type of discipling of holiness. And that is the teaching of a church or fellowship of churches likes the Ohio Bible Fellowship. For years, the members of the OBF have written letters and articles, visited with other pastors, prayed together, and made public resolutions about biblical separation. The reason we did this was because there was a great need to remind Christians and churches to be holy for the Lord. The current state of the American church has not improved, and this is in part because of a lack of holiness. I believe that we can be an influence for good by continuing these practices. By our example, by our preaching, by personal conversations, or by writing, let us teach holiness not as an abstract idea but something that applies to our lives and churches today. And as we do that, God will be honored and the church will strive to be holy for the Lord.

Footnotes

1 McGee 683.
2 ἐλπίζω as viewed at https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/elpizo on 9/25/2023.

Bibliography

Hiebert, D. Edmond, 1 Peter, Chicago: Moody Press, 1984.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. V, 1 Corinthians through Revelation, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

Raymer, Roger M., “1 Peter” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publication, 1983.

“What does it mean to be sober-minded?” as viewed at https://printer.gotquestions.net/GeneratePF?articleId=34020 on 9/24/2023.

“What does it mean to gird up the loins of your mind (1 Peter 1:13)?” as viewed at https://printer.gotquestions.net/GeneratePF?articleId=63685 on 9/20/2023.

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