I sometimes meet people who think they are doing pretty well at “this whole Christianity thing.” They seem completely confident that they are spiritually mature and well-able to meet whatever life may toss at them.
If this seems far-fetched, it’s probably because we all know that we are much less mature and prepared than we sometimes make ourselves out to be.
In my own spiritual development, it has become quite helpful to realize that “discipleship” and “ordinary Christianity” are the same thing… Let me explain.
I do not mean that your common or ordinary experience of Christianity is true discipleship. You may be an exemplary disciple of Christ, who also disciples others, but this is not common in our American Evangelical culture.
I am saying that the Bible only knows of ordinary Christians who are disciples. A disciple is a learner, a follower, a practitioner, and a student of the Master. Jesus commissioned His disciples to “make disciples” (Matt. 28:18-20), and every generation since has been responsible for the same commission.
If you are a Christian, you should be a disciple (connected with at least one Christian who leads you towards greater spiritual maturity) and a disciple-maker (connected with at least one Christian who follows you towards greater spiritual maturity).
Let’s look at several verses to see how our unity with Christ and with one another impacts the concept of ordinary Christian discipleship.
“To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father” (Colossians 1:2 and similar usages in Ephesians 1:1 and Philippians 1:1).
Simply put, all Christians are ‘saints,’ ‘brothers,’ and ‘in Christ.’ This means that no Christian is outside of the family of faith, and no Christian is an island unto himself or herself. This should affect the way all Christians view their responsibility to and benefit from one another.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1–2).
In this passage, we are reminded that all Christians are completely free from condemnation from God. We may lament our ongoing failure to live perfectly free from sin, but we do not have to fear God’s wrath at all. We are free from the law of sin and death, though we still must war against our sinful desires in this life until we are finally completed in glory in the life to come.
“But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready…” (1 Corinthians 3:1–2).
Here we are forced to recognize that Christian disciples may be mature or immature. The goal is the same for all disciples: grow to become ‘spiritual people,’ that is spiritually mature or Christ-like. However, each disciple will progress differently, and each will be at a different place on the continuum of spiritual development. Some are ‘infants,’ others are spiritual adults (1 Cor. 16:13), and most are likely somewhere in between.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:5–6).
In this passage, we learn to expect good ‘fruit’ (or growth in holiness) from all those who are ‘in Christ’ (i.e. Christian). Of course, the fruit of godly living is a direct result of union with Christ; “apart from [Christ] you can do nothing.” The Christian rejoices and praises God for any good that is his/hers.
The flipside of this expectation is that those who do not produce (or exhibit) good fruit are bringing their union with Christ into question (at best). No Christian can know the heart of another person, but Christ clearly warns each of us that He will not graciously welcome the sinner who continues in rebellion against Him. A loving friend most certainly will not allow a fellow professing believer to continue on a path of self-destruction in the face of such a warning.
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12–13).
In this final passage, we are reminded that the Christian’s union with Christ is also union with other Christians. We are not only to seek holiness and growth for the benefit of enjoying Christ more fully, but we are to enjoy the benefits of Christian fellowship as well. Especially in the context of the local church, Christians are united to Christ and to one another, members of a single body.
This bond of unity means that each Christian is responsible for and attached to every other Christian (especially in the context of local church membership). Your spiritual maturity affects the whole body, and so does your stagnation or spiritual disease (i.e. sin). Therefore, it is imperative that Christian brothers and sisters take responsibility for one another, as well as enjoy the benefits of those who are taking responsibility for them.
With all of this in mind, Christian discipleship is perceived to be a necessary and natural (even if divinely empowered) outworking of the ordinary Christian life. Indeed, God’s wisdom is wiser than the best of human wisdom! God has designed the spiritual growth of all believers to flourish under the tutelage of ordinary means.
Try this kind of ordinary Christianity if you dare… but I warn you, the experience will be anything but ordinary.