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The Goal of Discipleship

Ephesians 4:13-15

13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:


The most important question in life for every one of us is, “When you get where you are going, where will you be?” What is the goal of your life? What is the purpose of your existence? Why were you put here on earth? Everyone is going somewhere. So when you get where you are going, where will you be? If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there? If you don’t know where you are going, you probably won’t have to worry about it because you’ll wind up in some other place. If you don’t know where you are going, people and circumstances will determine the direction of your life. You will be like a boat adrift on the sea. You will be at the mercy of every wind and current that comes along. If you don’t know where you are going, then it doesn’t matter which road you take. One will be just as good as another.

If you are going to be a disciple, you need to know where you are going. You need to have the goal of discipleship clearly in mind. The goal of discipleship is not to get off the road to hell and eventually end up in heaven. The goal of discipleship as set out by the apostle Paul is that we become mature people spiritually. It is that we become like Jesus Christ himself (Ephesians 4:13).

This truth is set in the context of Paul’s teachings about spiritual gifts. He tells us that God has given to all of his people certain gifts or abilities so that they can serve him effectively. To some people he gave the gift of preaching, to others the gift of teaching, to others the ability to sing, and to others the gift to organize, plan, and execute. But to every one of his people, God gives some gift.

In addition to these special gifts that God has given to his people, he has also given gifted leaders to his church. These gifted leaders are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. God has given to his church these gifted leaders so that they can equip his people for two things: to do the work of the ministry and to build up the body of Christ.

It was never the plan of God that the preacher do all of the work of the church. It was God’s plan that the preacher see that everything is done. He is to be an overseer. He is to be a superintendent. He is to be like a football coach or a shop foreman. He gives out assignments and he shows people how to do things, but the whole church is to be involved in doing God’s work.

Paul states the ultimate goal of the Christian disciple. It is that we become mature men and women. It is that we grow to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, the only completely mature person who has ever walked the earth. Paul both identifies and personifies the goal for us. He identifies the goal when he says that we are to grow to be “perfect” men. The Greek word for perfect is “teleioi.” It means mature, fully grown, or whole. It does not mean sinless or flawless. The word is sometimes used in secular Greek to describe a sacrifice that is fit to be offered upon the altar. It is sometimes used to describe a fully grown man in contrast to a boy who is just a lad. It is sometimes used to describe a student who has become proficient in a subject, in contrast to one who is just a beginner. It can be used to describe a tool that is suited for your needs.

Let’s suppose that I needed a screwdriver to repair my lawn mower and I asked you to bring me one. After you handed it to me, you might ask, “How does it fit?” And I would say, “It’s perfect.” I wouldn’t mean that the screwdriver was flawless. I wouldn’t mean that it had no nicks, scratches, or grease and grime on it. I would simply mean that it was the right size for what I needed at that time. It measured up. It fit the task. The goal of the Christian life is that we might become everything that God wants us to be—that we become mature men and women spiritually.

Having identified the goal, Paul then personifies it. That is, he wraps the goal up in a person. He shows us the goal in flesh and blood. Who is the one perfect man who has lived on this earth? He is Jesus Christ. He is our standard of perfection. We are to grow to the “fullness” of the stature of Christ. The word fullness refers to all of the qualities and virtues that made him what he was. Those are the qualities and virtues that we are to have in our lives.

There are many Christians who are going to church but they are not growing like Christ. That is tragic. We must not be content to remain as children. Children are like a boat that is tossed by the waves. They have no stability to them. They are easily taken in or fooled by religious hucksters. We are to be well grounded in our faith and growing to be more like Jesus Christ every day.

Charles Howard, the well-known Baptist preacher, once told of taking a group of children to a nursing home to sing for its elderly residents. As they sang the song “More Like the Master I Would Ever Be,” he heard one of the children singing unfamiliar words. So he listened carefully to catch what it was. One of the little boys was singing, “More like the pastor I would ever be.”

Well, the pastor should be like the Master. But the same is true for all of us. The goal of our Christian life is to be like him. He is the one perfect man. He is the standard by which a Christian should be measured. No other standard is adequate. No other offers the continuous challenge that he offers. He is the one person who reveals absolute maturity. He walked as every man should walk. He talked as every man should talk. He loved as every man should love. He trusted God as every man should trust God. In his actions, his attitudes, his approach to life, he showed complete maturity in every way.

To “get by” is the average church member’s ambition. They want to make a credible showing, to be reasonably good, to keep from falling into flagrancy, to have religious respectability, and above all, when life’s day is done, they want to land safely in heaven. This seems to be the whole desire of most church members. Our churches and our people today are suffering from the frostbite of mediocrity. Our music, our architecture, our teachings, our programs, our preaching—our whole life is simply mediocre.

If Jesus is the goal of discipleship, and if we are to be conformed to his likeness, then we need to know what Jesus was like. Unless we know what he was like, we cannot know what we are to become. We cannot know the real goal of the Christian life. It is difficult of course to sum up the life of Jesus in just a few words, but there are four marks of maturity in the life of Jesus that should be in the life of every believer: compassion for other people, control of your life, confidence in God, and commitment to the will of God. If you want to be like Jesus, then you too must have these virtues and qualities in your life.

1. You must have compassion for others.

Jesus, as you know, was infinitely pure, but he was also tender and loving. In fact he stayed in hot water constantly with the religious leaders of his day because he received sinners and ate with them. The word received literally means “welcomed.” Jesus opened wide the doors of his heart and accepted sinners in as his friends.

What a contrast to the way the rest of the religious world of his day treated sinners. The story of the woman caught in the act of adultery tells us the attitude of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day (John 8:11). The leaders brought this woman to Jesus and reminded him that the law of Moses said that they should stone her to death. She was guilty and she deserved to be punished. Jesus replied, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” Then he stooped down and wrote in the sand. When he looked up, the crowd had dispersed completely. No accusers were left.

Jesus said in essence to that crowd, “Men, I think you are right, this woman does deserve to be stoned to death. What we need to do is to form a stoning committee, so let’s elect a chairman first. There is just one qualification for being chairman of the stoning committee. It is not that you be an expert marksman. You don’t have to be able to hit a bull’s eye at 30 paces. It’s not that you be able to throw a rock harder and farther than anybody else. The one qualification for serving on this committee is that you be without sin. So we need to find a chairman. Any volunteers? Any nominations from the floor?” And there was nothing but silence.

So Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and sin no more.” He didn’t pat her on the shoulder and say, “Honey, it’s okay. I understand. Forget about it. Don’t worry about it.” He called her act what it was—sin. But he didn’t condemn her. He looked ahead to the cross of Calvary and he knew that he was going to die there for the sins of the world. He had the right to condemn her. She was guilty and she deserved it. But he chose, rather than to condemn her, to forgive her because he knew that it was only as he forgave her that she could be redeemed.

If we are going to grow to be mature, we are going to have to have the spirit and the attitude of Jesus—not the spirit and attitude of the Pharisees. Love for others is one of the primary marks of maturity. Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45).

How does God treat his enemies? Does he treat his enemies worse than he treats his friends? No. God loves those who hate him as much as he loves those who love him. If you are mature, you will act like your heavenly Father.

Jesus continues in verses 46 and 47, “If you love them which love you, what reward have you? Do not even the publicans the same? If you salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others?” The most godless among us loves his friends. He speaks to them. He is kind to them. So, if you are just kind to the people who are kind to you and you love only people who love you, you are no better than the worst of men.

Finally, Jesus says, “Be ye therefore perfect [teleioi] even as your father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

There are some people who are as straight as a gun barrel theologically and as cold as a gun barrel spiritually. They suffer from spiritual frostbite; they lack the warmth of Christian love and compassion. They do not know what it is to love, accept, and forgive other people. They have been members of the church for years and still harbor resentments and hatred toward others. Their bitterness consumes and devours them, and they are spiritual runts because they do not love. I feel sorry for the person who is not mature enough to make peace and live in a loving relationship with other people. He is of all people most miserable and he is most unlike Jesus.

2. You must gain self-control over your life.

Second, Jesus demonstrated a marvelous self-control over all his life. He controlled his temper, tongue, and his thoughts. He controlled his attitudes and his actions. In every way Jesus lived a disciplined life. When he was reviled, he reviled not again. When he was slapped, he didn’t slap back. When he was criticized, he maintained the right attitude, the right outlook, and the right disposition. He was a man in complete control of himself at all times. That control is one of the marks of a mature person.

James taught us that “For in many ways we offend all. If a man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man”(James 3:2). The word perfect is “teleioi.” Later James tells us that the tongue is the hardest thing in life to tame. If a person can control it he can control his whole body. So a mature man has control of his tongue and thus he is able to control his whole life.

Think of all the sins that are committed with the tongue: profanity, gossip, criticism, and a negative fault-finding spirit. Do you have trouble controlling your tongue? If you don’t control your tongue, you probably don’t control a lot of other things in your life. But if you can control your tongue, then you are a mature person and you are able to control every other part of your life.

One of the things that distinguished Jesus from other people was that he had that marvelous, amazing self-control. He sought to bring his whole life under the control and the influence of God’s will and God’s word. He spoke not as though he had read the book but as though he had written the book. Following it, he became a mature man. Paul tells us that all scripture was given by inspiration of God so that the man of God may be perfect (teleioi) unto every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-18).

3. You must have confidence in God.

Third, Jesus had absolute confidence in God. At his trial he was beaten beyond recognition, but he replied to Pilate, “You couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given you from above” (John 19:11). His spirit was unconquerable. His attitude was positive. He saw God at work in the world and nothing could destroy his confidence. He looked at a sinful world with holy eyes and was not discouraged or depressed by it.

How different it is with most of us. We get a few hard knocks in life and we want to throw in the towel. We want to whine and cry. We not only feel sorry for ourselves, but we try to get everybody else to feel sorry for us. Life is tough and our spirits are so easily beaten down by the circumstances of life. But if we are spiritually mature like Jesus, we know that even out of the bad things of life, God can bring some good. We can be triumphant in the hardships of life as well as in the good times of life.

While we do not believe that everything is willed directly or intentionally by God, we do believe that at least all things are permitted by him. Nothing ever happens and touches our lives that does not first pass under his Fatherly eye and through his loving hands, which means that it may appear to be evil and full of destructive implications but nonetheless, God allows it. In allowing it, he sees to it that the event is not totally destructive and somewhere within it carries a possibility for good.

This is the emphasis of Romans 8:28. God does work through all things that we might be conformed to the image of his Son Jesus Christ. What really matters then is not what happens “to” us but what happens “in” us. James taught us that difficulties and trials are not the end of life but a part of a process that perfects (teleioi) us. They are a means by which we are refined. Nothing shows our maturity quite as much as our response to the troubles and difficulties of life (James 1:2).

Ardis Whitman said, “When my son was three I once heard him praying, ‘Help me to be a good boy—but you be a good God too.’ The prayer made sense. If a child believes there is a good God in charge of the world, life becomes much clearer. It’s like finding a path through the dark woods.” We need to have that confidence also. All mature people do.

4. You must commit to the will of God.

Fourth, Jesus set his face like a flint toward Jerusalem and the cross and would let nothing deter him from it. He was absolutely committed to doing the will of God in his life. All spiritually mature people are so committed to doing what God wants that they won’t let anybody or anything distract them.

The apostle Paul gives this as the mark of maturity when he writes, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Then he says, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect [teleioi], be thus minded” (Philippians 3:15). Dedication and commitment to God’s will is a mark of maturity.

Someone asked the keeper of a cemetery, “What are the two most common epitaphs found in the cemetery?” He replied, “They are ‘rest in peace’ and ‘thy will be done.’” Isn’t it sad that the will of God seems always to be associated with something that is tragic and deadly? The Bible declares that the will of God is good and acceptable and perfect. It is well pleasing. It lacks nothing that is necessary for completeness. It fully satisfies the deepest longings of the human heart, and to commit yourself to God’s will is a mark of real maturity.

Do you desire to be like Jesus Christ? Do you desire to be a mature person? If so, there is just one way to do it: you must commit your life to Jesus Christ. It is not enough to say, “I will resolve to do better. I will summon all my willpower and revise my way of living.” That is noble but futile. A corpse could as well say, “I will through sheer effort rise out of this casket and be a living man again.” You need a power outside yourself, and that power springs from the cross and the empty tomb of Jesus Christ.

You cannot by human resolve conform yourself to the image of God’s Son. You cannot help yourself. You cannot overcome the habits and break the chains that are binding you. You need outside help. You need Christ, and when Christ comes into the human heart, a process begins that the Bible calls “sanctification.” You begin to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, and move toward spiritual maturity. More and more you become conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, his Son.

Jesus is both the object and the source of our discipleship. Paul uses the analogy of the human body to illustrate our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. In the human body, each part or member of that body is linked in a vital way to the head. From the head, the body draws its nerve impulses and its blood supply. By remaining attached to the head, each part of the body can grow and function properly. In exactly the same way we must remain attached to Jesus Christ. As we remain attached to him, we draw the life-giving power and strength that is necessary to grow and function maturely.

Now, of course, you will not be fully mature until you are in the presence of Christ, but every day you should be growing as a Christian. Many of you haven’t even started to grow. You haven’t come to the cross. You haven’t repented of your sins and received Christ as Savior. You haven’t been born again of the Holy Spirit. You need to start sometime. Why not start now?

Why not give your life to Christ and let him change the direction of your life and start your journey toward spiritual maturity? This is the world’s need. This is your family’s need. This is your need, and further, it is your only hope.

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Paul W. Powell - www.PaulPowellLibrary.com

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