The idea of discipling yourself may sound odd. In my church experience, I often saw discipleship as two people meeting together to talk about God. This approach to discipleship is so ingrained in our church culture that when I was talking about getting together with a guy from church for discipleship, my wife immediately asked “What book are you guys reading through together?” One on one discipleship is wonderful. I enjoy the iron-sharpening-iron effects of this kind of discipleship. But we shouldn’t limit discipleship to this methodology alone.
All of Christian life is discipleship. The gospel weaves throughout every fiber of our life. The gospel isn’t just skeleton truth that we acknowledge and say amen to. No, the gospel is truth. Who we are in Christ is massively important. It’s our foundation for living and dying well. The Belgic Confession of Faith captures this tension when it says,
These works, as they proceed from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable in the sight of God, forasmuch as they are all sanctified by His grace. Nevertheless they are of no account towards our justification, for it is by faith in Christ that we are justified, even before we do good works; otherwise they could not be good works, any more than the fruit of a tree can be good before the tree itself is good (BC, Art. 24).
Foundations are meant to be built upon. The life, death, and resurrection of Christ and its necessary consequences will change the way you live. If this is the truth of your life, you will find yourself building upon the only sure foundation. And when the rains falls, and the floods come, and the winds blow and beat against your house, it will not fall (Matthew 7:24-27). Because you built your house on the only sure foundation, Jesus Christ. Who is the architect of our faith and who empowers us to build a life of godliness through the Spirit.
Discipleship is following Jesus by learning more about the gospel and how it changes every area of our life.
Preaching the Gospel to Yourself
You must know how to apply the gospel to your own life. Martyn Lloyd-Jones sums up this skill well,
Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc.
Somebody is talking. Who is talking? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. "Why art thou cast down, O my soul?" he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: "Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you . . ."
The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: "Why art thou cast down" -– what business have you to be disquieted?
You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: "Hope thou in God" -– instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.
Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: "I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God.”
I’ve struggled with depression for my entire life. No lesson was longer in the learning but more beneficial than preaching the gospel to myself. I recall sitting in my room during high school struggling with my faith. Struggling with life. I allowed everything but God to define who I was. So, I was tossed about with every wave of life. Until one day, the Spirit opened my eyes to the significance of Christ’s life, death, & resurrection for me. He shifted my doubts and fears to Christ. So, you can listen to lies, like me, or you can preach the good news of Jesus to yourself.
You may ask: How do I know I’m listening to lies?
- You may find yourself loathing your current state in life.
- You may find yourself rehearsing the lies instead of the gospel.
- You may find yourself speaking against the promises that are yours in Christ.
- Or, like me, many times you may find yourself desiring the return of the darkness.
These are the times you must fully rest in Christ. Fully trust in his promises. You must believe the words of God’s promises above the lies. You must learn to interrupt yourself with the truth of the gospel. Upbraid yourself with the blood of Christ.
That’s why I chuckle when people deride doctrine. There’s nothing more practical than doctrine. Doctrine, grounded in Christ, saved me. It was the foundational truth of the gospel that transformed my life. Without tangible gospel truth; there is no life transformation. The truth of the gospel breaks through the darks cloud of our suffering and sin speaking when our eyes are blinded. For instance, when I doubted God’s promise of love for me in Christ, the Scripture told me “Nothing can separate you from his love” (Romans 8). That’s doctrine. Doctrine isn’t dead. Doctrine is alive and sharp like a sword. We must fight lies with truth; truth applied to life.
The Heidleberg Catechism is a wonderful example for those who wonder what rich doctrine looks like when mixed with practical living impetus. Tim Keller has condensed The Heidelberg Catechism Q/A #1 for his New City Catechsim Q/A #1:
Question: What is our only hope in life and death?
Answer: That we are not our own but belong to God.
Life and death represent the entirety of life. Is anything more comforting and more practical than knowing without a shadow of doubt, “We are not our own but belong to God”? Not for me. It is truths like these we must preach to ourselves.
You must not only learn to accost yourself but also preach and apply the gospel to your own life. You must learn to recognize parseltongue (that’s the language of serpents in Harry Potter). You aren’t the only one who desires to speak into your heart. The Devil is called the Father of Lies (John 8:44) and the Accuser. You must learn to recognize his voice and his tactics. Paul mastered this and forcefully argues against the Accuser’s lies in Romans:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. - Romans 8:31-34
Paul asks “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” Yet, how many times does the Accuser seek to bring a charge against you? How often does he speak subtly in your ear:
- Did Jesus really die for you?
- Can the death of Jesus cover your sins?
- Is the cross really enough? You must die.
- You must earn God’s approval.
- Is Jesus really interceding for you?
- Your wife, friend, and boss know your sinfulness and condemn you. God also condemns you!
Yet, hear these words of truth again, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?”
This passage contains individual application to various sin issues, but the beauty lies with the corporate nature of our union with Christ. We must know more of our union with Christ because all of our new life is tied up in the truth of our union with Christ. When you were saved, you were baptized into the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Your old self is here no more. You are a new creature. Dr. Tom Holland expounds this truth in relations to Romans 8.
Paul already dealt the possibility of an accusation of guilt being brought against the church for entering into another marriage relationship (Rom 6:7; 7:1-4). Satan will accuse Christ and the church that their union is not lawful. Should the call go out: “if anyone can show any just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together in matrimony, let him now declare it, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace” he is read to cry out: “She is mine. She is already married.” It is into this awful scene that Paul confidently declares: “It is God who justifies!” The judge of the whole earth will accept there is a charge to answer, and Paul states why this is so in the next verse [i.e., we have died with Christ and have risen to new life]. Of course, if Satan cannot persuade believers that it was unlawful for Christ to take his people as his bride then he will find other means to charge them. The answer to all charges, whatever they may be, is: “Christ has died and is rise! Hallelujah!”
So stand firm Christian. Battle those accusations with the blood of Christ shed on your behalf.
The Daily Gospel: Feeding on Christ
For you to be able to preach the gospel to yourself and for you to be able to recognize parseltongue, you must know the truth. You cannot fight with something you are unfamiliar. If you’re unfamiliar with a sword, would you expect to handle it expertly in combat?
Yet, how many of us are journeying through life without any familiarity with the gospel story found in scripture? How many of us desire the Spirit’s daily transforming power to kill sin but aren’t using the scripture inspired by the Spirit?
The Christian life is a journey. We are “sojourners and exiles” but in order “to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11) you must have an offensive strategy.
That offensive strategy is feeding on Christ. The more you feed on Christ. The more you will have of the Spirit. The more you have of the Spirit the more you will recognize lie from truth.
First, you must engage God in Scripture. Scripture is our sole authority and will equip us to live in light of the gospel.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. - Hebrews 4:12
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17
How can the author of Hebrews say the word of God is living? It lives because the Scripture is breathed out by God and his Spirit changes us through the truth of the gospel found within its pages. Therefore, to do discipleship without a heavy daily dose of the gospel is folly. This dose comes through reading, meditating, and sharing the word.
Second, you must engage the Gospel word with others. This requires intentionally growing relationships with other Christians who you can share life and the gospel with. The death of Christ builds community so to disciple yourself without involving others is also folly.
Be actively involved in a local church. Give others permission to speak lovingly into your heart. Humbly accept criticism and rebuke from others. That’s hard. Community is hard! It is in community that we see the redemptive power of God working in and through us. We cannot fight the lies of the enemy on our own. We need one another and we also need to own our discipleship journey. We preach the gospel to others and ourselves. This is the journey of discipleship in all of life.
Mathew B. Sims is the Editor-in-Chief at Exercise.com and has authored, edited, and contributed to several books including A Household Gospel, We Believe: Creeds, Confessions, & Catechisms for Worship, A Guide for Advent, Make, Mature, Multiply, and A Guide for Holy Week. Mathew, LeAnn (his wife), and his daughters Claire, Maddy, and Adele live in Taylors, SC at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains with their Airdale Terrier. They attend Downtown Presbyterian Church (PCA). Visit MathewBryanSims.com!