For a Christian, spiritual growth is guaranteed and necessary. It is guaranteed when Paul said, “And we all… beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord” (2 Cor 3:18). Our transformation is guaranteed because it comes from the Lord. It is necessary, as the author of Hebrews explains, because without it no one will see the Lord: “strive for … the holiness without which no will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God” (Heb 12:14-15). Despite these promises and warnings, our spiritual growth can often be hindered, vague, and sometimes imperceptible. This should not surprise us since there are many “weight[s], and sin which clings so closely” (Heb 12:1).
Nevertheless, the goal of spiritual growth is that we would grow into “mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13). As Christians we have not been left without an example to follow or instructions for our growth. Our Lord commanded us to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19) which assumes that we have become His disciples. Jesus explained that “a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).
But what is a disciple of Jesus Christ? In its most simple sense, it is a follower and a learner. Likewise, Luke records that in the early church a disciple and a Christian were synonymous (Acts 11:26). As one author has put it, a disciple of Jesus is, “one who believes His doctrines, rests upon His sacrifice, imbibes His spirit, and imitates His example.”
I want to focus in on this idea of “imitating His example.” One of the prime mechanisms for growing as a disciple of Christ is to imitate godly men. On multiple occasions, Paul commands the church to be imitators of him (1 Cor 4:16; 1 Thess 1:6) as he is an imitator of Christ (1 Cor 11:1; Eph 5:1). How are we to imitate godly men? For one, we are to imitate their doctrine. Paul commands young Timothy to “follow the pattern of the soundwords that you have heard from me” (2 Tim 1:13). Additionally, we are to imitate their holiness and godly living. The author of Hebrews leaves his readers with a final exhortation to “remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Heb 13:7).
Clearly, we are to imitate godly men during church gatherings and ministry (Heb 10:25). However, there is a tremendous benefit of one-on-one discipleship. The Scriptures are clear that young men need to be discipled, with Titus and Timothy serving as prime examples of this necessity of discipleship. As you read through Paul’s Epistle to Titus, you soon see that Paul invested heavily in young Titus with the purpose of training more disciples (Titus 1:5). Ironically, Paul’s advice for Titus in training up young men was quite simple: “urge the younger men to be self-controlled” (Titus 2:6). Despite these clear commands in Scripture to imitate godly men, it can often be a nebulous exercise fraught with difficulties. Therefore, I will attempt to offer a handful of practical tips in order to help maximize your discipleship time.
First, young men ought to take the initiative in starting the discipleship relationship. I have yet to meet a mature Christian man that was not a busy man. I am not saying that all busy men are godly, but that godly men tend to be very disciplined and energetically serving the body in multiple capacities. Paul exhorts us to “work heartily” in whatever we do (Col 3:23), and we ought to be working heartily toward spiritual growth. If you want to be discipled, then the obligation is on you to seek out a godly man, approach him, and request his time, wisdom, and energy. Young men should not be passively waiting around.
Second, discipleship is not online dating. When seeking a godly man to disciple you, do not seek a godly man based on perceived compatibility. Though not inherently wrong, your time in discipleship is not meant to be spent primarily discussing sports, the stock market, or your next vacation, but to be growing “in stature and favor with the Lord” (1 Sam 2:26). Your focus should be on “becoming a man, and [giving] up childish ways (1 Cor 13:11). Grow with a man that loves God with all his heart, soul, strength and mind and has been doing it for many years through multiple trials and difficulties.
Third, be honest. This may be the most important yet most difficult part of a discipleship relationship. Without honesty, there is very little growth that will happen. Besides, God’s direct command is to not lie (Exod 20:16; Col 3:9), and it does not make sense to hide the truth from the man that is trying to disciple you. The Proverbs are replete with commands to be a man of integrity and honesty (Prov 10:9, 11:3, 12:17, 12:22) and we should certainly carry that attitude with us into a discipleship relationship. Part of the reason we are afraid to be honest is that we are often ashamed and embarrassed of our sin. Once we realize that our sin is not unique to us (1 Cor 10:13) we can confess it to our brother and finally begin to conquer it.
Fourth, be teachable. The Scriptures do not mince words when describing the power and devastation of pride (Prov 16:18; Ps 10:4) and this pride will absolutely destroy a discipleship relationship. As young men we are to be subject to our elders and to clothe ourselves with humility (1 Pet 5:5). Godly men and elders are given the charge by God himself to “rebuke those who contradict [sound doctrine].” If you have areas of doctrinal weakness or issues with purity and other sins, do not allow your pride to prevent you from receiving the much-needed medicine of God’s truth.
Fifth, do not stop being discipled and discipling. Up to this point we have been discussing the discipleship relationship as a “young man” and an “older man.” It is certainly true that “length of days” often produces wisdom (Job 12:12), but it does not mean you have graduated to become a super Christian. Paul commands Timothy to “entrust [what you have heard from me] to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2). In this one verse you have Paul teaching and training Timothy who will teach and train faithful men who will then teach and train others. Age does no exclude or disqualify us from being discipled and it certainly does not disqualify us from discipling others (1 Tim 4:12). Ultimately, we are “ambassadors for Christ” and are commanded to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). This command to make disciples is lifelong and our growth as disciples is lifelong.
Finally, have fun! Discipleship is not boot camp. Yes, there is a clear goal in discipleship, and there are certainly obstacles and an enemy that wants nothing more than your spiritual stagnation or decline. But, “God richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim 6:17), including discipleship! We ought to enjoy our time together and we certainly ought to have some fun along the way. Now, with the authority of Scripture, I encourage you: go get discipled!