Stages and Spheres of Discipleship
The stages of Christian discipleship are similar to the periods of the human growth. In fact, they denote that growth in the spiritual sense. It is possible to divide the entire process of discipleship into five stages. On the initial stage a person is considered to be spiritually dead.
Then he/she becomes an infant in the spiritual sense, and on the third stage turns into the child. The fourth stage is the young adult and the last fifth stage is the spiritual parent. The stages denote the natural progression of the disciple in the context of his/her relationships with the world, the family, the church, and with God. 1
The stages of discipleship were initially mentioned by Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount. The first and the second stages suppose that a non-believer becomes a Christian and accepts the words of the Gospel. Those who do not still have much abilities to improve themselves after the example of God are blessed, because they have converted to the religion.
As it is written in Mathew 5:3, those who are poor in spirit are blessed, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. Those people, who have realized that they live in a sin and turned from the spiritually dead to the infants, who are spiritually poor, mourn and repent, thus becoming better. It is said in Mathew 5:4 that those who mourn are blessed, because they will be comforted.
The second stage is the one of the infantry, when a believer only starts to learn the spiritual world around him/herself. The third stage supposes that the child, and the believer is on this stage of development, learns the submission to Christ. The adults teach children to submit to the authority that will make their life in the society better, and the spiritual teacher tells the faithful to obey the authority of God. 2Matthew 5:5 says that the meek are blessed, and their submissiveness is not their weakness, but their strength on the way to understanding Christ.
On the fourth stage when the disciple of Christ becomes a young adult, he/she is trying to become spiritually mature. The disciple is longing for the righteousness of Jesus and changes with the help of the Gospel. The thirst for the righteousness makes the person to change the surrounding sinful world to the universe of Christ. The young adult transforms from the selfish egoist to the person who is eager to be compassionate, and understands the words of Christ to a certain extent. The young adult has to find a place for Jesus in his/her soul and make everything possible to live the holy life. 3
The last fifth stage corresponds to the adult age. In Matthew 5:9 the disciples on this stage are called the peacemakers. They are ready to perceive the peace that comes from the Gospel, and they help their spiritual children to grow. It fact, it it is difficult to achieve this stage, because it is necessary to fight the sinful and the weak nature of the human first. Such struggle is life long in the majority of cases, because there is no end in perfection.
It is considered that there are four spheres of discipleship in Christianity. They denote the way in which the disciple communicates with the world around him/her. The interaction with Jesus is the most essential thing in the discipleship, because it is the guiding power that leads the person from the stage of the non-believer to the spiritual adult. 4
The next sphere is the communication within the family, the attitude towards children and the elderly people. The relationships between the Christian church and the disciple is the third sphere. The last fourth sphere of the interaction of the disciple with the outer world is the Great Commission every faithful has to fulfill during his/her spiritual development. As it is written in Matthew 5:16, the faithful need to let their light shine for the others, to make good things and thus to honor God who sees everything from heaven.
MY CURRENT STAGE OF DISCIPLESHIP
It is difficult to say for sure what stage of spiritual development I am currently in. I feel that I have not fully fought the sin of pride, and I sometimes tend to overestimate my results on the way of disciple. I can assume that I am currently between the third stage of the child and the fourth stage of the young adult. I still learn how to submit to Jesus, listen to the spiritual teachers how to obey the authority of God. The sins of life still have much power over me and I can not say that I always find the spiritual strength to confront the temptation. At the same time I am constantly working on myself and my faith to become spiritually adult. I feel the thirst for the righteousness of Jesus and try to replace the vanity of the surrounding world with religion. I understand that I need to change my perception of life in order to become a true Christian adult and start my ministry, but there is still much work to be done.
SPHERES FOR SUBMISSION TO CHRIST
The most difficult thing in full submission to Christ is fighting with the temptation. I can assume that the interaction with the outer world is the sphere that I have to submit to Jesus, otherwise my faith is constantly tempted. When I was younger, it was extremely problematic for me to live as a Christian in the non-Christian environment. I used to go to the school, where the majority of my peers did not believe in Christ. That is why when I started to pray before my meal, some of my classmates laughed. I also did not participate in the parties together with my peers, because I did not approve the consumption of alcohol and even light drugs, that were the indispensable parts of the night. It is evident, that my relationships with the opposite sex were not that usual as the hight school students imagine. Their experience was unacceptable for me, and even though no one laughed at my world view in the end of my tuition, I still did not have friends among my classmates. No need to say that such ostracism was not something that I wanted. I often thought about Jesus who suffered more in His life and was rejected by people, and His example gave me strength to stand everything. The rejection of the peers was one of the crucial things that happened in my life and made my discipleship more effective, because I went through the challenges and learnt to find the answer in the Gospel.
Bonhoeffer writes about the call to the cross in his book. It illustrates my experience greatly, because it shows the way the disciple starts to follow the example of Jesus by suffering in life, going through the rejection of the surrounding people. The disciple needs to follow the steps of Christ and be crucified in the end, otherwise the discipleship will not start. 5
MEANING OF SUBMISSION TO CHRIST
The submission to Christ requires all powers of the mind and the body of the disciple. Every aspect of human life needs to be changed according to the example of Jesus and the Gospel. The New Testament becomes not only the theoretical set of ideas and moral norms for the believer, but the strict practical guide of living, that has to be applied in practice every day.
Obeying Jesus is not only the question of ideas. It is also closely connected with the actions the person takes every day, the thoughts this person thinks. It is not enough to pray and to read the Holy Scripture every day. It is also necessary to live according to its words. It is not enough to give money to the poor as charity, it is also crucial to think piously about it. It is written in James 2:14-16: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”. As it is said in John 2:24, a believer is not justified only by his faith, but also by his works.
Abraham is a bright example from the Bible of what it is to fully submit oneself to God. He obeyed the will of Lord in all things, he also obeyed the nation that descended from him. He was relying on God, and his human imperfection was changed by the God’s righteousness. It helped him to accomplish everything that God told him, and the reason was that he submitted to His will and power.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 4: Discipleship. Vol. 4. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003.
McCartney, Dan G. Baker Exegetical Commentarry on the New Testament: James. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009.
Putman, Jim, Bobby Harrington, and Robert E. Coleman. Discipleshift. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2013.
Stagg, Frank. New Testament Theology. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1962.
Talbert, Charles H. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MIchigan: Baker Academic, 2010.
1McCartney Dan G. Baker Exegetical Commentarry on the New Testament: James (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 77.
2Talbert Charles . Matthew (Grand Rapids, MIchigan: Baker Academic, 2010), 77.
3McCartney Dan G. Baker Exegetical Commentarry on the New Testament: James (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 77.
4Stagg Frank. New Testament Theology (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1962), 93.
Talbert Charles . Matthew (Grand Rapids, MIchigan: Baker Academic, 2010), 77.
5Bonhoeffer Dietrich. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 4: Discipleship (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 45-46.