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Genuine Personal Relationships: Anchoring Disciple-Making on a Firm Foundation

To Be Known:

In an age of technological advancement, the socio-climate has produced a shallow connectivity that marks an inability to subvert the human-to-human interaction forged in the divine design of creation. The “I-Thou” confrontation as distributed by Karl Barth speaks to the relational dynamics necessary for human flourishing.[1] This is affirmed by a Zoom-overhaul that has hindered parts of communal dimensions and has, simultaneously, sparked an internal longing for genuine correspondence. This, in turn, informs a necessary component to the discipleship endeavor—relationships! Deep seated relationships, then, are the context to which discipleship-wrought substance marinates; that is, legitimate overlay to fruitful confession, repentance, and accountability is grounded upon the currency of affectual proximity. Without well-established camaraderie and a bi-lateral cooperation, movements toward life-to-life transformation ceases to reach its intended goals.


The outworking of the Gospel infers, then, an element of individuality that is symmetrically tied to the communal nature of the people of God.[2] In one sense the Gospel answers the question: How must I become right with a holy and infinite God? In another it conjures: How am I to enter the kingdom (for more on this nuance click here)? Kingdom, then, relates to a people which, correspondingly, connotes communal endeavors. The relational outworking to disciple-making does not terminate upon individualism, but rather fastens the individual within a corporate entity, i.e., the people of God. Simply put, discipleship is fundamentally relational (for another helpful examination click here).


Living Life on Life:


In our quest to tease out the outworking of disciple-making, we have, thus far, analyzed the centrality of the Gospel (click here) as well as its foundational structure built upon biblical truths and doctrine (click here). To continue substantiating our philosophical/theological claims, we will add the construct of genuine relationships. Thus, the greenhouse to which Gospel discipleship sprouts its leaves is orchestrated amid the borders of relational order. Three A’s will unify the practical expression of our relational discipleship: (1) affection, (2) accountability, and (3) affirmation.


Brotherly Affection. Upon laying down the Gospel, the Apostle Paul teases out clear imperatives for the church of Rome: “Love one another with brotherly affection” (Rom. 12:10). That is, consequent to the majesty and wonder of God’s infinite wisdom in saving a people for Himself (cf. Rom. 11:33), the church is to be informed in their communal devotion by covenantal realities grounded in the sacrificial blood of Christ. The root of their ecclesial endeavors and, thus, their disciple-making telos is anchored upon redemptive truths which form familial ties. The pathos, then, that drives faithful interaction amid the covenant community is a genuine care for the spiritual well-being of the saints. This is further supported by the apostles’ charge to have a particular love especially for the body of believers (cf. Jn. 13:34-35; Rom. 12:3-8; Gal. 5:13-15; 6:9-10; 1 Jn. 3:14-18; 4:18-21). Biblical truths should not merely form intellectual propositions, but, concurrently, insinuate accurate affections toward God and others.


Thus, the disciple-making paradigm must be saturated amid a relational context. Conditions to which relational engagements reside are not merely on a professional level (though there can definitely be a degree of seriousness), but are embodied within organic components; that is, the prerequisite for sharing intimate information is located within the purview of genuine relationships. These affections, then, are not arbitrary emotions floating at the whims of mystical delight. Rather, they are anchored upon objective truths coalesced within the Creator God Himself. Moreover, their rootedness enables discipleship to be engaged for the glory of God and the good of others. Meaning, authentic relationships rooted upon the Gospel of Christ points beyond itself. Relational affiliation, then, does not take precedence over the identity of the self. Hence, both parties, in turn, are free to pursue the good of the other without having the relationship be the end-all-be-all. Like a skilled physician, the disciple-making relationship methodically applies incisions without threatening the life of the patient; all of which is done in the confines of authentic, genuine relationships. Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop are helpful in saying,

Our new society of the church is not a mutual admiration society, but a shared admiration society. Our affection for each other is derivative. It derives from our worship of God—a God who saved us from a million different “communities” of this world to become His family. Our [identity] no longer stems from our families of origin, our professions, or our interests and ambitions, but the fact that we are in Christ. We are Christians.[3]

Accountability. As the backdrop to healthy disciple-making is construed, an outworking of mutual sharpening can presume (cf. Prov. 27:17). According to the Apostle Paul, Spirit-filled living is tethered to a divine mandate: “Bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2; see also 5:16-26). In doing so, the covenant community “so fulfill the law of Christ” (6:2). Thus, the disciple-making process embodies accountability to the commands and decrees of God for the good of His children. In another epistle, Paul accentuates the notion that his Gospel “[brings] about the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5). This is further highlighted after the apostle cements his doctrine of justification by saying, “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law” (Rom. 3:31, italics mine; cf. 3:21-30). The moral law of God, then, does not bring about salvation, yet, in conjunction, it remains the standard by which our salvation by faith (sola fide) is expressed (see Jas. 2:14-26; cf. Rom. 4:13-25; 6:15-23).


To this end, accountability gives clear insight into the truths of God and gently admonishes saints to walk accordingly (6:1). It is sharing in life, bearing in the burden, and pointing one another to Christ in victory and sustenance. “The fight of faith is a fight to be our new, authentic selves in Christ,” writes Jonathan K. Dodson, “free from sin and alive to God in righteousness.”[4] It also is the forming of affections through meditating together upon the Word. Similarly, Paul charges the saints in Colossae to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16, italics mine). Though the commands of God can initially be burdensome, disciple-making engages the mind as well as the heart to bring forth “thankfulness in your hearts to God.” This is indicative of what is seen in John’s epistle when he says, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn. 5:2-3; italics mine). Accountability, then, is the people of God walking covenantally together for the glory of God!


Affirmation. The ordinary means of grace are given to the people of God as tools to assure them of covenantal fidelity in Christ Jesus; that is, the preaching of the Word, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper are external means to strengthen and propel saints toward faithfulness in Christ. Disciple-making, then, serves the overarching construct of corporate living that chisels and shapes individual believers into the image of Christ. The author of Hebrews insinuates this notion by saying, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24). To this end, intimate relational engagement in the process of disciple-making pays enormous dividends in keeping accountable and, simultaneously, affirming saints toward ongoing godliness in Christ. The Apostle Paul assures this approach amid his eschatological teaching by saying, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thess. 5:11). Meaning, amid the imminent return of Christ, the church must spur one another toward holiness and covenantal fidelity. In doing so, there is an ongoing affirmation as a disciple of Christ which is the first step to effective and faithful church discipline (cf. Matt. 18:15-20). Furthermore, disciple-making most naturally should function in the confines and boundary of church membership. Jonathan Leeman winsomely conveys,

Consider what church membership and discipline are. They are anticipatory acts of judgement by a local congregation that foreshadow the even greater judgement or assize to come. They are a declaration on earth of who will belong to God’s people in heaven (Matt. 16:19). They are an assessment of who belongs and who doesn’t. If God most loves God, then God may freely choose to judge those who do not love Him. Indeed, He must judge. If that’s the case, then the anticipatory judgment of church membership and discipline can be seen as merciful and kind. These practices become a gracious warning of an even greater judgment to come.[5]

To Be Naked Before Christ:


The fundamental blessing grounded in the Gospel of Christ is communion with the living God, i.e., atonement. Relational fidelity marks the in-breaking of the kingdom and presupposes a correlation between image bearers and God’s divine decree. This relational component seeps into the fabric of the creational order and informs the necessity of communal engagement. Disciple-making, then, is the vehicle to which God uses to sharpen His church toward conformity into the image of Christ (cf. Col. 1:15, 19; 3:10; Heb. 1:3). The elemental structure which is contrary to our modern sensibility is the communal structure of God’s people. Eric Geiger, Michael Kelley, and Philip Nation rightly exhorts,

Throughout the biblical narrative, community is emphasized and commanded; it is never presented as optional. Many have a misconception that the Christian faith is private. The Christian faith is personal but never private. In fact, the more personal the faith is to a believer the less private that faith becomes. If a person claims his faith is private, he has adopted a view that is contrary to God’s. From the development of Israel to the building of the church, He has always gathered His people into groups.[6]

Two driving principles in analyzing disciple-making is (1) the corporate element along with (2) the intimate, genuine, and personal one-on-one relationships that gird personal development. It is not enough to merely attend Sunday service nor is disciple-making a mentor-to-mentor endeavor. Rather, both aspects are essential for effective and productive disciple-making. To this end, affectionate, personal disciple-making is relational in nature and strives to be known as we are salvifically known in Christ Jesus. Soli Deo Gloria!

 

***footnotes***

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III/1. ed. G. W. Bromily and T. F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1958), 194-197.

[2] See Julie A. Gorman, “Challenge to Community: Individualism” in Community that is Christian: A Handbook on Small Groups, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 42-59.

[3] Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop, The Compelling Community: Where God’s Power Makes a Church Attractive, 9Marks (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 30.

[4] Jonathan K. Dodson, Gospel-Centered Discipleship (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 126.

[5] Jonathan Leeman, The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love: Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline, 9Marks (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 93.

[6] Eric Geiger, Michael Kelley, and Philip Nation, Transformational Discipleship: How People Really Grow (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2012), 160.

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; ThM, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the husband to Debbie and the father to McCayden (12), McCoy (11), McColsen (9), and DeYoung (5). He is a Teaching Pastor at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN and a homeschool dad to his four children. McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.

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