Discipleship 101

-First STeps-

Session 1

In this first study, we will explore what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  You may have just made a decision recently to follow Jesus, but God has been at work in your life and pursuing you for quite some time.  Take a moment and reflect on some of your encounters with God.

  • When was the first time you heard about God?

  • What was your first prayer?

  • In reflection, when was a time you now believe God was working in your life, but you didn't recognize it at the time?

Praying

One of the ways we communicate with God is through prayer.  At its core, prayer is simply talking to God - telling Him what's on your heart and actively listening for His response. When you're starting out, it might feel uncomfortable, erratic, and different.  Don't worry, that's normal.

We grow in prayer by spending time in prayer.  Our comfort with prayer grows as also spend time in prayer.  If you need help, look at these five-points for guidance in your prayers.

  1. Greet God.  How you address God may depend on what you want to talk to Him about.  He functions in a limitless capacity.

  2. Tell Him what you're thankful for.

  3. Tell Him what you're concerned about.

  4. Ask Him to help you understand the elements of each study.

  5. Take time to listen for His response in prayer, study, and other ways.

Introduction

New creation.  Saved.  Born Again.  Redeemed.

These are just a few ways the Bible describes conversion, which is our response to the great gift of salvation, through which we're forgiven for being less than God created us to be.  Jesus called His original disciples by saying, "Follow Me," and He later explained that we must be "born again."  But what do those terms mean?

Ultimately, salvation, or being born again, means leaving your old ways behind and trusting God.  He initiated a relationship with you and offered a way to experience that relationship.  And you responded.  That's what happened to you.  You've turned from your old life and turned toward God.  You've been freed from sin and made right in God's eyes.  And you've been rescued from Satan, the enemy of God, and adopted into God's family.

Read 2 Corinthians 5:17.  What old things are you hoping will go away?  What new things do you hope Jesus will bring to your life?

The way we experience God's grace looks different for different people.  Perhaps it felt as though you turned a corner in your life and discovered God right in front of you, or maybe you felt like He cased you down and caught you from behind.  Regardless of how you describe your own journey, all such stories share a few things in common - a change in what you believe, a transfer of loyalty, and a reversal of direction.  God forgives, saves, restores, and reconciles.

Are there people you've "followed" over the course of your life?  There are a few ways you can follow someone or something.  You can follow people on social media.  you can follow a favorite sports team or celebrity gossip.  You can follow a philosophy or an idea.  But when the Creator of the universe - God in the person of Jesus Christ - says, "Follow Me" (Matthew 4:19), we intuitively know that's something much different.

Starting the Story

One day as Simon Peter was cleaning his fishing nets after an unsuccessful day on the water, Jesus climbed into his boat.  Jesus had offered some unusual instructions for Simon Peter, and the resulting miracle brought the fisherman to his knees.  Jesus had told Simon Peter to push back out into the water and to cast out his net again.  With much hesitation, he did as Jesus said.  The net filled up with fish.  After the massive amount of fish began to sink his boat, Simon Peter realized who Jesus was and it brought him to his knees.

Read Luke 5:4-11.  What are some practical examples of what it will look like to follow Jesus in your life?  What will make it difficult to follow Jesus?  In what ways will it be easy?

Following Jesus is about doing what Jesus did in the same way that He did it.  It's that simple.  We love the people He loved, serve the people He served, and do the things He did.  We strive to reflect His character, ways, and mission.

Know the Story

Creation. Fall. Redemption.  Re-creation.  These four events represent the great story of God - the gospel story.  Our lives make sense only as we understand them against this backdrop. 

Creation

In the beginning, God created.  At the sound of His voice, galaxies were hurled into orbit and the smallest organisms were established.  Water was pure, creation was untainted, and life was perfect.  Then God created man and woman.  Fashioned with His own hands and infused with His own breath, He created Adam and Eve to be in a relationship with Him and to be stewards of His creation.

Why do you think it's important to know God as Creator?

The Fall

Then, the enemy entered into the story.  Twisting the words of God and promising a better life, Satan planted a seed of unbelief in the woman's heart.  Eve doubted the goodness and trustworthiness of God and reached for the very things that compromised her relationship with God.  Adam and Eve believed a lie, turned against God, and pursued a story of their own making which left them separated from their Creator.  Sin entered the world through humanity and everything broke.  And that's what sin is: turning away from God's desire with actions, attitudes, or thoughts.

Violence.  War.  Dishonesty.  Greed. Sickness.  The perfect creation became overgrown with evil, chaos, and despair.  It was soon overrun with people who searched for meaning and salvation through selfish ambition.  The world needed salvation.

For centuries, God pursued His people.  He gave them leaders, prophets, and priests to guide them into a right relationship with Him.  But over and over, the people became distracted and turned their attention to man-made gods.

What have you been taught about the nature and consequences of sin?  How do you see sin's effects today?

Redemption

In order to reverse the disastrous effects of sin, to free people from the clutches of the enemy, and to restore people to God the Father, Jesus came to the earth with His eyes on the cross.  Fully God and fully man, Jesus made the perfect sacrifice to pay the debt of our sin and to cancel the curse of death on our lives.  Fully human, Jesus was able to completely represent man before God.  Redemption had come.   On the third day, Jesus rose from the grace to conquer sin and death once and for all.

What is significant to you about Jesus being both fully God and fully man?

Re-Creation

The story didn't end at the empty tomb; it had just begun.  The great story of God would explode across the globe and change the hearts and lives of men and women for all eternity.  All creation is moving toward a great day when Jesus returns and fixes everything that's broken once and for all.

When you read the larger story of God, is there anything that surprises you?  Why?

For further personal study, read through Philippians 2:5-11 to hear another description of what it means to follow Jesus and His example for us.

Session 2

In the first session, we examined the overarching story of God and His calling us into it.  We saw how Jesus' death paid for our sin, freed us from bondage, and restored our relationship with God.  We also learned that being a follower of Christ is doing what Jesus did the way He did it.

The Bible uses a construction analogy to describe followers of Christ, saying that Jesus is our "cornerstone" (see Ephesians 2:19-22).  For a builder, the cornerstone of a building was central to its construction.  IT was both the strongest stone and the straightest as every other stone was aligned by it.  The cornerstone was laid first.  If the cornerstone was straight, every other stone in the building naturally ended up in its proper place.  If its angel was even slightly off, every other stone was off.

The Bible says Jesus is the cornerstone of a Christian's life.  His place in our lives isn't decided by anything else.  A Christian is a person who says, "the Place of everything in my life is negotiable but Jesus."

Having realized that Jesus is at the center of the universe, we must rework our understanding of everything else around Him as the new Center or cornerstone.  This is how everything in our lives finds its proper place.  A Christian is a person in the midst of a spiritual revolution.

What are some fears or confusion you have about "reworking our lives around a new center?"  What stands out the most as you learn about the spiritual revolution taking place in your life?

Start the Story

Begin by reading Luke 19:1-10.  This is a man for whom Jesus had become central.  What was central to your identity before you became a Christian?  What defined you?  

Zacchaeus was wealthy because he extorted money from people as a tax collector.  But that changed when he met Jesus.  Zacchaeus' focus on money shifted, Jesus was the new center of his life.  Why do you think Zacchaeus - a wealthy man by all indications - would choose to give it all up to make Jesus central in his life?

Know the Story

Zacchaeus was a hated man.  For the most part, tax collectors in his time were hated men in a Jewish community for two main reasons.

  1. They were notorious thieves who gained their wealth by extorting money from taxpayers.  They were hated for their thievery.

  2. They were also known as traitors to their culture as Roman governors would choose Jewish men as tax-collectors in Jewish regions.  They were hated for betraying their ethnic community to ally with the pagan Roman Government.

Judging from what you know about his story, what do you think Zacchaeus through about himself before encountering Jesus?  What did Zacchaeus' lifestyle suggest about his identity and motivation?

Zacchaeus had always been hated, but what caused Zacchaeus to change was the whole new view of himself that Jesus gave him: he was loved and accepted by Christ.  Similarly, when we become Christians Jesus redefines us as He becomes central to our identity and our view of ourselves.  For Christians, the defining moment of our lives is Jesus' crucifixion on the cross.  Everything the cross reveals about us is the truest and important information we can know about ourselves.

Why is it important to understand that we are loved and accepted by Christ?

Jesus must also be central to what we do.  He puts everything else in life into its proper place.  The story of Zacchaeus shows that there's only one position Jesus will occupy in a person's life: a central position.  When Jesus became central to Zacchaeus, we're shown a dramatic alteration to his actions in two areas: people and money.  Because Jesus had become central, Zaccchaeus' treatment of people and money were now taking their cues from Jesus.  As Christians, we approach every area of our lives with the intent of aligning them to Jesus.

Read Luke 18:18-23.  What do you think was going on in the ruler's heart that kept him from obeying Jesus' challenge.

Jesus saw the ruler's heart and asked if he'd be willing to get rid of his money and reorient his entire life.  The man went away sad because he didn't want the decisions he made with his money to revolve around Jesus.  Because his money was central, the ruler saw Jesus as secondary.

Read Acts 7:54-60 and Luke 23:32-46.  How do these two passages contribute to your understanding of the centrality of Christ?

Session 3

We live in a celebrity-obsessed culture.  From supermarket magazines to gossip websites to social media, people today are desperate to know what celebrities are up to.  We want to know what celebrities are wearing.  We want to know which celebrities are dating other celebrities.  We want to know where celebrities are ding, shopping, and watching sports.  And, more often than not, we've been given round-the-clock access to all of those details and more.

The root of our obsession with celebrities is a desire to connect with something larger than ourselves.  in fact, the root of our obsession with celebrities is a desire to connect with God.  As created beings, we're born with an instinctive need to know and be known by our Creator.  All of us were created to know God in a deep and personal way.

Don't let that truth slip away: you were created to know God in a deep and personal way.

And here's the wonderful news: you can!  You may never have a meaningful connection with a cultural celebrity, but as a disciple of Jesus, you have access to something immeasurably better - a daily relationship with the creator.  God wants to connect with you.  He wants you to know Him, come close to Him, hear His voice, and follow His lead.

Starting the Story

The following story is about two women who knew Jesus personally.  Their names were Mary and Martha, and they were the sisters of a man named Lazarus.  According to the Gospel of John, Jesus loved these three.   Jesus' love for them wasn't a general, unspecific love.  It's true that God loves all people, but this was more.  Jesus felt a genuine, human fondness for these three.  One day when Jesus was ministering and teaching near their community, He decided to stop off at His friend's house for dinner.  

Read Luke 10:38-42.  What do you find interesting in this story?  Why?  What can we learn about Jesus from His interactions with Mary and Martha?

Both Mary and Martha were confronted with a choice between doing what felt necessary and spending time with Jesus.  Don't miss the fact that Jesus decided which sister made the "right choice."

Know the Story

As a disciple of Jesus, you have an opportunity to spend time with Him each day.  Therefore, like Mary and Martha, you need to make a choice. You can choose to dive headlong into the fast-moving current of your life with all its demands and frustrations - or you can choose to pull back and spend some time communicating with God.

You may be thinking, how do I communicate with God?  Notice, what Mary did to draw close to Jesus: she sat at His feet and listened to Him.  That's it.  That's all you need.  Regularly drawing near to God and listening when He speaks to you are the keys to cultivating a deep and personal relationship with Him.

What are some potential obstacles that can hinder you from spending time with Jesus each day?

Prayer is one of the primary ways to talk with God and listen for His voice.  People often feel confused about prayer - what it is, what it means, and what it accomplishes.  At the core, however, prayer is simply communicating with God.  It involves speaking to God from your heart and actively listening when He speaks to you.  Notice that prayer isn't a method of approaching God as a genie or divine vending machine.  Prayer isn't a way we get God to do what we want.  Instead, prayer is the way we draw close to God to find out what He wants.

God draws us close to Himself when we spend time with Him in prayer.  For that reason, saturating your life with prayer each day is the beginning step to knowing God and experiencing Him in a meaningful way.

What do you look forward to most when you think about prayer?

The more we draw close to God through prayer, the more open we become to hearing and receiving God's guidance in our lives.  That's why the Bible is so important - because one of the primary ways God speaks to us today is through His Word.  When you read the Bible or hear teaching from the SCriptures, you are hearing from God.  The Bible is unchanging, unwavering, unalterable, and always true.  Though written thousands of years ago, it has remained both relevant and revolutionary literally for thousands of years.  In other words, the Bible is God's Word for your today!

The Scriptures offer clear principles and practical instructions for life.  They are easily understood when studied seriously, and they are applicable to every disciple.  With that in mind, the most important tool you'll need for studying GOd's Word isn't a commentary or Bible dictionary - it's humility.  Just as Mary submitted herself to Jesus by sitting at His feet, you must submit yourself to God's Word by choosing to believe and obey what it says.

As you hear from God through the pages of SCripture and begin to put His truth into practice, you'll continue to develop a deep love and close relationship with Him.  In the same way that young children recognize their father's voice, you will begin to recognize and know your heavenly Father's voice as you study His Word.

What do you hope to experience as you study the Bible?

How to Study the Bible

Along with Prayer, reading the Bible is an essential element for the disciples of Christ.  The Bible is a miraculous work of literature that has changed the course of human history.  It's actually a collection of 66 books written by 40 different authors over a period of more than 1,500 years - yet I tell a single, cohesive story about God and His work in the world.  The Bible is the inspired Word of God entrusted to us as a precious gift.

For these reasons and more, the Bible is worthy of our study and attention.  Begin your study by reading the following Scripture and writing down what they teach about saturating your life with God's Word.  Read Psalm 119:9-16 and 1 John 2:3-6.

One of the more difficult concepts to understand about the Bible is how different it is from other books.  The Bible is not a spiritual textbook that provides information for living the way Christians are supposed to live.  Therefore, reading the Bible should be more than merely an informational experience.  Instead, reading the Bible should be a transformational experience.  The more you study God's Word, the more you should change and grow as a disciple of Jesus.  That's what the Bible Says.

Read Hebrews 4:12 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

On a similar note, we need to recognize that the Bible was not written the same way other books are written.  It's not the product of one person's imagination and experience.  Rather, the Bible was written by men who were directly inspired by God's Holy Spirit:

Read 2 Peter 1:20-21.

or these reasons, one of the keys to studying the Bible is understanding from the beginning that the Bible is literally the Word of God - it's a supernatural book that ultimately comes from God, not from people.  Because of these realities, you should approach the Bible in a posture of humility and expectation.  Use the following questions to help you focus on transformation and application as you study:

  • What principles and truths does this text communicate?

  • What commands and promises does this text contain?

  • What are the implications of this text for my life today and in the days to come?

Finally, remember the words of Jesus as you seek to study His Word: Read John 8:31-32. 

Session 4

In the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks plays a likable guy named Chuck Noland whose airplane crashes into the Pacific Ocean at the beginning of the film.  As the only survivor, Chuck spends the next four years on an uncharted island, isolated and alone.  Chuck's not friendless, however.  He finds a volleyball tangled in some wreckage from the plane, draws a crude face on it, and names it Wilson.  Chuck's story is fictional, but it's also a great illustration of an important truth: people were created to live in a community.  What emotions do you experience when you're alone for an extended period of time?  How do you respond to the truth that following Jesus was never intended to be a private relationship?

Know the Story

There are moments in human history that change everything.  These extraordinary events mark the beginning of a new era, a new future, and even new people.  God chose to create such a moment 2,0000 years ago when He launched the church.  After Jesus' resurrection, He made this promise to His disciples:

Read Acts 1:8

The fulfillment of that promise began weeks later.  While Jesus' disciples were praying together, God's Holy Spirit came to them and filled each person with spiritual power.  inspired by this power, Peter proclaimed the message of the gospel to the people of Jerusalem.  More than 3,000 people responded by choosing to follow Christ.  This was a major event in the life of the early church.  And how did this new community of believers relate to now another?  Check it out:

Read Acts 2:42-47

Unpack the Story

What is the Church?  It's common in today's culture to associate the concept of "church" with a physical structure.  When we think about church or about "going to church," we often see images of brick buildings, steeples, sanctuaries, parking lots, and on on.  

It's also common for people to think of "church" as something that Christians do.  We often make a connection between the church and practices that are common in church buildings - sermon, worship songs, Sunday School, and more.  Each of these associations is understandable, and each does point to the truth.  ultimately, however, the church involves much more.  

In reality, the church isn't a building or a collection of physical structures.  Instead, the church is a collection of people.  it's a community.  In a similar way, the church isn't what we do, but who we are as followers of Jesus.  Here is a definition: the church is the community of people who follow Jesus Christ as Lord.

Every community of believers describes in Acts 2 also shared common actions and activities.  They gathered to learn about God by studying and discussing the Scriptures.  They also gathered to serve God and support one another through the ups and downs of life by fellowship together, eating together, praying together, meeting one another needs, and by making Jesus' love known to the world.

What is the purpose of the church?  There are two main purposes for the church:

  1. To exist as a community of Christ-followers who support, encourage, and equip one another.

  2. 2.  To serve as representatives of God's kingdom to accomplish His work in the world.

Both of these purposes are evident in ACts 2.  Notice how the members of the church cared for one another (Acts 2:45).  Because of their love for one another, the earliest members fo the church were willing to sacrifice their own possessions in order to meet the needs of others.  Such selflessness didn't go unnoticed.

As the early Christians actively showed love to one another and proclaimed the message of the gospel, many outside the church became curious.  They wanted to understand what had transformed Jesus' disciples into such caring and compassionate people.  in the end, they realized Christ Himself was the source of that transformation (Acts 2:47).

As a disciple of Jesus, there will be times when you find yourself in need of help.  in those moments, you'll find support and encouragement within the community of believers - the church.  There will also be times when others need your assistance, and you'll find great fulfillment in doing what's necessary to meet their needs as an expression fo God's love.

One of the main purposes of the church is to serve as a community in which disciples of Jesus can both give and receive support when needed.  The church exists as a safe place for Christians to encourage and equip one another without fear of judgment or scorn - a place where our actions are guided not by selfishness, but by love.

Read John 13:34-35

The first step in giving or receiving support within the church is honest communication between church members.  You can't offer prayer and practical support to fellow disciples of Jesus if you are unaware of their needs.  Similarly, you won't receive prayer or practical support fi you continually hold your struggles and challenges close to the vest.