Week of Feb. 23

Discipleship: The True Meaning of Spiritual Fitness

Read: Numbers 10-11; Psalm 27; Mark 1

“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’”
Mark 1:14, ESV


“Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if he were you,” writes Dallas Willard. We may not grasp fully the significance of the former professor and renowned author’s words, but we do sense the invitation to be like the Savior! “Make disciples” was a central mandate that Christ gave to his disciples just prior to his ascension, so we know that it is important. Our discipleship needs to become a central focus in our daily lives. Let's see how this "learner" approach becomes well-ground in our lifestyles.

A Biblical Lens

Many of you, my readers, are new believers, and are eager to find a way to grow in Christ. Others have been Christ-followers for longer periods of time but have developed a hunger to grow as disciples (Matthew 5:6). Mark provides us with a wonderful opportunity to learn how to follow Christ in challenging times.

The book itself has several purposes. One Bible scholar believes that the book was penned in Rome about A.D. 63 or 64 (NAC). It is very likely that authorities had begun to make “hostile gestures” toward Christians even before the Neronian persecution broke out (cf. also A.D. 65-67, after the persecution had begun; EBC). It is also likely that Mark simply chose to compile the individual traditions of the deeds and sayings of Jesus. People had begun to want what James Brooks terms, “an orderly and written account” (NAC). There is another key reason why he wrote and that was to develop his Christology. This critical understanding must be at the forefront of any Christian's attempt to grow in Christ.

What may be the first step to take in discipleship? Ground your Christian life in Jesus Christ! Mark teaches us that Jesus was fully human and fully divine, both the Son of Man and the Son of God. He was the Jewish Messiah and the Lord of the Gentiles. Furthermore, Mark was concerned to emphasize the suffering and death of Jesus as a “ransom” for sinners (NAC; cf. EBC). About 1/3 of the book of Mark is devoted to the subject of Jesus’ death (EBC). Therefore, the way of discipleship for Christians follows the same path—the way of the Cross (cf. Romans 12:1-2). How may this reality be drawn into focus? The Gospel!

A second step of growth as a disciple includes immersing one’s life in the Gospel. Mark, after a brief prologue (vv. 1-13), embarks on an extended section of the book where Jesus proclaims and demonstrates the nearness of God’s kingdom (1:14-8:21). Jesus’ ministry was to herald and demonstrate the “good news” (1:14). The word used in this key verse was also used in verse 1. “Good News,” “Gospel,” and “kingdom of God” refer to the same thing. God is the source of the Gospel.

The main point for our response is that kingdom disciples commit to God’s “kingly rule,” “reign,” “dominion, and “sovereignty” over the hearts of people (cf. NAC). Our discipleship lifestyle begins at this point, so this decision is critically important. “Discipleship isn’t a program or an event; it’s a way of life. It’s not for a limited time, but for our whole life. Discipleship isn’t for beginners alone; it’s for all believers for every day of their life. . .” (Bill Hull, The Complete Book of Discipleship). Today, we choose to grow and keep growing in Christ.

A Moral Pathway

Americans spent nearly $170 billion on sports apparel in 2018. “Sports apparel are made using breathable material that allows sweat to evaporate faster, helping the person wearing it remain fresh for longer” (Allied Market Research). Americans are certainly not alone in this area. The global wellness market was estimated to be worth $3.4 trillion which is three times greater than the $1 trillion pharmaceutical industry (MarketWatch). Some younger Americans spend more each year on apparel and fitness programs than they did on their education. They prefer high dollar “fitness boutiques” that specialize in a variety of offerings like “barre, kickboxing or high-intensity interval training.” Interestingly, Americans may be dressing for fitness, and exercising more, but the obesity rate continues to climb (Quartz; nearly 33% are obese; CDC). There is a disconnect between attire and lifestyle; or, so it seems.

They are, as well, more than a few unwell disciples. Disciples clothe themselves with the Gospel, then walk daily in Christ. This claim is packed with moral meaning, but it may be misunderstood. Francis Chan has written, ““We reduce discipleship to a canned program, and so many in the church end up sidelined in a spectator mentality . . .” (Francis Chan, Overwhelmed by a Relentless God). The half-truth of discipling is that it is a “class” or a “course.” We spend $15 on a book, watch a video, discuss the content, then go about our lives. Yawn! Disciples are made through life lived with Jesus in all of its experiences and not in “spiritual fitness boutiques.”

For Your Journaling

1. Write down three or four of the life struggles that you are currently facing. Examine your response to these battles to see who has been leading and guiding you through them. Christ? Yourself? Someone else? The Gospel life begins at the point of Leadership (i.e. Lordship).

2. Now examine honestly your current discipleship pattern. Has it been a daily lifestyle or have you treated it like a “spiritual fitness” class? Write down several ways that God is helping you to grow as a disciple through your daily experiences of study and practice.

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock