Before we begin, I want to credit a book by Chuck Swindoll entitled "So You Want to be Like Christ" which served as a guide in developing this small group study for mature Christians. A typical "ice-breaker" question used to get people in a small group setting to open up and speak is,
If you could be like anyone in history, who would that be? And why?
It is non-threatening and easy to answer:
- A family member
- A favorite teacher or coach
- Perhaps a successful artist or historical figure
- The list goes on and on.
But if the question was, "What do you need to be like – in order to be like Jesus?" This question might not be as easy to answer or discuss.
You see, we can learn a lot from great achievers and people we love but as Christians the one person we should strive to actually be like, is Jesus Christ.
And so, in the following devotional lessons and accompanying discussion questions we will examine 10 steps that will help each believer come much closer to this spiritual ideal.
1. The First Step to the New Spiritual You: Discipline
A transformation of any kind begins with a first step and the beginning of the new spiritual you, the you that is more like Christ, is discipline.
Now, some may have thought that the first step should be faith, repentance, baptism, good works, etc. but remember that this course is for mature Christians who have already mastered these basic things and should as the Hebrew writer says:
Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and press on to maturity...
- Hebrews 6:1
The road to spiritual maturity begins at the point of discipline.
I quote the great NFL coach of the past, Tom Landry, who defined his job as football coach in the following way.
My job is to get men to do what they don't want to do in order to achieve what they have always wanted to achieve.
Preachers might define their work in similar fashion,
My job is to make people do things they don't want to do in order to receive the things they need!
So in this sense, we can say that discipline is a virtue or skill that enables a person to perform determined, deliberate, definable actions towards a clear goal in mind.
Preachers, therefore, are like coaches in that they help church members discipline themselves for the goal of Christ-likeness, a goal that requires change in the individual – and this change at every step requires discipline to be accomplished.
The Role of Discipline in Spiritual Maturation
An important passage relative to the pursuit of spiritual maturity or "godliness" as it is referred to in the Bible. In this passage Paul writes:
But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness;
- I Timothy 4:7
Timothy lived in Ephesus, a rich, sexually impure, worldly and cosmopolitan city – a place with many distractions and temptations for a young Christian man without much experience in life or ministry.
What does Paul do? He encourages him to cultivate the first step on the road to spiritual maturity, piety or godliness which is personal discipline.
Paul uses the Greek word "GUMNAZO" from which we get the English word gymnasium. Other words that come from this root word are:
- Train yourself
- Condition yourself
This activity (discipline/exercise) has two features:
The first is repetitive training.
- Making the right choices over and over again.
- Repeatedly resisting temptation.
- Constantly prioritizing the things of God over the things of the world.
Discipline requires doing these things over and over again until they become second nature, a part of who you are and how you are known by others.
The second feature of this activity of discipline is that it cultivates a sense of personal responsibility where you take ownership of the process for your own spirituality.
This is no longer the goal of your parents or minister but you have taken on the full responsibility for growing in Christ.
The goal is spiritual maturity, or in other words the ability to experience the full presence of God in your life.
This experience becomes a preview of what heaven will be like and enables the believer to have no doubt or fear about his salvation and no anxiety about the world he presently lives in no matter how dark and dangerous it might become at times.
It is this spiritual condition that allowed Paul to say with all assurance to this same Timothy as he contemplated his fast-approaching execution in a Roman arena:
6For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8in the future there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.
- II Timothy 4:6-8
Now, to arrive at this level of spiritual maturity, one has to master several spiritual exercises that each enable the believer to grow in godliness, piety and Christlikeness.
I mentioned the first of these, personal discipline, which is essentially training yourself to do and think those things that your flesh resists in order to gain the things you need to obtain what you desire – spiritual maturity.
In this small group series, we will discuss 9 further steps you will need to take in order to reach your goal of spiritual maturity.
The next part of this session consists of 5 discussion questions you will need to answer and discuss among your group which should consist of about 5 people to guarantee good participation and input by all.
Because of the nature of this course material, it is recommended that the group meet on a monthly schedule to provide the time necessary to complete the discussion questions and practice the spiritual discipline taught.
- What thought, feeling or event led you to this study?
- Describe your best spiritual attribute. Describe your worst fleshly weakness (to the degree you are comfortable sharing).
- Aside from Jesus, which Bible character inspires you? Why?
- Which of the following Bible characters can you relate to best? Why?
- The elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal son
- King Saul
- King David
- What is the usual cause of your lack of personal discipline?
- What do you do/say when you fail?