The Spiritual Disciplines of Jesus Produce Maturity

Paul famously wrote, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). Paul went on to place that statement in context, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Rom 8:29).
 
Therefore, in short, God works in all things to conform believers to the image of Jesus.  Logically then, God works through the Spiritual Disciplines to conform believers into the image of Jesus.
 
Interestingly, in Ephesians Paul wrote that it is not only the image of Jesus into which believers are to be conformed to, but also into the image of God, through imitating and obeying Jesus as His disciple:
 
You heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:21-24).
 
This is only logical given that Jesus is the perfect image of God (2 Cor 4:4, Phil 2:6, Heb 1:3). And thus, also logically, imitating Jesus (1 Cor 11:1) would be the equivalent of imitating God (Eph 5:1). 
 
Mankind is introduced in Genesis 2 when they are created in the image of God so that they might: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28). However, the conflict in scripture is introduced in Genesis chapter 3 when mankind falls from perfection.
 
As a result, the image of God within them is broken and marred, and their original purposes of multiplying and subduing the earth are both specifically cursed as they are no longer capable of properly fulfilling them in their fallen state (Gen 3:16-19).
 
Again, as Paul explained, man was created in the image of God in order to reflect His glory (1 Cor 11:7); but all have missed the mark and have fallen short of His glory (Rom 3:23).
 
But Paul also wrote: “we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).
 
Thus, when Paul wrote to Timothy that he should: “train [himself] to be godly” (1 Tim 4:7), he was admonishing Timothy to commit himself to the spiritual and physical practices that would result in being re-conformed into the image of God he was created to be, in order that he might render unto God the glory that He is due.
 
Observing the Spiritual Disciplines of Jesus is another way of saying “imitating Jesus as His disciple.” The Greek word translated “Christian” is only found in Scripture three times (Acts 11:26, 26:28, 1 Peter 4:16), while the Greek term for disciple is used around 270 times.
 
Luke wrote that, “the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (Acts 11:26). Therefore, “Christian” was simply another name for a disciple of Jesus, and Scripture overwhelmingly supports the idea that a believer must first and foremost be a disciple of Jesus.
 
A disciple of Jesus was (and is) more than simply a student of Jesus; the term implies imitation. John (one of Jesus’ first disciples and His earthly best friend) wrote that, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6).
 
Therefore, imitation of Jesus, observing the Spiritual Disciplines of Jesus, is not optional for those who claim to believe in Jesus; it is mandatory.
 
But again, this is only logical. If the end goal of the gospel of Jesus is that men bring glory to God by being re-conformed to the image of God that they were originally created to be; and if re-conformity to the image of God is accomplished through men imitating Jesus by observing His Spiritual Disciplines; then observing them must be mandatory. 
 
As Jesus taught, “It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher” (Mat 10:25), and “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).
 
A “fully trained” disciple then is one who imitates their master, and this is what Paul meant when he commanded Timothy to “train himself to be godly.”
 
However, it must be noted that imitating Jesus as His disciple by observing the Spiritual disciplines of Jesus, is a supernatural endeavor. The actions of Jesus are the actions of the perfect image of God, God Himself in human flesh; actions that men lost the ability to correctly perform in the fall.
 
Men must be supernaturally empowered and enlightened by the Holy Spirit in order to be able to perform these actions; which is exactly what Scripture promises. Again, as Paul wrote:
 
Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:16-18).
 
And as Jesus promised: “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).
 
As Paul also wrote, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal 5:25). It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that disciples of Jesus are capable of imitating and obeying Him, and in doing so, put to death their old fallen selves as well.
 
This concept of the death of the old fallen man is also a reoccurring theme throughout the New Testament. Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20); and:
 
Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with. . . . Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him (Rom 6:3-9).
 
The old fallen self, the corrupted image of God, has been positionally counted dead with Christ; but it must also be practically “crucified.”  And as the old man dies, the new man, the recreated image of God, is resurrected in the image of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.  And this ongoing resurrection occurs practically by disciples of Jesus imitating Him through observing the Spiritual Disciplines.
 
Thus, observing the Spiritual Disciplines in the power of the Holy Spirit has a renewing effect, as Paul admonished the Roman believers, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2).
 
In Ephesians, Paul also wrote that, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10); and to the Corinthians he wrote, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 2:17).
 
This re-creation and renewal of the believer into the image of Jesus/God is a product of the spiritual power of the Holy Spirit working through the physical actions of observing the Spiritual Disciplines of Jesus. 
 
But what specifically are the Spiritual disciplines? Various lists have been comprised; Donald Whitney specifically lists Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling, and learning.
 
Bill Hull however warns that this list is not exhaustive and must be practiced in the community of other believers. He wrote:
 
We need to learn and take on the characteristics of submission, humility, and vulnerability before we can expect spiritual transformation. We must submit ourselves to God, show humility in our relationships with others, and practice vulnerability by willingly opening ourselves to the influence of others.[1]
 
Again, the Spiritual Disciplines at their core must be imitation of Jesus. Any action or characteristic that can be gleaned from studying the life of Jesus is a Spiritual Discipline and must be imitated. 
 
Moreover, it is clear that Jesus observed the Spiritual Disciplines in the community of His disciples, who were the proto-church. The writer of Hebrews reinforced that spiritual maturity occurs within the community of the church:
 
Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near (Heb 10:24-25).
 
While the Spiritual Disciplines of Jesus and the Holy Spirit have been provided by God to ensure the re-creation of believers; the community of the church is an equally important facet of the factors that produce spiritual maturity. 
 
Again, this is demonstrated by Jesus and all of the Apostles throughout the New Testament. Gathering with other disciples with the intent to “spur one another on” is itself a Spiritual Discipline.
 
But what if believers do not observe the Spiritual Disciplines? Again, the greatest warning comes from John who wrote that the only proof of salvation was that disciples imitate and obey Jesus, and anyone who fails to do so is a false believer (1 John 2:3-6).
 
However, granting that the modern American Evangelical church has largely forgotten how to be and make disciples of Jesus, and thus many believers are unaware of the expectations of imitating Jesus through keeping the Spiritual Disciplines; what is the danger for them?
 
Due to the immaturity among the Corinthians, Paul was limited as to what he could teach while among them. Paul wrote, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 3:2). Paul went on to write though, “We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature” (1 Cor 3:6).
 
Paul continued, explaining to the Corinthians that, “these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God” (1 Cor 3:10, NIV), and that worldly people could not understand these things; that only someone led and taught by the Holy Spirit could understand these things (1 Cor 3:11-16).
 
Paul then dropped the hammer on the Corinthians:
 
I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly (Cor 4:1-3).
 
Thus, “Jesus Christ and him crucified” was the milk that Paul was limited to being able to teach the Corinthians. The “deep things of God” are the solid food, the meat.
 
The writer of Hebrews echoed these words of Paul:
 
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Heb 5:11-14).
 
Notice that the mature are those “who. . . have trained themselves.” Again, “everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40, NIV).
 
Scripture is clear that spiritual maturity only comes through training to imitate Jesus by observing His Spiritual Disciplines (through the supernatural empowerment and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit).
 
The writer of Hebrews continued to echo Paul, “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity” (Heb 6:1). He then issued a dire warning:
 
It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened. . . and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. . . . land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case. . . . We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end. . . .  imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised (Heb 6:4-12).
 
The writer of Hebrews once more echoed Paul who wrote, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). Again, Scripture is clear that spiritual maturity is only accomplished through imitating the Spiritual Disciplines of Jesus as His disciple, and those who fail to do so are possibly false believers. Peter also warned:
 
If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them (1 Pet 2:20-21).
 
As he also wrote:
 
Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (1 Pet 3:17-18).
 

All of the New Testament authors warn that there will be false believers who will be proven liars by their inability to grow in spiritual maturity into the image of Jesus/God as they fail to imitate Jesus by observing His Spiritual Disciplines.

 
 
 
If you would like to learn more about what it means to imitate and obey Jesus as His disciple, and to be conformed to His image, start here and follow the link at the end of each article to the next one: The Four Principles of Discipleship…
 
 
 
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[1] Bill Hull, The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2006), 128, ProQuest.