Jesus at the Center
In an earlier post, I defined Christian spiritual formation as the lifelong process of being conformed into the image of Jesus Christ for the sake of the world. I also distinguished between spiritual formation as what God does in us during our discipleship, or apprenticeship and following of Jesus.
The above diagram is an attempt to visualize what it looks like to take part in either discipleship or non-discipleship. While I fully recognize the political-incorrectness of trying to label categories of people, by very definition, if there are those who are disciples of Jesus, then there are also those who are not. And while the lines may be much more blurry than this, I hope this helps.
Here’s a brief explanation:
Jesus is the center of all things. This is the message of Colossians 1:15-20, where the Son created all things, is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He has the supremacy over everything because of His resurrection from the dead.
Relationships are dynamic, never static. A person is either moving closer to Christ, the center, or further away from him.
Some are, for lack of a better term, non-Christian seekers. They are people who earnestly want to know more about Christ, may have deep respect for Him, may like Jesus but not the church, or may have a spouse or family member who is a Christian who is pushing them to become one. They are curious about Jesus and His teaching. But they have not had a conversion experience or told Christ to be the center of their lives.
Whether one’s conversion happens instantaneously or progressively (or a little of both) is debatable; the New Testament does describe conversion as encompassing repentance, faith, reception of the Holy Spirit, and a natural next step of baptism. More on conversion in a later post.
A second group can be called Christian disciples. Post-conversion, these people actively pursue Jesus, now given more grace and aided by the Holy Spirit in new ways. They are actively participating in their own spiritual formation.
A third group are those who we might awkwardly call Christian non-disciples. These are they who self-identify as Christians, attend church, who at one point had a genuine conversion experience, but who now are not actively participating in discipleship. They may even be staying at home on Sundays because of a rift with the church, or may simply be waiting for the day when “God takes them to heaven.”
Finally, there are non-Christian pagans. They are far from Christ, want nothing to do with Him, or are ambivalent or agnostic about God. Christian discipleship is not on their radar screen for whatever reason.
The point of identifying where people might be on a continuum of discipleship toward or away from Christ is not to neatly label buckets and then figure out who goes where. No. It is to stress the utmost importance of being a person who engages in discipleship.
The unanswered questions thus far are, “How does God change us? Does God work the same way with each person? Are there reliable patterns of God’s activity that we can count on? What is our role? Are we passive, letting God do all the work? How do we work out our salvation with fear and trembling?”