What does Christian discipleship look like? What are the actions of a disciple? Previously Strength For Life published five actions of a disciple from the Book of Acts. Below is part two: five additional actions in which every disciple of Christ should be regularly involved.
In part one we considered the topics of waiting, praying, co-laboring, yielding, preaching, but in this article, we will consider the actions of serving, struggling, contending, rejoicing, and all along the way, growing.
1. Serving (Acts 3:1-10; 6:1-7; 9:32-43)
Christian discipleship includes the action of serving others. As we read through the Book of Acts, we see that Peter serves both sinners and saints. Acts of service exhibited by a disciple of Christ should include a willingness to serve our Christian brothers, as well as those that may not know Jesus as their Savior. Christian disciples are seen throughout the Bible serving others spiritually and physically.
In Acts 3:1-10 Peter selflessly serves a man who could do nothing to help him in return. This beggar asked Peter for financial provision, yet Peter pointed him to spiritual redemption! The key phrase in the account is, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.”
The point of every healing in the New Testament was to prove or validate that Jesus is the Christ.
Another example of Christian service is in Acts 6 when a need arises to serve widows more efficiently. They were being “neglected in the daily ministration.” As a result, Peter, (included in “the twelve”), asked the church to “look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.” (Acts 6:3)
They are recruiting additional servant-minded Christians. These neglected widows benefited from Christian disciples who were willing to serve their needs.
In Act 9, Peter serves a man who had been bedridden for eight years and was “sick of the palsy”.
Then, God uses Peter to serve Tabitha, also in Acts 9. She was sick and then died. God used Peter to raise her from the dead. Tabitha lived on to serve others using her abilities as a seamstress.
We don’t have the same gifting and spiritual abilities as first-century apostles, but we do have the same privilege and calling to serve others.
Peter and the disciples were taught to serve others by the Lord Jesus Himself in John 13. Jesus humbly washed their feet including the feet of His betrayer, Judas Iscariot. (John 13:1-20)
Jesus, the Christian disciple’s teacher, is the flawless example of what it means to serve others. After He washed the disciples’ feet He explained, “For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” vs 15
The key to serving others-in a way that pleases the Father-is to serve, as unto Him. Whether it is as a volunteer or paid employment, Christian disciples are not to serve others in order to please men primarily, but instead, to serve others in order to please the Lord. Ephesians 6:6 explains, “Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.”
As Christian disciples serve others out of pure hearts, we are fulfilling both the greatest commandment and the second greatest commandment. We are exhibiting our love for God as we participate in the loving service of our neighbor. (Consider Matthew 22:37-40)
Serving others is not just about serving them with your time. Nor is it exclusively about serving others with your talent, but it sometimes includes serving others with our possessions.
Acts 2:44-45 explains that “all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” These first-century disciples served others with their stuff.
Similarly, Acts 4:32 explains that “the multitude of them that believed (newly converted disciples of Christ) were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.”
Not every Christian is called to be in full-time vocational ministry service, but every Christian disciple is called to serve others for God’s honor and glory.
Just after Peter and John served the beggar in Acts 3, they face life-threatening struggles. And, before we consider the details of their struggles, let me be clear. A disciple of Christ can be serving others faithfully and genuinely, and even involved in the preceding six points reflecting the actions of a disciple, however, those Christ-like actions do not guarantee that a Christian disciple will be exempt from the struggles of life. In fact, living out the Christian life, in an authentically Christ-like way, leads to struggles with this world. Unfortunately, so many Christian disciples will serve the Lord with the expectation that if I live in a reasonably wholesome way, and do good things for others, then God will make sure that my life is easy and breezy. The so-called “prosperity gospel“ lends to this false notion.
As I explained previously in this book, mature Christian disciples realize that we do not follow Christ for what He can do for us but instead for who He is.
It’s true that God is, “the God of all comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3) It’s true that He will “never leave thee, nor forsake thee.“ (Hebrews 13:5) It’s true that there is “abundant life” in Christ and that God provides many good gifts for His disciples, however, it’s also true that His children will face struggles.
In Acts 3, we learn that this man who was “lame from his mother’s womb” was healed, and as a result was “walking, and leaping, and praising God.“ No doubt Peter and John rejoiced with this healed man about God’s power, however, they go from good times to potential jail time.
As you read through Acts 3 and 4 you see that Peter rightly chose to use God‘s healing of this lame man to preach the Gospel of Christ. And I must say, in this instance, he preached it incredibly boldly and confrontationally. Acts 4 indicates that “many of them which heard the word believed and the number of men was about 5,000.” Yet not everyone was happy about this physical healing nor the spiritual redemption of these 5,000 people. The religious and civil authorities of the day arrested Peter and John. (Acts 4:1-3)
These disciples faced the struggle of standing before the religious Sanhedrin and were interrogated about the healing of the beggar. In spite of the extremely intimidating setting of this interrogation, these Spirit-yielded disciples boldly preached the exclusivity of Christ (Acts 4:12), and “glorified God for that which was done.” (Acts 4:21)
After being threatened and detained, they were finally let go. These early chapters in the Book of Acts record just the beginnings of the persecution and struggle that the Disciples of Christ faced. (Consider 2 Timothy 3:12)
Struggles not only came from the unbelieving world around them, but also from professing Christians. In Acts 5, Peter, the Pastor of the church at Jerusalem, deals with lying church members, Ananias and Sapphira.
The details of that account are amazing but can be summarized as “struggles” that Peter, a disciple of Christ, had to face.
Struggles come from within the church and from without. The struggles of this life should not be any surprise to Christian disciples.
In John 15:18-19, Jesus explained to His disciples, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”
At the end of Acts 7 we read that Stephen is martyred for his outspoken Christian faith. Imagine having the boldness of Stephen to preach the sermon that he did which is recorded in Acts 7. Imagine the inner struggle that must have taken place within the heart of Stephen. He probably questioned within himself what he was doing and what might happen to him, yet “full of faith and power“ he preached on!
Sometimes the struggles of this life lead to martyrdom, but other times the struggles of life are self-induced and simple. For example, the account of the widows being neglected in Acts 6 was a struggle inside the church that Christian disciples had to face and fix. They did, and God was glorified.
Struggles in life manifest themselves in a variety of ways and are a part of facing the “thorns and thistles” of this life.
Again, these struggles can come from the world, from within the church, and oftentimes come from within our own hearts.
Peter is the obvious human penman for 1 Peter and this canonized book of the Bible is dedicated to aiding Christian disciples in facing the many struggles of life.
As he is “moved by the Holy Ghost” he pens inspired words which address a variety of topics that are sources of struggle for Christians.
In 1 Peter 1:13-2:3, he addresses the struggle disciples have with their carnal flesh and the importance of pursuing personal holiness.
In 1 Peter 2, he addresses the struggle disciples of Christ have with earthly governments.
In 1 Peter 3:1-7 he addresses the struggle that sometimes exists between husbands and wives.
In 1 Peter 3:8 and following, he addresses the struggle we have within our hearts to do evil to those who do evil to us.
In 1 Peter 4 he addresses the struggles Christians have with one another and he instructs Christian disciples to “have a fervent charity among yourselves.”
In 1 Peter 5 he addresses struggles with church leadership and the important balance of biblical polity.
It has been said that the Book of 1 Peter is the Bible’s discipleship manual because it’s incredibly practical, helpful, and relatable.
1 Peter, and the story of Christians throughout the New Testament, reveal to us that God aids us in many ways, but the Christian disciple will face many struggles throughout life.
One action of a disciple that is not commonly associated with Christianity is “contending.” In the 21st century, Christians are expected to be so nice, and so loving, that they’re essentially pacifists.
The word “contending” means “grappling or fighting.”
The Apostle Peter was not afraid of a fight, and today’s disciples shouldn’t be either. In the gospels we read of Judas and his mob coming to arrest Jesus. In defense of his Lord, Peter drew his sword, “and smote the high priest's servant, (Malchus) and cut off his right ear.” (John 18:10)
Peter was ready to fight! However, Peter was fighting the wrong battle and Jesus had to rebuke him, and then heal Malchus’ ear. (Luke 22:51)
Peter is an example of an individual who at times fought for the wrong things, but at other times, he contended righteously.
Christian disciples must beware of fighting for the wrong things and fighting against the wrong people. The Bible must be our guide.
The main theme of the Book of 2 Peter is to emphasize the importance of contending for the knowledge of the truth. In that book, Peter instructs disciples of Christ about false teachers and their “damnable heresies.” (2 Peter 2:1)
He warns the reader about the “pernicious ways“ of false teachers, and that they “bring upon themselves swift destruction.”
Peter is no friend to false doctrine. He’s not interested in theological compromise because the essence of the gospel is something for which he will fight.
Jude 1:3-4 helps the Christian disciple understand what we should contend for when it says, “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were … denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Jude exhorts us in an area that Peter clearly understood when he wrote 2 Peter. Christians are to engage in the spiritual action of “contending for the faith.” Disciples of Christ are to prioritize purity of “the common salvation.” We are to be aware of those teachers who turn the grace of God into lasciviousness and deny “the only Lord God, … the Lord Jesus Christ.”
We are to fight FOR the theological purity of the gospel. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
This is what Peter was doing in Acts 5 when he famously said, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” The authorities of the day were attempting to stop him from teaching in the name of Jesus, but he refused.
As a result, they beat him. (Acts 5:40) Peter was fighting FOR God, and startlingly, his enemies were fighting AGAINST God. (Acts 5:39)
Not only should Christian disciples fight against false teachers and the enemies of God, but we are also to contend against the sinful propensities of our own flesh in the power of the Spirit and pursue personal holiness. (Consider closely Galatians 5:16-26, 1 Peter 1:13-16; 2 Peter 2:5-8)
Further, Christian disciples are to fight against societal immorality and promote righteousness. John the Baptist is an example of this as he stood against Herod’s immorality. (Mark 6:14-29)
Another example is Old Testament Bible character Noah. He preached righteousness (2 Peter 2:5) for 120 years to a society that was living unrighteously and their moral degeneracy is described in Genesis 6:1-5.
While disciples engage in the action of contending for the faith, and contending for personal and societal holiness, we must make sure we are on the right side of each of those battles or we could become the object of a justifiable contention.
Peter is a great example of what it means to contend in the right way and for the right things, however, in Galatians 2:11 the Bible explains that the Apostle Paul “withstood (Peter) to the face, because he was to be blamed.”
When a person gets in the face of another person, a fight has the potential to break out. In that moment, Peter was the object of Paul’s righteous contention, yet Peter showed humility because he knew, “he was to be blamed.” His humility is seen in 2 Peter 3:15 when he describes Paul as his wise “beloved brother.” You can read the details of Paul’s contention with Peter in Galatians 2:11-21.
Contending for Biblical truth can be intimidating and contending for holiness and righteousness personally and societally is a constant battle. Nonetheless, after honest evaluation, every Christian disciple should endeavor to say with the apostle Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness…” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
Many of the actions of a disciple that I previously listed build upon each other. Peter was serving the beggar in gospel-focused ministry in Acts 3, but soon finds himself facing the struggles imposed on him by the Jewish leaders.
As a result, Peter then contends for the faith against those who tried to mute his gospel voice. Yet, in spite of all of that, the story of the lame man culminates with Peter rejoicing. Can you believe it? He started out humbly serving, found himself struggling, then contending for the faith and was beaten for it, (Acts 5:40) and threatened on multiple occasions, but in Acts 5:41, Peter is rejoicing! He and the other apostles were “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.”
Instead of complaining and murmuring, they are rejoicing. Peter is an individual who truly understands what it means to “deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Christ.” Matthew 16:24
Peter’s heart is so enamored with true discipleship that he’s completely focused on denying himself for Christ’s sake.
Even though he’s been questioned publicly (Acts 4:5-22), and mocked intellectually (Acts 4:13), and is hurting physically (Acts 5:40), he’s still rejoicing. Even though he has a lot that he could complain about, he resists that temptation and is rejoicing. Why? How? …
He’s rejoicing because he was “counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.” (Acts 5:41)
The name of Jesus Christ was exalted because of Peter’s Spirit-filled ministry, and he’s thrilled about it!
Peter is rejoicing because even though he’s experienced pain on several levels, “many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.” (Acts 4:4) This is cause for rejoicing! Peter is bleeding but those 5,000 men are believing!
And, don’t forgot that the man who was lame from his mother’s womb is now “walking, and leaping, and praising God.” Acts 3:8 Peter is hurt but that man is healed!
If anyone can guide Christians through potential persecution, it’s the Apostle Peter. If anyone can explain how to rejoice in the midst of significant suffering, it’s Peter. He writes from experience! He’s not speculating, nor is he guessing. He knows what it means to suffer in his flesh while simultaneously rejoicing in His God. He knows how to see the big picture instead of staring at his situation. Throughout the Book of Acts, Peter is an example of someone who lived for the eternal, instead of being enamored with the temporal.
Since he has suffered himself personally, it makes sense that God would use him to write the Book of 1 Peter. He writes to Christians who are living under the rule of wicked Nero. Most of the Christians to whom Peter writes were homeless and many of them were hopeless. They were struggling spiritually, missionally, and physically.
He teaches these Christian disciples how to rejoice in the midst of suffering when he says, “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)
“…if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled.” (1 Peter 3:14)
“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye…” (1 Peter 4:12-14a).
Peter rejoices in the eternal character of God and recognizes the temporal nature of his suffering.
He rejoices in the eternal impact his ministry is having on the lives of others, and still has to this day.
He rejoices that his Master is pleased with him even though the civil magistrates of his day are not.
Peter teaches us to rejoice in the things that really matter, and not to worry about the things that don’t.
Rejoicing is the regular action of a disciple of Christ. (See also Philippians 4:4-9)
Peter’s last canonized words are found in 2 Peter 3:18. He instructs the reader to “Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ…”
Again, these are his last words in Scripture. He writes these words as a recommendation that’s rooted in the wisdom of his own experience. If you compare the accounts of Peter in the gospels with the accounts of Peter in the Book of Acts, you can watch his spiritual growth.
Impetuous Peter in the gospels eventually grows into empowered Peter in the Book of Acts. He went from being impulsive and argumentative and eventually grew into being greatly used of God and Spirit-controlled.
By the time he writes 2 Peter 3:18, he’s an older man who has lived through the ups and downs of his discipleship journey. He personally walked with Christ and was personally discipled by Him. Peter’s experiences, both positive and negative, all served as growth opportunities for him. One might think that Peter had arrived spiritually, having been schooled at the feet of Jesus and guided by the Spirit of God, yet in 2 Peter 3:18, he communicates to us that a disciple of Christ needs to be constantly growing. Specifically, he explains that Christians need to be growing in two primary ways; grow in grace and grow in the knowledge of Christ.
First, what does it mean to grow in grace? Life itself is God’s grace. Your beating heart and your next breath are sustained by God and are accomplished in His grace.
Every day that you are alive should be viewed as an opportunity for growth in God’s grace.
When Peter instructs us to grow in grace, he is challenging the reader to avoid spiritual stagnation and pursue spiritual maturation. The Gospel itself is the story of grace and the instruction to grow in grace is the instruction to grow in applying the gospel’s implications to our daily lives.
The attribute of God‘s grace is a schoolmaster. Grace teaches us how to live. It tutors us in what we should deny and what we should pursue. (Titus 2:11-12)
Early in Peter’s Christian life, he indulged in things he should’ve denied, and he forsook things that he should have pursued.
As we experience the successes and failures of life, grace teaches us to expect the accountability of Jesus’ soon return and to be motivated by that understanding as we are constantly “looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of our great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13)
Second, what does Peter mean when he says to grow in the knowledge of our Lord…?
No matter how much we know about Jesus, we can always grow in our knowledge of Him. The mysteries of His character are inexhaustible. It’s interesting that Peter says we are to grow “in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Each of those 4 titles is important. We need to grow in the knowledge of our “Lord” because we are His servants. As Lord, He is our Master and we do His bidding. The only way to know His expectations is to read the written Word of our Lord.
Also, we need to grow in our knowledge of our “Savior.” After all, He saved us; wicked sinners such as us. He is our Savior, and if gratitude exists in our hearts for our salvation, then we should have a natural desire to grow in our knowledge of the One who saved us.
We need to grow in our knowledge of “Jesus.” We need to grow in our knowledge as His humanity. Reading the Bible’s accounts of Him weeping, sleeping, eating, or hurting are all ways in which we can relate to the humanity of the God-man. Reading about His carpentry work or reading about His personal temptations are areas of information and potential knowledge through which His disciples can be equipped to thrive in our own humanity.
We need to grow in our knowledge of “Christ.” This title reminds us to be growing in our knowledge of His divinity and Messiahship. Indeed, He is the anointed One. He is the Christ of which the Old Testament foretold. He is the One who would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) and be born of a virgin. (Isaiah 7:14).
As we grow in grace and in the knowledge of who Jesus is, we will also be growing in gratitude towards the Lord. All of these actions of a disciple are connected. If we are obeying Peter‘s final inspired instructions to grow, we will GROW in patiently waiting, fervently praying, helpfully co-laboring, humbly yielding, tenaciously preaching, eagerly serving, carefully struggling, discerningly contending, and eagerly rejoicing.
As Christian disciples live a life that is characterized by these 10 actions, we walk in the realization that whatever good is accomplished is for His honor and glory, and we will always have growing to do.