Discipleship: Saul to Paul – Don’t we all start out like Saul, aspiring to be Paul?
When we investigate the life of the Apostle Paul (back when he was known as Saul, the ruthless Pharisee) we see a man who thought it his mission to eradicate the believers of Jesus Christ. On the road to Damascus, Saul had an encounter with the risen Lord Jesus and subsequently after, became known as Paul. To fully understand Saul becoming Paul, I urge you to read Acts 6-9 to see the transformation take place.
Once Paul had accepted Christ, we find Paul in Acts 9:20 “proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues” (The key here is proclaiming, more on that later). From there Paul spent some time in Arabia and then Damascus (Galatians 1:17). We do not know the timeline for how long Paul was in Arabia but upon his return to Damascus, it seems he was learning about the Lord (being discipled by the disciples in Damascus).
What we learn from Paul’s spiritual journey is that not everyone is the same. However, everyone needs to be discipled by someone that is mature in the faith. We even see this as part of The Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20. If we zero in on Matthew 28:20 we find the phrase “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” (my emphasis added). Why is this significant? Well, we look to Paul’s explanation in his letter to the Romans for clarity and understanding. Romans 10:14-15 ties back into Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 28. I will leave it to you to look up Romans 10:14-15 to connect the dots.
Moving forward, we also discover that discipleship is not an overnight process. Paul spent fifteen days with Peter and while it is seemingly insignificant in the length of time, he was likely proving himself to Peter that he had converted. Then, in Galatians 2:1, we find Paul stating that “after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem”. It is easy to deduce that he was being discipled and preaching about Jesus during that time, refining and maturing in his understanding of Jesus and living life as we are called to as believers.
"...discipleship is not an overnight process."
Another thing that we learn looking at the example of Paul and how each of us can relate to his conversion is that God can and will use the most unlikely people to advance His plan. Paul was “persecuting the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13). Yet, God used him to become the Apostle to the Gentiles and arguably the most well-known Apostle with theological writings in the New Testament that are surpassed by none. If Saul can mature into Paul, little doubt is left to answer the question of: can we do the same? While we may not start out identically as Saul by persecuting the church, we can confidently say that we likely start out as non-believers as how can we believe in what we do not know or understand? Then how can we know? If you think back to my mentioning of Romans 10:14-15, this will be clear. If you did not look it up, this will only make sense if you do. This emphasizes the need for discipleship for all. We do not grow without it. We all have that basic command from Matthew 28:16-20, to “proclaim Jesus and teach all that He commanded” it was not just for the first disciples! The teaching that He is speaking of is what discipleship looks like!
"God can and will use the most unlikely people to advance His plan."
So, how do we fulfill that command? It is not my intention to provide an exhaustive list, but I think the number one thing we can do when discipling the new believer (or even someone who has been in the faith for some time) is to be intentional with our time. New believers and well, believers in general, need to have questions answered and have an example set for how the follower of Christ is to act. Of course, we can state the fact that there is a tremendous amount of information regarding this in Scripture; it is easier, however, to follow a physical example in front of you, than it is to just read about how it is done. Again, Paul gives us a clear picture that this is indeed the case. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” The explanation of discipleship does not get any clearer than that and shows that we all should be trying to become like Paul and ultimately like Jesus by imitation (discipleship).
So, how do we imitate Paul as he imitates Christ? First, we need to discover who they are. We can only find this information by searching Scripture. Another option is to find someone that is mature in the faith to disciple you. Either way, you need to root into God’s Word. This will become apparent to you regardless of the method you employ. Be it searching Scripture for examples or being discipled by the mature believer. You will find that the mature believer will be leading by example and that example will be based on their being rooted in Scripture. It boils down to this: how can we understand Jesus and model Him if we do not know Him? The other question is: how do we know that the person who is discipling us is true to what Scripture says? The answer comes back to being rooted in God’s Word. I am in no way diminishing anyone at their ability to disciple others, I am just pointing out that we are all flawed and can get things wrong from time to time. That is why it is crucial to “fact check” everything against what we know to be true, and that is God’s Word.
"how can we understand Jesus and model Him if we do not know Him?"
In closing, I pray that you root into Scripture and seek to discover who Jesus is and how to follow His examples. If you are looking for someone to walk with you on this journey but are not sure who to look to, reach out to the church office and the staff will gladly be of assistance. May Almighty God bless you and keep you as you journey towards becoming more like Jesus, for His Glory, Amen!