Browse Articles

Discipleship 101: The Basics

October 2002
By: David O'Leary

Those who have learned the basics make the great plays in baseball. Great living for Christ begins with the basics too. When Paul desires to "present everyone perfect in Christ," he describes that perfect or complete life as follows: "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness" (Colossians 2:6-7). Whether for the Colossians or us, thebBasics are the same. The complete Christian receives Christ Jesus as Lord and lives in Him. The phrase "just as" sets up a parallel. To the extent you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, to that same extent you ought to live in Him. You can't have one without the other.


We Evangelicals say "receive Christ" a lot. But what do we mean? The word "receive" has the sense of being part of something established, carefully preserved, and passed on to others. It often appears with "passed on or delivered." Speaking of the gospel, Paul says, "What I received I passed on to you as of first importance" (1 Corinthians 15:3). Receiving Christ is not merely a private or personal thing; it is entering into a people, and a tradition. You join God's covenant people. Paul reminds the Ephesians: "...formerly you who are Gentiles by birth … remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ."

When the Ephesians received Christ, they joined the people of God. They were brought near and brought into fellowship with them. That's why baptism reassured the Ethiopian eunuch that he belonged to God's people, even though he (apparently) went home to be the only believer in his country (Acts 8:36-39). Receiving Christ is receiving His people and their tradition. We are not talking about traditionalism described as the dead faith of the living (Col. 2:8); we are describing the living faith of those who have gone before us, the "faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 3).

In addition to the corporate, public side of receiving Christ, there is a personal and private side. It has to do with a person embracing Jesus as her only Lord and Savior. No one can do this for another; it is a personal heart issue. John said, "to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12). The same happened to the Ephesians: "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit...." (Ephesians 1:13). Discipleship rests on personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That's why John tells new believers, "God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life." (1 John 5:11-12) The question is, "Do you have the Son?" "Do you have life?"


Discipleship begins with receiving Christ; it moves on to "living in Him." This is the practical outworking of the Lordship of Christ in our lives. The words "continue to live in Him" are literally "continue to walk in Him." Deuteronomy 6:7 tells us to impress God's commands on our children as we "walk along the road." Psalm 1:1 commends the blessed man "who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked." If we talk Christ as Lord, we must walk it. The secret of discipleship is this parallel: receiving and living. Christian life parallels Christian confession; confession parallels life. That is why many who read this serve in crisis pregnancy centers. Faith shapes what we do. The Christian church has been divided. Evangelicals appear to be strong on faith (receiving Christ) and weak on obedience (living in Him). Liberals appear to be the opposite. But both are wrong because both are right! Receive Christ; live in Him! Is the goal the "balanced" Christian life? Not in the sense of "a little this way and a little that." The issue is completeness in Christ. To miss either side is to miss it all! Whether receiving Christ or living in Him, the issue is whether Jesus is Lord. Paul's answer—over 230 times in his writings—is "Yes."

But what makes up the complete Christian life? The Colossians are to be "rooted and built up in him." To be rooted in Christ is to find the source and foundation of our lives in Christ. Everything depends on Christ; we have no life outside of Christ. When someone works too much we say, "Get a life." Here we say the opposite. "Have no life except what is rooted in Christ." Get to know Him deeply, and then deeper still. Know His word and know His ways. This is why new believers must begin with the Bible and prayer. A plant that grows without deep roots will fall over. If it is deeply rooted but not built up, it will be stunted. Plants that are deeply rooted in good soil will spring up, endure, and bear much fruit (Mark 4:8, 20).

Further, the Colossians should be "strengthened in the faith as you were taught" (Col. 2:7). How is faith strengthened? First, it is strengthened by the fellowship of other Christians. The gathering and mutual ministry of the saints strengthen the people of God (Acts 15:41; 16:4; 1 Corinthians 14:3, 26). New believers are strengthened through the nurture and fellowship they receive from other believers. Strength also comes through the testing of our faith. God uses trials, struggles, and suffering to strengthen us in Christ. When faced with God's apparent failure, Abraham "did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised" (Romans 4:20-21). New believers face challenges and tests daily. They struggle more when they have not been taught God's strengthening process. They are built up when they are alerted to what God is doing.

The last basic item Paul addresses is thankfulness (Col. 2:7; 3:15; 4:2). Thanksgiving demonstrates to God and the world that we depend on God. The wickedness of unbelievers is shown in that they "neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him" (Romans 1:21). Just as a young child brings shame to her parents when she is ungrateful, the believer fails to give God glory when she does not overflow with thanksgiving.

There is, of course, so much more to the path of discipleship—an entire lifetime! But we may start with the basics, which Paul outlined for the young Colossian church. Have you received Christ Jesus as Lord? Live in Him!

David O'Leary is married and has four children. He lives in Reading, Pennsylvania, where he is the pastor of Covenant Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He holds degrees from Tufts University (BA), Westminster Theological Seminary (MAR, MDiv), and Covenant Theological Seminary (DMin).

All text and images in this web site Copyright © 2000-2020 by Life Matters Worldwide.
Your comments on this publication are always welcome and can help us make future issues even better.
PO Box 3158, Grand Rapids, MI 49501
Contact Us
Phone: 1-800-968-6086