Discipleship apart from Jesus is nontransformational. It may bring changes, but it essentially leaves you in the same spiritual state as it found you. The discipleship may provide education, improve behavior, increase happiness, add value, or make the disciple more skilled at a craft. But these are just changes. It’s the reskinning of the same thing on the inside.
Surely we can all relate to what it means to be discipled by culture. If not, just take a look at a picture of yourself from fifteen or twenty years ago. Those clothes? That hairstyle? The music you were listening to? Looking back, you can’t believe you thought any of those things were acceptable, much less cool. What’s worse, you can’t imagine that you—you—would ever wear or listen to it. But the you of middle or high school was absolutely convinced not only that your clothes or music was cool but that they were what you really wanted. Discipleship apart from Jesus may be many things, but it is not transformational. Jesus is the only Rabbi who has the power to transform lives.
Jesus isn’t just a passing fad, soon to be replaced by another right around the corner. If you believe what the Bible says, Jesus doesn’t change people’s clothes; He changes the very fabric of people’s being. He brings light to darkness. He brings death to life. He brings new to the old. The transformation Jesus offers is radically different from simply being conformed to the world.
One of the clearest statements in the New Testament that makes this distinction is in the well-worn verses of Romans 12:1–2.
Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
The difference is vitally important. The world seeks, through a million marketing messages every day, to conform our thinking to its standards. Most of us are more influenced by these messages than we realize. We will, in fact, either be conformed or transformed. Jesus isn’t merely interested in conforming—changing the appearance and behavior of people. He’s interested in transformation. Transformation is more than a surface-level alteration; it’s actually becoming something else entirely.
Transformation only comes through the discipleship that is centered on Jesus.
Not all discipleship is transformational, but transformation only comes through the discipleship that is centered on Jesus.
Adapted from Transformational Discipleship (B&H Publishing Group, 2012)