Occasional Paper

The Formation of Disciples for Mission and the Formation of Disciples as Mission

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Editor's Note

This Lausanne Occasional Paper was produced by a sub-team of the Lausanne Theology Working Group in the lead up to the Fourth Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. This strategic once-in-a-generation gathering will be held in Incheon, South Korea from 22-28 September 2024.


The need for this paper arises from two widely perceived problems. The first may be seen in relation to the end or outcome of mission: the low level of spiritual maturity, the lack of Christian formation, and evidence of anemic discipleship within the global evangelical movement.[1] The second is that, while ‘successful’ mission can be and often is carried out by people who lack a vital relationship with God, the spiritual and moral failure of Christian leaders ultimately blunts the witness of the church in the world and causes other Christians to stumble.

The context of this paper is, broadly, the global evangelical movement and its mission to a spiritually lost and broken world. More narrowly, the context of the paper is the Lausanne Movement (hereafter, LM), which began in 1974 as an intentional effort to catalyze and strengthen evangelical mission to the world. Almost immediately, the question arose as to whether mission should be understood primarily with proclamation or should also be understood as including matters of social concern and justice. The movement landed on a kind of both/and answer to that question but the framing of the question itself has largely left to the side the question of what we ought ultimately to seek as an outcome of mission and who we ought properly to be as agents of mission. 

The focus of this paper is the relationship between mission and the formation of disciples. Though there may be several ways to think about the nature of this relationship, the purpose of this paper is to consider the significance of the spiritual lives of those who engage in mission and of those to whom mission is directed. The paper arises out of the two-fold conviction that mission must be done by people whose lives are deeply rooted in a vital relationship with God and that mission must have the formation of a people as its ultimate objective—an objective pursued by the gathering those whom God is forming as disciples into local churches. 

Thus, the thesis of this paper is that the goal of mission set out in Scripture is to make disciples of Jesus and that this goal can only be accomplished by those who live as disciples of Jesus. To be a disciple is to be formed in the pattern or way of life that conforms to the good news of Christ’s incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. This means that mission is properly aimed toward the formation of disciples who love God with all that they are and love others as themselves. This can only be accomplished by those who live as disciples, formed by God in Christ by the Holy Spirit into this holy way of life. The local church is both the end and means of mission pursued in this way.

Definition of Terms

The nature and dynamics of discipleship 

The term discipleship has had a long history within the evangelical church. However, in recent decades it has lost much of its biblical meaning and become truncated and misused. According to Dallas Willard speaking from the North American context, two divergent streams emerged following WWII. ‘On the theological right, discipleship came to mean training people to win souls. And on the left, it came to mean social action.’[2] The early history of the LM experienced this tension as some of its participants marginalized the social dimension of Jesus’s message and mission. As a result of this bifurcation, the language of ‘spiritual formation’ or ‘Christian formation’, which was already a common term within the Roman Catholic Church, became increasingly popular among Protestants, including evangelicals. 

Christian or spiritual formation sought to integrate evangelism, social compassion, and personal holiness, to capture the fullness of God’s purposes in and through the gospel. This language was also helpful due to its greater comprehensiveness in relationship to discipleship that had lost much of its biblical wholeness. This restrictive understanding will be expanded below, though one of the central missing components of discipleship was the necessity of growing into deeper maturity in Christ that was central to Christian formation.

Defining spiritual formation

Jeffrey Greenman defines ‘Spiritual formation’ as ‘our continuing response to the reality of God’s grace shaping us into the likeness of Jesus Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, in the community of faith, for the sake of the world.’[3] Yet spiritual formation is open to misunderstanding and confusion today, especially in the broader global context. It is not uncommon for a gap to exist between what a term properly means and how it is understood at the local level. Using the language of Christian formation rather than spiritual formation provides clarification that the goal is to be formed in the likeness of Jesus Christ (Gal 4:19). It is important to recognize that any type of formation, including Christian formation is always occurring. It is never a question of whether someone is being formed, but how.[4] For example, a person worshiping in a congregation that stresses the prosperity gospel is likely over time to be formed by the idolatrous pursuit of wealth and consumption with little concern for the welfare for others. Unlike discipleship, which must always be intentional and active, this reveals that Christian formation can occur unintentionally. In other words, no one can be a disciple of Jesus unless they actively seek to imitate and follow him. Culture is a primary means of formation and can often subtlety shape a person or group of believers in ways that might counter the message of Jesus Christ. Christian formation can also become preoccupied by the use of spiritual disciplines to the neglect of a more balanced pursuit of sanctification.

Defining discipleship

Over time, words can lose their meanings or communicate something different than originally intended. It is critical that the goal is forming disciples to imitate Jesus rather than shaping them according to the image of the pastor.[5] Biblically speaking, discipleship addresses the dynamic process of following Jesus Christ. New Testament scholar, Michael Wilkins offers this definition: ‘Discipleship means living a fully human life in this world in union with Jesus Christ and His people, growing in conformity to His image, and helping others to know and become like Jesus.’[6] Some have called this definition ‘whole–life discipleship’[7] which is synonymous with Christian formation when it is understood properly. Unfortunately, during the second half of the last century discipleship became increasingly more focused on the pragmatic, external, and individualistic aspects of the Christian life. Frequently it has been reduced in many people’s minds to a course, a phase at the beginning of the Christian life, or a way of behaving, without encompassing the fullness of the new life in Christ. The church and other Christian organizations often communicated whether explicitly or implicitly that a person reached a point in which they had graduated from the school of Christ and lost the biblical imperative of the life-long process of growing in Christ. 

Richard Peace provides helpful insights for recovering a biblical and balanced understanding of discipleship. Central to this process is the word ‘denial’ that Jesus used in Luke 9:23, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’[8] Denial doesn’t suggest giving up something they enjoy, like eating ice cream or chocolate but rather the more radical need to renounce ourselves in submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Peace asserts that this denial describes the Pauline process of ‘putting off the old self (the old self is denied) and putting on the new self (found in Christ) (Eph 4:22–24).’[9] This reflects the essential nature of sanctification and maturing in Christ not only mentally or spiritually but in the whole person. Taking up one’s cross further refines the seriousness of following Christ as being totally dedicated to him. Clearly Jesus’ message is that we must commit ourselves to grow into his likeness and imitate him (Phil 2:5). This corrects the common distortion that discipleship is primarily about belief in Jesus rather than cultivating the broader biblical perspective of a Christ–centered lifestyle. According to Jesus, obedience is key and reinforces the importance of denial (Matt 12:49–50; 28:20). Kevin Vanhoozer affirms the same necessity of the dynamic nature of discipleship that ‘involves both call (‘Follow me’) and response.’[10] Further, discipleship that helps a person develop the mind of Christ should become a natural process because of Christ’s new life in them.[11]

Discipleship as a means toward Christian formation 

If we can grasp the biblical intent of discipleship, we will discover that it reflects the same meaning as Christian formation. Jesus taught the principles of discipleship in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19–20: ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’[12] ‘Make disciples’ is an imperative, which means it is a command and not an option. The terms ‘baptizing’, and ‘teaching’ ‘describe what is meant by ‘make disciples’.[13] 

Building on the foundational nature of the Great Commission, Michael Wilkins claims that the Gospel of Matthew was the manual for discipleship in the early church.[14] As such, we can look back at the Gospel to learn what it means to baptize and teach for the purpose of making disciples. What we find in the Gospel of Matthew is the gospel, set out in the form of a biography of Jesus that invites us to repent and believe the good news that through Jesus, the Messiah, God has saved his people from their sins and made it possible for all peoples to live under his gracious rule. To be a disciple, therefore, means to believe the good news by turning away from sin and Satan and trusting that Jesus’ death on the cross cleanses us from our sins and that his resurrection imparts to us a new life, which we live by following Jesus and obeying his commands.

For this reason, disciple-making includes baptism. Though baptism is rarely connected with discipleship today, it is central to Jesus’ commission to the church. It is not the only means of disciple-making, but it is the beginning of this process and establishes a pattern that governs the whole of life. Early in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus renounced the devil following his baptism (Matt 3:13–4:11). As the worship life of the early church developed renunciation became a significant vow of baptism. This vow challenged the person to consider the seriousness of their commitment to follow Christ by denying their old self and affirming their new life Christ. It symbolized their movement from the kingdom of the world to the kingdom of God. Renunciation of Satan in baptism has become increasingly more common in evangelical worship.[15] This biblical language also reflects the believers’ union with Christ in his death and resurrection and the necessity of transferring one’s allegiance from the world to Jesus Christ.

In baptism a person is united with Jesus Christ (Rom 6:3–4). We are joined with him and share in all of the benefits of his life and death and resurrection. But baptism also initiates believers into the covenant community or body of Christ (Gal 3:26–29). This critical ecclesial component teaches that baptism is never a private experience. One reason why people were not baptized privately in the New Testament was because their fellow Christians were responsible for encouraging and guiding them to grow deeper into Christ (Acts 2:37–41). 

Too often, regardless of whether infant or adult baptism is practiced, it is understood as a one-time event, but it needs to be expressed in daily dying to self and living in Christ. While it has its beginning in the specific event of baptism, it must continue throughout a person’s entire life. Paul captures the dynamic nature of this ongoing event of baptism in Romans 6:4 (‘We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.’) The last phrase can also be translated ‘we too might walk in newness of life.’ To walk in the newness of the resurrected life in Christ is formative and intended to guide us until our final resurrection into heaven. Paul summarizes his teaching on baptism in Romans 6:11: ‘In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.’ This echoes his language in Ephesians 4:22–24, of dying to self and being raised to new life in Christ by the Holy Spirit. The Westminster Larger Catechism stressed this same truth when it taught Christians to ‘improve’ their baptism throughout their lives (Question and Answer no. 167). To improve meant to live into or continue to claim the nature and purpose of baptism. Christians were instructed to remember their baptism whenever they witnessed it in public worship and throughout their lives. Once again this reflects the Pauline admonition to put to death the old self and be raised to newness to life in Christ Jesus as one seeks to grow into greater sanctification.

Just as disciples are made by baptism, so too they are formed by the Lord’s Supper. As Coleman Ford has put it, ‘the Supper is pivotal to Christian spirituality.’[16] This pivotal nature of the Supper is seen in several ways. First, frequent celebration of Holy Communion keeps us rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ, for the Supper ‘brings together all the significant events of revelation—who God is and what he has done.’[17] Thus, as we eat and drink at the Lord’s Table, our hearts and minds are drawn back to the realities of Christ’s saving work and the gospel is proclaimed afresh to us week after week in this tangible form. As we ‘proclaim the Lord’s death’ (1 Cor. 11:26), Christ and his cross are kept before our eyes, and love for Christ and his cross grows and fills our hearts. A church which regularly eats and drinks at the Lord’s Table will be reminded that they are disciples whose lives are truly centred on the cross of Christ, and a people who are characterized by thankfulness for the Saviour.

Second, the Table draws us ever back to the centrality of union and communion with Christ at the centre of true Christian discipleship, for here we have ‘a participation in the blood of Christ. . . [and] a participation in the body of Christ’ (1 Cor 10:16). The reality of the life of discipleship is not merely a life lived for Christ, but a life lived in Christ, in which he abides in us and we in him (John 6:56). Our discipleship is rooted in our union with Christ and grows and develops through communion with Christ. 

Third, the Lord’s Table is a repeated call to repentance and confession of our sins. As the Scriptures tell us to ‘examine’ ourselves before eating of the Supper (1 Cor 11:28), they invite us to run to Jesus, our Advocate before the Father, in heartfelt repentance to confess our sins and receive true forgiveness and cleansing. Therefore, the Supper always draws us back to the power of the cross for forgiveness and transformation.

Fourth, the Supper invites us to a discipleship that is corporate by nature—a discipleship which can only be lived out as part of the life of the church. For in the Supper we see that we are being formed together into ‘one body, for we all partake of the one bread’ (1 Cor 10:17). Fifth, the Lord’s Supper fuels our mission in the world to make disciples of all nations. From the Lord’s Table, we are sent out in the power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the ‘glorious Good News that Jesus’ body was broken and his blood was shed, not just for us, but for many.’[18] Therefore, as Coleman Ford writes, ‘a church that takes the regular practice of the Lord’s Supper seriously, with all its profound theological and practical facets’ will be ‘a community that is thriving and effective in its formation of Christ followers.’[19]

The Great Commission also adds that disciples are made through teaching that imparts a way of life marked by obedience to Jesus’s commands. The early church was formed in Christ by their devotion to the apostles’ teachings (Acts 2:42). The Book of Acts reveals some of the different forms this teaching can take. Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14–36) and Paul’s instruction in Antioch (Acts 13:16–41) are just two examples. Significantly a common theme in both of these messages was the ministry of Jesus Christ. Teaching also occurs through a disciplined study of Scripture (Acts 17:11). Another expression of how teaching can make disciples is through mentoring. Jesus powerfully demonstrated this on Easter evening as he walked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–35). He joined their conversation, began by asking simple questions as he walked together with them. Christ used Scripture to correct their faulty understanding of his life and ministry until their eyes were able to see more clearly the good news of his resurrected life. Following Jesus’ example, mentoring of both individuals and groups of individuals is an effective means of making disciples. His use of teaching to impart a way of life and of an ordinary meal to center his self-sacrifice in the life of his followers can be expanded in the use of spiritual disciplines as significant means toward learning the biblical nature of Christ’s teachings and following him. 

Holiness as the goal of Christian formation and discipleship

In Christian formation, we are being ‘shaped by the truth of God, to behold the beauty of God.’[20] The Triune God is himself at work to form us into the image of Christ as we behold his glory in the face of Jesus (2 Cor 3:18; 4:6). Ultimately, then, the goal of Christian formation and discipleship is biblical holiness (which is conformity to Christ).[21] As Kevin Vanhoozer has put it, ‘being a disciple involves more than admiring Christ, or even imitating his example; it involves becoming like him (Matt 10:25). . . people who embody the mind of Christ everywhere, always and to everyone.’[22] This is the transformation of holiness to which God has called us ‘according to his purpose. . . to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers’ (Rom 8:28-29). 

While the language of holiness has sometimes had a troubled history among evangelicals, the reality of holiness is essential to true evangelical Christianity. The Manilla Manifesto acknowledges that witnesses to the gospel must live a ‘transformed life’ by which we ‘behave in a manner that is worthy of the gospel of Christ, and even ‘adorn’ it, enhancing its beauty by holy lives.’[23] Or, as Simon Ponsonby has put it, ‘No one will listen to our gospel if we aren’t living it.’[24] The Lausanne Covenant recognizes that cooperation in mission requires ‘deeper unity in. . . holiness.’[25] Evangelicalism, in the words of J.C. Ryle, ‘does not undervalue Christian holiness and self-denial,’ but prioritizes both the fruits of holiness in daily life and the means of grace that God commonly uses to ripen that fruit in our lives.[26]

Christian formation and discipleship, therefore, are not merely aimed at evangelism and social compassion; rather, true Christian formation and discipleship foster both evangelism and social compassion as integral aspects of Christian holiness, along with moral transformation and communion with God. As Andrew Murray taught, ‘holiness is essential to effectual service. . . and service is no less essential to true holiness. . . . True holiness, God’s holiness in us, works itself out in love, in seeking and loving the unholy, that they may become holy too.’[27] The call to formation and discipleship is not the call to a church programme, or even simply an ongoing lifestyle: it is the call to be holy as the Lord our God is holy. Discipleship and Christian formation mean the learning of a life of holiness in the school of Christ. 

And as we see the goal in holiness, we are reminded that we must keep our eyes fixed on our Triune God in all our Christian formation and discipleship. It is he who calls us to be holy, and it is he who is at work to make us holy, conformed to the image of Christ by the Spirit of Holiness, who glorifies Christ in us (John 16:14). A more intentional commitment to holiness which always includes accountability of one’s life and behaviour to the body of Christ would assist church leaders in living lives that are more consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:27). Lack of holiness often causes both Christians and those outside the church to question the integrity of those who have fallen morally or in other ways inconsistent with the life of Christian discipleship.


The words of Richard Peace provide a helpful summary to reinforce the churches’ task in recovering the nature and dynamics of discipleship, ‘In the end, it is good to remember that Christian discipleship is all about a relationship with Jesus. It is not primarily about following a set of rules, engaging in ascetical practices, or intellectually affirming certain doctrines. It is about becoming ever more conformed to the image of Jesus (Gal 4:19), and this new reality flows out of an ongoing, unfolding, dynamic association with Jesus.’ This is not to discount the importance of doctrine, but to recognize that doctrine shapes a form of life and that biblical knowledge must be integrated and believed to transform people into Christ’s disciples. ‘This life-long process that involves opening ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit, via the medium of spiritual disciplines, in the context of a Christian community so as to be able to love God and love others as our Lord calls us to do.’[28]

Historical Perspectives on Mission and Christian Formation in the Lausanne Movement

World evangelization and social justice as the dual focus of the Lausanne Movement

The LM came into existence as a response to the emerging ecumenical movement with their conflicting interest in evangelism and evangelistic priorities since the Edinburgh Conference in 1910. One of the significant rifts that ecumenical bodies created was the move from ‘preaching the gospel to the whole world in one generation’ to a vision of God’s mission that focused primarily on social and political action, dialogue, and respect for other faiths. However, this approach faced criticism for being too liberal, universalist, and syncretistic and for neglecting the need for personal conversion and transformation. 

The significant shift was the emergence of a new coalition of evangelical Christians who felt that the Christian mission was in crisis and under attack from various forces, such as theological liberalism and secularism in the West and Communist atheism in the rest of the world. This triggered the emerging global evangelicals to join as an ‘alternative common movement’ that eventually resulted in the Lausanne Congress in 1974.[29]

Initially, questions were on theological lines as a response to the liberal outlook of the ecumenical movement. In response to the doctrinal and missiological developments in the World Council of Churches, the evangelicals framed a biblical declaration on world evangelism, known as the Lausanne Covenant. This distinct theological document combined in its 15 paragraphs such a doctrinal affirmation with practical guidance for missionary action and a pledge of the participants to dedicate their lives to the unfinished task.[30] This commitment to making disciples of all nations and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ was further shaped by other landmark events defining the movement’s vision, values, and priorities.[31] The priorities formulated the questions that shaped the future course of discussion and thinking, particularly on theological and strategical lines.

LM believed that the only solution was for evangelicals to unite, spiritually and confessionally more than institutionally, to reaffirm the authority of the Bible as the only infallible rule of faith and practice in Christian mission work. Further, the strong affirmations: the centrality of personal salvation described in authentic soteriological terms as the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ and the reception of the liberating gift of the Holy Spirit; and the urgency of evangelism—this gospel of Jesus must be proclaimed by one’s zeal in the whole word as a witness to all nations before the end would come with the glorious return of the Lord Jesus to set up his kingdom in power. All need to work together to reach the whole world for Christ. 

Along with the theological affirmation, the Lausanne conversation also laid out a framework for understanding different biblical methods of evangelism that could form the best tools and practices for evangelism and a hopeful outlook for the conversion of the entire world, mainly drawing on the enthusiasm of the newer church movements especially in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The key concern was developing an adequate mission strategy to discipling receptive groups of people and organize them into self-propagating, rapidly growing indigenous churches. Thus, the focus was on ‘unreached peoples’ as a way to unite evangelistic efforts. This idea was based on the ‘homogeneous unit principle’, which viewed human societies as distinct ethnic and cultural groups.[32] Later, the Manila conference convened to discuss the progress of world evangelization and reflect on how the world and context of missions had changed since the 1974 Congress. In continuity with the above discussion, it focused on further defining the unevangelized as ‘unreached people groups’ living in the ‘10/40 window’ to evangelize the entire world by the year 2000.

In both Lausanne and Manila, the question arose as to whether the mission should be understood primarily with proclamation or should also be understood as including matters of social concern and justice.[33] The concern emerged from the naïve notion of evangelism or social action, disconnected from the actualities of cultural dominance and social justice challenges.[34] As a response, three terms or images were employed to express the relationship between evangelism and social action: the fruit, bridge, or partner of evangelization; but in each case, according to article 6 of the Lausanne Covenant, the primacy of evangelization in the church’s mission of sacrificial service was clearly maintained.

Simultaneously, the new awareness of the social dimension of the evangelistic task led to the question: How does the emphasis on the theory and practice of social ethics complement the ministry of proclamation? Lausanne responded by incorporating the link between evangelism and social responsibility into Article 5 ‘Christian Social Responsibility’,[35] which clearly acknowledged and confirmed that social concern is vital for the mission of world evangelization.[36] The resultant conversation demanded a complete re-evaluation and re-conception of evangelical mission work among the poor, particularly with a call for a ‘simple lifestyle’ in evangelism.[37] Thus, LM began to incorporate the elements of discipleship, which required a patterning of a lifestyle of holiness, humility, simplicity, and contentment as characteristic of those who engage in mission. A robust theological affirmation emerged here: what hurts God most, it seems, is not just the sin of the world but the failure, disobedience, and rebellion of those whom God has redeemed and called to be his people, his holy people, his distinctive people. This further reinforces the fact that the LM has primarily focused on the activity of mission rather than the outcome of mission (fully-formed disciples) and the spiritual lives of its agents.

At Cape Town, while the questions emerged from a myriad of new global contexts, the Congress reframed the theological work of the movement around the love of God, with a robust critique of the idolatry of the prosperity gospel (CTC V 4). In the Congress, the call was to replace self-interest and greed with the biblical teaching on self-sacrifice and generous giving as the marks of authentic discipleship to Christ. Thus, increased interest in the integrity of the messenger began to emerge in response to the fact that this emphasis had largely been absent from the theological and strategic emphases of the Movement’s past.

Mission and formation—wider developments in global evangelicalism

Contemporary evangelicalism emerged from the fundamentalism of the early to mid–twentieth century. This movement was global in nature both through missionaries sent out from the western church as well as indigenous representatives of the majority world. Deeply embedded within fundamentalism was a strong reliance on soul winning or evangelism that was the outgrowth of prayer and other classical spiritual disciplines. Revivals and summer evangelistic conferences and camps nurtured through Bible studies and other spiritual practices sought to train believers in the life of discipleship. However, due to the conflict with and resistance to the social gospel movement, fundamentalism created a truncated gospel lacking the importance of Jesus’ social concern and love to those who were in need. Parallel to this was the broader development of the ecumenical mission movement first gathered in 1910 for the Edinburgh Conference on world evangelism. This was followed by the World Council of Churches Uppsala, Sweden gathering in 1968. Most evangelicals eschewed this with its greater horizontal emphasis that some critiqued as more concerned about ‘humanization instead of salvation.’ Despite this resistance the first Lausanne Conference (1974) acknowledged the importance of social concern as a key component of mission. 

This section makes no attempt to be comprehensive in its treatment and recognizes the rich diversity of missions and evangelism in the global church. Regional distinctions abound, for example, the Ethiopian use of music through choirs was the primary means for cultivating the spiritual life of Christians. Corporate singing was the norm which provided a means for formation in the absence of personal devotional (ie quiet time) time. Church planting among unreached people groups was another means and extensively used throughout the majority world to reach people for Christ. 

The rise of parachurch evangelism and the urgency of world evangelization 

While parachurch ministries have existed for centuries, they took on greater significance in America during the 1930s and onward. They emerged at this time due to the perceived neglect of the local church in developing an adequate response to evangelism and discipleship. The Navigators, founded by Dawson Trotman, was one example of this that began in 1933. Dispensationalism and pre-millennialism reinforced by the marginal notes of the popular Scofield Bible (1909) stressed the urgency of winning souls for Jesus Christ. Another major influence was the lifeboat theology of D.L. Moody that can be summarized in the revivalists’ own words, ‘God has given me a lifeboat and said . . . Moody, save all you can.’[38] These factors all influenced Trotman and other early fundamentalists.

Alongside these developments was a recovery of the centrality of the Great Commission (Matt 28:16–20) which was understood as a clarion call from Jesus to make disciples. Surprisingly, the Great Commission with its explicit expectation of obedience to Jesus had not been central to the church. Instead, the early church through the nineteenth century had been motivated more by gratitude for the recognition of all that Jesus had done in his life, death, and resurrection for his followers to inspire them to spread the message of discipleship and evangelism.[39]

From ‘follow-up’ to ‘discipleship’ 

Trotman who began his Christian life actively involved in soul winning soon discovered the missing dimension of follow up as part of his developing model of discipleship. During this time evangelicals focused almost exclusively on evangelism to the neglect of the broader gospel message of Jesus that included compassion and justice.[40] 

Trotman never used the language of discipleship, preferring the term follow-up ministry. However, ‘Trotman’s successor, Lorne Sanny, coined the term “disciple making” in the late 1950s, as a way of succinctly describing the ministry of Navigators.’[41]  This created the common language within evangelicalism to use discipleship, disciple making and follow-up interchangeably. 

The ministry of the Navigators was built on five principles: the theology of spiritual reproduction, the 2:2 principle (based on 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul’s mentoring Timothy), the wheel illustration (an expansion of the mentoring process involving prayer, Scripture, fellowship, and evangelism), the hand illustration (offering five ways of interacting with the Bible including reading and meditating on Scripture), and the topical memory system of Scripture.[42] Billy Graham depended on Trotman to develop the follow up for his Crusades. Additionally, Trotman was instrumental in creating follow-up programs for Campus Crusade, Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship, and Youth for Christ.

Discontent with ‘discipleship’ and the rise of ‘spiritual formation’—the necessity of means and the ‘classical spiritual disciplines’

Jesus’ ministry and the record of the NT church conclusively demonstrates proclamation of the good news was never separated from the demonstration of Christ’s love and compassion for humanity (Luke 4:18–19; Luke 9:10–11; etc.). Taken together we can summarize this, ‘Announcing the good news without showing Christ’s love in personal and social concern is not the NT way of evangelism.’[43] Or as Jon Jeffrey Palmer said for Lausanne that we must stress ‘Evangelism as a whole: a Passion for Souls with Compassion for People.’[44] Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, evangelicals of the mid-twentieth century tended to eschew Jesus’ ministry of deeds and demonstration. While the message of the gospel never changes, we should expect it to be lived out in different ways depending upon one’s context, time, and place. Also, it is to be expected that some Christians will give greater emphasis to certain expressions of discipleship without neglecting both the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel. 

Richard Peace provides a helpful overview to the evolving nature of discipleship.[45] He traces this from Trotman’s approach through the Navigators to the post World War II period. During this period, there was a growing frustration that discipleship was not producing mature believers. According to Peace, a primary motivation for the shift that began in 1970s and 1980s was inspired by the Charismatic movement and a recovery of the importance of the Holy Spirit for living the Christian life. Richard Foster was later instrumental in building on this in the 1990s with the publication of his Celebration of Disciplines (1978), which emphasized the use of spiritual disciplines in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. The dynamic empowering of God’s grace also sought to encourage deeper experience of God and more intentional discipleship in both declaring and demonstrating the gospel of new life in Christ. Continuing this trajectory led to the recovering of Christian formation (Gal 4:19) that further sought to assist Christians to grow in word and witness to Jesus’ Great Commission. While over the last half century or so the language has changed but the intentionality has remained to recover a biblical model that reflects Jesus’ call for believers to follow him as his disciples in a broken and needy world.

The continued centrality of the local church in global evangelicalism

A weakness of Trotman that has long plagued evangelicalism was a poor understanding and image of the church. While he believed in the local church, he downplayed its importance and did not make membership a requirement for participation in the Navigators.[46] Michael McClymond has observed the continuing nature of this problem asserting, ‘the greatest unresolved issue for the evangelical theology of mission lies in the sphere of ecclesiology.’ This can often be attributed to the inherent nature of individualism and the isolationist tendency of evangelicalism that has been the norm since George Whitefield and John Wesley. Despite previous Lausanne gatherings that have stressed the necessity of ‘partnership in mission’, much work is still required to embody this neglected principle.[47] One possible way forward is to engage in a careful study of the Book of Acts to recover the Holy Spirit’s teaching that guided the emerging church following Christ’s commission to continue his mission in the world. 

Theological Perspectives on Mission and Christian Formation: Dimensions, Dualities, and Means

The most frequently cited verse in the Lausanne Statements is Luke 9:23, which, along with the following verses, provides an essential biblical foundation for our thinking about the formation of disciples (as well as addressing the presenting issue with which we started): ‘If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?’ (Luke 9:23-25).

Disciples must always live under the cross as people marked by self-denial and the laying down of one’s life in love for God and neighbour. This is the only true shape of discipleship to Jesus. The warning of Jesus in Luke 9:25 must be heeded by all Christ’s disciples, and especially by all Christian leaders; what looks like success, if it is not Christ-like and cross-shaped, can be deadly. 

Yet, true Christian discipleship is not a passive or hap-hazard matter. The cross must be taken up, self must be denied. Our formation as disciples is active and directed to Christlikeness. Therefore, we must ‘exercise [ourselves] toward godliness’ (1 Tim 4:7). Yet, the active nature of Christian discipleship is rooted in who we are in relation to God; doing arises from being—our union with Christ and His dwelling in us. The goal of Christian discipleship is that ‘Christ is formed in [us]’ (Gal 4:19) ‘till we all come. . . to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ and ‘grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ’ (Eph 4:13, 15). As Ephesians 4 shows us, this cannot be an individualistic formation, but rather takes place only corporately, in and with our brothers and sisters as members of Christ’s body.

It is only as members of Christ’s body, united to him by faith (and to our brothers and sisters in him through him), with Christ dwelling in us as we dwell in him, that we can know Christ formed in us. Therefore, being must precede doing, for all our activity, our mission, our service, and our exercise toward godliness flows from the new life in Christ. As Mary and Martha discovered, it is possible to be ‘distracted with much serving’ if we are not first rooted in ‘that good part, which will not be taken away,’ the one thing necessary which is a life with Christ (Luke 10:38-42). 

Spirit-empowered mission and service flow from this life with Christ; as Jesus instructed his disciples first to wait for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit before being sent out on mission (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). This took the form of prayer, supplication, and communion with the Lord (Acts 1:14). 

Yet, the true work of the Holy Spirit not only empowers us, but also draws us continually to Jesus, to see more of the glory of the Lord in the face of Christ, and transform us ‘into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord’ (2 Cor 3:17-18). Being with Christ, sent out to serve Christ and make him known to others, and transformation into the image of Christ belong together in an evangelical understanding of formation. These are not competing visions of the Christian life, but complementary facets of the new and growing life in Christ.

Thus, what we aim for in mission—people formed and being formed into the image of Christ within the body of Christ for the life of the world—is who we must be in mission. Without a clear sense of what we are aiming for, our efforts will be misdirected; without a clear indication that we have experienced in our own lives what we aim for in the lives of others, our efforts will be undermined by hypocrisy.

Our understanding of what we seek in ourselves and what we seek for others in mission is clarified by considering the dimensions of formation highlighted in Scripture, a series of dualities by which Scripture elucidates the nature of Christian formation, and the means of Christian formation in Scripture.


Discipleship is an integrated way of life centered in the Triune God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This way of life must be formed in us, birthed through Christ’s saving work and enriched and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The work of God to form Christians, enables them to live to the glory of God for the up-building of the church and the restoration of God’s goodness to the world. This way of life encompasses various dimensions of life, such as the cognitive, affective, moral, relational, and physical dimensions.[48] Christian formation means growth in the knowledge and love of the Triune God, conformity to Christ, and engaging the world for its transformation in the way of forgiveness, healing, and justice. It seeks to embody God’s love and righteousness in all aspects of life and aims to bring God’s will into every sphere and dimension of life. An individual’s transformation in these dimensions leads to the upbuilding of the community to which the individual belongs and this in turn can more fully impact society as the church and faith organizations seek to be salt, leaven, and light in the world. Christian spirituality is, therefore, a whole way of life in the following of Christ, is nurtured in the church and in spiritual practices, and is expressed in witness and service in all the dimensions of life, including the familial, the ecclesiastical, the national and the global.

The cognitive dimension

Our formation as disciples begins with knowing God and living in the world with the wisdom that comes from living within the world as it really is. We do not know God as an object, held up for examination, but as a person whom we love and to whom we are subject. We only know God in and as an act of love. Since the fall, humans have been deceived by the lies of Satan, their own pride, and self-deception. And this has led to brokenness in every area of life and death and judgement. Knowing, believing, and embracing the truth through the Word, Jesus Christ, is God’s answer and is the basis of one’s Christian spiritual walk in discipleship. The gospel of Jesus Christ delivers humans from the power of sin and death. Christian discipleship is to know Christ as Saviour and Lord. Living God’s truth in the power of the Spirit is the foundation of Christian discipleship. This means that knowing, believing, and embodying the word is a key feature of Christian discipleship. This involves the shaping of the mind in the divine wisdom and ways of God so that our entire worldview is shaped by Scripture. (John 8:32; 17:3). The knowledge of God is the source of life. The church is called to live and proclaim this knowledge of God in Christ for the salvation of the world.

The affective dimension

Christian discipleship is rooted in the love of God, who is love. In his earthly ministry, Christ demonstrated the power of a love which saves and renews us and enriches every dimension of who we are. Living as a disciple involves the very core of our being—our love, care, creativity, passions, and commitments. While the cognitive dimension involves theological formation—and other forms of training—the affective dimension involves the formation of the heart in spiritual practices, such as prayer, meditation, fasting, among other practices that issue in a life humility, openness, vulnerability, teachability, and growth in the fruit of the Spirit. The affective dimension involves growing in Christlikeness and living the Beatitudes (John 14:27, 16:33, Gal 5:22-23). Head (knowledge) and heart (passions) belong together. The affections are crucial for motivating and inspiring the will to action.

Relational dimensions

Christian discipleship relates the person to God, oneself, and to others. It conjoins love of God and love of neighbour. It involves the dynamics of forgiveness, the art of reconciliation, the challenges of cooperation, and the joy of community building, especially within a local church. And in following the contours of the entire Bible and the person and work of Christ, this relational dimension of Christian formation calls us to live with courage, perseverance, generosity of spirit, and openness to others. It calls us to be willing to serve and even suffer for the sake of others. And it calls to draw near, join, and advocate on behalf of the poor, the dispossessed, and the oppressed. (Acts 2:42-47, 2 Cor 5:18-20). Both the mind and the heart are engaged when we relate to others. We seek to seek to understand and be compassionate.

Physical dimensions

Christian discipleship opposes and is opposed by all forms of dualistic thinking—soul, mind, spirit, and body, to form a unity of being. God’s salvation happens in the physical realm in healing. Jesus’ primary ministries on earth include the physical healing of the people, deliverance from evil spirits along with the teaching of the divine truth. Healing is the act of restoration of the original human image that God created. The body is important in worship, self-expression, self-care, sabbath practices, and in all forms of practical service, as well as in expressions that resist all forms of violence and coercion. This dimension of Christian formation opens one to the healing and restoring work of God. (Matt 4:23; Rev 21:4). God’s love is for all of who we are, including our bodies, resources, and the well-being of the earth. Christian formation has all of life in view.

Moral and ethical dimensions

Christian discipleship reflects the righteousness and justice of Jesus Christ in the purposes of God for our world. Because God has created the world with meaning and order, disciples acknowledge that there is an ‘oughtness’ to the world and that God’s law reliably shows us how to live in the world as it really is. To live in this way is a matter of both word (orthodoxy) and deed (orthopraxy), a matter of both understanding God and what he has done in creation and redemption and embracing a way of life marked by purity, winsomeness, and an embodiment of the personal and social values that arise from the gospel. Thus, Christian discipleship is oriented by a longing for the transformation of all things in the new creation and the restoration of God’s shalom in the reconciliation of all things in Christ. Disciples seek to live the whole counsel of God and to be agents of God’s redemptive purposes for the world. They are peacemakers and prophets in their courageous opposition to and exposure of the abuse and misuse of power. They are proclaimers of God’s final kingdom and seek its righteousness and justice in the world as they await its fullness (Prov 28:5; Isa 1:17, 56:1; Matt 23:23).

In summary, Christian discipleship must be worked out in each of these five dimensions. Growing in these is never complete. The Christian is always on the way. Our formation is both God-oriented and other-oriented, and properly leads to both Christian maturity and disciple-making, to both service in the church and to the world. As partakers in Christ, disciples are those on whom and among whom the powers of the age to come. Eternal life has been given. The kingdom of God, though not fully, is here amongst us. In Christ is the new creation. The life-giving Spirit is at work. The people of God and the entire creation strain towards God’s final fulfillment. Thus, discipleship while deeply engaged in the here and the now, goes beyond itself—too late for the world and still too early for heaven, but already in anticipation of all that God will yet to in the new heavens and the new earth. This means that Christian disciples look to God’s final future and live, pray, and serve so that God’s will may be done on earth as it is in heaven.


Any conception of the Christian life must reckon with the reality that God’s ways are not our ways. His ways are past finding out (Rom 11:33-36). As a result, the life of faith is a life of trusting one whose ways of dealing with us and of forming us into the likeness of his Son by his Spirit cannot be grasped without embracing our condition as finite beings in relationship to God who is infinite and, some suggest, beyond being. Scripture attests to this, in part, by speaking of the work of God to form us in a variety of dualities or paradoxes. By ‘duality,’ we refer to two truths that appear to finite beings to be impossible to affirm simultaneously but that must be held as equally true in order to remain faithful to the biblical witness to the ways and working of an infinite and infinitely wise God. One example of this is illustrated in the title of George Ladd’s classic work, The Presence of the Future. Properly speaking, the future cannot be present as a matter of definition and logic. And yet Scripture insists that the future of Christian experience is in Christ a present but not wholly present reality. Distortions of Christian experience and doctrine often arise in allowing one or the other of two truths that Scripture holds together to obscure, outweigh, or even eviscerate the other. 

Now and not-yet—when does God form us?

The ‘presence of the future’ kingdom of God is sometimes expressed in terms of the duality of ‘now and not-yet’; that is to say, God’s reign has already begun with the first coming of Christ, but its fullness awaits the return of Christ. Therefore, whatever we receive from God now is only partial. It is a ‘downpayment’ or ‘firstfruits’ (Rom 8:23; 2 Cor 1:22, 5:5; Eph 1:13-14). It will not be fully realized in this life. This understanding has wide-ranging implications for the way we live out our Christian life. Another way of expressing this duality is in terms of the ‘indicative-imperative’ paradox. So, for example, in Philippians 2:12-13, salvation is a divine achievement, an accomplished fact (already-indicative), and, at the same time, something that we must ‘work out’, the realization of God’s achievement in our experience (not yet-imperative).

The Christian life is characterized by confidence in what Christ has already accomplished for us, but because suffering is still real (cross), our confidence should not become triumphalistic or presumptuous (glory without the cross). Our response to God’s commands is shaped by the paradox of law and gospel. In the New Covenant, the law is written on human hearts, not on stones. But that does not mean that we are free from the need to obey the law (contra antinomianism); rather, we adopt the posture of taking God’s commands seriously yet not legalistically (contra legalism). This paradox is encapsulated in the law of love. Love is by definition something freely given and received, yet it is the ‘greatest commandment.’ This way of loving highlights the paradox of Christian freedom. It is not freedom from all restraints but freedom for responsibility. We choose freely to be bound to God and neighbour in love. 

Personal and ecclesial—what Is God forming when he forms us?

Fundamental to any account of Christian formation is that human beings are not just beings in themselves but beings in relation to others. As a result, the proper object of the Spirit’s work to form us as disciples is both the individual and the church, where the Spirit actively nurtures the life of God. Eternal life is therefore the kind of life received from God by the individual through faith but it is also the life we receive in relation to others within the church that has this life in vital connection to Christ. The life we have, we have from God through Christ, but we also have that life within the life of God in Christ. The Old Testament speaks frequently of the need for God’s people to hear the word of the Lord but also to enter into his dwelling, where God’s people enjoy the presence of God (eg Ps 43:3). The Word of the Lord is life-giving and the presence of the Lord in his Word is an ongoing source of life. The New Testament portrays the church as a living organism in which every part receives life from Christ. This body matures and grows as each part is nourished with the life of God that flows from Christ by the Spirit for the nourishment of the whole. In turn, the nourishment of each part enables that part to contribute the life received to the good and growth of the whole. In short, spiritual formation is both personal and ecclesial.

Body and soul

Essential to our conception of human beings as spiritual beings capable of being formed both as individuals and in relationship with others is the biblical portrayal of human beings as a unity of body and soul.

The reality of the soul is denied in Western secular accounts of what it means to be human. The seemingly non-material aspects of human beings (eg thought, emotion, sense of relation to others) are reduced to mere consciousness and consciousness regarded as a mere physical function. On this account, the telos of human existence is physical death and the human need and desires to live in relationship with others is attributed to the biological impulse to preserve the species. In this conception of a human being, the meaningful essence of any human being is conceived as the sum total of the conscious choices made by that individual. There is thus a formational dimension of human existence in the secular account of human existence as a person-specific project of meaning-making. Value and meaning are assigned to this formation to the degree that the choices that constitute that formation are free. The freedom of the individual apart from any constraint or influence from others is thus the key index of formation. 

In Eastern conceptions of human being, the soul is affirmed but conceptualized as consciousness whose particularity and individuality are ultimately denied. Along with this denial, the body is denied, either by refusing its reality or rejecting its enduring significance. The telos of all human beings is for consciousness to be freed of bodily existence (or the perception of its reality) and absorbed into universal consciousness. Bodily life may be conceived as formational to the extent that consciousness is trained for freedom from bodily sensation, including pleasure, pain, and suffering. 

Christians affirm that human beings have not just consciousness but a soul and that the physical embodiment of the soul is, through resurrection, the eternal state of every human being. The Heidelberg Catechism begins with the ringing endorsement of the unity of body and soul as the creation and cherished possession of God: my ‘only comfort in life and death’ is ‘that I am not my own but belong body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.’ Scripture affirms what is common to human experience: we can think of a ‘me’ capable of surviving the death of my body but we have no memory of experiences that precede our birth. Scripture also affirms a belief held by very few before the early Christians made it central to their proclamation, ie that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was ‘the firstfruits’ of a resurrection that would result in the re-embodiment of souls in incorruptible bodies following physical death.[49] Both before death and after resurrection human beings are a unity of body and soul and both are implicated in the Spirit’s work to form us as individuals.

Though so-called ‘Christian physicalism’ has recently arisen as a variation from historic Christianity,[50] heresies arising from out of Christian framework have tended to reject biblical affirmations of the goodness and eternal significance of the body. In the second century, such heresies arose under the influence of gnosticism and its neo-platonic dualism of spiritual reality (regarded as good) and material reality (regarded as evil). But Scripture speaks of the work of God to transform individuals conceived as an integrated whole.

Christians speak of ‘spiritual’ formation not because Scripture denigrates the importance of the body or denies its essential unity with the soul but because Scripture also speaks of the soul as a spirit and, as such, it is the ‘aspect of the human person with which the Holy Spirit communicates.’[51] God forms us an integration of body and soul (eg Matt 10:28) but the soul is ‘that aspect of the human person that relates directly to God.’[52] Nevertheless, the body is very much caught up in the Spirit’s forming work because the body and spirit are united (and, in resurrection, will be reunited). Our holiness is determined by both our embodied actions and by our inner thoughts and attitudes. So too we will be judged as a unity of body and soul. The means of grace operate not by the Spirit alone but through the physical faculties of hearing and seeing. Care for bodies—our own and others’—is a spiritual responsibility and a reflection of our formation. The spiritual life is lived in the body—we gather, we pray, we sing, we serve, we work, we fast, we eat and drink—and all we do, whatever we do, we do as embodied spirits for the glory of God in recognition of the fact that, as the opening lines of the Heidelberg Catechism put it, we belong to the Lord body and soul.

Repentance and faith—daily life as turning from and turning toward 

A basic dynamic of the Christian life is the gospel call to repent and believe the good news (Mark 1:14-15). Conventionally, repentance has been understood as a sorrow-filled turning away from past sins that accompanies the expression of faith in Christ as the inception of Christian life. This is true, though it should be said that the way that this is experienced is not the same for every individual. A child who grows up in a Christian family must repent and believe the good news but may do so in a way that differs from someone who hears and receives the gospel as an adult. But it is also important to see that Scripture also depicts repentance and faith as basic dynamic of the Christian life and to see the way in which the nature of faith helps us grasp the nature of repentance and vice versa. 

To believe the good news is to believe that the scriptural story within which the story of Christ’s death and resurrection is invested with saving significance. All other stories that people believe in order to make sense of life or in response to which they think and act in sinful ways are idolatrous—false conceptions of reality that compete for the loyalty that properly belongs to God alone. The spiritual-life begins with a conscious turning away from idolatry and the sins that result from it. The spiritual life is lived in the same way. Thus, Scripture speaks of the Christian life as a renunciation of double-mindedness, or in positive terms, as the call to be whole, single, undivided (Matt 5:48; James 1:8). 

Spiritually formed people daily ‘flee from idols’ by turning away from false stories about the world and themselves and consciously relying on the story announced in the gospel and embedded within the Scriptural story that moves from creation to New Creation. It lives out the reality narrated by that story by seeking to live the whole of one’s life ‘in Christ’.

Love of God and love of neighbour—a biblical portrait of spiritual formation

The call to be undivided is reflected in Jesus’s well-known distillation of the law in the form of the double love command. When asked to identify the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus responded with a statement that goes to the heart of evangelical spirituality—the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4: ‘The greatest commandment is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”’ The greatest commandment is thus, in the first instance, not a commandment at all but a statement of reality. This is striking and paradoxical but helps us understand why for Jesus the greatest commandment is paradoxically both one command and two: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: ‘‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’’’ God is one, but God is one in a unified rather than unitarian sense, eternally existent as a loving unity of Father, Son, and Spirit. The only fit response of human beings to this fundamental reality of God who is eternally, lovingly one is to be unified in our loves, that is, to be people who love God with the whole of who we are and to be people whose love for God is inseparable from their love for others. This, we may say, is Jesus’ summary of what it means to be a disciple and shows us that it is not possible to be truly marked by one without also being marked by the other. Loving God and loving people is in this sense not two commands but one—two words, spoken as one word, by the Word of the one God.

This one word of the Word of the one God may be distilled in two words but was initially spoken as ‘ten words’ (Exod 34:28; Deut 4::13). Though it is often forgotten, Jesus’s distillation of the ten words as two commands is almost certainly to be understood as the summaries of the two parts or tables of the Ten Commandments—love for God being the command from which the God-related commandments hang and love for people being the command from which the people-related commandments hang. As Jesus puts it, the whole of the Law and the Prophets (the authoritative interpreters of the Law) are suspended from these two commandments (Matt 22:40).[53] This is important for two reasons. First, it suggests that the two commandments provide reading rules that guide our understanding of what it means to keep all the commandments. In other words, these two commandments do not replace the ten commandments but guide our reading of them. For example, most of the commandments are framed as prohibitions (eg ‘You shall have no other gods before me;’ and ‘You shall not murder’). But if these commandments ‘hang’ from the command to love God with all of one’s being and to love one’s neighbour as oneself, then we only keep the command not to murder, for instance, when we do all that we can to protect and enhance our neighbour’s life, keep our hearts and our speech free of anger, and regard doing so as essential to our love for God. Moreover, to see the commandments as ‘hanging’ from the double-love command is to locate obedience not just in what we do or avoid doing but in the heart.

Second, to see the commandments in this way helps us understand the formative power of all the commandments. Properly understood, the commandments should be seen as constitutional, that is, they should be treated as norms that show us what life is and therefore what concrete shape it must have as a lived reality. In this way, the commandments form us as individuals and as a people.[54] 

Jesus’s distillation of the law in the double love commandment guides our obedience to the whole law and constitutes us as a spiritually formed people, that is, as a people who love the Lord and love their neighbours and cannot conceive of doing one without also doing the other or imagine that in doing one they are not also doing the other. 

Christ’s death and resurrection for us and our death and resurrection with him

The New Testament teaches that Christ died as a substitute for our sins. He is the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 who bears the sins of others, though he himself is innocent. John Stott rightly states that substitution is at the heart of our understanding of the atonement.[55] In Paul’s brief summary of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15, he states that Christ died for our sins. This is a statement both of the cause of his death and its purpose. He died because of our sins and he did so to deal with our sins. In relation to both cause and purpose, Christ suffered the just penalty for our sins and, as a result, we do not. On the basis of his self-sacrifice, we are cleansed from sins and declared righteous. On the basis of his resurrection, he reigns in life and gives life to all who believe. His resurrection is thus rightly called the first fruits and the guarantee of our bodily resurrection when Christ returns. To say, then, that Christ died and rose for us is to say that his death and resurrection are events that happened to him alone but from which we benefit by faith. In this sense, Christ’s death and resurrection are events that happen in time as a result of which we subsequently benefit as those events are proclaimed and believed. The ‘news’ of these events is ‘good’ because of the multitude of benefits that flow to us from what God has done ‘while we were still sinners’ (Rom 5:8) In this sense, Christ’s death and resurrection as events are exclusive to him but are events from which we benefit. 

At the same time, the NT also speaks of our inclusion in Christ, that is, of our being united to Christ in his death and resurrection. When he died, we died; when he rose, we rose. Paul speaks of baptism in precisely these terms in Romans 6. Much of the imagery used to describe this union with Christ is spatial in nature, so it is easy to think that what is being claimed is ontological and thus necessarily mystical in nature. For example, the gospel of John pictures our union with Christ by speaking of Christ’s risen body as a temple (John 2:20-22). Similarly, the classic incorporative image of Paul is that of a body of which members of the church are parts, corresponding to Paul’s oft-repeated claim that believers are individually and collectively ‘in Christ.’ Such language has led some to speak of the ‘mystical union’ between Christ and his people. However, though Paul does use the language of ‘mystery,’ what he means by this language has less to do with an experience that is somehow inaccessible to the intellect, than with the divine plan that had been kept hidden in ages past but has now been revealed in the events of Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension (Col 1:26). In this sense the revelation of the mystery that we are in Christ is they opposite of a mystical reality. It is a publicly revealed and intelligible declaration of what God has done and of our implication in those events of an eternal form of life that we live and will live in embodied form forever. 

This suggests that our union with Christ should be conceptualized, in the first instance, as a narrative, rather than mystical or spatial reality. To speak of our union with Christ is to speak of our participation by faith in the unfolding and revelatory story of Israel’s Messiah as the one who take’s up Israel’s calling to be the one people in whom all peoples are restored to life and blessing, which was lost because of sin. To be united to Christ, then, is not only to receive the benefits of his saving death, resurrection, and ascension for us, but also to experience the events of his life as the defining events of our lives. In this way they become for us a pattern of life, a way of living life that is, in reality, a living of the life of God as life received from God. Our lives become fruitful as we draw on the life of Christ, like branches grafted into a vine (John 15:1-17).[56]

This way of living necessarily involves us in the profound and personal relationship with Christ and takes us into the triune life of God. If we struggle to articulate the sense of intimacy, delight, and communion, we experience in our closest relationships, we understandably reach for the language of ‘mystical union’ to describe the intimacy, delight, communion, and awe that most believers, at least occasionally, experience in relationship with God. Still, it is important to see that these profound, even ‘inexpressible’ experiences are appropriately understood as responses to the experiences we share with God and his own life. In the case of God, the shared experiences that form the foundation of our relationship with God are the self-offering events of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Our shared experience of these events imparts to us a knowledge beyond understanding that far from being alone in the universe we are loved by God.

Transformation and empowerment

A key debate in discussions of the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost in the book of Acts is whether the Spirit is given primarily to transform lives or given primarily to empower God’s people for mission and ministry. Among evangelicals, Pentecostals have tended to emphasize the latter, while non-Pentecostal traditions have tended to focus on the former. The work of Max Turner, in particular, suggests that it is a mistake to emphasize one over the other. Turner argues from Luke-Acts that both are important to understanding the purpose of God in pouring out his Spirit on all who repent and believe.[57]

In the biblical story, the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost is the fulfillment of God’s promise through the prophets to restore Israel and constitute his people as a fit and holy instrument of his purpose to form one people made up of all peoples. The prophets speak of this great act of salvation in both centripetal and centrifugal terms. As a centripetal movement, the prophets speak of a great ingathering of the nations from every corner of the earth to be part of a people made holy by the transforming power of the Spirit. In Ezekiel’s famous vision of the valley of dry bones is an image of Israel in exile in a state of national death. By God’s Word and through his Spirit, the bones are raised by the life-imparting act of God. Drawing on Ezekiel’s image of the Spirit as a life-giving stream of water that flows out of the temple, the Gospel of John speaks of the Spirit as ‘living water’ that springs forth to impart eternal life (John 7:37-39). In the book of Acts, the transformational effects of the outpoured Spirit are displayed in the generosity, joy, boldness, and faith of the early church (eg Acts 4:31). 

As a centrifugal movement, God sends this transformed people, and, in particular, the missionary agents of that people, to the ends of the earth to announce the good news of God’s salvation. These agents are empowered by the Spirit. This empowerment is very much in evidence throughout the book of Acts where we see the Spirit as the one who not only goes ahead of his people as they go into all the world (Acts 10:19) but endows them with power to make their words as witnesses to the resurrected Jesus (Acts 1:5-8) effective as words that mediate transformation and life to those who hear in faith (Acts 13:48). To those who did not, the words brought judgment (Acts 13:46). These empowered words sometimes took unexpected forms, as people spoke in languages they had not learned in praise of God and spoke words of prophecy that declared the will of God. These extraordinary speech acts were particular forms or palpable demonstrations of the phenomenon by which the words of the gospel which they spoke as witnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus became instruments of the Spirit’s work to transform human hearts. 

In short, the Spirit’s work empowers the words of his people so that they are transforming but those sent to speak these gospel words are witnesses of the transforming power of those same words in their lives.

Word and Spirit: By what agency does God form us?

The second commandment forbids the making of images as the place of God’s presence. But where is God present in the world and how? Scripture teaches that God is present in the world in his Word, effectually acting by his Spirit. All that God does in the world, he does by his Word through the Spirit. This Word is revealed in the incarnation to be a person, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. So, too Christ reveals the personal identity of the Spirit (eg John 14–17). The full significance of this Trinitarian reality stands at the heart of the NT doctrine of the Christian life. The Christian life is the work of the Trinity. One way of conceptualizing it is in terms of Irenaeus’ understanding that the Word (Christ) and Spirit are the two hands of God. The two hands are mutually dependent; they cooperate with each other to carry out God’s purpose. This way of conceptualizing the work of the Trinity has important ramifications for Christian living. If we live by God and in God, all that God does to give and sustain his life in us he does as the unified work of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

If Christ reveals the personal identity of the Spirit, then we discern the work of the Spirit by what Christ reveals about the Spirit. Christ teaches that the work of the Spirit is to glorify Christ; if so, any spiritual operation that does not point to Christ and deepen our relationship with Christ is suspect. Discernment of spirits itself is both a special disclosure or charism of the Spirit as well as a judgment based on rational criteria. 

Corporately, Word and Spirit point to the nature of the church as both an institution and a charismatic body. The church is instituted by Christ by his calling of the twelve apostles, institution of the covenantal meal, and institution of baptism which incorporates converts into the church (cf. the Great Commission). But at Pentecost it is indwelled by the Spirit to become a charismatic body of Christ. The church is not merely a loose fellowship but a spiritual fellowship expressed concretely in a visible structure especially in its public worship of word and sacrament. The necessity of both word and sacrament implies that worship is not merely cognitive but imaginative, involving all our physical senses (sight, smell, taste). It is within such a church that Christians live out their life of faith. This means that, among other things, the Christian life is lived out in submission to ecclesiastical authority. We have much to learn from the monastic traditions. According to St. Hesychios, obedience freely chosen frees us from self-will.[58] Evangelicals whose primary allegiance is to a parachurch group must seek closer relationship with the church at both local and denominational levels and acknowledge their accountability to church authority, which is itself derived from and subject to the authority of Scripture. 

If Christ and the Spirit are the two hands of God the Father, the Father is the ultimate point of reference and source of all that we need in our formation as disciples. In the NT, prayers are mostly addressed to the Father through Jesus Christ and by the Spirit (Eph 2:18; cf. Eph 1:3-14). Tom Smail has shown that one major weakness in evangelical spirituality lies precisely in the failure to relate all things back to the Father. This failure has resulted in a one-sided emphasis either on Christ (Christomonism) or the Spirit (pneumatomonism).[59] 

Means of Grace in the Formation of Disciples 

Grace and its effortful pursuit

The grace of God has appeared in Christ Jesus (Titus 2:11; 2 Tim 1:9-10), and therefore, grace not only for conversion but also for growth in godliness is found in Christ, for it is in him alone that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing (Eph 1:3). We must keep running back to Jesus for grace as we seek to grow as his disciples. Spiritual formation is a growth in Christlikeness which is fueled by the grace which is continually found in Christ himself.[60] 

The pursuit of this growth in grace is, as Wilhelmus à Brakel put it, ‘a duty to which God’s children are continually exhorted, and their activity is to consist in a striving for growth’ (2 Pet 3:18).[61] This grace must be pursued throughout the whole of the Christian life, for all Christians are called to ‘strive for. . . the holiness without which no one will see the Lord’ (Heb 12:14). Such striving to grow in grace and Christlikeness is rooted first in God’s gracious gift to us in Christ. We have been grafted into Christ the vine and constantly draw our new life from him (John 15:1-5), and so we grow by means of this living union with Christ. Thus, as à Brakel put it, ‘spiritual growth consists in making use of Christ with more understanding and a greater measure of faith. Growth which does not center in Christ is no spiritual growth.’[62] Or, in the words of Jerry Bridges, ‘the pursuit of holiness must be anchored in the grace of God.’[63]

Flowing from and fuelled by this grace in Christ, we are drawn by the Holy Spirit into an effortful pursuit of holiness. Christlikeness does not come about by accident, but rather God has given us ways to grow in our likeness to Jesus. Donald S. Whitney argues that ‘the biblical way to grow in being more like Jesus is through the rightly motivated doing of the biblical Spiritual Disciplines.’[64] We are formed into Christlikeness by Christ-filled practices. Thus, to practice the spiritual disciplines is not ‘self-justifying or self-advancing effort,’[65] but rather an intentional running to Christ that by the Holy Spirit he would form us ever more into his image. 

Christ’s disciples are instructed to ‘train yourself for godliness’ (1 Tim 4:7). The verb ‘train’ (gymnazō) is used literally of the physical training of athletes, and so points to the necessity of a disciplined and vigorous exercise. Discipleship involves intentional and disciplined training for the purpose of Christlike holiness. Thus ‘the pursuit of holiness requires sustained and vigorous effort. It allows for no indolence, no lethargy, no half-hearted commitment, and no laissez-faire attitude toward even the smallest sins.’66 This involves making use of the spiritual disciplines and means of grace which God in his grace has provided for this end. 

The ‘ordinary’ means of Grace and the ‘classical spiritual disciplines’ 

Christian maturity must be cultivated, and the Lord has provided us with means to this end in the spiritual disciplines and means of grace. It is our responsibility to make use of these means, for, in the words of Donald S. Whitney, ‘the only road to Christian maturity and godliness (a biblical term synonymous with Christlikeness and holiness) passes through the practice of the Spiritual Disciplines.’[67]

However, evangelicals must ‘contend against the privatization of spirituality.’[68] Christ makes himself known in his body—the church. The spiritual disciplines are not intended to be privatized practices; rather, they are to be rooted in the body of Christ, the church’s life of prayer and worship, and the means of grace by which Christ promises to work in and among his people. Through the Word of God, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, Christ graciously meets his people and works to transform us more and more into his image.[69] The personal spiritual disciplines rest upon the foundation of the ordinary, corporate means of grace and the prayer of the church. In our personal devotions we hear, read meditate upon, memorize, and study Scripture, but this cannot be disconnected from the corporate reading and preaching of God’s word which we hear together as the church. We pray, confess, fast, sing and keep silence personally, but always as those who pray with the whole church ‘our Father.’ These personal spiritual disciplines are not replacements for the corporate means of grace; they are an outflow in our daily lives of how we continue ‘steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers’ (Acts 2:42). Simon Chan reminds us that ‘askesis [disciplined practice] grows out of the church. The sheer fact of our incorporation into the body of Christ is what makes askesis possible in the first place.’[70]

David Mathis helpfully describes the spiritual disciplines as ‘habits of grace’ which ‘ready us to go on receiving God’s grace in our lives.’[71] Christ meets us in grace corporately as his Body in the means of grace, and we ready ourselves to keep on receiving his grace day by day through the practice of the spiritual disciplines flowing out from our encounter with God in the means of grace. Thus, the spiritual disciplines are ‘the various personal habits of grace that we develop in light of [the means of grace].’[72] 

These are practices which cultivate Christlikeness.[73] As Christ’s disciples ‘engage in the Spiritual Disciplines given by God in Scripture’ we are ‘continually shown [our] need for Christ and the infinite supply of grace and mercy to be found by faith in Jesus.’[74]

Mathis has helpfully grouped the spiritual disciplines into three major types: practices associated with hearing God’s voice (Word), those associated with having God’s ear (prayer), and practices associated with belonging to his people (fellowship, service, and mission). He, thus, frames the disciplines ‘not as ten or twelve (or more) distinct practices to work into your life, but as three key principles (God’s voice, God’s ear, and God’s people), which then are fleshed out in countless creative and helpful habits in the varying lives of believers in their differing contexts.’[75] Thus, the detail of the ways in which the spiritual disciplines are practiced may vary from person to person and culture to culture—as is evident across the evangelical world—while maintaining a focus on the necessity of practices which cultivate each of these essentials.[76] 

Spiritual disciplines associated with God’s word are essential to every Christian’s spiritual health and growth, for ‘faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God’ (Rom 10:17). Thus, every Christian needs to regularly hear God’s word (Luke 11:28; Rom 10:17; 1 Tim 4:13; Rev 1:3) and meditate upon it. This hearing and meditation is aided by regular personal Bible reading, Bible study, and the memorization of Scripture.[77] ‘No factor is more influential in making us more like the Son of God than the Spirit of God working through the word of God.’[78]

Evangelical Christians also emphasize the discipline of personal evangelism. This too is a discipline of the word, for evangelism is holding out the gospel Word which we have received to those who are perishing. Holding out the light of the Word to others flows from first hearing and receiving the word ourselves. Therefore, our ministries of evangelism will be fueled and empowered through the disciplines of hearing, reading, studying, and meditating upon God’s word. 

Prayer is the expression of faith and communion with the Triune God. As Simon Chan sums this up, ‘in prayer one enters into relationship with the Trinity, undergoes mortification and grows in the virtues. One becomes a practicing Christian by practicing prayer.’[79] Throughout the history of the church and around the world, Christians have found and taught many helpful ways to grow in this life of prayer, and if evangelicals would benefit from rediscoveries of the wisdom of those who have gone before us. We must not only tell people to pray, but help people learn the life of prayer. A maturing prayer life will be rooted in thanksgiving and worship, grow in the scope of its petition and intercession and lament, and deepen in its confession. The disciplines of fasting, silence and solitude, as well as times of personal and family worship will support the life of prayer. 

Disciplines of fellowship begin with regular church attendance and church membership. Membership of a local church also entails the disciplines of submission and service (in all its varied forms) and sends us constantly back to the corporate means of grace of meeting with Christ in his Word and at his Table. These corporate means of grace fuel our personal spiritual disciplines and our personal spiritual disciplines draw us back to the corporate means of grace. Corporate worship fuels personal devotion, and personal devotion draws us back to corporate worship. The life of the church and the life of the Christian cannot be separated.

Evangelicals have given much more attention to the classical spiritual disciplines in recent decades and a drawing more deeply from the wells of wisdom of those who have walked this way before us. Yet evangelicals are always still keen to remind us that while these disciplines are ‘helpful in our growth into deeper Christlikeness. . . they can also be potentially dangerous if they are used in a legalistic, performance-based way by self-effort. They can actually harm our spiritual lives if our practice of them leads to self-sufficiency, self-righteousness, spiritual pride, and arrogance in our lives and ministries.’[80]

The formative role of suffering and persecution

True holiness flows from our union with Christ who humbled Himself to enter into all the sufferings of this life—and ultimately the suffering of the cross—for us. The Christ who sanctifies us is the Christ who suffered unto death for us (Heb 2:9-11). Those who trust in Jesus are united to him in his suffering and death, and so we should not be surprised when we suffer, but instead rejoice that we ‘partake of Christ’s sufferings’ (1 Pet 4:12-13). For ‘as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ’ (2 Cor 1:5; cf. Phil 1:29–30). This union with Christ in his suffering means that in our sufferings God is not far from us. Instead, in his faithful love, he is with us even in ‘the valley of the shadow of death’ (Ps 23:4), and he works through our sufferings as he forms us into the image of Christ. ‘Our trials come in ‘many kinds’ (personal weaknesses, interpersonal conflicts, unfortunate circumstances, oppressive structures) and we understand them best when we receive trials not as passive victims, but rather as co-participants in a transformational event.’[81]

Jesus Christ not only suffered and died for us, but also triumphed and rose for us. Therefore, we suffer in union with Christ that the life of Christ might be manifest in us (2 Cor 4:8-11). Through Christ’s cross and resurrection, God brought life through death, and by our union with Christ in his death and resurrection, God brings life through death in our lives, and is at work to form us through and in the midst of suffering. Godly suffering is not a mark of reproach, but a means which God often uses in his grace for our growth in godliness. It is in ‘the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death’ that we know ‘the power of His resurrection’ (Phil 3:10-11). Martin Luther explained that Christians ‘must endure every misfortune and persecution, all kinds of trials and evil from the devil, the world, and the flesh. . . by inward sadness, timidity, fear, outward poverty, contempt, illness, and weakness, in order to become like their head, Christ.’[82] Therefore Christians are called to rejoice even in suffering, because in our suffering we partake of Christ’s sufferings and experience the sanctifying power of Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom 5:3-5; 8:16-17; James 1:2-4). ‘We must remember: many Christians throughout history have faced some form of persecution and the presence of persecution deeply influenced their patterns of formation. Formation in Christ in the midst of trials and persecutions is not a shallow ‘surrender to the will of God.’ Each trial of each kind (involving voluntary or involuntary brokenness) invites us to a fresh kind of perseverance which, if allowed to work its particular work, will bear the fruit of Christian maturity.’[83]

A Way Forward 

As Christ’s church enters the second quarter of the twenty-first century, we sense an urgent need to affirm that those charged with the task of announcing Christ’s good news to all peoples must themselves be people who live as disciples and understand that the proper aim of our mission to all peoples is the formation of those who hear and believe the good news to live as disciples of Jesus (Matt 28:18-20). To this end, we prayerfully urge four responses among evangelicals around the world:

Repent of our failures to seek the formation of disciples as the goal of mission and to be formed as disciples for and in mission.

Our task in mission, therefore, is not simply one of securing professions of Christian faith. Rather, our task is to announce the message of a crucified Messiah as we live lives that accord with that message with the aim of seeing others do the same. Too often we have failed to live in this way and to pursue this end, resulting in financial mismanagement, sexual scandals, and abuse among leaders and spiritual anemia and immaturity in evangelical churches. We grieve these failings and humbly repent.

Respect the legacy of Lausanne while finding the future. 

Lausanne has a rich legacy of clarifying the task of mission, of trumpeting the urgency of mission, and of mobilizing God’s people everywhere to participate in mission. This must be celebrated, commended, and continued. At the same time, there is clear need to transcend current understandings of the relationship between our formation as disciples and mission. 

Beyond activism

We acknowledge that much of current evangelical understanding of the Christian life tends to be activist, focusing more on doing than on being. Though priorities and praxis must always be evaluated to ensure that this activism reflects the whole counsel of God rather than cultural and political voices and trends, we heartily affirm the importance of Christian presence as salt and light in the world, not least in the practice of mission. But the salt must not lose its saltiness. Evangelical activism must always be deeply rooted in an active relationship with the Father, through Jesus Christ in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. This is the indispensable condition for doing mission. 

Beyond crisis conversion

If the goal of Christian mission is to form disciples and if this is a goal that can only be accomplished by those who live as disciples, it is important to understand that a disciple is a person whose life has been transformed by the gospel. This transformation begins when we repent of our sin and believe the good news. However, like seed planted in good soil, the good news does not bring the fullness of transformation or bear the fruit of transformation all at once. Rather, this transformation takes place over the course of a lifetime in which the increase of holiness and love demonstrates the reality of the gospel’s transforming power. 

Beyond individualism

Evangelicals have rightly stressed the priority of Scripture, the centrality of the evangel, and the transformation of life. But that life tends to be understood individualistically. Much of evangelical understanding of the Christian life has been shaped by extreme focus on the individual, especially in Western contexts. To be sure, a focus on the individual is necessary and right, as Scripture attests the irreducible necessity of individual faith in Christ as the foundation of Christian discipleship. Nevertheless, the Christian life is essentially relational, such that relationship with God is inseparable from our relationship with our neighbours 

To be a disciple is to be formed in the pattern of life that conforms to the good news of Christ’s incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension by which God in his love has saved his people from their sins and graciously enabled them to live under his holy and righteous rule. As a result, mission is properly aimed toward the formation of disciples whose love for God and love for others are united in an undivided heart. This outcome is properly understood as the work of God to write his law in human hearts—a work that enables us to live as God’s one covenant people made up of all peoples. As the embodiment of this divine achievement, the local church is both the means and the end of mission pursued in this way. 

Recover the centrality of the local church as the telos of mission

If the end (telos) of mission is the creation of the church, the nature of that end is communion with and in the triune God. The church is the communion of saints. Our mission should, therefore, seek to make disciples who are formed as disciples to live as God’s one, holy people made up of all peoples. Those formed as disciples within churches where love and holiness abound under the reign of Christ will invariably find themselves deeply engaged with a world broken by injustice and sin in their neighbourhoods, workplaces, communities, and societies.

Local churches must ensure that their collective life reflects the pattern of life that conforms to the message of Christ crucified. They do this through the faithful preaching of the gospel, through regular rehearsing of the gospel in baptism and the Lord’s Table, and by gratefully responding to the gospel in prayer and praise. Within the church, believers learn to conduct themselves as citizens of heaven who live lives worthy of that citizenship by mediating the grace conveyed to them by the Spirit to their fellow believers (Eph 2:19; Phil 3:20; 1 Thess 2:12). In this way, individual members are built up in the most holy faith (Jude 1:20) and conformed to the image of Christ by the Spirit and encouraged to live lives of holiness, faith, and the purifying hope of our Lord’s return. 

To move beyond the limitations of an excessive focus on crisis conversion and the excessive individualism will lead us inexorably to embrace the crucial importance of the local church as a pilgrim church. If the church is God’s ‘work of art’ (Eph 2:10), it is a work in progress. The church is in via. We need to stress the ongoing nature of the Christian life so that, while failure is not an excuse it should not be the end for the fallen. There is a disciplining component in discipleship which seeks to restore the fallen. In particular, local churches must ensure that its ministers and missionary agents remain vitally connected to the life of Christ within the church and reflect the ongoing work of God’s Spirit within a local church. 

In his providence, the Lord has raised up parachurch ministries and mission partnership that sharpen and equip his people to be and make disciples. We affirm the importance of these ministries but affirm also the importance of maintaining a clear focus on and connection to the local church as the embodiment of the new humanity that God is forming in Christ. Such ministries honor Christ when they draw on the instruction given to local churches in Scripture for their patterns and principles of accountability, oversight, and structures of plural leadership and governance that preserve the location of spiritual authority in the gospel rather than any single individual.

Remember the story that forms us as disciples

The good news makes sense within a story that moves from creation to new creation. It is a story that takes shape as the unfolding purpose of God to restore the blessing of participation in the triune life of God in response to human rebellion and sin. He has achieved that restoration through the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. As individuals hear and believe that message, they experience the transformation that comes as the mediation of God’s own life as the regenerating work of the Spirit. This restoration no only reconciles individuals to God but sets them in right relationship with people—a two-fold restoration that they experience within the church, the people of peoples who live in right relationship to him and to one another. This worshiping people has its life within the life of God in Christ by the Spirit. Together, this people lives the life received from God for his glory and calls all people everywhere to join in this life held out to them in the gospel. Soli Deo Gloria.

  1. We acknowledge at the outset that evangelicals around the world currently make use of a variety of terms to describe the nature of the Christian life. We will primarily use the language of ‘discipleship’ and define the term in relation to other terms including ‘spiritual formation.’ While no single term has a claim to be the only biblical term, clarity about what they connote, their history especially within the LM, and their relationship to one another will be an important part of this paper.
  2. Agnieszka Tennant, interview ‘The Making of the Christian: Richard J. Foster and Dallas Willard on the Difference Between Discipleship and Spiritual Formation’, Christianity Today, 16 September 2005, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/october/9.42.html (Accessed 1 June 2023).
  3. Jeffrey P. Greenman, ‘Spiritual Formation in Theological Perspective: Classic Issues, Contemporary Challenges’ in Jeffrey P. Greenman and George Kalantzis, Life in the Spirit: Spiritual Formation in Theological Perspective (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010), 24.
  4. Tom Schwanda, ‘Formation, Spiritual’ s. v. Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, Glen G. Scorgie, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 452.
  5. Myung Ho Kim, ‘A History of and Perspective on Discipleship Training in the Korean Church’, Hapshin Theological Review 1 (2012): 112.
  6. Michael J. Wilkins, In His Image: Reflecting Christ in Everyday Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1997), 55.
  7. The Cape Town Commitment 2010, IIa, 3 (Truth and the Workplace).
  8. All Scripture is from NIV unless otherwise indicated. See also Matthew 16:24 and Mark 8:34.
  9. Richard V. Peace, ‘Discipleship’, Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, 406.
  10. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ‘Putting on Christ: Spiritual Formation and the Drama of Discipleship’, Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care 8, no. 2 (2015): 148.
  11. Vanhoozer, ‘Putting on Christ,’ 154.
  12. We recognize that there are various positions within the evangelical church on who is able to baptize others.
  13. Steven Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2010), 252, cited in Wesley G. Olmstead, Matthew 15-28: A Handbook On The Greek Text (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2019), 413. While ‘make disciples’ is the main verb in the Greek text, ‘going,’ ‘baptizing,’ and ‘teaching’ are participles. The first, ‘going,’ precedes the main verb and thus indicates the prior action that serves as the context for making disciples. ‘Baptizing and ‘teaching’ are the actions by which ‘making disciples’ takes place.
  14. Michael J. Wilkins, Discipleship in the Ancient World and Matthew’s Gospel, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995).
  15. Ryan Griffith, ‘Have You Renounced Satan: The Lost Second Vow of Baptism’ Desiring God, 18 February 2023, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/have-you-renounced-satan accessed June 19, 2023. See also the Baker Worship Sourcebook.
  16. Coleman M. Ford, Formed in His Image: A Guide for Christian Formation (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2023), 124.
  17. Simon Chan, Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life (Downers Grove: IVP, 1998), 115.
  18. Jonathan Black, The Lord’s Supper: Our Promised Place of Intimacy and Transformation with Jesus (Minneapolis: Chosen, 2023), 94.
  19. Ford, Formed in His Image, 47.
  20. Ford, Formed in His Image, 9.
  21. Evan B. Howard, A Guide to Christian Spiritual Formation: How Scripture, Spirit, Community, and Mission Shape Our Souls (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018), 55.
  22. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples Through Scripture and Doctrine (Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2019), xxviii.
  23. The Manilla Manifesto, 7.
  24. Simon Ponsonby, The Pursuit of the Holy (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2010), 14.
  25. The Lausanne Covenant, 7.
  26. John Charles Ryle, ‘Evangelical Religion,’ in Knots Untied, 10th ed. (London: William Hunt, 1885), 14.
  27. Andrew Murray, Holy in Christ (London: James Nisbet, 1887), 237–39.
  28. Peace, ‘Discipleship,’ 406–7.
  29. Robert A. Hunt, ‘The History of the Lausanne Movement, 1974-2010,’ International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 35, no. 2 (2011): 82.
  30. Lausanne Covenant, Complete Text with Study Guide, 2009.
  31. These events include three global congresses in Lausanne (1974), Manila (1989), and Cape Town (2010), where influential documents such as the Lausanne Covenant, the Manila Manifesto, and the Cape Town Commitment were produced and adopted. The movement has generated a wealth of publications, such as the Lausanne Occasional Papers and various books, that reflect its theological and missional insights. These events and publications provide a rich history and a comprehensive framework for understanding discipleship and mission in the LM.
  32. John R. W Stott, ‘Twenty Years After Lausanne: Some Personal Reflections’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research 19, no. 2 (1995): 50.
  33. Wilbert R. Shenk, ‘2004 Forum for World Evangelization: A Report’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research 29, no. 1 (2005): 31.
  34. Valdir R. Steuernagel, ‘Social Concern and Evangelization: The Journey of the Lausanne Movement’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research 15, no. 2 (1975): 53; John Stott, ‘Significance of Lausanne’, International Review of Mission, 64, no. 255 (1975): 293.
  35. ‘The Lausanne Covenant’, in John R. W. Stott, ed., Making Christ Known: Historic Mission Documents from the Lausanne Movement, 1974-1989 (Grand Rapids and Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 1997), 24.
  36. This was a summary of the papers that René Padilla, Samuel Escobar and Carl Henry presented at the Congress, which addressed the issue more directly. See C. René Padilla and Chris Sugden eds., Texts on Evangelical Social Ethics (Nottingham, UK: Grove Books, 1985), 5–7.
  37. Two consultations took up the challenge. The first one was held in 1980 in Hoddesdon to explore the implication of the Lausanne Covenant’s call (§ 9) for a ‘simple lifestyle’ in world evangelism; the second one took place in June 1982 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where the relationship between evangelism and social responsibility was treated. See David Claydon, ed., A New Vision, A New Heart, A Renewed Call (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2005). Many of these papers are also available at www.lausanne.org/documents.
  38. Hankins, ‘Follow Up,’ 39.
  39. This section is distilled from a presentation by Kristen Deede Johnson, ‘Reconsidering the Great Commission: discipleship and Cultural Engagement’ Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, November 2022. accessed October 16, 2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s38hbcDNLt0
  40. Evangelicals emerged from fundamentalism during the 1940s and onward. It is often difficult to parse the difference between these two terms until the mid–twentieth century but even then, the boundaries were not rigid.
  41. Hankins, ‘Follow Up,’ 129.
  42. Hankins, ‘Follow Up,’ 139–46.
  43. T.P. Weber, ‘Evangelism’ s.v. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 3rd ed., Daniel J. Treier and Walter A. Elwell, eds. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2017), 293.
  44. Jon Jeffrey Palmer, ‘Evangelism as a Whole: A Passion for Soul with Compassion for People’ Issue 10–2008 accessed 17 October 2023 https://lausanneworldpulse.com/perspectives-php/1030/10-2008
  45. Richard V. Peace, ‘From Discipleship to Spiritual Direction’, Theology, News and Notes (March 1999): 7–9, 22. For another version that reflects a similar conclusion see Dallas Willard, ‘Evangelism’ in in The Oxford Handbook on Evangelical Theology, Gerald R. McDermott, ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 236–46.
  46. Haskins, ‘Follow Up,’ 10, 121.
  47. McClymond, ‘Mission and Evangelism’, 351.
  48. Ted Ward, Values Begins at Home: Parents Provide the Most Important Moral Influences Children Ever Encounter (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1989), 16–20.
  49. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003).
  50. The evangelical theologian most frequently identified with Christian physicalism is Nancey Murphy. She is not a secularist in that she does believe in God and spiritual reality but does not believe that human beings have a spirit that is distinguishable from their bodies. This view is sometime referred to a non-reductive monism. See Nancey Murphy, Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).
  51. Kevin J. Vanhoozer ‘“That’s the Spirit” Or “What Exactly does Spiritual Formation Form? Toward a Theological Formulation of a Biblical Answer”’, in G.L. Hiestand and T. Wilson, Tending Soul, Mind, and Body: The Art and Science of Spiritual Formation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019), 62.
  52. Vanhoozer, ‘That’s the Spirit’, 62, citing Brian Rosner, Known by God: A Biblical Theology of Personal Identity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 67
  53. In part, at least, this way of thinking about the structure of the OT law is already implicit within the Pentateuch itself. That is, many read a book like Deuteronomy as a book that unpacks the Decalogue commandments of Deuteronomy 5 in the detailed regulations and sanctions constitute much of the rest of the book. So, eg Christopher Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013).
  54. On this point, see especially, Daniel I. Block, ‘The Decalogue in the Hebrew Scriptures’, in The Decalogue through the Centuries: From the Hebrew Scriptures to Benedict XVI, Jeffrey P. Greenman and Timothy Larsen, eds. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2012), 1–27.
  55. ‘The concept of substitution may be said, then, to lie at the heart of both sin and salvation. For the essence of sin is man substitution himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives which belong to God alone; God accepts penalties which belong to man alone.’ John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021 [1986]), 159.
  56. See especially G.K. Beale, Union with the Resurrected Christ: Eschatological New Creation and New Testament Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2023). Beale’s focus on the unfolding biblical story as the key to understanding the range of concepts in play when we speak of union of Christ puts particular emphasis on our participation in the crucial events of that story.
  57. On this debate, see Max Turner Power from on High: The Spirit in Israel’s Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts (London: Bloomsbury, 1996). What follows distills various features of Turner’s argument that Pentecost is to be understood in relation to restorationist motifs regarding the outpouring of the Spirit to transform and empower Israel ‘in the last days.’
  58. ‘On Watchfulness and Holiness’, The Philokalia, vol. I, G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrand and Kallistos Ware, eds. (London: Faber and Faber, 1979), 31.
  59. The Forgotten Father (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2000).
  60. Calvin puts it well when he says that in regeneration, ‘sin ceases only to reign; it does not cease to dwell in’ the believer. God, however, addresses both affects of sin by his grace. Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.11.1.
  61. Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 1995), 140.
  62. Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 146.
  63. Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006), 12.
  64. Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, revised and updated edition (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014), 6.
  65. J.I. Packer, ‘Foreword’, in Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, revised and updated edition (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014), x.
  66. Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006), 12.
  67. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 4.
  68. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 13
  69. These are often referred to as the ‘ordinary means of grace’ because they are the ways which God has promised ordinarily to use in this way, although he also makes use of extraordinary means. The ordinary means are where he has always promised to be at work; the extraordinary means are ways in which he works at particular times but to which he has not bound himself by a promise always to be graciously at work.
  70. Simon Chan, Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life (Downers Grove: IVP, 1998), 125.
  71. David Mathis, Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus Through the Spiritual Disciplines (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 21.
  72. Mathis, Habits of Grace, 33.
  73. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 6. Evan B. Howard, A Guide to Christian Spiritual Formation: How Scripture, Spirit, Community, and Mission Shape Our Souls (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2018), 108.
  74. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 20.
  75. Mathis, Habits of Grace, 17.
  76. The actual practices associated with each of these areas may be expanded beyond those suggested by Mathis.
  77. Daily Scripture reading is highly encouraged for all those who can read. Yet we should also recognize that many of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world do not have access to the luxury of written Scripture. Hearing is essential; reading is a way to help us hear. Those of us from more individualistic cultures should also be reminded of the value of reading for and to others, so that reading and hearing can be one and the same activity.
  78. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 28.
  79. Simon Chan, Spiritual Theology, 127.
  80. Siang-Yang Tan, Shepherding God’s People (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2019), chap. 3.
  81. James C. Wilhoit and Evan B. Howard, ‘The Wisdom of Christian Spiritual Formation’, Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care 13.1 (2020), 18.
  82. Martin Luther, ‘On the Councils and the Church,’ Luther’s Works, vol. 41 (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1966), 164.
  83. Wilhoit and Howard, ‘The Wisdom of Christian Spiritual Formation’, 18.