The stages of Christian discipleship are similar to the periods of the human growth. In fact, they describe personal development in the spiritual sense. It is possible to divide the entire process of discipleship into five stages. At the initial stage, a person is considered to be spiritually dead. At the second stage, he or she becomes an infant in the spiritual sense while, at the third stage, turns into a child. The fourth stage is the young adulthood, and the last fifth stage is the spiritual parenthood. The stages denote the natural progression of a disciple in the context of his or her relationships with the world, family, church, and God.
The stages of discipleship were initially mentioned by Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount. The first and the second stages suppose that a non-believer becomes a Christian and accepts the message of the Gospel. Those who do not have enough abilities to improve themselves and follow the example of God are blessed, because they have converted to the faith. In Mathew 5:3, it is stated, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Those who have realized that they live in a sin and have turned from spiritually dead individuals to infants, who are spiritually poor, mourn, and repent, still become better. In Mathew 5:4, it is said that those who mourn are blessed because they will be comforted.
The second stage is the one of the infantry, at which a believer only starts to cognize the spiritual world. The third stage supposes that as a child, the believer is in the own way of development and learns the submission to Christ. Just like the adults teach children to submit to the authority that will make their life in the society better, the spiritual teacher instructs the faithful to obey the authority of God. Matthew 5:5 says that the meek are blessed, and their submissiveness is not their weakness, but their strength on the way to understanding Christ.
At the fourth stage, at which a disciple of Christ becomes a young adult, the person strives to become spiritually mature. He or she is longing for the righteousness of Jesus and changes with the help of the Gospel. A thirst for the righteousness makes people do their best in order to change the surrounding sinful world to the universe of God. Consequently, a young adult transforms from a selfish egoist to a person who is willing to be compassionate and is able to understand the words of Christ to a certain extent. This young adult has to find a place for Jesus in his or her soul and make everything possible to live a holy life.
The last fifth stage corresponds to the adult age. In Matthew 5:9, the disciples at this stage are called the peacemakers. They are ready to accept the peace that comes from the Gospel, and they help their spiritual children grow. It fact, it is difficult to reach this stage because it is necessary to fight the sinful and weak human nature. In the majority of cases, such struggle is lifelong because there is no limit to perfection.
It is considered that there are four spheres of discipleship in Christianity. They denote the way, in which a disciple communicates with the surrounding world. In the discipleship, the interaction with Jesus is the most essential issue because it is the guiding power that guides a person from the stage of a non-believer to a spiritual adult. The next sphere is the communication within the family, the attitude towards children and elderly people. The relationships between the Christian church and the disciple are the third sphere. The last fourth sphere of the interaction of a disciple with the outer world is the Great Commission that every faithful has to fulfill in his or her spiritual development. As it is written in Matthew 5:16, the faithful need to let their light shine for the others, make good things and, thus, praise God, who sees everything from heaven.
MY CURRENT STAGE OF DISCIPLESHIP
It is difficult to define for sure at what stage of spiritual development I am currently. I feel that I have not fully fought the sin of pride, and I sometimes tend to overestimate my achievements in the way of a disciple. I can assume that currently, I am somewhere in between the third stage of a child and the fourth stage of a young adult. I still learn how to submit to Jesus, listen to the spiritual teachers, and obey the authority of God. The sins of earthly life still have much power over me, and I cannot assert that I always find the spiritual strength to confront the temptation. At the same time, I am constantly working on myself and my faith in order to become spiritually adult. I feel a thirst for the righteousness of Jesus and try to replace the vanity of the surrounding world with faith. I understand that I need to change my perception of life in order to become a true Christian adult and start my ministry, but there is still much work to be done.
SPHERES FOR SUBMISSION TO CHRIST
The most difficult thing about the full submission to Christ is fighting back the temptation. I can assume that the interaction with the outer world is the sphere that I have to submit to Jesus; otherwise, my faith is constantly tempted. When I was younger, it was extremely problematic for me to live as a Christian in the non-Christian environment. I used to go to school, where the majority of my peers did not believe in Christ. That is why, when I started to pray before my meal, some of my classmates laughed and mocked at me. I also did not participate in the parties together with my peers, because I did not approve the consumption of alcohol and even light drugs that were an indispensable part of the night. It is evident that my relationships with the opposite sex were not that usual as most high school students imagine. Their experience was unacceptable for me, and even though no one laughed at my worldview at the end of my tuition, I still did not have friends among the classmates. There is no need to say that such ostracism was not desired by me. I often thought about Jesus who suffered much more in His life and was rejected by people; His example gave me strength to stand everything. The rejection of the peers was one of the crucial issues that happened in my life and made my discipleship more effective. Consequently, I went through all the challenges and learnt to look for the right answer in the Gospel.
In his book, Bonhoeffer writes about the call to the cross. It illustrates my experience greatly because it shows the way a disciple starts to follow the example of Jesus by suffering in life and going through the rejection of the surrounding people. Every disciple has to follow the steps of Christ and be crucified; otherwise, the discipleship will not start.
MEANING OF SUBMISSION TO CHRIST
The submission to Christ requires all powers of the mind and body of a disciple. Every aspect of human life needs to be changed according to the example of Jesus and the Gospel. The New Testament becomes not only the theoretical set of ideas and moral norms for a believer but also a strict practical guide of living, which has to be followed in one’s everyday life.
Obeying Jesus is not only the question of ideas. It is also closely associated with the most common, habitual actions of a person, as well as his or her thoughts and decisions. It is not enough to pray and read the Holy Scripture every day, but it is also necessary to live according to its words. It is not enough to give money to the poor as charity, but it is also crucial to think piously. In James 2:14-16, it is written, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” According to John 2:24, a believer is not justified only by his or her faith but also by his or her works.
Abraham is a spectacular example from the Bible of what it means to submit oneself to God fully. He obeyed the will of the Lord in all things; he also obeyed the nation that descended from him. He relied on God, and his human imperfection was changed by the God's righteousness. It helped him to accomplish everything that God told him, and the reason was that he submitted to His will and power.