Sunday, November 28, 2010

UNIT 10: Discipleship



FOCUS: What discipleship under the gospel is, based on key NT texts, e.g. Matt 16:13 - 26, 28:18 - 20, Eph 1:17 - 23 & 4:9 - 5:11, 1 Jn 1:5 - 2:6. Ac 2:41 – 47, 2 Tim 2:15 & 3:13 – 17, Titus 2:11 – 14, 2 Peter 1:1 - 11 etc, on the basic disciplines of discipleship and signs of spiritual growth. Heb 6:1 - 2 foundations, the Ac 2 and Titus 2:11 – 14 challenges, the 9-pegged fruit of the Spirit [Gal 5:16 – 26, cf 1 Cor 13:4 – 7, 2 Pet 1:1 - 11], sanctification and transformation through the truth in love, service under Eph 2:8 - 10, stewards of the call and gifts of God, accountable in light of resurrection and eternal judgement [Heb 6:2]




The call and challenge of discipleship

Heb 6:1 - 2, foundations & discipleship

The Christocentric Fulness theme and discipleship

Disciplines of Discipleship

The power of the Spirit and discipleship

Discipleship, mission and transformation: repentance, renewal, revival, reformation


INTRODUCTION: Discipleship is an unusual topic for a systematic theology survey, but in fact that simply highlights how -- for centuries -- we have had a major challenge of drawing together and effectively teaching a coherent, dynamic framework for systematically understanding, being transformed by and living out the gospel in family, church, community and world.  This has actually made it into our vocabulary, as we can see from how, too often, we miss the subtle force of Acts 11:26b : "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. " 

That is, discipleship lies at the heart of what it is to be a Christian.

By sharp contrast to our want of emphasis, our Lord gave discipleship pride of place in his great commission to the church:
 Mt 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” [NIV '84]
 Similarly, when Paul counselled Titus on his task in Crete, he laid out a clear agenda for how such discipleship should transform our lives based on the power of the grace of God manifested in Christ and coming to us through the gospel:
Titus 2:11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.  15 These, then, are the things you should teach . . . [NIV '84]

So, if a central task of the church is to disciple people from the nations -- if we are to understand the church and its task aright -- we must build a systematic, practically useful understanding of discipleship. One, that is tightly integrated with the gospel and which effectively addresses the serious business of how lives can be so transformed by God's grace that in our communities and cultures we ever more and more become "a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." 

That, then, is the proper focus for this unit.

The call and challenge of discipleship

As we have seen, the Great Commission of Matt. 28:18 - 20 makes it plain that we are called to be and to make disciples, so the first issue is to understand what it is we are called to be and to build.

A good way to begin that is to look closer the key word, matheteuo, from Mt 28:19, here, from Thayer's Lexicon:
μαθητεύω -- Matheteuo -- math-ayt-yoo'-o:
1. to be a disciple of one
a. to follow his precepts and instructions
2. to make a disciple
a. to teach, instruct
In the passage, Jesus also gives further foci: disciples are to adhere to him, identify with him in baptism, taking the name of the Father, Son and Spirit, and are to be taught to walk in his teachings. 

It also implies that communities and nations are to be positively transformed by that adherence to Christ and by the theological and ethical substance of Jesus' example and words. In turn, this requires reformation based on soundly argued theological truth and well grounded ethical teaching carried home to us by the power of the indwelling, empowering and transforming Spirit manifested in mutual encouragement and building up in the body of Christ, the church. All of this, in a context where the scriptures -- Old and New Testament alike -- are taken seriously, diligently studied and consistently applied as the authoritative Word of God.

Immediately, this brings to focus the main passage of Jesus' discipleship teachings in the NT, the Sermon on the Mount (NB: the first and chief of the five discipleship discourses in Matthew: 5 - 7, 10, 13, 18 & 24); which can be interpreted as the inaugural address of Jesus as the Messiah-King. Indeed, even the choice of a mountain echoes both Mount Sinai where Moses received the Tablets of the Law, and Mt Zion, on which the Temple then sat. It of course prefigures the Mount of Transfiguration, Mt Calvary, and Mt Olive from which he ascended and to which our Lord is to return in Glory.

The Sermon is rich indeed and would well repay simply listening to it being properly read as a whole, several times over. (Cf. here for audio. This on-location in Galilee video series may be helpful also.)

It may be useful to watch at least the first episode of the series, hosted by David Servant:

However, for the moment, let us focus on its culminating counsels that start with the Golden Rule set in a biblical context as the summary of godly living and the heart and soul of the Law and the Prophets:
Bloch's The Sermon on the Mount
Matt 7: 12 In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.

13 “Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

15 “Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven – only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’ 
24 “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock. 26 Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was utterly destroyed!” [NET. Vincent Cheung has a useful short book length introductory discussion here.]
In short, Christian discipleship builds on a commitment to live under the Lordship of Christ, ever more and more doing the good, the true and the right in light of Jesus' teachings (and so also the underlying and associated scriptures that he viewed and treated as the Word of God); which requires turning from the wrong and the false through repentance and renewal of heart, mind and life. 

It therefore requires commitment to Jesus as Lord that transforms one's attitudes, views, values and behaviour. 

It requires ever growing discernment to follow sound teaching and teachers (which is primarily tested by Christlike quality of life). And, because it provides an adequate foundation built in the right place on the right bedrock, it will stand the test of the storms of life.

This brings up a key parallel passage, Matt 16, which more closely defines what commitment to Jesus as Lord entails:
Mt 16: 13 When Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 
 14 They answered, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17 And Jesus answered him, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven! 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven” . . . .
 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what does it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but forfeits his life? Or what can a person give in exchange for his life? [NET]
Paul, in Titus 2 (as we have seen already), is quite similar:
 Ti 2: 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. 12 It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 as we wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He gave himself for us to set us free from every kind of lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are truly his, who are eager to do good. [NET]
In 2 Tim, Paul emphasises the role of the scriptures in such sound discipleship, in spiritual growth and in moral transformation:
2 Tim 3:12 Now in fact all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13 But evil people and charlatans will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived themselves. 14 You, however, must continue in the things you have learned and are confident about. You know who taught you 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
16 Every scripture is inspired by God [ θεοπνευστος (theopneustos), God-breathed] and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work. [NET]
Peter, in 2 Peter 1, underscores the factual, historic foundation of our faith, going on to underscore as well the scripture principle in terms that further amplify the God-breathed nature of the scriptures:
2 Pt 1: 16 For we did not follow cleverly concocted fables when we made known to you the power and return1 of our Lord Jesus Christ; no, we were eyewitnesses of his grandeur.

17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father, when that1 voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory: “This is my dear Son, in whom I am delighted.” 18 When this voice was conveyed from heaven, we ourselves1 heard it, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

19 Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing. You do well if you pay attention to this as you would to a light shining in a murky place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
20 Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, 21 for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. [NET]
Christian discipleship therefore requires, first and foremost:
1 -->  recognition and commitment to Jesus the Christ, Son of Man, and Son of The Living God; 

2 --> as revealed by the scriptures, and 

3 --> as was made obvious to the willing by his works as messiah in fulfillment of the prophecies in the scriptures then 

4 --> as was demonstrated to one and all by his death as Lamb of God and Saviour and by his resurrection from the dead with over 500 witnesses, and 

5 --> as then lead to his ascension to the right hand of the Father and the pouring out of the Spirit in power -- 

6 --> Jesus of Nazareth, our risen Lord and Saviour before whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess. 

7 --> This commitment becomes the transforming pivot of life and is non-negotiable even in the teeth of threat to life or the hard reality of facing fire and sword.
But, logically, that leads to the question: what are the key, specific foundational principles of such discipleship?

For that, Heb 6:1 -2, with its focus on  τον  της  αρχης  του χριστου λογον [ton tes arches tou Christou logon] -- the word of the beginnings of Christ -- is an excellent context:

  Heb 6:1 - 2, foundations & discipleship

In Heb 5:12 - 6:3, the words of the beginnings of Christ -- i.e. the ABC teachings of Christ  -- are  identified, and set in a context of correcting spiritual retardation. 

The call is that the original recipients of the letter should move on to long delayed Christian maturity by ensuring the soundness of one's foundations and building thereupon:
Heb 5:12 . . . though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food. 13 For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil.

 6: 1 Therefore we must progress beyond the elementary [= "basic" or "ABC"] instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again:
[I] repentance from dead works and
[II] faith in God,
[III] 2 teaching about baptisms,
[IV] laying on of hands,
[V] resurrection of the dead, and
[VI] eternal judgment.
3 And this is what we intend to do . . .
[NET. Also, let us observe carefully: these six principles are "the elementary [= "basic" or "ABC"] instructions about Christ." So, those who would assign this list of first principles to the Levitical system need to think about that emphasis. A far more reasonable view is that these are first steps instructions about Christ, "ABC's" and "123's" that lay out what it takes to so properly respond to the gospel that one's life of discipleship can have a sound basis.)]
Pulling back a moment, to see the Kingdom of God scale, prophetic panorama courtesy Daniel's interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream in Daniel ch 2:

We can then focus on foundations in that context:

The writer to the Hebrews makes it plain that  the mature are well-founded on these six elementary/ABC principles, and so are stable and discerning, having developed the confident ability to discern good from evil (which includes discerning truth from misleading falsity) by reason of practice.

Nor is it a debatable point or an idiosyncratic hobby-horse. Let me call attention to Acts 17, to Paul's Mars Hill presentation (yes, to a pagan audience):
Ac 17:29 So then, being God’s children, we should not think that the Divine Nature (deity) is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination or skill of man.

 30 Therefore God overlooked and disregarded the former ages of ignorance; but now He commands all people everywhere [--> notice, this is a command to the nations!]  to repent [that is, to change their old way of thinking, to regret their past sins, and to seek God’s purpose for their lives], 31 because He has set a day when He will judge the inhabited world in righteousness by a Man whom He has appointed and destined for that task, and He has provided credible proof to everyone by raising Him from the dead.” [AMP]
Yes, the apostle Paul lays out an appeal to our common humanity, shaped in the image of God, our common Father. He then highlights sinful error and its patent absurdity, here, idolatry. 

He, as God's Ambassador, next calls the nations . . . yes, that is the force of "all people everywhere" as AMP renders . . . to REPENTANCE (thus transformation) in light of eschatological JUDGEMENT -- and yes that is directly the first and the last of the Heb 6:1 - 2 first principles.  With, implications for individuals, families, generations, organisations, institutions, communities, cultures, nations, regions, the whole world.

That we face eternal, eschatological judgement is proved to us by Jesus' RESURRECTION as witnessed by the 500+ of 1 Cor 15. 
So, we directly see three of the six first, ABC foundational principles of Christian discipleship (NB Ac 11:26, discipleship is the substance, Christian the label) explicitly named in a presentation to a pagan audience. 

Repentance, directly implies faith, trust in God based on his word and focussed on the prophesied, fulfilled, crucified, risen Lord and Saviour who is the appointed Judge. 

Baptism in water will naturally follow on confession of faith and is a dramatised faith confession by way of a metaphorical death, burial and resurrection to walk in a new life. The imposition of hands for prayer at baptism would also be normal (as we can directly see from Ac 8 and 19). Per Ac 8 and 19 also, we should not be surprised or dismayed or shocked and scandalised if, on such imposition, the Spirit is poured out in a mini season of refreshing, complete with obvious manifestations.

Explaining and expanding will rapidly draw out the core principles, dynamics and patterns of discipleship. 

(NB: Consequently, it is fair comment to note that I hold -- for cause, that the commentary writers who tend to assign the six principles to the passing OT order have regrettably erred. No, the six principles are a BRIDGE, given substance through the lens of the gospel. And, they lay out the framework for discipleship.)

This is not at all a call to empty theorising and contentious speculative argument, but to transformation of life and character through evil acknowledged and turned from, through trust in God through the Christ and through gospel truth learned and lived. 

Citing (and slightly adapting) from Unit 1, the "six principles" foundation of such well-founded discipleship includes:
I: Learning to trust and serve God through repentance: penitently changing our hearts and minds in surrender to God [Isaiah 55:1 - 9; Psalm 51:1 - 17; Matt 3:1 - 15; Lk 24:36 - 48, esp 44 - 48; Acts 10:23 - 48, esp 43 - 48, with 11:1 - 18, esp. 15 - 18]; nb: the word for repentance, μετάνοια (Metanoia -- met-an'-oy-ah) speaks of a heartfelt godly sorrow for sin and more specifically the resulting God-given gift of change of mind, thus thought perception and attitude leading to a right about turn from wrong to right and amended pattern of life.]
(Michelson: "1. (subjectively) compunction (for guilt, including reformation) 2. (by implication) reversal (of [another's] decision)," Thayer: "1.  a change of mind, as it appears to one who repents, of a purpose he has formed or of something he has done"),
. . . and

II: faith: trusting God based on his Word. [ Rom. 1:1 - 4, 16 - 17; 4:4 - 8 and 10:17; Heb. 11:6. Such faith -- πίστις (Pistis, pron: pis'-tis) -- can be seen as the new attitude adopted by the penitent sinner, that of trusting God who forgives the wicked who turn to him that takes God at his word even in the teeth of impressions and inclinations otherwise.]
(Thayer:  "1.  conviction of the truth of anything, belief; in the NT of a conviction or belief respecting man's relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervour born of faith and joined with it  a.  relating to God,  the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ   b.  relating to Christ,  a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God  c.  the religious beliefs of Christians  d.  belief with the predominate idea of trust (or confidence) whether in God or in Christ, springing from faith in the same 2.  fidelity, faithfulness  a.  the character of one who can be relied on.")
III: Celebrating death to sin, new life in Christ, eternal hope and the indwelling and empowering Spirit, through water baptism — a symbolic burial and resurrection. [Rom. 6:3 - 7, cf. 1 - 14; Acts 1:4 - 8 & 2:32 - 39; Rom 8:9 - 17; 1 Cor 12:1 - 13 & Eph. 5:15 – 21.]

IV: Learning the principle of service from the laying on of hands: our hands, but God's initiative, control and power. [Acts 8:14 - 23, 2 Cor 4:1 - 11. Also cf. Jn 5:19 - 20, in its context.]

V: Living life from an eternal point of view: Jesus rose, validating the gospel and giving us an eternal hope of resurrection; but this also means that God "has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed," Christ.

VI: Accordingly, we must live as stewards who shall give an account for our lives and service, before the bar of eternal judgement. [Acts 17:30 - 31; 1 Cor 3:10 - 17, 4:1 - 5, 15:1 – 8; Matt. 6:19 - 24; 2 Cor 4:17 – 5:10.]

These, as the writer to the Hebrews stresses, we must lay in our lives and build upon . . .
This can be succinctly and powerfully focussed through reflecting on Eph 2:8 - 10, noting especially the verse we usually do not cite, 10:
Eph 2: 8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.[NET]
It is also instructive to see the tension in Heb 5:12 on, as the writer is torn between wanting to move on to more advanced subjects and the slow learner behaviour he challenges. In 5:12 - 14, he therefore comments:
Heb 5: 12 For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food. 13 For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil. [NET]
 This is perhaps a little close to home for many of us, who need to consolidate our foundation and properly build on it. So, let us observe how the writer addresses these slow learners who he warns of the dangers of apostasy, even while saying he has confidence the case is not that bad.

First, the warning:
 Heb 6: For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt.
 It is clear that he has here focussed the first three teachings, repentance, faith in God through the crucified and risen Christ the Son of God (which cometh by hearing the word of God as a heavenly gift from God) and the spiritual aspect of conversion, being born from above by the Spirit. The gospel context of these foundational principles is readily apparent; these are indeed about the words of the beginnings of Christian discipleship.

Of course, in so speaking, a major and too often divisive doctrinal controversy surfaces, can one be saved but so apostasise as to be lost, irretrievably lost as this text seemingly suggests?

That is a worthwhile question for pondering, but it is equally noteworthy that the NT does not go into grand expositions on the nuances and possibilities. Instead, we find an emphasis on making one's calling and election sure, as Peter counsels:
2 Peter 1: May grace and peace be lavished on you as you grow in the rich knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord!
I can pray this because his divine power has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness through the rich knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence. Through these things he has bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire.

  For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith excellence, to excellence, knowledge; to knowledge, self-control; to self-control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; to godliness, brotherly affection; to brotherly affection, unselfish love. 

  For if these things are really yours and are continually increasing, they will keep you from becoming ineffective and unproductive in your pursuit of knowing our Lord Jesus Christ more intimately. 

  But concerning the one who lacks such things—he is blind. That is to say, he is nearsighted, since he has forgotten about the cleansing of his past sins. 

  10 Therefore, brothers and sisters, make every effort to be sure of your calling and election. For by doing this you will never stumble into sin. 

  11 For thus an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be richly provided for you. [NET]
So, while we refrain from a definitive conclusion on a subject where learned and saintly teachers of the scriptures have differed over the centuries, we emphasise the balance of discipleship: growth in grace-filled godliness is the hallmark of one who has justified confidence in his status of discipleship. Living faith, by the power of the Spirit, flows over in transformation. And, soberingly, faith without works is dead. But also while we are saved by grace through the gift of faith, we are saved to walk in those good works laid out in advance for us to do.

So, let us be about the true business and focus of discipleship.

 Such themes are strongly echoed as the writer continues in Heb 6, connecting issues of a life of fruitful service (which itself hints of the sign of laid on hands: my hands under God's initiative, in his power . . .), to themes of the resurrection and eternal judgement:
Heb 6: For the ground that has soaked up the rain that frequently falls on it and yields useful vegetation for those who tend it receives a blessing from God.
But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is useless and about to be cursed; its fate is to be burned.
But in your case, dear friends, even though we speak like this, we are convinced of better things relating to salvation. 10 For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name, in having served and continuing to serve the saints.
11 But we passionately want each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of your hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and perseverance inherit the promises.
 This imagery directly echoes Jesus' parable of the Sower, Seed and Soils:
 Luke 8:While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from one town after another, he spoke to them in a parable:
  “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled on, and the wild birds devoured it. Other seed fell on rock, and when it came up, it withered because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns, and they grew up with it and choked it. But other seed fell on good soil and grew, and it produced a hundred times as much grain.” As he said this, he called out, “The one who has ears to hear had better listen!”
Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant.

  10 He said, “You have been given the opportunity to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that although they see they may not see, and although they hear they may not understand.

11 “Now the parable means this: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in a time of testing fall away. 14 As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the worries and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 But as for the seed that landed on good soil, these are the ones who, after hearing the word, cling to it with an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with steadfast endurance. [NET]
Again and again we see how important it is to have hearts soft to God's voice and word, which is how the gospel-seed of eternal life with its innate power of fruitfulness can find open deep, singly-focussed soil that then will "naturally" respond to the power of life in that word by the Spirit of Christ, come to spiritual birth, grow and be fruitful.  And of course, we are aware of our stewardship and duty to venture in the ways of God that we may gain more and more treasure for the Kingdom. It is the cowardly, hoarding servant who hides the deposit he has been given who is rebuked.

Where also, the passage hints at our responsibility to watch and address the condition of our heart and our responses to the word of God. Indeed, earlier in Hebrews, we read:
Heb 1:1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Thus he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs . . . . 

2:1 . . . we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. [NET]
Heb 3:15, part of a pointed exposition of Psalm 95, cites the Psalm's warning . . . here, in the classic KJV: "To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts . . . "

 The warning is patent.

The culminating words as he returns to the discussion on the priestly order of Melchizedek, point both backwards to the Hebraic roots of the Christian faith and forward to our eternal hope in Christ:
Heb 6: 17 In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, 18 so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie. 

  19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast, which reaches inside behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus our forerunner entered on our behalf, since he became a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. [NET]
And so, we can see how to fruitfully build on the foundations we have in Christ as we move forward under our great commission, through our eternally certain hope, our sure and steadfast anchor.

The Christocentric Fulness theme, discipleship and reformation

When we look more closely at the great commission, we see that it calls for teaching the gospel-based reformation of the nations under the Lordship of Christ as an integral component of our task of making disciples:
 Matt 28:18 Then Jesus came up and said to [the disciples], “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [NET]
 However, since in recent years the atmosphere for discussion of such topics has unfortunately become so polarised and poisoned (in light of the real and imagined sins of Christendom), the following needs to be explicitly said: this commission is of course a call to peacefully listen to hear and repentantly respond to the evident truth of the gospel, based on our duty to God, not a call to militaristic or totalitarian subjugation and abusive theocratic rule by a self-righteous, hypocritical elite pretending to be God's predestined rulers of the earth. 

We must never forget that the same Jesus who gave this call, only a short time before, had peacefully surrendered to authorities -- even, authorities who came by night clearly intent on judicial murder rooted in envy. 

Not only so, but when Peter then pulled a sword to try to defend his Master, and took a swing at the head of a member of the arrest party (Malchus ducked so he only got the ear -- which Jesus promptly healed), Jesus' rebuke to Peter was quite sharp and stinging in light of the history of the Maccabean uprising. 

Jesus simply was no radical rebel and revolutionary seeking to toss one lot of unrepentant sinners out of power and put in a new lot to repeat the old old cycle of abuse and oppression.

Let's roll the tape:
Matt 26:52 . . . “Put your sword back in its place! For all who take hold of the sword will die by the sword. [--> exactly what happened to four of the five brothers who led the Maccabean uprising (cf Wiki's 101 here), Peter apparently thought he was striking the spark to begin the revolution in the same way as the Hasmoneans had . . . ]
53 Or do you think that I cannot call on my Father, and that he would send me more than twelve legions of angels right now? 54 How then would the scriptures that say it must happen this way be fulfilled?”

55 At that moment Jesus said to the crowd, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me like you would an outlaw? Day after day I sat teaching in the temple courts, yet you did not arrest me. 56 But this has happened so that the scriptures of the prophets would be fulfilled” . . . [NET]
Plainly, Jesus is the Prince of Peace, not a rabble rousing murderous rebel and would-be power-drunk tyrant. 

That should be sufficient to rebuke both those who -- like Caiaphas, Pilate and company -- would abuse power to violently suppress the gospel, and those who -- like Peter -- think to strike with the sword in the name of the gospel.

Where also, if we need a paradigm case study for what the teachings of the gospel would require of the nations, let us take note of the way John Locke, in his Second Treatise on Civil Government, Ch 2 Sect. 5, cited "the judicious [Anglican Canon Richard] Hooker" from his Ecclesiastical Polity. For,he set out to ground the principles of liberty and justice in the state and community, and in so doing in large part built the foundation for modern democratic self government by a free people:
. . . if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man’s hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire which is undoubtedly in other men . . . my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant . . . [Hooker then continues, citing Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics, Bk 8:] as namely, That because we would take no harm, we must therefore do none; That since we would not be in any thing extremely dealt with, we must ourselves avoid all extremity in our dealings; That from all violence and wrong we are utterly to abstain, with such-like . . . ] [Eccl. Polity, preface, Bk I, "ch." 8, p.80, cf. here. Emphasis added.]
That equality of nature that is the pivot of Hooker's argument, of course, rests on how we are all equally endowed with the image of God by dint of creation, and therefore have a duty of mutual respect. It can be seriously argued (cf. here in Unit 2 and here on in context on Government under God) that this is in fact the only coherent and stable foundation for ethics, law and government, thence the civil peace of justice under the blessings of liberty.

So, already, we can see how  Christian discipleship has made a crucial -- though now often forgotten -- difference to our civilisation, and how it can again shape our region and the wider world in our time for the good.

In that light, a good place to begin thinking about the way the gospel and discipleship can peacefully reform (and thus transform) a community and culture through filling it with God's grace and blessing in Christ, is with the account of Paul's apparently nearly fruitless (and certainly frustrating) visit to Athens c. 50 AD, after he had been harried out of Macedonia.

Let us excerpt the discussion in the JTS/CGST Public Ethics Lecture, 2002:
The Apostle had come to Athens five hundred years after its glory days — the days of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Pericles, to take a brief respite from his stressful Macedonian adventures.  For, in Macedonia, he had been harassed and harried from one town to the next, and was finally driven out, taking refuge in Athens.
However, he found the all-pervasive idolatry too disturbing to keep silent.  [Acts 17:16.]  So as a lion, with terrible resolve, turns and vexes those who have unwisely persisted in harrying him, Paul — in the city of Socrates — went to the Agora (the marketplace), and started to dialogue with passersby; as that stone-dresser turned philosopher was wont to do.  Soon, a group of pagan Philosophers paused, argued with him, conferred among themselves, and, parodying the fate of Socrates, took the Apostle to a meeting of the Areopagus [Mars Hill] Council.
There, the Athenian leaders got more than they bargained for. For, Paul made straight for the rotten intellectual foundation of Pagan thought and culture.  Pointing to its beautiful temples and monuments, he picked the altar that exposed the critical instability: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.  That is, on the most important possible point of knowledge, the Athenians — the fountainhead and proud guardians of the Western intellectual, artistic and democratic traditions — were forced to admit their ignorance, in a public monument! 
Paul then pointedly stated the decisive prophetic issue: “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”  That is, the true key to the field of Knowledge is Revelation (rather than merely human speculation, argument or experiment[35]), starting from our God-given intuition that an orderly universe without and a rational mind and ever-probing conscience within jointly testify to a Rational, Orderly, Moral Creator.  [Cf. Romans 1:18 – 32.] . . . .  
[W]e may suppress or becloud such intuitions; but plainly to our intellectual, moral, and social peril; with damaging environmental and sustainability implications.  However, since God knows perfectly, he can communicate additional significant — though obviously not exhaustive — truth to guide us in the face of such intellectual dilemmas, moral conundrums, and sustainability challenges.  Hence, the prophetic force of Paul’s key word: “proclaim.”
The substance of Paul’s prophetic proclamation to the Athenians (and thus to Western Culture and the wider world) is therefore pregnant with beneficial implications for community order, national life, blessing and truly sustainable development:
1) The Creator-Redeemer God does not live in temples we can make with our hands.  Nor does he depend on our religious leaders and institutions, rituals, gifts or offerings.  Instead, it is he who made us and gave us everything we have.  We are therefore his stewards in — and of — his world[36], for “in Him we live and move and have our being.” 
2) From one man, God created the nations, setting their times & seasons [kairous], and their places[37], “so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him.”   That is, the diverse fraternity of nations [ethnoi, people groups] was created to foster opportunities to demonstrate godly, harmonious social order -- not least, by restraining the possibilities for the rise of a corrupt, globally dominant regime.[38]  (Further to this, when nations choose instead to forget God and His ways, making false loyalties, power, prestige, pleasure and prosperity their chief values, they walk down a road to ruin; cf. Deut. 8:17 – 20.)
3) “In the past, God overlooked [our] ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  For he has set a day in which he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.  He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”
4)   The time for ignorant pursuit of false loyalties and foolish agendas is over; God has intervened globally, decisively and publicly[39] by Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection: “he has made this same Jesus . . . both Lord and Christ.” [Acts 2:36.]
5) God therefore commands that we repent, undergoing a comprehensive change of heart and mind driven by recognition of the truth and godly sorrow over sin, leading to a transformed way of life [1 Cor. 6:9 – 11].  In particular, we are to receive as Lord and Saviour him who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  [John 14:6, cf. Acts 4:12.]
6) This command to repent is universal, but does not demand blind obedience: God offers public proof to us by raising Jesus from the dead.  In evidence of this, we have over five hundred eyewitnesses, most of whom were still alive when the record was made, and the continued manifestation of resurrection power — in manifold ways — in the church to this day.  [1 Cor. 15:1- 8, Eph. 1:17 – 23.]
7) Flowing from this, human culture is not autonomous or absolute: there is a set day for judgement of the world, a comprehensive audit carried out with perfect justice.  Thus, communities and their citizens are servants of God, accountable before their Creator for truth, right, justice and the proper stewardship of resources in their care, starting with their land.  This opens the door for prophetic commentary on public morality, policy and issues linked to development and sustainability.  [Cf. Rom. 1:18 – 32 & 13:1 – 10.]
8) Moreover, since we are created from one ancestor, there can be no justification for nationally-, or racially-, or class-, or otherwise- motivated oppression, aggression, exploitation or prejudice.  Community extends to the fraternity of all peoples, and so God refuses to answer the foolish question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Paul’s audience, however, mostly reacted with an ill-advised, illogical sneer: in effect, never mind the evidence and our acknowledged ignorance on the subject — God can’t be like that!
However, some were willing to listen further, and a few openly turned to Christ.  Scanty immediate results.  But the truth had been proclaimed and backed up with adequate evidence.  And, Paul, too, had made a decisive turn, seizing the intellectual and cultural initiative. 
From Athens, the Apostle would go on to Corinth and Ephesus, building bases from which the Christian Faith would ultimately triumph in Greek culture.  Intellectually, he would go on to expand his Mars Hill thesis, through penning the Epistle to the Romans [40], which articulated in greater detail the case that would at length prevail over classical paganism. 
So, two thousand years later, we know who had the better case that fateful day.  For, Paganism’s hollow intellectual and moral core now stood exposed for those with eyes to observe, and ears to listen.  The future therefore belonged to the Apostle, not to the Philosophers and Politicians.  Thus, from small beginnings, the churches planted in Athens and other Greek cities grew strong and prevailed.
 We can represent this sort of gospel driven culture transforming prophetic intellectual and cultural leadership diagrammatically based on the analysis of theologian-philosopher Francis Schaeffer's approach as was discussed in Unit 2:

By the very virtue of the fact that the gospel message is cutting across the proud and corrupt systems and power agendas in a given community, it will obviously be dismissed, derided or resisted by many. 

Sometimes, it will be attacked, even violently. 

However, at the same time, the purity of the message especially as it is carried by the transformed who -- as the proverbial cracked clay pots shine out with a glory within that comes form a world beyond our own -- it will also call out to a remnant who are being stirred by the Spirit. So, it naturally creates a counter-culture. And, as the example and impact of that godly remnant slowly, peacefully spreads, it begins to create a change in the community. 

Reformation has begun.

That may typically take generations, as it did in Athens, but the transforming power of the gospel is a matter of repeated -- though, too often and too easily forgotten -- historic record. 
(NB: The history of the breaking of the power of that crime against humanity known as the Atlantic Slave Trade, then onwards of slavery itself, is a classic case in point. Cf. here the story of the vital early role of dissenting, Bible-believing Christians  in the foundation and  history of modern abolitionism. (This includes men like Wilberforce, Buxton, William Knibb  [ Masters' comment: "Knibb's evidence [before Parliament Committees, on what had been going on in Jamaica] . . . was so authentic and unassailable that it contributed more than that of any other witness to the conviction of all, that slavery must be speedily abolished."] Nor should we forget Olaudah Equiano -- a former slave who had managed to save up and purchase his freedom in Montserrat in 1768. (Oddly, Equiano at an early point as a freed man was also involved in the slave trade himself, similar to John Newton; it was by no means obvious that such could be overturned, so at first it was only hoped to ameliorate . . . )  One should also reflect on the earlier history of Christian discomfort with slavery and concern for liberty all the way back to Paul's Letter to Philemon advocating manumission of Onesimus and other key NT passages on liberty. There are many lessons to be learned from the first modern civil rights movement and from the way the early Christian abolitionists understood and applied gospel ethics to what -- in material part through their effort -- became the burning issue of a generation and opened the way for peacefully dealing with and reforming many other age-long abuses in succeeding generations. Sadly, with the rise of modern human trafficking -- much of it tied to prostitution, pornography and exploitation of migrants within countries or across international borders -- as well as the lingering of more traditional forms of enslavement, Abolitionism is back on the table as a movement that needs our vigorous support.)
Discipleship and transformation start with that remnant who hear and heed the gospel when it comes to a culture, so it is helpful to focus on a case in point, to lead to the fullness principle. For that, we can turn to the Epistle to the Colossians, where we see that Paul says how he is continually:
 Col 1:9 . . .  asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may live worthily of the Lord and please him in all respects – bearing fruit in every good deed, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might for the display of all patience and steadfastness, joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.  [NET]
By way of explanation, he continues:
Col 1:13 He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

 15   He [the Son] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation,  16 ​​​​​​​for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him – all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers – all things were created through him and for him.

17 ​​​​​​​He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him.[NET]
These six "all"-s define the preeminence and majesty of the Son over all: "all things were created through him and for him."

The apostle then applies the preeminence to the blood-bought church, and thus to the life of discipleship that seeks to "live worthily of the Lord and [to] please him in all respects – bearing fruit in every good deed, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might . . . "

So, we see the pivotal, transforming role of the gospel:
Col 1:18 ​​​​​​​He is the head of the body, the church, as well as the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead, so that he himself may become first in all things.

19 ​​​​​​​For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the Son 20 ​​​​​​​and through him to reconcile all things to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross – through him, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

 21 And you were at one time strangers and enemies in your minds as expressed through your evil deeds, 22 but now he has reconciled you by his physical body through death to present you holy, without blemish, and blameless before him – 23 if indeed you remain in the faith, established and firm, without shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard. [NET]
In Eph 1 and 4, Paul expands and extends these thoughts, explicitly laying out the Christocentric fulness theme:
Eph1: 15 . . .  because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you when I remember you in my prayers.

17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of him, 18 – since the eyes of your heart have been enlightened – so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the incomparable greatness of his power toward us who believe, as displayed in the exercise of his immense strength.

20 This power he exercised in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms 21 far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

22 And God put all things under Christ’s feet, and he gave him to the church as head over all things.

23 Now the church is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all . . . .

4:4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

 7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of the gift of Christ.

8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he captured captives; he gave gifts to men.” 
9 Now what is the meaning of “he ascended,” except that he also descended to the lower regions, namely, the earth?

10 He, the very one who descended, is also the one who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things. 

11 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.

14 So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes.

15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. 16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love. [NET]
Immediately, the apostle applies the fulness theme to the transformation of not only the individual, but by direct implication of a growing number of the transformed, the reformation of the community and culture:
 Eph 4:17 So I say this, and insist in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.
18 They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. 19 Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.
20 But you did not learn about Christ like this, 21 if indeed you heard about him and were taught in him, just as the truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires, 23 to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image – in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth. 
 25 Therefore, having laid aside falsehood, each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger. 27 Do not give the devil an opportunity. 28 The one who steals must steal no longer; rather he must labor, doing good with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with the one who has need. 29 You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
31 You must put away every kind of bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and evil, slanderous talk. 32 Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.

5: 1 Therefore, be imitators of God as dearly loved children 2 and live in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. 3 But among you there must not be either sexual immorality, impurity of any kind, or greed, as these are not fitting for the saints. 4 Neither should there be vulgar speech, foolish talk, or coarse jesting – all of which are out of character – but rather thanksgiving. 5 For you can be confident of this one thing: that no person who is immoral, impure, or greedy (such a person is an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 
 6 Let nobody deceive you with empty words, for because of these things God’s wrath comes on the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them, 8 for you were at one time darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light – 9 for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth – 10 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For the things they do in secret are shameful even to mention. 13 But all things being exposed by the light are made evident.
14 For everything made evident is light, and for this reason it says:
       “Awake, O sleeper!
       Rise from the dead,
       and Christ will shine on you!” 
 15 Therefore be very careful how you live – not as unwise but as wise, 16 taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the Lord’s will is.
18 And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for each other in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. [NET]
A handy summary of strategic foci for such transformation can be seen from an adaptation of Wallnau's seven mountains vision:

The implications of this are summarised and drawn out in that same 2002 JTS/CGST ethics lecture:
In sum, everything was created by Christ, and for Christ.  He is the Centre who holds all things together, sustaining them in an orderly whole: Cosmos.  In loving response to our sin and its resulting chaos and devastating crises, he came: descending, dying for our sin, rising and ascending "in order to fill all things." 
In saving us, he therefore calls and equips us to do "good works . . . laid out in advance for us to do."  As we walk in this call to service, the church, which is the body of Christ, matures and fills all things with his glory and grace.  Thus, in the fulness of time, God will "bring all things together under one head, even Christ."
In this light, the way forward to truly sustainable development is first to repent: the chaos and frustration we face in the Caribbean — despite our often ostentatious and pervasive, but so often hypocritical “Christian” religiosity — flow from our sinful neglect or even rejection of Christ, the source of wholesome, sustainable order and blessing[43] for "all things."  Christ therefore commands us to repent, be renewed in our own lives and institutions under the loving discipline of the Word and the Spirit, then to go out into our communities under His mandate: "go and make disciples of all nations, baptising . . . and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."  [Matt 28:19 - 20.] 
So, the first steps Christians need to take along the road to reformation and truly sustainable development in the Caribbean are those of repentance and inner transformation through the renewal of our minds, leading to revival as God graciously pours out His Spirit in “times of refreshing.”[44] 
As we take these first steps, we will then be equipped to lead the wider community along the road to reformation and truly sustainable development, through the example of biblically sound discipleship, godly service and high-integrity, Christ-focused leadership in families, communities and institutions.  Thus, we will fulfil our role as the “body of Christ, the fulness of him who fills everything in every way” by walking in those good works that “God prepared in advance for us to do.”[45] 
The universal scope of our mandate therefore clearly requires that we must engage the social, cultural, economic, sustainability and environmental issues that now confront our region [and the world beyond] as it gropes blindly in a kairos, hoping to find a path towards truly sustainable development.


Disciplines and dynamics of Discipleship

Jesus' analogy -- "parable" if you will -- of the vine is a powerful summary of how disciples grow, bear fruit and can keep on doing so:
Grapes being gathered
(Source: Stefan Kühn)
Jn 15: 1 “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. 2 He takes away every branch that does not bear fruit in me. He prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will bear more fruit.
3 You are clean already because of the word that I have spoken to you.
4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. 
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me – and I in him – bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out like a branch, and dries up; and such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and are burned up. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples. 
 9 “Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; remain in my love.
10 If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.
12 My commandment is this – to love one another just as I have loved you.
13 No one has greater love than this – that one lays down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I no longer call you slaves, because the slave does not understand what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because I have revealed to you everything I heard from my Father.
16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that remains, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.
17 This I command you – to love one another. 
Taking this in steps of thought:
1 --> The point of a branch in a vine is fruitfulness, and to receive the life-giving support and sap that are needed for fruitbearing, it must be connected to the vine.

2 --> Fruitless branches are removed, and fruitful ones are pruned to be even better at bearing fruit; such loss doubtless being painful but it is pruning that focuses resources on fruit not woody growth and leaves.
(NB: There is a minority view on v. 2, which is based on an alternate rendering, that unfruitful branches are propped up to get proper exposure to the sun etc.  It is those potential branches in v. 6 that refuse to be part of the vine, that dry up and face burning. The NET Bible translator's note at that point reads in part:
 The Greek verb αἴρω (airw) can mean “lift up” as well as “take away,” and it is sometimes argued that here it is a reference to the gardener “lifting up” (i.e., propping up) a weak branch so that it bears fruit again. In Johannine usage the word occurs in the sense of “lift up” in 8:59 and 5:8-12, but in the sense of “remove” it is found in 11:39, 11:48, 16:22, and 17:15. In context (theological presuppositions aside for the moment) the meaning “remove” does seem more natural and less forced (particularly in light of v. 6, where worthless branches are described as being “thrown out” – an image that seems incompatible with restoration). . .
We should note here, in any case, the clearly parallel parable of the barren fig tree in the vineyard (Lk 13:1 - 9), which for three years had failed to bear expected fruit. It was given one last chance, with every effort to encourage fruit. And in context, the expected fruit in question was repentance in the face of the kindness, call and warnings of God. Plainly, if we claim to be branches of the vine, we need to show such penitence in reasonable time, by bearing the fruit of turning from stubborn insistence on our own way to trust in God based on his word, and leading to transformation of character, attitude and life; collectively leading as well to the over-flowing and out-flowing of the Spirit to thirsty hearts around so that others will come to Christ and be nurtured in him. )

3 --> The word of Christ, here, functions as the pruning knife.

4 --> Similarly, the disciple is a branch, the church being the disciples collectively.

5 --> Christ is the life-giving vine, without whom we simply wither, dry up and die fruitlessly. This is also an uncomfortable echo of the response of Israel to God, as Isaiah summarises:
      Isa 5:1 ​​​​​​​I will sing to my love –
       a song to my lover about his vineyard.
       My love had a vineyard
       on a fertile hill.
      2 ​​​​​​​He built a hedge around it, removed its stones,
       and planted a vine.
       He built a tower in the middle of it,
       and constructed a winepress.
       He waited for it to produce edible grapes,
       but it produced sour ones instead.
      3 ​​​​​​​So now, residents of Jerusalem,
       people of Judah,
       you decide between me and my vineyard!
      4 ​​​​​​​What more can I do for my vineyard
       beyond what I have already done?
       When I waited for it to produce edible grapes,
       why did it produce sour ones instead?      

5 ​​​​​​​Now I will inform you what I am about to do to my vineyard:
       I will remove its hedge and turn it into pasture,
       I will break its wall and allow animals to graze there.
      6 ​​​​​​​I will make it a wasteland;
       no one will prune its vines or hoe its ground,
       and thorns and briers will grow there.
       I will order the clouds
       not to drop any rain on it.

Isa 5:7 ​​​​​​​Indeed Israel is the vineyard of the LORD who commands armies,
​​​​​​the people of Judah are the cultivated place in which he took delight. ​​​​​​He waited for justice, but look what he got – disobedience! ​​​​​​He waited for fairness, but look what he got – cries for help!
6 --> Given this and other uses of vine imagery -- notwithstanding the repeated complaint of underachievement -- the vine eventually became a symbol of Israel, so we should understand that when Jesus views himself as the vine, he is in effect speaking to a renewal of the true foundation of Israel, to yield better fruit.
 7 --> The Father is the vine-dresser who judges the branches of the true vine and decides how best to prune -- and what to simply cut away as fruitless. Ezekiel provides a grim enough picture for the fate of such dried branches:
Ezek 15: 1 The word of the LORD came to me:
2 “Son of man, of all the woody branches among the trees of the forest, what happens to the wood of the vine?1 3 Can wood be taken from it to make anything useful? Or can anyone make a peg from it to hang things on? 4 No! It is thrown in the fire for fuel; when the fire has burned up both ends of it and it is charred in the middle, will it be useful for anything? 5 Indeed! If it was not made into anything useful when it was whole, how much less can it be made into anything when the fire has burned it up and it is charred? . . . "
8 --> The first key dynamic for the branch is to abide in the vine, i.e. the first and greatest secret of successful discipleship is a vital connexion to the risen Christ, a living relationship with our Lord and Saviour. We must not just know about Jesus, we must each come to know our Risen Lord in a living, growing, love-bonded relationship, rooted in penitent trust, the experience of being born again from above, and the consequent indwelling and upwelling of the Spirit in rivers of living water:
John 3:   5Jesus answered, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, unless a man is born of water and [[a]even] the Spirit, he cannot [ever] enter the kingdom of God.

    6What is born of [from] the flesh is flesh [of the physical is physical]; and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.     7Marvel not [do not be surprised, astonished] at My telling you, You must all be born anew (from above).

    8The wind blows (breathes) where it wills; and though you hear its sound, yet you neither know where it comes from nor where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit . . . .

14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert [on a pole], so must [so it is necessary that] the Son of Man be lifted up [on the cross],     15In order that everyone who believes in Him [who cleaves to Him, trusts Him, and relies on Him] may [c]not perish, but have eternal life and [actually] live forever!

    16For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten ([d]unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.

    17For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him.
7: 37Now on the final and most important day of the Feast [of Tabernacles], Jesus stood [in the Temple], and He cried in a loud voice, If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink!
    38He who believes in Me [who cleaves to and trusts in and relies on Me] as the Scripture has said, From his innermost being shall flow [continuously] springs and rivers of living water.
    39But He was speaking here of the Spirit, Whom those who believed (trusted, had faith) in Him were afterward to receive. For the [Holy] Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (raised to honor). [AMP]
9 --> This is strongly echoed by Paul in Rom 8:
Rom 8: 8 . . . those who are living the life of the flesh [catering to the appetites and impulses of their carnal nature] cannot please or satisfy God, or be acceptable to Him.
    9But you are not living the life of the flesh, you are living the life of the Spirit, if the [Holy] Spirit of God [really] dwells within you [directs and controls you]. But if anyone does not possess the [Holy] Spirit of Christ, he is none of His [he does not belong to Christ, is not truly a child of God].
    10But if Christ lives in you, [then although] your [natural] body is dead by reason of sin and guilt, the spirit is alive because of [the] righteousness [that He imputes to you].
    11And if the Spirit of Him Who raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, [then] He Who raised up Christ Jesus from the dead will also restore to life your mortal (short-lived, perishable) bodies through His Spirit Who dwells in you . . .  [AMP]
10 --> The second key dynamic is the word of God closely tied to prayer, for the word prunes us and it so nourishes us that our desires and prayers align with the will of God so that our prayers will be answered. This brings to bear three key scriptures:
2 Tim 3: 14 You, however, must continue in the things you have learned and are confident about. 

You know who taught you 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 

16 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work. 

2 Pet 1:2 May grace and peace be lavished on you as you grow in the rich knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord!

 3 I can pray this because his divine power has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness through the rich knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence. 

4 Through these things he has bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire.

1 Jn 5: 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 The one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life.

 13 I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

 14 And this is the confidence that we have before him: that whenever we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, then we know that we have the requests that we have asked from him. [NET]
11 --> Thus the successful disciple's relationship with Christ, the true vine,
a:  is initiated by the experience of spiritual rebirth [= being born again, or regenerated],  and 

b: is mediated from day to day by imbibing the Word, also 

c: by responding to the indwelling Spirit who bubbles up within in love, truth, purity and power; and

d:  is marked by a vital prayer discipline aligned with God's will, all

e:  based on his abundant and adequate -- even, lavish -- promises and linked blessings in the scriptures.

12 -->Finally, he gives his commandment, to remain in the circle of his love, and to live together in mutual, self-sacrificing love. This reflects and builds on the central principle of Biblical ethics, love to God and to man made in his image, but is multiplied by the bond of being united in Christ.

13 --> That fellowship of unity and mutual support requires turning from darkness and walking in the light, thus in the way of penitence, trust in God, purity, truth and love:
 1 Jn 1: 5 Now this is the gospel message we have heard from him and announce to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. 

6 If we say we have fellowship with him and yet keep on walking in the darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 

8 If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.

 1 (My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.) But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous One, 2 and he himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world.

 3 Now by this we know that we have come to know God: if we keep his commandments. 4 The one who says “I have come to know God” and yet does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in such a person. But whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has been perfected. By this we know that we are in him. 

6 The one who says he resides in God ought himself to walk just as Jesus walked.  
7 Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have already heard.
8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. 9 The one who says he is in the light but still hates his fellow Christian is still in the darkness. 10 The one who loves his fellow Christian resides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who hates his fellow Christian is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. [NET]
 All of this leads to the issue of how such dynamics and disciplines can work out on the ground in our lives families, churches and communities. Luke's glimpse of the life of the very first church formed in response to the descent of the Spirit and proclamation of the gospel at Pentecost in Jerusalem, c. AD 30, gives us a key hint:
 Ac 2: 14 But Peter stood up with the eleven, raised his voice, and addressed them: “You men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, know this and listen carefully to what I say . . . .  22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know – 23 this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles. 24 But God raised him up, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power . . . . 32 This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he has poured out what you both see and hear [i.e. the evidence of the descent of the Spirit] . . . .

     36 ​​​​​​​Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.”

 37 Now when they heard this, they were acutely distressed and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “What should we do, brothers?” 

38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.” 40 With many other words he testified and exhorted them saying, “Save yourselves from this perverse generation!” 

41 So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added.

 42 They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Reverential awe came over everyone, and many wonders and miraculous signs came about by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and held everything in common, 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and distributing the proceeds to everyone, as anyone had need. 46 Every day they continued to gather together by common consent in the temple courts, breaking bread from house to house, sharing their food with glad and humble hearts, 47 praising God and having the good will of all the people. 

And the Lord was adding to their number every day those who were being saved. [NET]
Let us continue our steps of thought:
14 --> Here, on that first Pentecost Sunday, we see the gospel proclaimed publicly in the power of the Spirit, based on the scriptures and calling for a penitent response and for covenantal identification with the Christ and the fellowship of the church in the waters of baptism. 

15 --> On this, the confident expectation is that the same poured out Spirit from the exalted Christ would be poured out on those who respond, not only the immediate audience but all who respond in future generations and to the ends of the earth.

16 --> The community of believers so formed in Christ devoted themselves to the teaching, fellowship and mutual support in response to needs, worship, prayer, outreach and witness, leading to a growing church. 

17 --> Indeed, if we were to trace the remarks over the next several chapters, we would see that the church's growth was accelerating, i.e. (as the mathematics of compound interest and exponential growth would tell us) it was largely based on the witness of those already in the church, so that the more Christians there were, the faster the numbers grew.

18 --> That is the natural state of Christian growth, but it can be slowed or even stopped by polarisation and hostility, or a breakdown of the life of purity and witness.  

19 --> That is exactly what happened in the Acts, where opponents of the gospel reacted violently and with slanders such as the well known tale from Matt 28 as to how the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus while the tomb guards slept. (As in, how do you know what is happening while you are asleep?) Persecution was tried, and we also had the creeping in of hypocrisy, leading to the astonishing judgement against Ananias and Sapphira for attempting to lie to the church and to God.

20 --> Heb 10 adds to this a key principle that applies to fellowship, worship and prayer:
Heb 10: 19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings, because we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. 
23 And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy. 

24 And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, 25 not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near.
 21 --> Jesus has opened the way for us to approach the awesome presence of God, and we are invited to draw near, in prayer and worship. Similarly, we should spur one another on to love and good deeds, both in the meetings of the church and in the day to day events of life in family, workplace and community.

22 --> 1 Cor 14 gives a tantalising glimpse of what a meeting of the church in those early days may have been like. (Perhaps, it is as well that we have not been given a detailed liturgy, for that would doubtless have become a rigid formula, the very opposite of the flexibility of mutually supportive contributions we can see!) Excerpting:
1 Cor 14: 26 What should you do then, brothers and sisters?
When you come together, each one has a song, has a lesson, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all these things be done for the strengthening of the church.
27 If someone speaks in a tongue, it should be two, or at the most three, one after the other, and someone must interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, he should be silent in the church. Let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Two or three prophets should speak and the others should evaluate what is said. 30 And if someone sitting down receives a revelation, the person who is speaking should conclude.
31 For you can all prophesy one after another, so all can learn and be encouraged. 32 Indeed, the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, 33 for God is not characterized by disorder but by peace. [NET]
23 -->There is even a bit of wise advice to those who have the notorious "gift" of "perpetual continuance"! (Namely, apply for the "gift" of "[summary and] conclusion"!)

24 --> When we turn to the individual disciple, we find a cluster of hints, examples and advice from Old and New Testament scriptures. These classic texts are typical:
Josh 1:7 Make sure you are very strong and brave! Carefully obey all the law my servant Moses charged you to keep! Do not swerve from it to the right or to the left, so that you may be successful in all you do. 8 This law scroll must not leave your lips! You must memorize it day and night so you can carefully obey all that is written in it. Then you will prosper and be successful. 9 I repeat, be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the LORD your God, am with you in all you do.”

Ps 1:1 ​​​​​​​How blessed is the one who does not follow the advice of the wicked,
       or stand in the pathway with sinners,
       or sit in the assembly of scoffers!
  2 ​​​​​​​Instead he finds pleasure in obeying the LORD’s commands;
       he meditates on his commands day and night.
      3 ​​​​​​​He is like a tree planted by flowing streams;
       it yields its fruit at the proper time,
       and its leaves never fall off.
       He succeeds in everything he attempts. [NET]
25 --> We could go on and on, giving examples of the use of music, public petitions, sermons, bodily postures in worship, the use of gestures with the hands, church organisation and administration, poor relief, and even on the subject of church discipline to restore the wayward believer and more, or how we should pray for and anoint the sick, and so forth. (It will probably help to note that there does not seem to have been any one rigid formula used in the NT era church, and that the well-known episcopal system emerged over time in response to the challenges of the time and familiar cultural patterns.)

26 --> However, all of this can be captured by simply following biblical exemplars and instructions, in a spirit of liberty balanced by good and respectful order. There are also many reference works that address such topics, and even church disciplines and minister's manuals. 

27 --> By way of sparkers for onward thought, I suggest that: 
a: Wayne Grudem's discussion in his well known "big blue book," Systematic Theology, would be a good first reference on many themes. 

b: David Servant's online manual, The Disciple-Making Minister, would also be helpful especially for those thinking about house-based churches.  (I also like his evangelism in a postmodern era book, Forgive me for waiting so long to tell you this, quite attractive.)

c: The Alpha Course is a useful model for well-paced group discussion based outreach in a post-modern era as well. 

d: I also like the ideas used by the Open Air Campaigners and their sketch-board approach is unique, highly original and powerful (and as a bonus, scientism is effectively rebutted in the clip):

e:  I have found street skits, stage drama, public testimonies, videos and movies, camping, retreats and urban day camps/vacation Bible Schools, and well organised Sunday Schools, the Junior/Children's Church movement,  teaching conferences, and even structured evening classes and theological extension courses to be very helpful. 

f: Inductive Bible Studies and Cell Groups, for evangelistic investigation and for nurture as have been successfully used by the Inter Schools Christian Fellowship and University and Colleges Christian Fellowship for decades, and are well worth looking at. (Cf. my own Cell Leader's Manual, originally written and compiled while I was a student, here. ABCD: A basic Course in Discipleship, is a useful complement to this. So are the Why Not Now , Personal Evangelism and Evangelistic Meetings courses in renewal and outreach. The Apologetics Primer is a first exposure to handling issues.)
26 --> We may thus draw the various threads together and summarise a generic biblical pattern for church/body life and the individual walk of discipleship:
a: Spirit-empowered servants of God come to a community with the gospel, and proclaim it in a way relevant to the challenges faced by its people, leading to people making a response to Christ.

b: Those who repent, receiving the word of the gospel, are baptised as a mark of covenant with Christ and the church under God.

c: The corporate life of the church plays out in families, houses/homes, large group assemblies, and in the day to day life of the community.

d: There is a strong emphasis on the teaching of Jesus and his Apostles and prophets, reading the scriptures, instruction, study and application to life, service and community.

e: Fellowship and mutual service, support and nurture are vital.

f: Study, worship and prayer, corporate, in small groups, in families and in one's personal life, are regular, even habitual practices.

g: There is a continual reaching out to others with the gospel and testimony to its life-transforming impact, at personal and corporate levels, and as an aspect of responding to needs of others.

h: Christians are also taught to be good, responsible, neighbourly, productive citizens and workers, and to support sound government, as Rom 13:1 - 10 outlines. (Cf. here on in context for some details.)

i: The well-founded church is also active in prayer for the community and for the world, as well as in carrying the gospel beyond the local community to the region and the wider world beyond. (Cf the MVAT Kit -- a short-course manual -- for thought-sparkers on this.)

j: In the Christian family,  children are nurtured in the scriptures and are brought up "in the fear and admonition of the Lord," from earliest childhood.  Family prayers, worship, singing to God, grace at meals, times of Bible reading, instruction and reflection, plus provision of Bibles and useful literature, are fairly standard approaches.

k: In today's multimedia and video age, I would supplement these with such materials. (And, we should seriously consider incorporating such materials in our worship services, sunday or sabbath schools, youth meetings, cell groups etc too.)

l: As soon as a child is of age to read, I would suggest inculcating a personal Bible reading and prayer habit, the Quiet Time. For this we can start with Bible Story books and Children's devotionals, and move on to the Children's translations that are now available.

m: All of us should be diligent in Bible reading, study, prayer, seeking the guidance of God in the steps of life, and in growing in love, truth, purity and power by the grace of God.

n: We should also be confident based on the promise of Jesus' return, that God will wrap up history, bringing redemption to full completion. We do not labour as those who have no hope. Also, we are confident that arrogant, rebellious men -- however ascendant they may be at the moment -- do not ultimately escape the control of God, and will account to him for their deeds.  So, well-grounded disciples live as stewards holding opportunities and resources in trust from God, to whom we owe ultimate allegiance, and before whom we are responsible to make the most of our opportunities in his service.

However, admirable as such attitudes and disciplines are, absent the indwelling and overflowing Spirit within, a do's and don'ts legalistic approach to the disciplines of discipleship becomes vain, empty and futile religiosity. So, we must set our attention on this:

The power of the Spirit and discipleship

We can already see from what has been mentioned and cited above, that the dynamic element of the life of Christian discipleship is the Holy Spirit who lives in our hearts and overflows from within in love, truth, purity and power. 

The very same power that God exerted when he raised Jesus from death and exalted him above every name in this age and in the one to come.

That is why Jesus said to Nicodemus, "unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God . . . [t]he wind blows wherever it will, and you hear the sound it makes, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." [Jn 3:3, 8.]

It is why Paul writes that "those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit . . . if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him . . . .  if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God." [Rom 8:5, 9, 14.]

It is also why Jesus stood up in the Temple on that last day of the Feast of Tabernacles and cried out, speaking of the Spirit: "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, ‘From within him will flow rivers of living water." [Jn 7:37 - 39.]

So important is this that when Luke made the transition to volume 2 of his history of the Christian Movement in its first generation, the Acts opens with a note on how Jesus showed himself risen from the dead and alive "with many convincing proofs" [Ac 1:3], he immediately went on:
Ac 1:4 While he was with them, he declared, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait there for what my Father promised, which you heard about from me. 5 For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” [NET]

The assembled disciples responded:
Ac 1: 6 . . . “Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”
In reply:
7 He told them, “You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.” [NET]

So important is this empowering work, that Jesus said "hold" on going out in witness until you have received power through the outpouring of the Spirit. And indeed, we may sum the Acts up as a summary of what happened when the disciples went out in the power of the Spirit, who explicitly comes up as the active agent of the Triune God in situation after situation, crisis after crisis.

Unfortunately, in our day, such empowerment has been caught up in hot and divisive controversies, tempting us on one side to want to tip-toe around such controversial matters. Or, on the part of others, we may become enthusiasts -- pro or con makes but little difference -- in the bad, unbalanced and ill-instructed, sense; riding hard on our favourite proof texts, examples and experiences taken out of context. So, we have our work cut out for us to find a good and effective, insightful balance.

Let us seek it, using the now usual steps- of- thought, point- by- point approach:
1 --> Let us note some key terms and images for the work of the Spirit: being born again [and/or, from above], spiritual rebirth, indwelling, upwelling/springing up, overflowing, empowering, coming upon with power, being poured out, anointing, and more.  

2 --> The very term "Spirit" is also a fluid one: Wind, or Breath. Where also of course, when one speaks, one gives articulate, meaningful, personal expression to one's breath. So, already we see the inextricably close union of the Spirit of God and the Word of God. No wonder, we read that the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ.

3 --> These are all images of process, of change, of power from flow or change. No wonder, many have been temped to de-personify the Spirit, speaking of the third person of the trinity as "it." And yet Jesus us clear, the Spirit is another Comforter of the same kind as himself, allon parakleton; and, Peter informs us that to lie to the Spirit of God is to lie to God. 

4 --> Similarly, Rom 8 is clear that the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ refer to one and the same person. 

5 --> So, we must reckon with the Spirit poured out from the Father and the Son, who is the dynamic agent in the life of the disciple, transforming us to become children of God by spiritual rebirth, living in us and thus transforming us in love, truth, purity and power. In so doing, welling up in streams of living water and flowing forth irresistibly, abundantly and refreshingly to the thirsty hearts around.

6 --> No wonder, then, that we hear of Stephen, being "a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit . . .  full of grace and power" [Ac 6: 5, 8]: continually welling up and overflowing in a holy and irresistibly wise power-flow from beyond.  

7 --> This same man -- not an Apostle of the circle of twelve or an Elder, just a Deacon co-ordinating support of the poor alongside the six others who had been appointed with him -- "was performing great wonders and miraculous signs among the people" [v. 8] and was irresistible in argument so that objectors (including Saul of Tarsus) "were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke." [v. 10.]

8 --> That is why they bribed false witnesses, and brought about his lynching under the false colours of a trial for blasphemy. But even then, in the face of his murderers at their foul work, he responded in the power of the Spirit: " [while being stoned] he fell to his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” When he had said this, he died." [Ac 7:60.]

9 --> So, we have a yardstick to measure ourselves by, as to what a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit looks and acts like, even in the face of his murderers. A stiff act to follow, as Saul of Tarsus found out when Jesus knocked him off his high horse, told him just how hard it was to kick against the goads, and drafted him to fill the shoes of Stephen!

10 --> Now, we must briefly turn to some of the key controversies, over what it means to be filled with the Spirit, what the baptism in/with/by the Spirit means, what gifts of the spirit are, whether such are applicable today, and also, whether the full set of four-/five-fold ministries of Eph 4:11 - 16 are applicable today.

11 --> Wading in, it is obvious that once the Spirit is within, unless we resist and grieve him, he will naturally well up into overflowing. So to be filled with and overflowing with the Spirit in love, truth, power and purity are the NATURAL and reasonably expected state of the Christian life.

12 --> Our main problem, then, is that too often we are hindering the flow of the Spirit, in one way or another; by one sin or another. Which does not exactly stroke our egos or flatter our pride. Where also such pride is a sin, especially when it gets wounded and puffs up in rage. So, let us all confess it and turn from our hindering sins, humbly asking the Spirit to lead us into and fill us with all truth and all purity and godly power, in love. 

13 --> In short, there is a reason why Paul writes in 1 Cor 13:
1 Cor 13: 1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 

2 And if I have prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away everything I own, and if I give over my body in order to boast, but do not have love, I receive no benefit.

 4 Love is patient, love is kind, it is not envious. Love does not brag, it is not puffed up. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-serving, it is not easily angered or resentful. 6 It is not glad about injustice, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

14 --> And yes, Paul is going down the list of typical Spiritual Gifts -- i.e. " the manifestation of the Spirit . . . given for the benefit of all" [1 Cor 12:7] -- from 1 Cor 12:
1 Cor 12:  8 For one person is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, and another the message of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another performance of miracles, to another prophecy, and to another discernment of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things.

 12 For just as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body – though many – are one body, so too is Christ.
13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit.
14 For in fact the body is not a single member, but many.
15 If the foot says, “Since I am not a hand, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. 16 And if the ear says, “Since I am not an eye, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. 17 If the whole body were an eye, what part would do the hearing? If the whole were an ear, what part would exercise the sense of smell?
18 But as a matter of fact, God has placed each of the members in the body just as he decided. [NET. Notice the unity-diversity and complementarity emphases on gifting for service. Diverse members of the one body have differing roles and equipment but all work together for the common good.]
15 --> One of the debates, of course is on whether such gifts have ceased, given v. 1 Cor 13:8: "Love never ends. But if there are prophecies, they will be set aside; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be set aside." That is, gifts will definitely come to an end.

16 --> When? Vv. 10 - 12 answer: "when what is perfect comes, the partial will be set aside . . . [n]ow I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known." 

17 --> This too is subject to many debates, but the most obvious answers seem to be: 
(a) gifts are given for a job, building up the church, the body of Christ that functions based on the complementarity of the diverse giftings and roles of its members; so

(b) the time they will be put away, by that logic, would be the time when the church is completely built up; where

(c) the scriptures counsel that that time is the time of the culmination of all things, at the second coming,

(d) and meanwhile they must be used in the right way [in particular falling under the discipline of being judged based on the scriptures], motivated by love to build rather than as displays of "spiritual" elitism or pride etc.
18 --> There are other views, but we should be at least willing to hear each other out. However, we have a right to ask fairly pointed questions, e.g. why do some hold that the power-gifts faded with the first generation, once the NT scriptures were complete, given that -- while they were indeed written in C1 -- these were not compiled in a collection that was universally accessible for centuries? Why, too, have some taken gifts and tried to use them as if they authenticate beliefs, structures and practices that can find scant support in the acknowledged Scriptures? And so on?

19 --> This naturally raises the question as to what the Baptism with or in the Spirit (in the sense used by Luke in the Acts) means, and whether the sign of such a "second blessing" is that one speaks in other tongues, similar to what happened at Pentecost, to Cornelius and company and with the disciples at Ephesus. [Cf. Ac 2, 10, 19; in Ac 8, there is no description one way or another.]

20 --> Cutting a long debate short, if we follow the examples in Acts, there is some support through the key cases in chs. 2, 8, 10 & 19 for viewing the Baptism in the Spirit as an initial crisis-point filling with the Spirit in overflowing measure, being come upon from on high with power, and given Ac 2:38 - 9 in context, such an experience of being filled can be seen as a birthright of the Christian disciple. A named manifestation -- the "A" is by deliberate contrast to "the" -- is indeed speaking with other tongues under inspiration of the Spirit.

21 --> However, to deny that one who repents and believes in Christ will have the Spirit living within, is an unsafe and probably unsound claim, with little or no biblical warrant. Similarly, to extrapolate from what happens in certain cases -- speaking in tongues -- to what must happen in all "valid" cases is equally unsafe. Especially since we are explicitly told that the gifts are diversely distributed by the Spirit in his wisdom as he wills; i.e. not as we want or demand. Though, too, we are told:
" Since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, seek to abound in order to strengthen the church," . . . . "you can all prophesy one after another, so all can learn and be encouraged" . . . . and even: " be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid anyone from speaking in tongues. And do everything in a decent and orderly manner." [1 Cor 14:12, 39 - 40.]

22 --> Similarly, we can note that the Acts justifies speaking of being filled with the Spirit as a crisis-point experience, one that can be repeated in situations that need a flood of power from on high. We see this for instance with Stephen when he was on trial for his life. But equally, right from the beginning he was noted as being full of faith and the Holy Spirit.

23 --> So we should seek to be full of the Spirit, and should request and expect to have a specially powerful upwelling in power at crisis moments.  And, there is some justification for calling an initial crisis like that the baptism with the Spirit.

24 --> Doubtless many will disagree, and can advance their reasons. 

25 --> Very well, let us discuss, and where we cannot come to a consensus, let us agree to disagree in charity and without sacrificing the ability to work together in the bond of love. For that is exactly one of those things that grieves the Spirit and cripples our growth in his fullness.

26 --> But, what about the gifted ministers given to the church by Christ, as we may see from Eph 4? Let us excerpt:
Eph 4: 10 He [Jesus], the very one who descended, is also the one who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things. 

11 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. 

14 So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. 15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. 

16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.
27 --> The focus is that Christ came, descending and ascending in order to fill -- thus transform -- all things. Accordingly, he gave gifts -- church planting and reforming missionaries, spokesmen and intercessors for God, those gifted to call us to commit ourselves to Christ, those gifted to teach and/or to nurture in Christ. 

28 --> All of this to help equip the general members of the church, the body of Christ so that we may contribute through our own calling, gifting and opportunities, building up the church in love and protecting it from disunity and deception. 

29 --> You will note that by shifting away from labels that are loaded with a lot of freight to descriptions that show the functions more explicitly, we can at once see that of course there have always been and will always be church planting and renewing missionaries.

30 --> Likewise,using Daniel as a model, we have always needed intercessory spokesmen who listen in on the Divine counsels and in compassion, express concerns to us and call us to what we should be, spotting pitfalls in front of us so we can avoid them.Where also, Amos counsels:
Amos 3:      4 ​​​​​​​Does a lion roar in the woods if he has not cornered his prey?
       Does a young lion bellow from his den if he has not caught something?      
5 ​​​​​​​Does a bird swoop down into a trap on the ground if there is no bait?
       Does a trap spring up from the ground unless it has surely caught something?
      6 ​​​​​​​If an alarm sounds in a city, do people not fear?
       If disaster overtakes a city, is the LORD not responsible?
      7 ​​​​​​​Certainly the sovereign LORD does nothing without first revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.
      8 ​​​​​​​A lion has roared! Who is not afraid?
       The sovereign LORD has spoken! Who can refuse to prophesy?  . . . .

     5:12 ​​​​​​​Certainly I am aware of your many rebellious acts
       and your numerous sins.
       You torment the innocent, you take bribes,
       and you deny justice to the needy at the city gate.
     13 ​​​​​​​For this reason whoever is smart [or, "prudent"] keeps quiet in such a time,
       for it is an evil time.
     14 ​​​​​​​Seek good and not evil so you can live!
       Then the LORD, the God who commands armies, just might be with you,

       as you claim he is.
     15 ​​​​​​​Hate what is wrong, love what is right!
       Promote justice at the city gate!
       Maybe the LORD, the God who commands armies, will have mercy on those who are left from Joseph. [NET]

31 --> We hardly need to say that we need evangelists and those who minister somewhere along the spectrum from the teacher to the nurturing and overseeing pastor! (And, that points out that it is likely that the ministries pastor and teacher cannot really be divided, but there are different balances of emphasis and level. That is hinted at in how the text here speaks of "pastors and teachers." Where "pastor" is synonymous with shepherd of a flock. Michelson: ποιμήν poimen (poy-mayn') n. 1. a shepherd {literally or figuratively}.)

32 --> What about those who abuse positions, offices and titles, arrogantly and abusively lording it over the flock of God, who bought the church with his own blood? Or, who want to put forth their own notions and views or decisions as though -- openly or by implication of what happens if one asks "too many" questions or the like -- they were to be regarded as the unalterable word of God?

33 --> The apostle Paul is crisp, and we can let him have the last word:
1 Thess 5: 12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who labor among you and preside over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them most highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 

14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the undisciplined, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient toward all. 15 See that no one pays back evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all. 16 Always rejoice, 17 constantly pray, 18 in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 

19 Do not extinguish the Spirit.
20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt.
21 But examine all things; hold fast to what is good. 

22 Stay away from every form of evil. [NET]

Discipleship, mission and transformation:
repentance, renewal, revival, reformation

One of the strong implications of the NT is that consistent discipleship in the power of the Spirit leads to a "natural" progression in the community: repentance, renewal, revival, reformation.  

Thus, through these four R's of revival and reformation, a community would more and more be softened to penitence by the Spirit convicting men of sin, righteousness and accountability before God [Jn 16:7 - 11]. So also, as the community responds, it will be more and more filled with the grace and blessing of Christ through the gospel, and be transformed.

In the following, I will adapt an article first published as a part of a series in the old Caribbean Challenge Magazine, in 1999 - 2000, and which appears as Ch/Unit 2 in the course workbook, Why Not Now?

A good place to start thinking about gospel-based personal and community transformation, is with an incident recorded in Luke 7:36 – 50.  

Here, a notoriously “fallen” woman crashed a dinner party held for Jesus by Simon, a member of the then highly respected Pharisee — that is, “holiness” — movement. 

She heard that Jesus, then a famous but increasingly controversial preacher and healer, was going to dinner at Simon's house, so she walked right in.  

She stood behind the guest of honour.  

Soon, the tears began to flow, wetting and streaking his dusty feet as he reclined at the table.  She then knelt down, wiped his feet with her hair, began kissing them, and poured perfume on them.

That was too much for the host.  He said to himself: "If that man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is — that she is a sinner."  [v. 39.]

But that was just the point.  Jesus replied: "Simon, I have something to tell you."

"Tell me, teacher."

So, he did.  First, a story: if a moneylender forgives two men who can't pay back their loans, which would love him more?
"The one who had the bigger debt cancelled."
"You have judged correctly . . . Do you see this woman?  I came into your house.  You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered has not stopped kissing my feet.  You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven — for she loved much.  But he who has been forgiven little loves little."  [Vv. 43 - 47.]

Why was there so sharp a contrast between the respectable Pharisee and the "fallen" woman?  Why did Jesus rebuke the upright, respectable religious leader?  

And, why did he accept what clearly looked very much like attempted seduction by a notorious temptress as an expression of heartfelt repentance?

The answers take us to the roots of true revival, and show how it works.  They will also expose the sad, dirty secrets of our own hearts — secrets that block the renewing and reviving flow of God's Holy Spirit across the Caribbean and beyond it in our own time.

For, true revival begins when we admit a shameful truth: that we are empty, dry, even more corrupt inwardly than we are outwardly; a hypocritical stench in the nostrils of the Holy One.  Furthermore, even when we sincerely want to do what is right and good, we find ourselves trapped in sin. 

As Paul put it: “I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin . . . I have a desire to do what is good but I cannot carry it out . . . the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing.”  [Rom. 7:14, 19.]   

If we fail to break out of such hypocrisy and bondage to sin, our fate will be like that of the Pharisees: once highly respected for their uprightness, the very name of their movement is now a synonym for “hypocrite.”  Already, many people across the region — too often for good reason — view Christians in exactly this way.
So, let us hunger for God's love, truth, purity and power.  Then, let us admit to and turn from our sinful bondage and hypocrisy to Jesus, through in prayerful, even tearful, repentance.  Of course, such a turning point may be quite intense, even offensive to onlookers, but "he who has been forgiven little loves little."  We must not allow our desire to look good to block us from seriously dealing with our sins!

Once we have thus faced our sins, we must go on to renewal.  

As Paul teaches: "Don't let the world squeeze you into its mould.  Instead, be transformed from within by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is."  [Rom. 12:2, paraphrased.]  In short, we must turn from "the ignorance that is in [us] due to the hardening of [our] hearts," and learn and live by "the truth that is in Jesus."  [Eph. 4:18, 21.]  

Thus, as we study and live by that truth, we will "put off [our] old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires . . . [and] be made new in the attitude of [our] minds . . . put[ting] on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."  [Eph. 4:22 - 24.]  

Consequently, “there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death . . . so that the righteous requirements of the law might be met fully in us, who do not live according to the [flesh] but according to the Spirit.”  [Rom. 8:1, 4; NIV margin for sarx.] 

In short, renewal is the living out of repentance, through the liberating power of God’s Word and Spirit.  (Indeed, the Greek word for "repent" means, "to change your mind," that is, thinking and attitudes.)  Thus, as Paul goes on to say in Rom. 8:5 – 9 & 13 - 14:
Those who live according to the [flesh] have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live according to the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.  The [mind set on the flesh] is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace . . . .
You, however, are controlled not by the [flesh] but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.  And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ . . . . 
For if you live according to the [flesh], you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.   
So, the roots of revival are that we must face up to our sinfulness, repenting and learning to walk in step with the leading of the Spirit of God.  This requires that we devote ourselves to studying and living by the pure light of the Word of God. For, it is the Scriptures that “are able to make [us] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” They do so by “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the [people] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  [2 Tim 3:15 – 17; cf. Acts 2:42.]

Thus, making use of the concept that the people of God are the functioning parts of the body of Christ, Paul notes:  “speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is Christ.  From him, the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  [Eph. 4:15 – 16.]

Love is therefore the lynchpin virtue, binding together our life of faith and service into a balanced, caring whole.   As a result, the key rule of righteous conduct is love at work:
[H]e who loves his fellow-man has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandments there may be are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’  Love does no harm to its neighbour.  Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.  [Rom. 13:8b – 10.]  
This leads us to the basic principles of Christian liberty:
1)      Love God with all your soul, heart, strength and mind[1];

2)      Love your neighbour as yourself; then,

3)      Freely act out that love, in the power of God’s Holy Spirit, and by the light of his Word.
But, doesn’t this give license to us to do what is right in our own eyes? 

Not at all, for the leading of the Spirit of God by the light of the Bible provides a strong safeguard — “love does no harm.” More specifically, the Scriptures teach us the truth, correct our error and train us in righteousness, equipping us “for every good work.”

Sadly, however, “good works” have become a source of confusion; especially through the absurd conceit that we can save ourselves by doing enough good deeds to make up for our sins[2]. Instead, the Bible strikes a delicate balance: while such good works are not the basis for Salvation, they are its natural and intended overflow:
It is by grace you have been saved, through faith . . . not by works, so that no-one can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  [Eph. 2:8 – 10.]  
 So, as we receive God’s unmerited favour — that is, grace — through surrendering to and trusting him based on his word[3], he leads us to a life of love that issues in doing good works.  This means that as we repent and are renewed, we will turn from selfish, devilish, fleshly, worldly ways to loving, godly ones instead.  Thus, healing renewal naturally flows out through transformed lives into our families, churches, workplaces and communities — the process of reformation.

However, many people draw benefits, profits and pleasures from deceit, sin and chaos in the community.  So, as renewal begins to reform the community, it will inevitably trigger conflict and opposition.  As the Apostle warns, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”  [2 Tim. 3:12, 13.] 

So, if revival is to break forth across the Caribbean, we must be determined to turn from our sin in repentance, and to trust and serve Christ by walking in the “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do,” even in the teeth of conflict, opposition and confrontation.

We can now sum up.  Revival’s roots lie in repentance and renewal.  Likewise, its fruits are reformation and persecution.  We can therefore see that revival happens in four overlapping phases, the four R’s of revival:
R1: Repentance: True revivals start here.  As we repent, we "put off [our] old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires . . . [and will] be made new in the attitude of [our] minds . . . put[ting] on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."  [Eph. 4:18, 20 - 24.]
R2: Renewal: this is the living out of repentance as we learn and live by the light of God’s word and the power of God’s Spirit. "Don't let the world squeeze you into its mould.  Instead, be transformed from within by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is." 
R3: Revival, proper: the pouring out of God's Spirit in times of refreshing.  Thus, we receive anointed power from God to walk in good works in the face of a deceived, corrupt world. "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people," so we are called to "Repent . . . and turn to God, so that [our] sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord."
R4: Reformation: the transformation of a community, its institutions and culture under the impact of the Lordship of Jesus as those who surrender to him fill their lives and ways with his fulness.  Of course, this threatens those who draw pleasure and power from sin (or even make their living from it), so revivals will also face persecution.
But, that is not all.

For, a Heaven-sent spiritual breakthrough is powerful, but threatening.  

That is, when revival comes to town, it crashes the party — it offends "good taste," challenges the comfortable, threatens business and political interests, cuts across agendas and exposes hidden hypocrisy.  So, the demons won't leave town quietly: they always fight hard and dirty, stirring up their dupes to oppose God.
The resulting intensified spiritual warfare, accompanied by ugliness, confusion and conflict, stir up further contempt for genuine revival — even among God's people.  So, we tend to be like Simon the upright Pharisee, who mistook repentance for seduction, concluding that Jesus couldn't be a true prophet since he didn't put the "sinner" in her place. 

But there is another side to discernment.  

As Solzhenitsyn the great Russian writer — and Christian — observes, "the line between good and evil does not pass between classes and nations, but right through the human heart."  As a result, renewal movements and revivals have always contained a strange mixture of truth and error, repentance and hard-heartedness, insight and blindness, holiness and hypocrisy. 

Clearly, then, we must prize and use godly discernment.  As the sad case of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians shows, some religious leaders, movements and members may not be sound or even genuine. 

Others may be like King David: they have their hearts in the right place, but are tragically flawed. Or, saddest of all, some are like King Saul — they started right, but have lost their way, and are now lashing out jealously against those they see as threats to their agendas.  

This caution holds for the evangelist pitching a tent down the road, for the TV preacher, for the Sunday School teacher or pastor, for the most venerable religious leaders in the community, and, most of all, for our own deceitful hearts.  [Jeremiah 17:9 & 10.]  

Let us always seek to discern and yield to "the finger of God."  [Luke 11:20.]

One further step is necessary.  Historically, reformation requires outreach, nurture and ministry strategies and teachings that pierce religious, intellectual and social or cultural barriers.  For instance, the key insight of the European Reformation of five hundred years ago was the recovery of Paul’s key teaching: justification by grace, through faith, unto good works.  [Eph. 2:8 – 10.]  

This breakthrough teaching was coupled to a new strategy: Bibles in the language of the people, with systematic study and teaching for the masses.  The resulting release of God’s word powerfully worked to liberate and renew millions, and so transformed whole nations.  Thus, even though the Reformation has not been without blind spots and even horrible failings over these past five centuries, the world has been tremendously blessed by it. 

Similarly, two hundred years ago, the Methodist movement stressed personal encounter with God in repentance and faith, holiness and the power of the Spirit.  It also used then unconventional strategies: open-air preaching, circuit riding preachers and the small-group class structure.  Thus, the English speaking world was further transformed by the power of God, and the modern Missionary movement broke forth and has spread the gospel around the world.  

The breakthrough principle is not just a matter of historical observation.  

It can also be seen at work in the New Testament: Jesus' encounters with the woman at the well in Samaria [John 4:1 – 42] and the early church's breakthrough to the gentiles [Acts 8 – 15] are two clear cases.  These cases will well repay study.

For the Caribbean today, I believe such a breakthrough cluster of teachings and strategies should include:
a]  The Fulness of Christ: Eph. 1:10 and 4:10 point out that God has purposed to unite everything in heaven and on earth under one Head, Christ; and that Jesus came, descending and ascending "in order to fill all things."  1:22 & 23 add: "the church . . . is his body, the fulness of him who fills everything in every way."  Our mission therefore requires us to penetrate all of life with the renewing force of the gospel: individuality, family life and sexuality, gender, the church,  education, sports, art and culture, the media, institutions, business, science and technology, government and politics, justice and mercy, environment concerns, national development and the war against poverty . . .
b] Discipleship, Body Life and Service: Eph. 4:11 - 16 can be viewed as the operational form of our discipling mandate.  It outlines the strategy Christ has for the church: he gives leaders to the church "to prepare God's people for works of service," so that the church might grow into "the whole measure of the fulness of Christ," as each of us fulfils his/her areas of service — that is, "ministry" — in the body of Christ in the world.  Thus, discipleship leads to our call to service under Christ's purpose to fill all things, in all nations.
c] Nationhood under Christ: In Matt. 28:19, Jesus sends us to "make disciples of all nations."  Acts 17:24 - 27 adds that God created the nations and so controls our places and times that we are brought to moments of crisis and truth: opportunities to reach out to God.  Thus, godliness under Christ is the key to true nation-building, and should become the focus of Caribbean life as we move on into the Third Christian Millennium. 
d] Cells and Networks: Small or cell groups, as the Methodists demonstrated over two hundred years ago, and as the Protestant Huguenots of France also showed two hundred years before Wesley, are a practical and biblical structure for renewal, training, church growth and mobilising disciples for service. To sustain their effectiveness, however, they will need to be integrated into networks that provide support, accountability and leadership.  In our time, the Internet provides a further, awesomely powerful, dimension to such cells and networks.
e] The Priority and Power of Unity: Jesus prayed for the church: "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know you sent me and have loved them."  [John 17:23.]  John 3:16 points out that "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son," so our disunity, suspicion, envy, backbiting and selfish ambition work to discredit the gospel.  Quite a contrast to Acts 4:32: "All the believers were one in heart and mind."  Let us repent, be reconciled, and "consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds."  [Heb. 10:24.]    
These, of course are the views of the composer of this course. Please, consider whether these do indeed constitute a breakthrough cluster of key, but neglected teachings and approaches that could re-open the way to the flow of cleansing renewal and revival in out time. In any case, let us heed the counsels of Peter in Acts 3:
Ac 3:18 . . . the things God foretold long ago through all the prophets – that his Christ would suffer – he has fulfilled . . . 19 Therefore repent and turn back so that your sins may be wiped out, 20 so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and so that he may send the Messiah appointed for you – that is, Jesus . . . [NET]
May we be privileged to witness such times of refreshing in our day: Why not now?  Why not here? Why not us?