Last year, I moderated a panel discussion on groups ministry in the local church. We talked with pastors and leaders who are passionate about discipleship: Daniel Montgomery, Eric Geiger, and Robby Gallaty, the Senior Pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN.
Robby is the founder of Replicate Ministries, an organization that provides resources for educating, equipping, and empowering disciples to make disciples. He holds a M.Div., Th.M., and Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and he is the author of Growing Up: How to be a Disciple Who Makes Disciples and Firmly Planted: How To Cultivate a Faith Rooted in Christ. Earlier this month, I read Firmly Planted and asked Robby to discuss the new book here on the blog.
Trevin Wax: Robby, you’re a pastor who is burdened by the fact so many churches have long-time attenders who have not matured spiritually. What are the signs you see that many churchgoers lack spiritual maturity?
Robby Gallaty: I believe a return to disciple-making is the reformation of the 21st century. Similar to Martin Luther’s belief in the priesthood of the believer, discipleship empowers the laity to carry out the work of the ministry. It bridges the chasm between the pulpit and the pews and expects believers to take ownership of their faith, some for the first time.
One sign of spiritual maturity is the lack of discipleship in the local church. The church is populated with a vast amount of undiscipled believers who have never taken ownership of their faith.
We would never visit a new church with our newborn child and drop them off in a room by themselves without supervision, and as we are leaving toss in a bottle saying, “Feed yourself. We’ll be back in an hour.” We’d never do that with our children. Sadly, most do it every week with newborn believers. Many churches are filled with infant Christians who are unable to feed themselves. Dr. Herschel Hobbs said,
“The work of evangelism is never complete until the one evangelized becomes an evangelizer.”
Discipleship is essential for this to happen.
Trevin Wax: It’s interesting that your book devotes the first two chapters to the question of assurance of salvation. You write: “Fruit is not the saving measure of salvation, but rather it is the evidence of a healthy, firmly planted believer.” Why do you see assurance of salvation as so important to the Christian’s growth and maturity? What happens when our assurance is lacking?
Robby Gallaty: First, failing to understand that salvation is wholly by grace potentially robs sincere believers of the joy of knowing they are kept by the power of God (1 Peter 1:5). Your relationship with Christ is not based on your individual performance, but on Christ’s finished work on the cross.
Second, if we are convinced that every sin we commit causes us to lose our salvation, our service to God will be hindered by a mentality of self-preservation. That is, if we are constantly consumed with our own spiritual standing before God, our attention will be diverted from God’s glory and His kingdom. What I hope to accomplish in Firmly Planted is to share a prescriptive way to know that one’s Christian faith is properly, Scripturally grounded so that its roots run deep and may receive proper nourishment to bear excellent fruit.
Trevin Wax: When you write about holiness, you start with Jesus and how we are united to Him through faith. How does understanding our union with Christ help us become more like Him?
Robby Gallaty: When Christ saved you, everything changed, including your way of thinking. Again, the word “repentance,” which means changing one’s direction, also involves adopting a new mindset—the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5). Remember, belief drives behavior; a change of mind leads to a change of actions. When you begin to think like Jesus, you will soon begin to live like Jesus.
Holiness is something we tend to overlook as believers. Christ freed us from sin not to serve ourselves but to be enslaved to Him. For the Christian under grace, obedience is not the means for salvation, it is the measure of salvation. Obedience to the law doesn’t perfect our salvation, it proves our salvation.
We seek holiness because we are commanded by God to do so. The road that leads to the promised land runs through Mt. Sinai. God delivered the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt (Redemption) before giving them the Torah (Instruction) on the mountain. In essence, he says, “This is what I did for you. Now, here is how you are to live before me.” Understanding as a believer whose you are and who you are in Christ affects every area of our spiritual growth.
Trevin Wax: The latter half of Firmly Planted relies heavily on battle and warfare metaphors to help Christians understand how we fight sin and follow Christ through the power of the Spirit. Why do the New Testament authors use battle imagery when describing the Christian life, and how does this imagery help us understand the nature of discipleship?
Robby Gallaty: At the end of every G.I. Joe cartoon was a public service announcement that resounded with the exclamation: “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle!” The creators of the series wanted to teach children that in life, just as in battle, awareness and understanding of one’s culture and surroundings is essential when devising a plan for success.
Likewise, to live a victorious Christian life, you must know the spiritual landscape in which you reside. This entails recognizing who your adversary is in order to create a strategy of resistance. By developing a profile of our nemesis and the schemes of his minions, we grow as a disciple and wield our God-empowered weapons to withstand his attacks.
Before engaging in spiritual warfare, we believers must know that we’re in a battle—not against flesh and blood, as Paul states in Ephesians, but against the enemy and his minions. The devil works indirectly through both the world and human flesh. Understand that the world, the flesh, and the devil are not three unrelated enemies of the Christian. Each work is a concerted effort to kill, steal, and destroy. He works through the corrupt world system and the flesh to exploit the sinful nature that is at war within us.
Without Christ and His weapons of war, our struggle is an exercise in futility. In our own strength we are incapable of victory. Humans engaged in a superhuman battle will not prevail with mainstream tactics. John Calvin writes, “He [Paul] means that our difficulties are far greater than if we had to fight against men. Where we resist human strength, sword is opposed to sword, man contends with man, force is met by force, and skill by skill; but here the case is very different, for our enemies are such as no human power can withstand.”
Trevin Wax: The appendix to Firmly Planted includes a “Faith Declaration” that lays out everything in Ephesians 1-3 that God declares is true of His children, and then walks through everything we are called to do (in Ephesians 4-6) based in that initial declaration. The way this appendix is formed gives us a good overview of how you see the spiritual life and the power we need to live as Christ as called us. Why is it important that we see ourselves and our obedience in light of God’s grace?
Robby Gallaty: The book of Ephesians can be broken down into two sections: orthodoxy (belief) and orthopraxy (behavior). Paul devotes three chapters on what we should believe, then spends the final three chapters on how we should live, showing us that our belief drives our behavior. When one’s will is changed, right behavior follows.
The Faith Declaration, based on the book of Ephesians, was created to address misconceptions of one’s identity and assurance of salvation. By reciting Scripture to ourselves, we drowned out the spiritually-crippling influences in our lives. Three negative voices—the world, the flesh, and the devil—disparage us every day. Therefore, we must constantly preach to ourselves the promises of God. Remind yourself daily, even repeatedly throughout the day, whose you are and who you are in Christ.
Robby is giving away free discipleship resources when you purchase his new book Firmly Planted before March 31st. Go here for more details.