Whatever happened to discipleship? It’s a question that troubles me, and I know I’m not alone. As Evangelical believers addressing the question of the saved, we typically press into service Bible texts such as:

Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…’ Acts 16:31

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him fro the dead, you will be saved.’ Romans 10:9

Simply put, those are saved who put their trust in Jesus, not those who understand everything, those who get everything right. Judgement is not a theology exam.

I want us to cling to this Bible truth:

Those are saved who put their trust in Jesus.

The Romans Road

The Romans Road, which we will look at presently, is a witnessing tool designed to bring folk to this marvellous realisation, that,Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…’ I Peter 3:18

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ 2 Corinthians 5:21

Christ died for the unrighteous. It is a shocking truth, but that is what the Bible tells us. He did it so sinners could become the righteousness of God:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ 2 Corinthians 5:21

How does this righteousness become this sinner’s righteousness, my righteousness; by faith.

Paul, comparing the believer with Abraham, whose faith was counted to him as righteousness, goes on to write:

The words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:22-25, read 13-25 for context)

However, the Bible tells us there is ‘another Jesus, a different spirit, a different gospel’ (2 Cor. 11:4 c.f. Gal. 1:6) and Paul doesn’t mince words in describing those who follow these counterfeits:

For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.’ 2 Corinthians 11:4

The Way

It is popular in some circles to insist you just need to sincerely believe. But which gospel, which Jesus? And what does this believing look like? When we share Jesus, which Jesus are we sharing?

The earliest Christians called themselves followers of the Way (Acts 9:2;24:14 c.f. John 14:6) Are we following the Way they followed and taught? Are we leading people to the Way of the Bible? It seems we need to approach this business of believing intelligently, to think about these things.

The Romans Road

In his letter to Rome, Paul carefully explains how we get to that place where our faith in and confession of Christ affects our salvation. Here we find the ‘Romans Road’:

Romans 3:10No one is righteous

Romans 3:23 – All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

Romans 5:8 – While we were still sinners, Christ died for us

Romans 5:12 – Death came to all, because all sinned

Romans 6:23 – Death is the consequence of sin

Romans 10:9,10 – If we believe and confess Jesus we will be saved

Romans 10:13 – Everyone who calls on the name of Jesus will be saved

It’s a simple explanation of the fundamental gospel message, a good starting point when you have an opportunity to sit with someone with an open Bible. The danger is we can give the impression the road ends at Romans 10:13. In my experience that is where it does end for many Christians…saved!

But, what does ‘saved’ look like? For those in the cults, busying themselves ‘building the kingdom,’ it looks like the scandalous easy-believism of the antinomian. ‘You can believe, go out and murder someone, and still go to heaven,’ is often heard from Mormon lips. I believe ‘saved’ looks like discipleship.

Discipleship, Faith, and Works

Jesus and Disciples

I have heard faith and works explained in this way:

‘We contribute nothing to our salvation, we are saved by grace, and our works are simply expressions of gratitude for what God has done.’

Of course we are a grateful, a thankful people. Paul writes, ‘Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!; who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ; giving thanks always and for everything; in all circumstances; giving glory and honour to him.’ (2 Cor.9:15; 1 Cor.15:57; Eph.5:20; 1 Thess. 5:18)

However, to explain works as simply expressions of gratitude seems to me to fall short of what the Bible tells us. Especially when engaging with the cults, who put such a high premium on works, we are understandably anxious to impress on people what has rightly been called, the scandal of the cross.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ 2 Corinthians 5:21

This is the key Bible verse describing what God has done in Christ for those who believe. God imputes our sin to a sinless Christ, who paid its penalty on the cross, and imputes Christ’s righteousness to all who believe. This is not a quid pro quo, a favour granted in return for something. It is the biblical doctrine of substitutionary atonement, an act of mercy and grace for people who deserve judgement and condemnation. When faced with a gospel of works, you can understand a Christian believer’s determination to emphasise such scandalous grace.

To equate salvation simply with our present redemption and justification before God, however, is not at all the whole picture. The Romans Road ends at Romans 10:13. I suggest it should end at 12:1,2.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.’

I appeal to you therefore…’ – In light of all that has gone before (1:18 to 11:36) this should be your response. God’s gift of righteousness leads to a new life. This is Paul’s exhortation, in light of God’s great gift of mercy, that we should live that new life.

‘…by the mercies of God… – Having described in unflinching details our sorry plight – ‘all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, not one,’’ (Ro.3:9,10) – Paul unpacks for us the mercies of God:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, who God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.’ Romans 3:21-25

…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.’ – Worship is a living sacrifice, the giving of our new life in Christ wholly to the worship of the God who poured out his grace and love into our hearts. Holiness is godliness, blessedness, the holy life, one that is set apart for the glory of God. In Christ we have been made holy and acceptable to God for this purpose.

Do not be conformed to this world…’ – The life of the unregenerate sinner is totally devoted to this world. It pursues the world’s ways, carries the world’s concerns, is constantly about the world’s business, and will come to the world’s inevitable end. The saints of God, ‘look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.’ (2 Cor.4:18)

The mind of the saint is renewed by the Holy Spirit of God in the maturing process of sanctification.

God’s people follow the counsel of Hebrews:

Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.’

Hebrews 13:13,14

…but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…’ – Our faith is not blind, we are meant to approach it intelligently. The mind plays a key part in bringing us to our fallen state in the first place. The mind has a key role in saving us from our sins. Fallen mankind, in refusing to acknowledge God, is given over to a debased mindset (Ro.1:28), while the mind of the saint is renewed by the Holy Spirit of God in the maturing process of sanctification.

…that by testing you may discern what is the will of God…’ Debased minds cannot know the will of God, and if it is told them they refuse it. The Christian’s mind is made new in ‘discernment’ so as to be able to see and refuse the threats and pressures of the present evil age, and to see and embrace the good, life-sustaining will of God.

The idea here is that of finding out the worth of something by putting it to the test in life and practice. The Psalmist urges us, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!’ Psalm 34:8

…what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ – ‘Perfect’ here translates the Greek teleios. We tend to think of it as flawless perfection, but it is best understood as ‘brought to completion,’ fully accomplished, mature, fit for the purpose for which it is created. Paul might be saying, ‘in the things of God, grow to maturity in Christ so your life in this world fully reflects your assured life in that other world to which you now belong.’

God hasn’t saved us in Christ simply so we go to church on Sundays, sing hymns, offer our praise and say ‘thank you,’ as important as those are. God saved us in Christ so we can be brought to completion, fit for the purpose for which he made us.

If we are not increasingly living that radical kingdom life for which he gifted us faith, grace, and righteousness something is wrong. If Christian congregations are not being discipled into an understanding of these things, challenged by the call to discern and live out the will of God, something is very wrong.

If we fail to properly share this kingdom perspective in our evangelism we are not sharing the whole story, we are robbing people of an understanding of God’s purpose. Simply put, we are not just saved from our sins, we are saved to, ‘lives of living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.’

We are Not a Cult!

Some years ago I sat in a local church leadership meeting and pressed the case for a firmer discipleship programme. It seemed to me, and still seems to me, that in the modern church, ‘everyone does what seems right in their own eyes.’ I thought we should consider what we might do about that. I was surprised when the response of a fellow elder was, ‘We’re not a cult!’

I developed a simple discipleship questionnaire, asking Christians about their prayer life, Bible reading, church involvement, etc.

Discipleship Questionnaire

  1. What do you understand a disciple to be?
  2. What are the priorities of a disciple?
  3. What one thing would you change to bring you closer to your idea of discipleship?
  4. How often do you read your Bible?
  5. Do you have a regular prayer habit?
  6. Do you ever meet with a prayer partner?
  7. What would you like to see your church do to help make disciples?
  8. What meaningful impact does church have on your daily life?
  9. To whom are you accountable for your daily walk as a disciple?
  10. How might you encourage your church leaders to a discipleship model?

The results were disappointing to say the least. The most troubling answers concerned accountability. In answer to the question, ’To whom are you accountable for your daily walk as a disciple?’ the answers were invariably God, or Jesus. It didn’t occur to them we should be accountable to and for each other, much less did anyone believe they were accountable to the leaders, the elders, the qualified teachers of their Christian community; if any people did what seemed right in their own eyes, I found them here.

‘But we’re not a cult!’ I know, and that is not where I am going. I wrote about discipleship on the blog in 2020 – Am I a Disciple? – it might help you understand what moves me to write as I do. You may profit from The Complete Rule of Faith, which answers the question, ‘What does a Christian look like?’

Who are we in Christ?

I was chatting to a good Christian friend from a Jehovah’s Witness background about the issue of the Christian identity. I pointed out that, as a Mormon, my faith defined me. Wherever I went, whatever I was involved in, my Mormonism shaped my thinking, being, and doing. It was my identity, over and above everything else. She agreed it is the same for Jehovah’s Witnesses, and puzzled with me over why it isn’t like that for so many Christians.

It would be so easy at this point to say something like, ‘those people are brainwashed,’ but that doesn’t explain their commitment to what they genuinely, albeit mistakenly, believe. It does them a disservice to put it all down to mind manipulation; it is even insulting. Are we so afraid of being seen as controlling that we avoid the discipleship question?

My wife and I would go along to church events and ask ourselves time and again, ‘where is everybody?’ I began to answer my own question with, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it…I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ Luke 14:15-24

Don’t misunderstand me. ‘Going to church’ doesn’t make you a Christian, but being a Christian and failing to be fully committed to the gathering of the saints raises serious questions. Christians don’t simply fall into a Godly lifestyle and outlook. We don’t grow to maturity simply because we get older with each passing year. Transformation, renewed minds, discernment, ‘living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God,’ don’t just happen.

A great challenge facing our ministry today is not just helping people leave the cult for the truth, it is helping them go on with God, grow in their new faith. It is helping them move from identifying themselves with their past – being an ‘ex-’ to identifying themselves with their Saviour, being a Christian, a ‘follower of the Way.’ A church that fails to disciple lets everyone down, perhaps especially those leaving high control groups looking for leadership and direction, and finding only management and the next programme.