“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Mat:16-20
Discipleship is an imperative and the central purpose of Jesus’ command to his followers. Evangelism, teaching, and baptising are elements of the process of disciple-making, but it is making disciples that defines the end and purpose of all this activity.
We tell the good news of the kingdom (Luke 4:43) not to bring people to church, although that is part of the process, bringing them into the community of believers, but to make them disciples. They are reached by proclamation, made new by the Spirit, transformed by teaching, encouraged by fellowship, and proved by the evidence of changed lives.
Fit for a Kingdom
‘Remember, every true convert can say they have been ‘delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred…to the kingdom of his beloved Son…’
‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ Gal.2:20
The aim and purpose of discipleship is that we come increasingly to show in our lives that Christ lives in us. Paul reminds us we are no longer our own, we were bought with a price (1 Cor.6:19,20). The life a disciple now lives they live by faith in the Son of God.
Paul writes to the Colossian Church:
‘Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.’ Col.1:28,29
It isn’t enough to make a profession of faith, to say ‘the sinners prayer.’ There is work (toil) and a struggle to have everyone reach maturity in Christ. Sometimes we so emphasise grace we give the impression we don’t believe in works. This has to be corrected.
Disciples are being made fit for an eternal kingdom, that is why the Bible talks about renewed minds (Rom.12:2) of being conformed to the pattern of that kingdom, not to the pattern of this world. Get hold of this, how radical, how revolutionary this message is. We are not simply going to church any more.
Equipped and Solemnly Charged
The Matthew text I started with has Jesus promising every help on this journey, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” It is as well he is because this world stands against those who stand with Jesus. This same Jesus, however, has ‘all authority in heaven and on earth.’
Later, in Acts, Jesus promises, ‘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 end of the earth.’ Acts 1:8
I am struck always by the solemn, probably final, charge of Paul to Timothy:
‘I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.’ 2 Timothy 4:1,2
This is followed by a sobering and serious warning, ‘For the time is coming when people ill not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.’ (v3)
Wise as Serpents
It’s a serious business, being a Christian, especially when we are away from the safety and comfort of a Sunday service, or a weekday home group. If the church fails to make disciples, people will be sent out into the world ‘harmless as doves…’ (Mat.10:16) Discipleship makes believers wise as serpents.
It was J C Ryle who said, ‘Ignorance of Scripture is the root of every error in religion, and the source of every heresy.’ If we are not discipled and discipling Christians we are not encouraged to the Bible, the written Word of God.
There are Christians in this world who have no opportunity for fellowship, who are left alone to be faithful from an open Bible and a praying heart. What’s our excuse?
Eric Liddell was described as, ‘a man whose humble life combined muscular Christianity with radiant godliness.’ CS Lewis famously advocated a strong, muscular, even militant Christianity. What would these men think of today’s church?
I speak to many today who feel the need for true discipleship, a robust Christian faith. Being a Christian is not meant to be a lonely business, left to our own devices, polite on a Sunday, pitiful on a Monday. Nor is discipleship simply the job of the pastor. We are to be an encouragement to each other, mature believers helping those not so far along in the journey of faith.
‘A Way to Be’
Discipleship has been described by my wife as ‘a way to be.’ I’m a Christian, so how do I be that? Those familiar with cults will know that ‘the way to be’ in a cult is encoded in their teaching. Because of this, ‘being’ is familiar. Discipleship is the way we encode ‘being’ into our teaching. Not in some cultic fashion, but certainly more seriously, soberly than is too often the case.
Speaking of cults, consider what it is we are inviting cult members into when we share Jesus and talk about our faith. They may not know their Bible, they may be confused about doctrine, but they will have an instinctive appreciation of the law of contradiction; you cannot call yourself a disciple if you are tepid and immature in your faith (Rev.3:15)
How is it with your soul today? What needs do you see in your own situation, in your church fellowship? It’s called ‘fellowship’ for a reason. Maybe a little self-examination wouldn’t be a bad idea. Perhaps you have your own thoughts on the issue. Maybe you are just coming to realise the deep need, in yourself and in others.
Below is a simple set of questions that might help you think through where you are today on this essential issue of discipleship. If you would like to share your thoughts I would love to hear from you, but don’t feel obliged. This is simply something to help you. Maybe when you’re done you might share some positive encouragement with your leaders, they need someone to come alongside too.
- What do you understand a disciple to be?
- What are the priorities of a disciple?
- What one thing would you change to bring you closer to your idea of discipleship?
- How often do you read your Bible?
- Do you have a regular prayer habit?
- Do you ever meet with a prayer partner?
- What would you like to see your church do to help make disciples?
- What meaningful impact does church have on your daily life?
- To whom are you accountable for your daily walk as a disciple?
- How might you encourage your church leaders to a discipleship model?