Making disciples is vital. That’s why I recently announced the founding of a new ministry called “Discipleship Journeys with Jesus” (DJJ). The Lord laid it on my heart to start this new ministry in order to meet the crucial need of making committed disciples around the world.
Baptism scene in India last month
In His Great Commission Jesus said: “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.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)
Jesus’ parting command was to “make disciples.” But what is a disciple? The original Greek word is MATHETES. It means “someone catechized with proper instruction from the Bible with its necessary follow-through (life-applications).”
We must not be confused by unbiblical, or even biblical substitutes for true biblical disciples:
01. Unbiblical substitutes for disciples:
There are several often-practiced unbiblical substitutes for real disciples:
Becoming a follower of Jesus begins with a decision, this is true. But it is only the beginning. The Great Commission doesn’t say “Go therefore into all the world and make decisions.”
The problem in settling with “decisions” is that decisions don’t mean the full depth of being disciples. In fact, sometimes decisions don’t mean much at all!
Have you ever made a decision to do something and then did virtually nothing about it? Better question: who hasn’t? New Year’s Resolutions are a great example. The statistics say that a little over half of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but only 8 percent succeed in meeting their goals.
Decisions for Jesus which are not followed by actions mean nothing. See Matthew 7:21-23.
Sympathizers are better than enemies, but are still less than Christ’s command to make disciples.
In the USA and other “Christianized” countries, we have many sympathizers of Christ. They think Jesus was a great moral teacher, an exemplary person, a good example. But they are not disciples.
This is nothing new: Jesus faced the same issue. Pontius Pilate is a good example. He was the Roman governor of Judea who declared Jesus innocent of all charges, symbolically washed his hand of the blood of Christ and then turned Him over to be crucified! See Matthew 27:24-26.
Pilate’s “sympathy” resulted in Jesus’ execution! It’s nice that Pilate was sympathetic, but he was still an enemy of Jesus.
Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” (Matthew 12:30 ESV)
2. Biblical substitutes for disciples:
Let’s go a little deeper. There are several often-practiced biblical substitutes for real disciples. These are substitutes that born again Christians become confused about:
There are two participles in the Great Commission. They are both vitally important, but not the end goal. The first is baptizing. Being baptized is one of the important first steps of obedience in being disciples of the Master.
Last month I was in India and got to witness the baptism of about 15 new believers from Hindu background. It was the highlight of my trip!
But while baptism is important, it is not the goal. The goal is disciples.
The leaders in India know that. That’s why they are interested in the materials that will be developed through our new DJJ ministry. Their goal is disciples not just baptisms!
b. Bible knowledge
The other participle in the Great Commission is “teaching.”
Some people love teaching and learning. Indeed, they are vitally important. But these are not the goal. The goal is devoted followers of Jesus who don’t just know biblical information but practice it.’
Nikita Khrushchev, former Premier of the Soviet Republic, was diligently taught the Bible as a child. He had memorized large portions of the Bible. It is possible he even memorized the entire four Gospels.
Yet he was an avowed atheist and gave “unyielding support to political bloodshed.” He met his arrest quotas and personally signed death sentences for many Russians, some of whom had been his personal friends. Under his leadership many churches were closed. He was a greater enemy of Christ than even Stalin.
Have you known people who know the Bible well, but act contrary to it? Have you been one of them?
We must teach the Bible, but more importantly we must live out the Bible and help other disciples to do the same!
“But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” (James 1:22 NLT)
03. Biblical disciples:
So what are real disciples? A great article by Hans Kvalbein outlines the Great Commission and then gives 13 theses on discipleship.
Here is his outline of the Great Commission:
a. A declaration of power: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
b. The commission goal: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”
c. The commission means: “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.
d. A Promise: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Here are four of Kvalbein’s 13 theses as summarized by John Starke in an article titled “Give Up Your Weak Definition of ‘Disciple’”:
The first word for Christians was not “Christians” but “disciples.” Newcomers to the faith saw themselves in relationship to the risen Lord Jesus in some way similar to the relationship of the first disciples to the earthly rabbi Jesus.
A disciple learns by hearing his Master and doing like his Master. This is explicitly commanded by Jesus in John 13: “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you.”Life as a disciple is “death and resurrection” with Christ, inaugurated in Christian baptism. Baptism is initiation into discipleship, giving admittance to the “school” of Jesus and starting a new life in obedience to him and his commands.
To be a disciple is to be called to make new disciples. Throughout the New Testament, the term “disciple” is a dynamic concept. It implies multiplication. All nations have been invited to this mission. “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
Questions (please leave your thoughts below): What shows that you are a true disciple of Jesus? How are you helping others become true disciples?
For more help with discipleship, mentoring, evangelism and church planting see these resources on my website:
Podcast: What’s the value of 1 to 1 discipleship?
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