Jesus was saying to thoseJews who had believed Him,
“If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.” John 8:31
Discipleship has become a hot-button topic in recent years. When I was younger, I don’t remember hearing much about the word disciple or about what discipleship meant. Maybe the discussion was out there, and I just didn’t pick up on it. It seems to me that the modern “discipleship movement,” if I may call it that, really drew its impetus from parachurch organizations, likeNavigators and university student ministries. I was introduced to the concepts by a friend, Brett Yohn, who led the Baptist Student Ministry at the University of Nebraska. The principles that I saw at work in those students under Brett’s tutelage changed my ministry philosophy.
Evangelism is announcing the Good News with the desire to see people come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. We see this as a priority in the New Testament. It should be a priority for the church today, as well. Jesus said, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10). There is no doubt that evangelism should be a priority for us, just as it was for Jesus and for the early church. However, evangelism is not the end of the matter, it is only the beginning.
When discussing discipleship, there are two tracks to keep in mind. Both are important. The first track is the strategy of making disciples. Jesus told His disciples, “Go…and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Mathew 28:19-20) In these last moments with His disciples,Jesus laid out His strategy for making disciples:
I. Go into all the world to share the good news. That’s evangelism.
II. Baptize them in the name of the Trinity. That’s public identification with God.
III. Teach them to observe[obey] everything that Jesus commanded His disciples.
Dallas Willard says that means Jesus was telling His disciples to make more of what He made of them. Jesus said that when we make disciples, we should teach them to obey everything that He taught His first disciples. Notice, however, that Jesus didn’t say that they should merely teach the concepts, but that they should teach others to obey those commands.
Our strategy for making disciples must include training converts to walk in God’s ways. Otherwise, we will raise a generation of baby Christians who are unequipped to face the trials of living as a believer in a culture that is mostly opposed to Jesus. Besides, the real joy in being a Christian comes from an intimate relationship with the livingGod through fellowship with His son, Jesus.
That brings us to the second track of the subject of discipleship—personal discipleship. What is a disciple? Simply put, a disciple is a follower or a learner. Although the concept of teacher/disciple is an ancient idea, preceding New Testament times, Jesus took the practice to a different level. To the Jews who were attracted to Jesus early in His ministry he said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.” John 8:31. This explanation from Jesus made it clear that in His kingdom there would be no disciples in name only, they would be followers in a real sense. Here are some of the characteristics of a disciple of Jesus:
1. Relationship | This association withJesus was more than just a teacher/student arrangement. It was a relationship. Disciples don’t just take on Jesus’ name, they love Jesus who loved them first. The relationship with Jesus is 24/7, affecting everything a disciple does and thinks.
2. Obedience | In order for this relationship to work, the disciples would not only hear what Jesus said, they would also do what He said. When Jesus laid out the description of this new covenant relationship in the Sermon on the Mount, He ended the message with the parable of the wise and foolish builders. The point of the parable is that without the foundation of obedience, the disciples will have no success in their attempts to follow Jesus.
3. Identity | Not only would Jesus’ disciples be obedient in this relationship with Him, they would also take their identity from Jesus. Before, they were Jews. Some were fishermen. As a whole, they were blue collar members of their community. Now they took on a whole new identity. The early disciples were so identified with Jesus that people inAntioch called them Christians, “little Christs.” Acts 11:26.
4. Transference | As fully devoted followers of Jesus, these disciples would also teach others to do what Jesus had taught them to do. In 2 Timothy2:2, Paul reminded Timothy, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” That sounds a lot like the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20.
So, why is discipleship important? It is important because Jesus commanded it. It is important because we need to be prepared to deal with a hostile culture. It is important because those who loveJesus need to be equipped. Discipleship matters.
All Scripture quotations from the New AmericanStandard Bible, unless otherwise noted.