Attn: This is a long post 4,300 words long 😀
I have had some interesting discussions over the past year about what a genuine disciple of Christ is like. Some of the discussion points are
- Can a person be a believer in Christ without being a disciple of Christ?
- Is discipleship required to be a genuine believer in Christ?
- Can a person say yes to salvation and no to discipleship?
- Does Jesus call us to faith and then to discipleship?
- If you present salvation in the packaged deal of discipleship, does salvation depend on works instead of by faith alone?
- Is it possible to follow Christ and yet, still not be a genuine disciple?
I would like to try and answer these questions, not from a theological stance but, from a Biblical stance.
I. Jesus commands His disciples to make disciples, not believers
Christians are commissioned to go and make new disciples of Jesus Christ which will lead to new believers in Jesus Christ. To the shock of many, we as believers were never told to go and make new converts or believers. God sent His Son Jesus Christ to make disciples before dying on the cross and after Jesus Christ died and rose again He came to His disciples and told them the following statement,
Go therefore 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 (Matthew 28:19-20).
In order to go and make disciples one must be a disciple first. We do not have a specific time-frame on the time it takes for a person to be a reproducing disciple. It seems that people will be disciples until the end of the age and that they will make disciples until the end of the age. In other words, it is an on-going process. It took Jesus Christ about 3 ½ years to get His disciples ready to be sent out on His mission for them, yet He remained with them and they were His disciples until their deaths. A disciple is one who studies/learns from another, often living day to day life with that person, learning how to act and think like his teacher. Jesus Christ tells us who His disciples are and what they do when He says,
“So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;” (John 8:31).
A disciple of Jesus Christ is one who believes (trust, obeys, and follows) Him. A true disciple of Jesus Christ also remains (abides/dwells/lives) in the Word of God. So Christians are to be disciples and make disciples according to the process that Jesus Christ has placed in the Bible, that is teaching people to obey all that He has commanded (His commands are found in the Bible).
Some would claim that we separate the two events, that is, sharing the Gospel so that people can believe and be born again and then, invite them into the process of discipleship. Jesus uses the process of discipleship as the umbrella. Under that umbrella, we have evangelism, sharing the message of the Gospel and, when people choose to believe, give themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ, equip them in the process of being a disciple and training them to make more disciples. The command that Jesus gives is “make disciples”. Within the context of the command, Jesus lays out the map of how to make disciples. See everyone as a potential disciple of Christ. Share the message of the Gospel with everyone who will listen. The ones who believe need to make that decision public by being baptized. Immediately, teach them. This involves much more than just classroom theory. In the next section, we will cover the method that Jesus used. Before that, the idea of teaching is laid out for us in II Timothy 3:16:
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;
The Bible is the training manual. Teaching involves reproof (showing people where they are wrong in their thinking and actions), correction (helping those same people get on the right track in their thinking and actions), and training (showing those who have been reproved and corrected how to apply what they have learned). This is what Jesus calls His disciples to do. Upon this process, the universal Church would be built on this earth. The first step to entering into the process of discipleship is to hear and believe the Gospel. From this outline, saying yes to salvation is also saying yes to the process of discipleship. In our modern church, we seem to have parsed the process and made becoming a believer through faith different from becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. Based on Jesus’ teaching in the Great Commission, does it seem possible to separate salvation from discipleship? I do not believe that we can do this. Saying yes to Christ is the same as making Him Lord (Master) in your life. Can a slave say yes to some of the Master’s commands and no to others? Now, let’s take a step back to see how Jesus made disciples when He walked this earth.
II. Jesus’ teachings on discipleship and His example of discipleship
Jesus Christ came to this earth to reveal God to the world. He also came to die on the cross to pay the price for mankind’s sin so that those who understand who God is and His desire to be reconciled with them, would be able to return to God. This could only be done by having the perfect blood sacrifice be made to remove man’s sin stain. Christ rose from the dead to release those who believe from the death grip that sin nature had on them, so that, not only could they be forgiven, but, they could be free to follow God instead of their sin nature. The third thing that Jesus did was to train people to be disciples so that they could make more disciples upon His ascension back to the heavenly realm.
Jesus came to this earth as a missionary. He came to reconnect us with God. In order to do this, He gave a calling to the people around Him, repent of your sins and follow Me.
17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4)
When Jesus shared His messages, He began with calling people to repentance. Repentance implies confronting sin and showing the solution. There are several ways that Jesus did this. I would like to focus on His methods in the sermon on the mount. Here are some of the sins that He confronted.
- Murder (Matthew 5:21-22) – Jesus explains that physical murder is wrong, yet, just as wrong is hating someone and playing out the murder fantasy in your mind because that is where physical murder begins to take root. Have you ever hated someone? Have you ever degraded God’s creation by calling him a fool (worthless in the Greek)? Have you ever played out a murder fantasy in your head? You are guilty and in need of salvation.
- Adultery (Matthew 5:27-28) – Jesus again explains that the physical act of adultery is wrong, and just as wrong is lusting after a woman (or man) you have seen or know. Have you ever had sexual fantasies in your mind about a person who is not your spouse? Have you ever looked at porn? If so, then you are just as guilty in the eyes of God as the man or woman who has physically committed adultery. You and I need salvation, as well as all the rest of humanity.
- Divorce (Matthew 5:31-32) – Have you ever been divorced for any other reason than adultery? In God’s eyes, irreconcilable differences does not hold water. You are in need of salvation. Since 50% of the marriages in the USA end in divorce and a large majority are for other reasons than adultery, we are in need of salvation.
- Making false vows (Matthew 5:33-37) – Have you ever NOT kept your word? Have you ever said one thing and done another? If you have, then you are guilty before the Lord. Since He always keeps His Word, He cannot tolerate those who do not and will punish them. You and I, along with the rest of the world are in dire need of salvation.
Revenge (Matthew 5:38-42) Have you ever taken revenge on someone for doing something to you? If so, then you are guilty, just as I am and in need of salvation. Again, if you have played out the fantasy in your mind then in God’s eyes you are already guilty.
- Loving and serving your enemies (Matthew 5:44-48) Have you always tried to love and serve your enemies? How do you pray for your enemies, that God would punish them as they deserve or for His mercy and their repentance and salvation? I am guilty of not doing this and need salvation, as we all do.
This is a very simple list that covers all of humanity. Some would claim that they do not need salvation because they have religion. What would you say to that? One, if your religion did not change your attitude toward hatred, murder, lust, divorce, revenge, keeping your word, and loving your enemy then it is pretty much useless. Two, Jesus turns the sword to the other edge and cuts the “religious” people who are righteous in their own eyes.
- Giving (Matthew 6:2-4) Why do you give? Is it really to meet the needs of the poor around you or is it to make yourself feel better? Will you give even if you never get any recognition for it? Would you continue to give if never any chance of being recognized? What motivates you to do what you do? If your motives are wrong then you still need salvation despite the fact that you have religion.
- Praying (Matthew 6:5-13) Do you even know how to pray or do you just reproduce memorized prayers? Do you pray because you genuinely want to talk to God or do you do it because you are supposed to do it? Do you pray at home in private when no one sees you or only in public so that everyone can see you? Do you repeat the same memorized prayers over and over again or is prayer an actual time when you converse with God?
- Fasting (Matthew 6:16-18) Do you fast because you are seeking answers from the Lord and you want to use it as a time to draw near to God or do you fast because the calendar says so? Do you fast so that others will see how faithful you are or is it out of a genuine desire to hear from the Lord? What motivates you to do what you do?
- Possessions (Matthew 6:19-24) Do you see all of your wealth, all of your possessions, all of your time, talents, and resources as being gifts from the Lord that you administrate for Him or do you see them as yours and you share some of them with Him? How do you spend the majority of your time and money? Whose will do you accomplish with the majority of your time and money?
- Worry vs. Trust (Matthew 6:25-34) Which controls and consumes you, opportunities to trust in God’s goodness based on His Word or worrying about what you will eat, what you will wear, and where you will sleep? Do you spend the majority of your time working for what you will eat, drink, and wear or working for the kingdom of God, trusting Him to provide for the rest?
These are all some tough situations but they are situations that we face daily. Your answers to these situations will let you know quickly if you need salvation or not. Based on these situations, we all need salvation. On a side note, when the Bible refers to salvation, it does not just mean forgiveness of sins and heaven when you die. Salvation is for daily living. Salvation will help you deal with all of the above situations. Genuine salvation, not the fire insurance taught by many, changes your daily life forever. If your salvation experience does not help you deal with the previously described situations then you really need to examine what kind of salvation that you have. Jesus’ audience did not see their need for salvation because of their religion, they assumed that they already had it. Once He finished His message, the people literally fell over from shock. They realized that their “salvation” was useless and that they needed what He was teaching. Jesus had given them a calling. Some answered but many chose to remain as they were, just like today. Jesus did not change His message, He continued on His mission.
Step two in the process of calling is once that you have repented (had your mind changed about who you are and your need for help) and allow Christ to turn your lifestyle away from your former way of life, you must choose to follow Jesus Christ.
18 Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea ; for they were fishermen. 19 And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 21 Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets ; and He called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. (Matthew 4)
Following Christ is not a one time event. Following Christ is something that you do on a daily basis. Moving back to the sermon on the mount, not only did Jesus confront their sins and call the hearers to repentance, He called them, in essence, to follow Him. Here is how He did it.
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house ; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. (Matthew 7)
Following Christ means hearing His Words and acting on Them. In other words, building your life on the Word of God by willing to be taught daily by Christ’s Words. This is what happened to the disciples. They followed Him daily, learning from Him and learning to depend upon Him.
The disciples were present for the teaching that Jesus gave, a teaching which we call “The Sermon on the Mount”. Jesus was teaching the crowds about their need for repentance and giving the call to follow Him. The disciples had already done this. The teaching had a duel purpose because the disciples were also learning how to preach the Gospel to others.
This process of calling the crowds to discipleship and teaching the current disciples how to do this is repeated throughout the Gospels. In Luke 9, we find this process repeated. Jesus had just fed the 5,000 so there were huge crowds following Him. Most of them were not interested in following Him for spiritual reasons. They either wanted to be healed or witness another miracle. Entertainment was just as rampant then as it is now. Others were looking for another free meal, like today. Jesus also followed His miracles with spiritual teaching, challenging the people to repent and follow Him. Jesus addresses His disciples but He is heard by the crowds too.
23 And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.
24 “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.
The anyone in this context would be the crowds. As I have already mentioned, the disciples had already chosen to repent and follow Christ. Jesus is not calling His disciples to the process of discipleship. There was no need because they were already following Him as disciples. For the crowds, if they want to follow Him, not for food or healing but for the process of discipleship, then they must deny themselves. Literally, they were to give up on being the leader of their own lives. They need to repent, have their mind changed about their needs. They are still thinking about the physical. They are not interested in the spiritual process of discipleship. Stop doing it your own way. Surrender to Jesus Christ. Take up your cross means that all other paths are closed and you have one path to follow for the rest of your life. It is a word picture of a man who has been sentenced to death and must walk only one path for the rest of his short life, the path from sentencing to execution. Repenting means having your mind changed about what you are going to do in this life and give yourself up to one path, the path of following Jesus moment by moment, day by day. The people have a choice; they can try to save their lives and do things their own way, which they had been doing all their lives or, they could choose to surrender to Jesus. The disciples were learning what they were supposed to teach people when they called them to Christ, the process of discipleship. Based on this teaching, Jesus is not calling the people to believe and receive salvation and then give themselves to the process of discipleship. Jesus is calling them to become His disciples. Part of that process is repentance and faith. Salvation is a part of the whole process of discipleship. How did the disciples apply what they had learned?
III. The disciples’ example of making disciples
Acts 2 gives us a perfect, flesh and blood example of all of the theory that we just covered. The chapter begins with the coming of the Holy Spirit. The chapter continues with the men and women of God who are indwelt with and led by the Holy Spirit speaking with all who care to listen about the mighty deeds of God. They are giving the calling to the hearers. They crowds are listening and then some “religious” folks begin to mock the missionaries. Peter takes his stand and preaches the Gospel. The hearers are pierced to the heart because of their sins and the fact that they had their sins confronted. They wanted to answer the call and know what to do. Peter calls them to repentance. About 3,000 of them answer the call and repent and are baptized. Immediately the process of discipleship continues (notice that I did not say “begins”). The process of discipleship had already begun.
42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
The Apostles has been trained well. As people answered the call, they were organized into groups and continuously studied the Scriptures, learning how to know God and walk with Him on a daily basis. The Apostles applied Jesus’ Words, “teaching them”.
As the new disciples were learning God’s Word, ministry began to take place. Do you remember how Jesus took His disciples with Him daily so that they could see how He ministered and eventually join in with Him? The Apostles understood that and ministry began to happen daily. They did not have to go out and “look” for ministry opportunities. The opportunities appeared as they met with the new disciples daily, teaching them the Word of God.
43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe ; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people.
Word spread quickly as people began to apply the Word of God to their daily lives. Coworkers began to notice a difference in the lifestyles of the new believers. Spouses saw the change. People were now filled with the Holy Spirit and walking with the Lord. The new disciples had been born again to a new way of life.
The results came and the Lord was the One who received the credit. He brought the new people in daily. How did He do it, practically speaking?
And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2)
I believe that it was through the transformation that was taking place in the lives of the new disciples. They were going home and back to work as different people. They were sharing, with enthusiasm, what God was doing in their lives through His Word. They had fresh truths to share daily, because they were learning God’s Word from the Apostles. Acts is still relevant, and things like this still happen today when we follow God’s plan as laid out in His Word. The Apostles stayed connected to the source and they taught the new disciples how to stay connected to the source. People were receiving the theory of God’s Word, challenged to apply It, and then motivated to practice what they were learning by sharing with others. Discipleship was happening, not a discipleship program, but genuine discipleship, the way that it was meant to be.
As a disciple of Jesus Christ, this is my goal, to invest in others the way that Christ did, the way that the Apostles did, and watch God cause the growth as He opens more and more ministry doors.
IV. The apostle Paul followed the same teaching
Now, let’s shift our focus to Paul and Timothy.
1 Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, 2 and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. (Acts 16)
Paul was on a mission to make disciples for the Lord. He was a great missionary. As he was going and making disciples of the pagan Gentiles, he came across Timothy, a believer because of the example of his mother and grandmother. His father was a Greek and probably not a believer. Timothy was already walking with the Lord so Paul invited him to join in on what God was doing. Paul took Timothy under his wing and taught him how to minister, specifically, how to make disciples. Paul was taught directly by Jesus Christ and worked according to the discipleship plan that Christ modeled for us.
10 Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, (II Timothy 3)
I do not think that it is by chance that Paul begins the list with teaching. Jesus taught His disciples to make disciples by teaching them. Paul follows that example. When a person is taught God’s Word and counseled in application of the Word, his conduct, or, lifestyle changes. This is what we saw in Christ’s disciples and this is what we saw happening with the second generation disciples in Jerusalem. As we are taught and as we teach others the Word of God, this leads to a purpose in life, the ministry of making disciples. As we apply these truths, our faith grows right along with the ministry. As a disciple, this is your goal, to model growth in your own life and to help it come about in the lives of others. Are you doing that?
Paul takes it a step further. Once you have embraced the method of discipleship as a way of life and you are being transformed, you will want to invest in others. Here is how Paul states it:
2 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. (II Timothy 2)
Timothy is to make disciple-making disciples. Timothy understood that and put what he had been taught into practice. The world is a different place because of it. The world was literally turned upside down by discipleship, one person being invested in, changing, and then investing in others. Could this happen today? Yes, and it still is, all over the world.
In conclusion, as the Scriptures teach, I believe that it is impossible to be a believer without being a disciple of Christ. In one final passage, James tells us that it is possible to have “faith” but not be a disciple. James’ teaching is that the “faith” without discipleship is not saving faith. It is dead faith and useless. It is demonic faith and has nothing to do with the saving faith that Jesus explained and the disciples lived out.
You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. (James 2)
There are many who claim to have “faith” yet they are not disciples of Jesus Christ. This type of faith is useless. This is faith separated from the process of discipleship (following Christ). May the Lord help us stay true to the Scriptures and not be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine of man!