When studying the Bible, I always encourage people to remove their denominational glasses because they can distort the clear teachings of the Scriptures and cause people to read into the Biblical text what is not there, or, overlook what is there. It’s called a bias and we all have one based on our experiences. It is difficult to do but it is a necessity if we really want to get to the heart of the message of what God is trying to communicate with us. I usually begin an article or message on this topic with Matthew 28:19-20. It is the clearest teaching of our Lord that demonstrates that followers of Jesus Christ are to make disciples. The apostles were to go to nonbelievers and invite them in to the process of discipleship. Part of that process is evangelism. Other parts of the process of discipleship are repentance, faith, and dedication to following Jesus Christ. This is a packaged deal that Jesus clearly communicates in His teachings in Matthew 4 and Mark 1, when He calls the 12 to follow Him. They are nonbelievers. They hear the message of the Gospel. They repent, believe in Christ, and dedicate themselves to following Jesus Christ. There is one exception. Judas became a follower of Jesus Christ but he never repented or believed. He was never born again. He was like the majority of the crowds who “followed” Jesus. They were doing it for selfish reasons. Some wanted another free meal. Others wanted to be entertained with a miracle. Judas followed because he was able to steal money from the ministry funds.
If we go all the way back to Abraham, taking a look at Genesis and the calling of Abraham, we see that Abraham “followed” God, or, in other words, he was a disciple before he became a believer. He is called in Genesis 12 and he answers the call. It is not until Genesis 15 do we see Abraham believe the Word of God and get righteousness credited to him. God calls Abraham to follow Him. Part of following Him was to believe. Abraham was called to follow God even while he was a pagan, a nonbeliever. The process of discipleship began with a calling that led to belief. You might claim that this is the Old Testament and things are different in the New Testament. Many have made that claim. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. God has not changed. I would like to examine some passages in the Gospels where Jesus calls nonbelievers into the process of discipleship.
I. The Apostles
I made reference to Matthew 4 and Mark 1 earlier in this article and I would like to revisit these passages. When the calling is given, these men are nonbelievers. That is a very important detail that we must not miss.
17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
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)
It is clear that in verse 17, Jesus began to preach repentance. So, every where He went, He was calling people to be His disciples by telling them first to repent. Repentance is a change of mind that will lead to faith which will lead a change of heart which will lead to following Jesus, a change of direction in life. The plan is simple. Enter the process of discipleship by hearing the message of the Gospel. The message of the Gospel will change your mind. The message of the Gospel will reveal faith to you and when you believe, your heart will be changed. Once your heart is changed, you are ready to follow Jesus moment by moment, day by day. Let’s cross reference Matthew 4 with Mark 1 and see the other things that fall under the umbrella of discipleship.
14 Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God,
15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
16 As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen.
17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”
18 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. (Mark 1)
Discipleship is 1) repent 2) believe 3) follow. This is the calling that Jesus gives to the nonbelievers. They answer the call of discipleship and become His disciples.
II. The rich, young ruler
All three of the synoptic Gospels mention this case of a man coming to Jesus and wanting to know what it took to gain eternal life. In our modern vernacular, he would say, “Jesus, what do I need to do to get saved”? This man is a nonbeliever. He is not born again. He is not going to inherit the kingdom of heaven unless something happens to him. He runs to Jesus for help.
17 As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.
19 “You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’ ”
20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”
21 Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”
22 But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. (Mark 10:17-22)
Jesus leads the man to the doorstep of repentance by showing his need for God. The man has a major idol in his life. He values his possessions over his relationship with God. When he has to choose between one or the other, he chooses the possessions. His problem was with the first four commandments of the 10. Jesus reveals this to the man and he has a chance to repent, change his mind about his relationship with God and change his mind about his possessions. He chooses not to do this. Jesus invites the man into the process of discipleship. It begins with a calling to repentance. Jesus also invites the man to have faith. This is the idea of taking up the cross. The cross was an instrument of torture. The only people who carried crosses were criminals who had been sentenced to die. Their only path in life left was to carry the cross from the place of sentencing to the place of execution. Jesus invites the man to trust (have faith) in Him. The man refuses discipleship, repentance, faith, and flowing Jesus. As a result, he missed the chance to inherit eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. Again, this call of discipleship was given to a nonbeliever. Jesus could have told them man simply to have faith in Him and he would enter the kingdom of heaven. In all three Gospels, Jesus gives the same calling. You may argue that this was just a unique case and not the norm for Jesus. Let’s take a look at another example.
III. The crowds
In the previous section, we saw Jesus call the individual to discipleship. In this section, we are going to examine the crowds and see that the same standard remains. The crowds are following Jesus but they are not believers. They want to see a miracle or get another free meal. John tells us in his Gospel that at one point, all who are following Jesus walk away from Him, except the 12 disciples. They are not believers who refuse to become disciples. They are nonbelievers who reject the words of life because they feel that Jesus’ teaching is too harsh. His teaching is that they need to repent, believe that He is God, and follow Him moment by moment as His disciples. This is just too radical for them. They are not part of the kingdom of God. Jesus lays out very clearly what it means to enter the kingdom of God.
25 Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them,
26 “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.
27 “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14)
The call is, if you want to enter the kingdom of God, Jesus needs to be the number 1 priority in your life. He is your Master. I believe that this is where repentance takes place. You have to change your mind about who the leader of your life is. Your spouse is not your number 1 priority, even though you are to love your spouse. Your children are not your number 1 priority, even though you are to love them. Your parents are not your number 1 priority, even though you are to love. Your own life (your goals and dreams) is not your number 1 priority. Jesus illustrates this with two earthly teachings about the importance of counting the cost. Realize what entrance into the kingdom of God means, count the cost, and then make a choice. Jesus does not tell them that they can enter the kingdom yet choose to reject discipleship. The next call is to give up your own life and choose to follow Jesus moment by moment, day by day until the day that you die.
IV. Jesus sends out the disciples to preach the Gospel
In Matthew 10, Jesus prepares His disciples to go out and preach the Gospel to the masses. He prepares them in the first 31 verses for what they are going to face on this endeavor. Then, in verse 32 of Matthew 10, there is a change in the object. Up until this point, as I mentioned, Jesus was speaking specifically to the disciples. The personal pronoun “you” was used by Jesus. In verse 32, the focus shifts to what the disciples were to teach the people with whom they came into contact. The pronouns shift to the third person singular forms. In order to become a disciple of Jesus Christ by repentance and faith, the people would have to confess Jesus Christ. To confess Christ means to agree with Him on who He says He is. Jesus claimed and demonstrated that He is God. Confessing Him means that we agree with Him about who He says He is. The other option is to deny Jesus Christ. This would mean denying repentance and faith as well as the process of discipleship. This would be to deny that Jesus is God and reject eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. In order to reap the benefits of the kingdom of heaven, the people who are called (hear the message preached by the disciples) are going to have to make a choice; make Jesus Christ their number 1 priority in life or reject Him as their Lord and Master. There are several noble priorities that people tend to choose over Jesus Christ. One is peace. They would rather reject Jesus as Lord and Savior because it may bring turmoil to the family. Jesus has to take priority number 1 over everything else, even your own family. Repentance, faith, and following Jesus are all summed up in this next verse:
38 “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.
Repentance, as I have already mentioned, is a change of mind. You stop depending on yourself and you look to Christ for help. Faith comes next. You trust the Lord Jesus for your rescue. This happens when you take up your cross. You stop trying to do things your way and you have only one path left in life to follow, the path of following Jesus Christ. The is the process of discipleship, repentance, faith, and following Jesus. This is the message that the disciples were to teach the nonbelievers to whom they were going. They were introducing the process of discipleship from the very beginning.
As you can see my dear friend, the apostles answered the call of discipleship and received eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. The rich, young ruler did not answer the call of discipleship and He did not receive eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. The majority of the people in the “crowds” did not answer the call into discipleship, rejecting eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. Many of them probably got another chance on the day of Pentecost when the church was born. I imagine that among those 3,000 and then another 2,000, some of them were from the crowds that followed Jesus but rejected discipleship. Peter called them to repent and believe and once they were baptized, immediately then entered into the equipping stage of discipleship, being taught by the Apostles daily. Have you answered the call of discipleship? Did it lead you to repentance and faith? Are you being trained in the Scriptures so that you can follow Jesus moment by moment, day by day? May the Lord bless us as we follow Him in the process of discipleship and seek to make disciples according to His power and authority!