The Necessity of Being a Disciple: Part 1 of a (probably) 10 part series on Discipleship
In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus is specific about what he desires his followers to do after he leaves and puts them in charge of building the church - they are to make disciples. Not mere converts. Not get decisions for Christ from people. Not get people to recite words that follow a pre-outlined 'sinners prayer. Not get them to attend a small group or prayer meeting or church service. They are to make disciples; disciples as they were and as he has defined it.
By obvious extension, the mission of the church today is to continue to follow this mandate to make disciples. It is the responsibility of the church to bring people into an intimate relationship with God through continuous faith and repentance by preaching, teaching and living in the gospel. Disciples are people who believe the gospel, people who have turned from their sin to embrace the forgiveness of God, people who have had a transformed life so that they are motivated to obey what the Lord has commanded them. People who Jesus describes in Luke 14:25-33:
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “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. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Sadly, there are not many of these kinds of people. I think there is a great incongruity between the number of people who profess faith in Christ and those who actually live as disciples of Christ and his gospel. We have a lot of confessors of Christ, but not a lot of disciples of Christ. I also think the church is largely to blame for this. We offer many things to our people - prayer meetings, small groups, worship nights, group meetings for every age, church services and the like, most of which are devoid of the gospel and thus of what has real disciple-making value - at least the kind that Jesus is talking about in Matthew 28. I think many churches and many Christians today would best be described as spiritual and religious, but not as gospel-believing disciples of Christ.
John Stott captures all too well what is going on in the church today as he reflects on the present day implications of Luke 14.
The Christian landscape is strewn with the wreckage of derelict half-built towers. The ruins of those who began to build and were unable to finish. For thousands of people still ignore Christ’s warning and undertake to follow Him without first pausing to reflect on the cost of doing so. The result is the great scandal of Christendom today, so called nominal Christianity. In countries to which Christian civilization has spread, large numbers of people have covered themselves with a decent but thin veneer of Christianity. They have allowed themselves to become somewhat involved, enough to be respectable but not enough to be uncomfortable. Their religion is a great soft cushion. It protects them from the hard unpleasantness of life while changing its place and shape to suit their convenience. No wonder the cynics speak of hypocrites in the church and dismiss religion as escapism,” (Basic Christianity)
What exactly is a disciple of Christ? We described it above as people who are in
an intimate relationship with God through continuous faith and repentance by preaching, teaching and living in the gospel. Disciples are people who believe the gospel, people who have turned from their sin to embrace the forgiveness of God, people who have had a transformed life so that they are motivated to obey what the Lord has commanded them.
They are people who, as William Perkins describes, are
of this disposition of mind that if there were no conscience to accuse, no devil to terrify, no judge to arraign or condemn, no hell to torment, yet he would be humbled and brought to his knees for his sins because he has offended a loving merciful and long-suffering God.
It is exactly the things here described that Jesus demands of us. It is exactly these things that he says meets with his approval and his eternal reward. The disciple of Christ is not as "second-stage Christian" as though you become a 'Christian' - be converted, pray the right prayer, whatever - that gets you 'salvation', and if you want to, you can become a disciple of Christ. It is also not some "deluxe, super or heavy-duty model of the Christian – he is the everyday, committed follower of Christ; Jesus gives the call to discipleship to the multitudes, not to super-Christians or special people, but to all people; discipleship is the call of Christ. (Piper and Ogden, or maybe Willard)
So important is this for us to understand that I will say more, much more, about being a disciple of Christ. In this series it is my goal to outline what characterizes a disciple of Christ, how it is that individual believers can become disciples of Christ and not mere 'Christians', and how it is that the church must change what it does in order to cultivate disciples and not merely spiritual people.
NB: As I go through this series of blogs I am deeply indebted to many sources. Guys like Ogden, Willard, Carson, Piper, the Puritans, and many more. I will try to quote them as often as I use.
Soli Deo Gloria