As the interviews in the video show, there’s a lot of confusion these days over what discipleship is. This is what we will focus on in this third session.
In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus Christ, just prior to His ascension, entrusted His church with what became known as the Great Commission:
Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything l have commanded you. And surely l am with you always, to the very end of the age.’
As we can appreciate from these verses, Jesus Christ did not commission His followers to make converts to the Christian faith only, but to make disciples; to baptise and instruct new believers in the knowledge of and obedience to Christ’s teachings.
But what is a disciple? Is every person who walks through the doors of a twenty-first century church considered a disciple? When a person signs a decision card to become a Christian or who prays the ‘salvation prayer’, is he or she then a disciple?
Jesus Christ and the Early Church placed a heavy emphasis on the importance of disciple formation. Listen to the following words of Jesus Christ, which teach us something of what a real disciple looks like:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his faith and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:27)
In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:33)
Jesus placed challenging terms on anyone desiring to become His disciple. A reorienting of priorities and the need to make sacrifices if needed. Had He softened the conditions of discipleship, I imagine the crowds would have swept along behind him, but that was not what He wanted. He was looking for men and women of quality; mere quantity did not interest Him. In his message to the crowds concerning the conditions on which they could be his disciples, Jesus Christ used two helpful illustrations found in Luke 14:28-31:
Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? … Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?
Jesus employed these illustrations to demonstrate his disapproval of impulsive and ill-considered discipleship. Like the builder, He too is engaged in a building programme — “On this rock I will build my church.” In this building and battling, Jesus desired to have associated with Him disciples who are men and women of quality — those who will not turn back when the going gets tough. The message Jesus proclaimed was a call to discipleship — not to faith alone, but to faith and obedience. After all, as Jesus warned in Matthew 7:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord, ‘ will enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 7:21)
It’s no wonder the churches are struggling as they are. The mission that Christ entrusted to His church was to make obedient disciples and not converts to the faith alone. He did not ask His followers to create buildings full of church attendees, but to focus on creating disciples full of God and His Kingdom mission.
Please download the handout for the entire lesson that accompanies the video.
. Matthew 16:18 NIV.