Why Do We Disciple? (Part II)

By Pr Ay Nee Ng

Last week, we established that God has commissioned us to disciple. They were His marching orders (Matt. 28:18-20) before leaving earth. He was also given us the authority and power that has been extended to Him once He was seated at the right hand of God (Eph. 1:20-21). “For the Scriptures say, ‘God has put all things under his authority’. (Of course, when it says ‘all things are under his authority’, that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.)” (1 Cor. 15:27).

During his reign, Christ delegated certain authority (e.g., to the apostles—Matt. 19:28; Luke 10:19-20); yet, there is no biblical evidence whatever that He would appoint any earthly dignitary to function as “the visible head of the Church on earth,” as is claimed by Roman Catholic writers. Jesus is “the (only) head” of that institution (Col. 1:18).

Jesus exercised absolute authority during His earthly ministry. He raised the dead, judged men and forgave sins. He performed miracles and spoke fresh and binding revelation. His authority, however, now extends to both heaven and earth, the entire universe (Heb. 1:3). He rules not only the earth but also heaven. He is in control of all things. It is in light of the unlimited exercise of His absolute authority over every person, tribe, nation, and tongue that He commands His disciples to “go and make disciples” (Eph. 1:20-23).

What Is the Meaning of Disciple?
It refers to those who accept the teachings of anyone, not only in belief but also in life. There were the disciples of John the Baptist (Matt. 9:14; Luke 7:18; John 3:25), of the Pharisees (Matt. 22:16; Mark 2:18; Luke 5:33), and of Moses (John 9:28). There are disciples of other religions or beliefs too. So Church, are we a disciple of Jesus or not? Do we know His doctrine to stay true to Jesus?

Principally, disciples refer to the followers of Christ and is the only name for Christ’s followers in the Gospels. In Acts, after the death and ascension of Jesus, disciples are those who confess Him as the Messiah known also as Christians (Acts 6:1-2, 7; 9:36; Acts 11:26, “The disciples were called Christians”). Even half-instructed believers who had been baptized only with the baptism of John are disciples (Acts 19:1-4).

What Are the Qualities of a Disciple of Jesus Christ?
A disciple of Christ is one who (1) believes His doctrine, (2) rests on His sacrifice, (3) imbibes His spirit, and (4) imitates His example (Matt. 10:24 ; Luke 14:26-27, 33; John 6:69). The disciple of Christ today may be described in the words of Farrar, as “one who believes His doctrines, rests upon His sacrifice, imbibes His spirit, and imitates His example.”

What Is Our Understanding of Making Disciples?
The expression “make disciples” (“teach”, KJV) indicates “thought accompanied by endeavor”. A disciple is one who “stands in relation to another as pupil and is instructed by that person”. Matthew Henry, a Presbyterian, observed that discipling intimates that “the essentials of the religion of Jesus,—the remolding of the character, through the truth, — is necessary to entitle any individual to baptism” (p. 307).

Jesus selected His 12 disciples in Mark 3:13-19. He appointed (the Greek verb means “to make someone into something”) them:

  • to reproduce people who have a basis of faith and trust in Jesus,
  • to have followers of Jesus Christ who are willing to learn and be taught in truth in the Word of God and be baptised in water and the Spirit,
  • to remould their character and lifestyle through truth in Jesus Christ,
  • to allow the Holy Spirit to empower, instruct, lead and guide them, and
  • to be imitators of Jesus Christ.

Our goal: to enjoy Him and become like Him (Luke 6:40)

The purpose of the appointment is that they might be with Him in order to learn from Him and then go out in divine power to extend His work. It is no longer the same old “me”, but a new “me”, loving and living life with Jesus.

Jesus has summoned us to his side, but not simply to put us to work. His summons—to go and make disciples of all nations—and make no mistake about it, is first a call to know him (Matt 4:19), to have intimate fellowship with him (1 Cor. 1:9), to enjoy Him, and to become someone worthy of doing the task ahead by allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us. This is primary and necessary. If you got no relationship with our Lord or anyone for that matter, can you follow Him or that person?

If the disciples were to have lost interest in Him as a person and friend, they would never have continued to walk with Him. We are no different. Remember, even in the context of deepening intimacy He commands us to be like Him. In short, it is primarily through fellowship with the Master that we begin to look, feel, and act like the Master (2 Cor. 3:18).

“A disciple is not greater than his teacher, but everyone when fully trained (κατηρτισμένος) will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).

Jesus is our example. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example (ὑπόδειγμα): you should do just as I have done for you. I tell you the solemn truth, the slave is not greater than his master (κύριος), nor is the one who is sent as a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:14-17).

“Be imitators (μιμηταί) of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

How Do We View Discipleship?
If we view it as a task, we have missed the whole thing. Discipleship is not a task but a call to follow Jesus. Discipleship is a call to be with, know and enjoy the Master. Christian discipleship is growing our love for Jesus! The calling to biblical discipleship is a summon for a person that has believed in Christ as Lord and Saviour and continues to believe in Him; discipleship is our marching orders to follow Jesus, and this, at times, is tough.

He demands exclusive, complete and unflinching obedience to Himself. This is where His summons to discipleship are so radically different from Plato who stressed the freedom of the student from the teacher or even the Jewish religious leaders who focused more on the Torah and steered their disciples away from themselves. Jesus, on the other hand, pointed people to Himself (and still does) and calls them to a radical commitment to Him.

Jesus’ call to discipleship is a call to Christ-likeness, which includes at least three related facts:

1. Commitment to fulfil His orders/demands. Jesus’ call to discipleship is an ALL-OR-NOTHING summons of commitment. His marching orders reach into every area of our lives and involve giving Him pre-eminence over the closest of our human relationships and over our desires and plans. In short, it involves becoming His servant in the world and giving our lives to that end. Paradoxically, we give up that which we cannot keep to gain that which we cannot lose. If we don’t, we lose all in the end (Matt 16:25).

The cross was an instrument of death and well known to the Jews. The suffering was intolerable. But Jesus says we are to take it up and follow him. This will, in the nature of the case, involves self-denial. The one who picked up the cross-beam of His cross was headed down a one-way street, never to return. Then he said to them all, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).

“Now large crowds were accompanying Jesus, and turning to them he said, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple’” (Luke 14:25-35).

“Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. But it is not this way among you. Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave (διάκονος) of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” (Mark 10:42-45).

2. Grace through the power of the Holy Spirit. We need resources to accomplish this kind of life. It is tough. The demand of Jesus’ call to discipleship is impossible for a human being if unaided. Those resources come directly from Christ and are promised to us if we abide in him. This is the point of Jesus’ teaching in John 15:1-11. He told his disciples that even though he was departing the world, he would nonetheless carry on his life and ministry through them, his chosen ones (John 15:16). From John 14:26, 15:26 and 16:13-14, we know that His life would be lived in and through the disciples via the indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 3:16). This will be discussed a little more when we talk about the relationship of discipleship to the kingdom of God.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me—and I in him—bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out like a branch, and dries up; and such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and burned up. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you. My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples.” (John 15:5-8).

3. Promise. The call to discipleship is not without its struggles, suffering, and sometimes intense difficulties, but it is not without its promises either.

I Am With You
By Lawrence Darmani (taken from the Our Daily Bread, Oct. 23, 2016)

Read Jeremiah 1:1-10

Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you. Jeremiah 1:8

When I served as an intern for a Christian magazine, I wrote a story about a person who had become a Christian. In a dramatic change, he said goodbye to his former life and embraced his new Master: Jesus. A few days after the magazine hit the street, an anonymous caller threatened, “Be careful, Darmani. We are watching you! Your life is in danger in this country if you write such stories.”

That was not the only time I have been threatened for pointing people to Christ. On one occasion a man told me to vanish with the tract I was giving him or else! In both cases, I cowered. But these were only verbal threats. Many Christians have had threats carried out against them. In some cases simply living a godly lifestyle attracts mistreatment from people.

The Lord told Jeremiah, “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you” (Jer. 1:7), and Jesus told His disciples, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves” (Matt. 10:16). Yes, we may encounter threats, hardships, and even pain. But God assures us of His presence. “I am with you,” He told Jeremiah (Jer. 1:8), and Jesus assured His followers, “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20).

Whatever struggles we face in our attempt to live for the Lord, we can trust in the Lord’s presence.

In Mark 10:28-30, Jesus was quick to remind the inquiring disciples that there was a reward for following Him. Jesus didn’t rebuke Peter for his implied question, “What then will be for us?”, but rather addressed it with a three-fold promise introduced by a solemn declaration.

“I tell you the truth….” Those who leave family, friends, etc. for Jesus and the Gospel will not fail to receive (1) a hundredfold what they have lost (in the new community of faith); (2) to suffer persecutions, and (3) to have eternal life in the age to come (vv. 29-30). The timing on the giving of reward and persecution is in the hands of the Lord.

Discipleship is a call to make disciples. The idea that Jesus was calling the disciples to Himself for a special purpose is evident in His initial call. He summoned and appointed His disciples, saying: “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt 4:19; Mark 1:17). This initial comment about reaching men was reasserted as a command when the resurrected Lord stood before His disciples in Matthew 28:18-20.

“Then Jesus came up and said to them, “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 the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).

Our marching orders are to make disciples—followers of Jesus Christ in truth and character obeying our Lord Jesus Christ into baptism. The term “go” does not mean “as you go” but takes with it some of the imperatival force of the main verb “make.” The idea of making a disciple is fleshed out more in the idea of teaching them to obey all things Jesus commanded.

Finally, in a relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ, we are to encourage people to submit and obey to the Lordship of Christ as expressed in His teachings to the disciples and to show them what that looks like with our own lives. We are to live by example, growing our love for Jesus and walking our talk. When Jesus appointed His disciples, they were summoned. Now look at their lives–they started off on shaky grounds, a reed of a character to some and became a rock that makes disciples of all nations!!

So what does this tell us? Why is discipling so important to us? When Jesus ask us to “make disciples”, He is appointing us to bring someone, and in turn, we ourselves are made into something. In Jesus appointing His disciples, He has also appointed us His children and His disciples. We are summoned by our Lord with the purpose of making someone, that is, us into something. There is hope for us all. This is a revelation!

The more we make disciples, the more we help people out of the rut and into a purpose driven life! So Church, go and make disciples! When you do so, you are bringing that person into His fold to be moulded, transformed, and crafted into being something–beautiful, priceless, and valued above rubies! What a gem from God!

Do we want to make disciples? Definitely, Yes! Then let’s ask God to summon us once again with the knowledge of His purposes for our lives and live a purpose-driven life.

Let’s pray.

Lord, I ask for your loving favour upon us to beckon and summon us once again as Your disciples to be transformed from our old self to this newness in Christ Jesus, having a purpose-driven life to make disciples, teaching others to love, cherish, honour and live for You in truth. Thank You, Jesus, for saving us, loving us and never leaving us. In Jesus’ name. Amen