For those of us who follow Jesus, discipleship should be central to our faith. This is because Jesus commanded His followers—in the “The Great Commission”—to “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 I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20(HCSB)19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
It’s not a suggestion that Jesus makes here. It’s a command!
It has always been God’s desire to reach the world of lost people and bring them to fellowship with Himself. In 1 Timothy 2:3-4 (HCSB)3 This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
So, the heart of God has always been a heart to reach the world. In that verse which is more familiar than any other verse, it is simply stated,
John 3:16(HCSB)16 “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.
So, we’re not surprised then to hear a command like this, “make disciples of all nations,” for this is what God has intended from the very start. And now God has a remnant of people gathered on that hillside in Galilee and all those who will come from their ministry, including us, to whom this command is given to reach the world.
We’re reminded that the statement “make disciples” is the heart of our calling. That we’re in the world to do that. That teaching and preaching and praise, fellowship, all of those things which we cherish and hold dear to us are only means to an end. They are only elements of preparation for the real task which is evangelizing the world, which is reaching the lost for Christ. And so we are to be about making disciples of all nations, all peoples, all ethnic groups, all tribes, all races.
The idea of making a disciple is a beautiful term. The word matheteuo, the verb that is used here, carries the idea of a believer and a learner. I suppose we could say it is a believing learner or a learning believer. Make believing learners of all nations. Make learning believers. It is not simply one who believes or you would have had another word. It is not simply one who learns or you would have had another word. It is a believing learner, one who places faith in Christ and who follows in a life of learning. As Jesus put it in John 8:31(HCSB)“If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples.
You really are my mathetes alethos (math-ay-tes’ al-ay-thoce’), the real disciples, the genuine disciple, as opposed to the false one.
So, the mission of the church in the world can be defined as making believing learners, or learning believers out of all nations. We are here to seek those that are lost. The Father first sought true worshipers. He sent the Son then to seek and save that which was lost. And then the Spirit to empower us to witness, as it says in Acts 1:8 (HCSB) But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8 is personal “the Holy Spirit comes upon YOU AND YOU will be my witnesses, You are to be the witnesses of Jesus to the World to accomplish the same goal. Jesus in John 17:18(HCSB) said, “Father, as You sent Me into the world, so send I My disciples.” For the same reason, that is to seek and to save those who are lost. And Jesus said after the Spirit is come, you will receive power and then you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the uttermost part of the earth.
So, we’re in line with that calling and commission that has always been on the heart of God. Even when Jesus initially called the disciples, He said, “Follow Me,” in Matthew 4:18-20(HCSB)18 As He was walking along the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the sea, since they were fishermen. 19 “Follow Me,” He told them, “and I will make you fish for people!” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him, “Jesus said Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” Nothing has changed. From the call of Matthew 4 to the commission of Matthew 28, there has been a training process so that those who were called to be fishers of men when they are commissioned will know what that involves and will be faithful to fulfill it. Jesus said be fishers of men and if you read it backwards it says “If your not fishing for men you are not following Jesus Christ.” See we sit back and let cults come in to our neighborhoods and peddle their theology that is sending people straight to Hell. The tragedy of the Church is that so many people have lost sight of that commission and they have settled for a comfortable self-indulgent kind of Christianity that is little more than an inexpensive social club membership. That is not God’s intention. A country club was never in His plan.
What is Discipleship?
To put it simply discipleship means to intentionally and consistently partner with other Christians in order to help them to obey Jesus and grow in relationship with Him.—so that he or she can then help others do the same. We are disciples of Jesus who make disciples, who make disciples, who make make disciples. It is the disciple cycle. Jesus taught His disciples to follow Him and obey His commands so that they could lead others to do the same. Paul continues the pattern with Timothy and encourages him to keep the cycle going: 2 Timothy 2:2(HCSB)“What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also”.
But how do we live out this command and actually do what we’ve been called to do?
Discipleship Isn’t “Just Me and Jesus.”
While discipleship is all about Jesus, it’s not a solitary mission. Discipleship is relational, and to fully respond to the Great Commission, we need to be disciples who are making disciples of Jesus. This means we need to spend consistent time with other believers.
Jesus and His disciples spent a lot of time together
Acts 1:21-22(HCSB)21 “Therefore, from among the men who have accompanied us during the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day He was taken up from us—from among these, it is necessary that one become a witness with us of His resurrection. They ate together, walked together, rode in boats together. They even argued with each other Luke 9:46-48(HCSB)46 Then an argument started among them about who would be the greatest of them. 47 But Jesus, knowing the thoughts of their hearts, took a little child and had him stand next to Him. 48 He told them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in My name welcomes Me. And whoever welcomes Me welcomes Him who sent Me. For whoever is least among you—this one is great.”.
The 12 disciples were in one another’s lives, They were intentionally together and constantly together. While we are all called to become disciples of Jesus, we become disciples with one another, learning how to love God and each other as we go. We must love God and love people, we cannot fully love God and not love His people.We need to allow others to disciple us by letting them challenge us and encourage us in our walk with God. This is why church and honest intimate relationships with other believers are so central to the Christian life—we need one another to help us on our path to being disciples of Jesus.
Discipleship Isn’t Mentoring
As we allow others into our lives and let them help us obey Jesus, we also need to reach out and disciple others. But that doesn’t mean we are mentoring others.
Mentoring has to do with what the mentor can offer to someone else through their own wisdom and experience; discipleship has to do with what Jesus can offer to someone else through His wisdom and presence.
This is why you don’t need to have a slew of qualifications to disciple someone else (The original 12 were just “ordinary, unschooled men,” remember?)—you just have to be following and obeying Jesus in your own life and be willing to help someone else do the same.
Discipleship Isn’t a Method
To be a disciple of Jesus doesn’t require attending a certain church, participating in a certain Bible study or praying a certain way. But it does require doing the things of the Kingdom, just as the 12 disciples did. They were sent by Jesus to cast out demons, heal the sick, and proclaim the good news that the “The kingdom of God has come near to you” Matthew 10:5-15(HCSB)5 Jesus sent out these 12 after giving them instructions: “Don’t take the road leading to other nations, and don’t enter any Samaritan town. 6 Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, announce this: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons. You have received free of charge; give free of charge. 9 Don’t take along gold, silver, or copper for your money-belts. 10 Don’t take a traveling bag for the road, or an extra shirt, sandals, or a walking stick, for the worker is worthy of his food.
11 “When you enter any town or village, find out who is worthy, and stay there until you leave. 12 Greet a household when you enter it, 13 and if the household is worthy, let your peace be on it. But if it is unworthy, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 I assure you: It will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
Luke 10:1-12(HCSB)After this, the Lord appointed 70 others, and He sent them ahead of Him in pairs to every town and place where He Himself was about to go. 2 He told them: “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest. 3 Now go; I’m sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Don’t carry a money-bag, traveling bag, or sandals; don’t greet anyone along the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ 6 If a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they offer, for the worker is worthy of his wages. Don’t be moving from house to house. 8 When you enter any town, and they welcome you, eat the things set before you. 9 Heal the sick who are there, and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near you.’ 10 When you enter any town, and they don’t welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘We are wiping off as a witness against you even the dust of your town that clings to our feet. Know this for certain: The kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.
The responsibility of the disciple hasn’t changed. We are still called to do these things—alongside of other believers—by sharing the Gospel in our communities as well as praying for the sick and hurting.
Discipleship Isn’t Easy
Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost us our lives. Jesus put it very bluntly:
Luke 9:23-25 (HCSB)23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. 25 What is a man benefited if he gains the whole world, yet loses or forfeits himself?
To be a disciple of Jesus means that we have given up our lives in order to follow Him wholeheartedly and without reserve. It means that our lives are no longer our own—they are His.
Most Christians naturally assume all will be well, as the plan for us is good and wonderful. And, this is true. But, what God sees as what is good–Character, relationships and spiritual growth. This competes with what we see as good–possessions and power. Strife will result, as convictions and assumptions clash with Truth.
Most Christians are getting bad theology from tv, radio and even the church, with the thinking that God will not allow suffering or hardship if we have enough faith. But, when you read the Bible, you see that the opposite is true; hardship built character and maturity in the lives of the people in the Bible
Luke 14:25-33(HCSB)25 Now great crowds were traveling with Him. So He turned and said to them: 26 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, and even his own life—he cannot be My disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
28 “For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, after he has laid the foundation and cannot finish it, all the onlookers will begin to make fun of him, 30 saying, ‘This man started to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
31 “Or what king, going to war against another king, will not first sit down and decide if he is able with 10,000 to oppose the one who comes against him with 20,000? 32 If not, while the other is still far off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, therefore, every one of you who does not say good-bye to all his possessions cannot be My disciple.
Keep in mind that God is much more concerned with our spiritual growth, maturity, and character than anything else. Our focus is on comfort; His focus is on how to sanctify and perfect us, not to please and pamper us!
Let’s begin with what Jesus didn’t mean. Many people interpret “cross” as some burden they must carry in their lives: a strained relationship, a thankless job, a physical illness. With self-pitying pride, they say, “That’s my cross I have to carry.” Such an interpretation is not what Jesus meant when He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me.”
When Jesus carried His cross up Golgotha to be crucified, no one was thinking of the cross as symbolic of a burden to carry. To a person in the first-century, the cross meant one thing and one thing only: death by the most painful and humiliating means human beings could develop.
Two thousand years later, Christians view the cross as a cherished symbol of atonement, forgiveness, grace, and love. But in Jesus’ day, the cross represented nothing but torturous death. Because the Romans forced convicted criminals to carry their own crosses to the place of crucifixion, bearing a cross meant carrying their own execution device while facing ridicule along the way to death.
Therefore, “Take up your cross and follow Me” means being willing to die in order to follow Jesus. This is called “dying to self.” It’s a call to absolute surrender. After each time Jesus commanded cross bearing, He said in Luke 9:24-25(HCSB)24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. 25 What is a man benefited if he gains the whole world, yet loses or forfeits himself?. Although the call is tough, the reward is awesome.
Wherever Jesus went, He drew large crowds. Although these multitudes often followed Him as Messiah,but what their view of who the Messiah really was and what He would do was distorted. They thought the Christ would usher in the restored kingdom. They believed He would free them from the oppressive rule of their Roman occupiers. So before you go on a rant about “how oppressive the American Government is” remember that while Jesus walked the earth the Roman Government was the epitome of oppressive. Even Christ’s own inner circle of disciples thought the kingdom was coming soon Luke 19:11(HCSB)11 As they were listening to this, He went on to tell a parable because He was near Jerusalem, and they thought the kingdom of God was going to appear right away. When Jesus began teaching that He was going to die at the hands of the Jewish leaders and their Gentile overlords (Luke 9), His popularity sank. Many of the shocked followers rejected Him. Truly, they were not able to put to death their own ideas, plans, and desires, and exchange them for His.
Following Jesus is easy when life runs smoothly; our true commitment to Him is revealed during trials. Jesus assured us that trials will come to His followers John 16:33(HCSB)33 I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”
Discipleship demands sacrifice, and Jesus never hid that cost.
In Luke 9:57-62(HCSB)57 As they were traveling on the road someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go!”
58 Jesus told him, “Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” 59 Then He said to another, “Follow Me.”
“Lord,” he said, “first let me go bury my father.”
60 But He told him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.”
61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to those at my house.”
62 But Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”, three people seemed willing to follow Jesus. When Jesus questioned them further, their commitment was half-hearted at best. They failed to count the cost of following Him. None was willing to take up his cross and crucify upon it his own interests.
Therefore, Jesus appeared to discourage them. My, how different from the typical Gospel presentation! I wonder how many people would respond to an altar call that went, “Come follow Jesus, and you may face the loss of friends, family, reputation, career, and possibly even your life”? The number of false converts would likely decrease! Such a call is what Jesus meant when He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me.”
If you wonder if you are ready to take up your cross, consider these questions:
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing some of your closest friends?
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means alienation from your family?
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means the loss of your reputation?
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing your job?
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing your life?
In some places of the world, these consequences are reality. But notice the questions are phrased, “Are you willing?” Following Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean all these things will happen to you, but are you willing to take up your cross? If there comes a point in your life where you are faced with a choice—Jesus or the comforts of this life—which will you choose?
Commitment to Christ means taking up your cross daily, giving up your hopes, dreams, possessions, even your very life if need be for the cause of Christ. Only if you willingly take up your cross may you be called His disciple
Luke 14:27(HCSB)27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. The reward is worth the price. Jesus followed His call of death to self Matthew 16:25-26(HCSB)25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it. 26 What will it benefit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life?