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Let’s Make Disciples

One of the best feelings is finding an author who puts language to something that you have been trying to say. I’ve written a couple of articles on “once saved, always saved,” but I wasn’t completely satisfied with them. Thankfully, Shane Claiborne came in to save the day.

Check this out.

Believers are a dime-a-dozen nowadays. What the world needs is people who believe so much in another world that they cannot help but begin enacting it now.

Shane Claiborne – Irresistible Revolution (2016), p.140

This is exactly what I’ve been getting at. It’s not that faith does not save; it’s that faith is not the end of the journey. When we say a prayer, get baptized, or whatever, we can’t just wipe off our hands and say “job well done.”

What the world needs are people who are acting, people who’s faith expresses itself in love.

Those who are content to attend church each week, maybe read their Bible occasionally, and confess faith in Jesus are great people! But Jesus said to make disciples, not believers, and this means a radical new way of living. “You know them by their fruits,” not by their confessions and adherence to the best of the best creeds.

In another book I’m reading now called Building a Youth Ministry that Builds Disciples, Duffy Robbins writes, “Talking about a genuine conversion that isn’t manifest in genuine discipleship is like talking about a genuine birth that isn’t followed by genuine life. It just doesn’t make much sense” (p. 79).

Earlier, Robbins quotes James Montgomery Boice as saying,

Discipleship is not a supposed second step in Christianity, as if one first becomes a believer in Jesus and then, if he chooses, a disciple. From the beginning, discipleship is involved in what it means to be a Christian.

Ibid. p. 79

So, what is a disciple? And what does that mean for us today?

What is a Disciple?

Following Duffy Robbins, I’m going to take you to a few passages to see how Jesus defines his disciples. In the book, he suggests you write down your definition first before going to each passage. After you have a chance to reflect on each, I’ll offer a few remarks.

First, take a moment to write down your definition of “disciple.”

Second, read the following verses and write down how each passage refines or informs your definition (ibid. p. 76).

John 8:31-32

John 13:34-35

John 15:1-8

Luke 14:25-33 (esp. verses 26-27, and 33)

Looking at Each Passage

John 8:31-32

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

John 8:31–32

Jesus says that his disciples must continue, remain, and stay in his word. This means both studying and discussing his teaching as well as living it out. Jesus, of course, is God’s logos. Jesus is the truth (John 14:6). The way we have a relationship with Jesus and God is through living his message and emulating his life (John 17:3).

In my most recent article on non-denominational Christianity, I suggest that true non-denominational Christianity doesn’t discard the Bible to maintain unity, but Christians boldly hold their opinions while being equally bold in the affirmation of their brothers and sisters who have differing views.

Since doctrine informs our ethic, studying and discussing scripture is necessary for a community of disciples. The disciples in Acts 17:11 searched the scriptures. Paul said that the scripture informs every good work in 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

Discipleship means sitting at the feet of Jesus. We read his words, and we let his words read us.

John 13:34-35

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34–35

The key way we embody the teaching of Jesus is through love. It is love that fulfills the Law and the prophets, and it is love that shows others we have been born of God. Love means action, and action means we must move beyond being believers to being disciples, not so that we can be saved in some binary kind of way, but so that we can grow up in Christ into who he empowered us to become through our faith.

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

1 John 3:17–18

John 15:1-8

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

John 15:1–8

Discipleship means abiding in Christ. It means that he also abides in us. And from this union, we bear fruit. I took my teenagers out to the community pumpkin patch at our church a few Wednesdays ago, and I talked about how the pumpkins naturally grow when given water, sunlight, and healthy soil. We can talk to them, sing to them, or sacrifice to the gods of the harvest like the nations did in the Hebrew Scriptures, but the right environment is what makes them grow.

Similarly, when we abide in Jesus and he abides in us, producing fruit is only natural. As Paul said, it was no longer he who lived, but it was Christ who lived through him (Galatians 2:20).

Luke 14:25-33 (esp. verses 26-27, and 33)

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. “

Luke 14:25–33, (26-27 and 33 are bold)

What a challenging passage. Following this teaching of Jesus, the early church sold their possessions, gave to the poor, and supported all who had any need. What a vision! What a calling!

Discipleship means sacrifice. Discipleship means regarding “everything as loss” (Philippians 3:6-7).

I think the cost of discipleship today includes sacrificing any traditions, preconceptions, denominational ties, stereotypes, fears, comfort, and even any relationships that hold us back from being who we have been called to be. If we aren’t willing to give these things up so that we might “save some” as Paul discussed in 1 Corinthians 9:22, then how can we be the disciples of the one who chose the cross?

What this Means

Imagine Christians who were known by what they did, not by what they believed. Imagine a church like this. Imagine a group of people know for what they are for, not just what they are against.

This is what we need. This what the world needs. This is what our teenagers need. This is what future generations need. And this is the vision for which Jesus died and was raised.

Let me show you another passage:

He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Isaiah 2:4

Does the world not need this? In my heritage, we applied this passage about the mountain of God to the kingdom of God now. We said this reality was available to all of those who are disciples of Jesus.

But I never heard sermons on bringing war to an end. I never heard sermons on beating swords into plowshares. This passage was usually interpreted to say that the kingdom of God doesn’t wage war, but I think that doesn’t really capture the magnitude of this prophecy.

This prophecy says that when Jesus’s kingdom comes, it has the potential to produce a world in which weapons are useless because war no longer exists. John calls this the “healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2).

This is why discipleship matters. This is why transformation is needed. This is why Christians need to abandon the path that leads to destruction and stop conforming to the world (Matthew 7:13-14; Romans 12:1-2, and also Shane Claiborne’s book…).

Imagine a world where warfare is no more. Imagine a world where poverty is eradicated. Imagine a world where abortion isn’t even discussed because no woman would ever be put into a situation to feel like she had to make that decision. Imagine a world in which no children died from unclean water. Imagine a world where everyone rushed to bring their loaves and fishes to feed the multitudes.

This world is possible. The potential for it is in the gospel of Jesus and in the kingdom he established, but it takes disciples, not church goers, to bring it about.

As I sit in coffee shops by day and Waffle House by night reading and studying and writing, I can’t help but think I could get to know Jesus in another way: by encountering him in the naked, the hungry, the thirsty, and the imprisoned. Theology is a convenient distraction from action. Lord, help me be a person of love in both word and deed. Help me be a disciple.

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