Make Disciples

Make Disciples
The last phrase in our mission statement as a church is to, “make disciples.”  Just as the first two phrases are directly from the mouth of Jesus, He gives the mandate for His followers to be disciple-makers following His resurrection (Matt. 28:19-20).  Making disciples involves much more than the initial evangelism of an unbeliever, although this is the vital and unmissable beginning of disciple-making.  Making disciples also gives the practice of growing others in their understanding of what it means to follow Jesus.  In other words, disciple-making is the initial evangelism as well as the ongoing discipleship of the individual.  We must understand both needs in order to understand this call of disciple-making from Jesus.  Evangelism and discipleship will be expressed as pleas below. The two pleas are, “identify with Jesus,” and “follow Jesus.”

Identify with Jesus
First, faith in Jesus can also be expressed as identifying with Jesus.  Placing your faith in His finished work is a statement that your standing before God is no longer dead in sin, but transformed by the atoning work of Christ on the cross.  Due to this new identity in Jesus as a new creation, redemption is the testimony of the redeemed life.  This is the exact declaration of 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” But if you continue to read the verses after verse 17, it not only gives the truth of this new identity in Christ, it gives the exact mandate of making disciples due to this new identity.

Paul continues, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus has given a new identity and one crucial aspect of that new identity is the ministry of reconciliation where believers are imploring unbelievers to “be reconciled to God.”  Belief is identifying with the death and resurrection of your Lord and Savior and as a result imploring others to believe.

This is the exact picture of identifying Jesus gives in Matthew 28:19 by saying, “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.” While baptism does not save, it is a representation of new life in Christ.  It is identifying with the death and resurrection of Jesus through this act of obedience. Faith in Christ brings salvation and baptism is a proclamation of that new identity.  Jesus marks this as one of the aspects of making disciples because it is such an outward expression of an inward reality.  Be baptized, identify publicly with Jesus, who Himself is your hope and salvation.  Urge the lost to know Jesus, that salvation is nowhere else, and then as a mark of that belief, be baptized (Acts 2:38).

Follow Jesus
Second, straight from the command to baptize these new believers who were just evangelized, is the command to teach them what Jesus taught.  This is such a distinguishing task for the disciple-maker.  Listen to Matthew 28:20 again.  “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Throughout history, many have taught, and many have claimed to teach in Jesus’s name.  However, this is not what is instructed by Jesus in His command to His disciples to make more disciples.  The command is to teach them all that Jesus has taught, not what we think He taught, or what we want to teach.  The heart of this instruction is growth into the likeness of Christ.  Belief and a changed identity is the new status and standing, but growth is the ever-increasing understanding of who Jesus is and conforming into His image (Rom. 8:29).

Teaching has Scripture at its core (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  It is the devotion of the early church (Acts 2:42).  Teaching what Christ taught is the foundation of presenting believers mature in Christ (Col. 1:28), so that the Word of Christ dwells in us richly (Col. 3:16).  Perhaps the best view of this command from Jesus is in what happens when teaching towards maturity is not valued.  Hebrews 5:11-14 says, “About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”  Growth into the likeness of Christ was not valued and so the result is that while they should be mature teachers, they are still having to be retaught the basics of following Christ.  It is abundantly clear that the immature are unable to discern good from evil, righteous from unrighteous.  

Our call is not making undiscerning, immature, stunted growth disciples.  Our call is to strive for discernment, maturity, and growth as we make disciples, teaching them all that Jesus taught.  It is easy to say that if this is not our goal in making disciples, we are not loving God or loving others in our disciple-making.  Disciple-making is full of truth and grace.  It does not shy away from either of those things.  Disciple-making is relentlessly proclaiming that salvation rests in Jesus alone and that it is once again His grace that allows new creations to grow into His likeness.  We get to make disciples, not of us, but of Jesus, while He has us on this earth.  Let that truth be our joy and comfort for disciple-making!