Thursday, April 11, 2013

HOW TO MAKE DISCIPLES: Part 1 – The Problem

Discipleship is a mystery to some Christians in the church today, but what’s even more confounding is the idea that being a Christian and deciding to become a disciple should be viewed as two separate things.

In other words, a disciple is a Christian and if you’re a Christian then you are already a disciple. As it says in Acts 11:26: “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”

So, according to the New Testament, disciples are Christians. In fact, the default mode for all of those who follow Christ is classified as “disciple”, which just means “follower”.

If this is so, then how is it possible that Christians wouldn’t understand how to “go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them to obey all that (Jesus) commanded”? It would seem that anyone who is a disciple should understand intuitively how to go and make others who are just like them, at least in terms of faith and practice.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that many Christians still don’t have any clue how to “make disciples”. How can this be?

I believe the main reason for this phenomenon is simple; Christians are largely concerned with making converts. In other words, it starts with the way we understand (or misunderstand) the Gospel and then flows into the way we evangelize.

Most Christians today understand the Gospel as simply saying a prayer so that you can go to heaven when you die. This isn’t the Gospel. It is a simplistic element of the larger doctrine of the Atonement, but it’s not the Gospel. The same problem would arise for example if we were to confuse the Gospel with the doctrine of the Incarnation, or any other doctrine. It’s not that those other doctrines are wrong, they’re not. It’s that we’ve mislabeled the Gospel message that Jesus came and died to preach and thereby lost the point of making disciples.

So, because we’ve misunderstood the Gospel as saying a prayer so we can avoid hell, our method of evangelism has involved asking people if they want a ticket out of damnation and handing it to them by getting them to repeat a prayer of salvation with their eyes closed or by raising their hand when no one is looking as if they are voting for their own eternal security.

Because of this unbiblical practice, there are thousands (perhaps millions) of people who have “prayed the prayer” and who consider themselves Christians although none of them have never made any decision to follow Jesus. This is quite sad.

See, Jesus would not consider someone a Christian if they did not decide to follow Him. Believing in him (whatever that means) is not enough if you do not continue onward to obey the teachings of Jesus.

As Jesus himself said:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

“And why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do the things I say?” (Luke 6:46)

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matt. 7:24-27)

"If you love me, you will obey what I command." (John 14:15)

"You are my friends if you do what I command"- (John 15:14)

"Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me." - (John 14:21)

I could go on and on. But I think you get the point. Jesus came and preached the Gospel (or “Good News”) of the Kingdom which was simply that the Kingdom of God had come to Earth and that by following Jesus you could enter this Kingdom here and now. This is why Jesus’ invitation was to “follow me” and those who did so were called “Disciples”.

If we continue to preach a message that only asks people to vote on their preferences for heaven or hell, then we will continue to fail our Lord Jesus when He commands us to “go and make disciples”.

How then should we evangelize? We should ask people if they are interested in following Jesus today. Why? Because Jesus is awesome. He is glorious. He is the only source of true, abundant life, peace and joy. Nothing else even comes close.

So, instead of asking people “If you were to die tonight would you be in heaven tomorrow?” we should ask, “If you were alive tomorrow, who would you follow and how would you live your life?”

Our invitation should be to ask people if they want to follow Jesus daily, the same way that we are trying to follow Him. If we’re not following Jesus daily, we will certainly have no idea how to teach others to do so.


"A notable heresy has come into being throughout evangelical Christian circles; the widely—accepted concept that we humans can choose to accept Christ only because we need Him as Savior and that we have the right to postpone our obedience to Him as Lord as long as we want to...salvation apart from obedience is unknown in the sacred scriptures." - A.W. Tozer.


the alternative1 said...

this is very challenging--I myself am committed to being a daily,moment by moment follower of jesus Christ and how could it be otherwise-for he lives inside of me.but after reading your post it makes me wonder about a lot of Christian friends I have.

Anonymous said...

True many say they are "Christians" why because they say they believe in God. They say they believe in God but by deeds they deny Him. To believe in God and to believe God is where the differance lies. One can say they believe in God and not believe God. To believe God is to believe what God says in His Word. To believe in the promises of God from the heart. This is saving faith, this is the only kind of faith God will honor that which comes from the heart not just the lips.Discipleship begins with the heart to believe the Word of God and to follow it. amen

Jim Wright said...

Thanks, Keith. This gets to the heart of a very needed shift in how we understand, and apply, the Gospel. I look forward to the rest of this series.

I highlighted and linked to this on my own blog.

I like what you say, because you are living it in the context of actual, local fellowship. We need more such voices of true experience.

Rick Vincent said...

Amen! This is the Gospel that we should be preaching and not the watered down version of where do you want to spend eternity, Heaven or Hell? Anyone with any sense would reply Heaven.
To many are on their way to Hell because of easy believeism !