Last week I posted a blog titled “Relationships Matter“. Everything begins with relationships. We engage people, spend time with them, listen to them, love them, share our Jesus stories with them, and seek to help them begin their own story with Jesus. And even if they never embrace Jesus, we seek to continue the relationship, because they are people that Jesus loves, not evangelistic projects. But it doesn’t stop there. Once a person decides to become a Christ-follower, we begin to disciple that person.
So what does that mean? People and organizations define discipleship in a variety of ways. Venture Church in Hattiesburg, MS defines it as “knowing, loving, and following Jesus.” Seth Barnes, founder of Adventures in Missions, defines it as “Waking up to your identity and role in the kingdom of God.” Years ago, when I was a very young youth minister, Barry St. Clair defined it as “Becoming independently dependent on Jesus”.
The word “disciple” means a student or a follower. So a disciple of Jesus is a person who is a student or follower of Jesus. But that definition is limited. It makes it sound like following Jesus is an academic exercise. Agree with a few facts about Jesus, and you’re good to go, right? (James 2:19 has something to say about this.)
Knowing truth is important, but it doesn’t make you a disciple – it doesn’t even make you a Christian. (I would argue that there is no biblical distinction between a Christian and a disciple. To be blunt, if you’re not a disciple, you’re not a Christian. But let’s save that for another blog post.)
Your knowledge must lead to following, submitting, surrendering joyfully to Jesus. Think about the word “follow”. It means to go after, to seek, to pursue. Following is not standing still, watching, analyzing, “dipping your toe in the water”, or waiting to see how things will turn out before moving. Following is following – following Jesus, going after Jesus, seeking Jesus, pursuing Jesus, surrendering to Jesus. It’s moving when He moves, stopping when He stops. It’s learning all you can about Him, so that you, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can imitate Him. Let me give you three reasons why this matters so much.
First, discipleship is an act of obedience. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19) You might recognize that verse as “The Great Commission”. It’s not The Great Suggestion, or The Great Option. This is our mission. Go. Make disciples (and by inference, be a disciple). Baptize them to publicly identify with Jesus. Teach them. If you want a metric to measure your impact on the world, this is a good one.
Second, discipleship is the way I come to know Jesus. Not know about Jesus. Not know stuff. Know Jesus. The writer of Exodus wrote, “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” Stop and think about that, because it’s a game-changer. God wants to have that same intimacy with each of us. Following Jesus is spending time with Jesus, and spending time with someone is how you build friendships and intimacy. (John 15:15)
Third, discipleship is the way I become like Jesus. Paul wrote in Romans 8:29 that God’s goal for each of us has always been that we would be “…conformed to the image of Christ…” You already know that you become like the people you spend time with. My son Seth and I are basically the same person. He looks like me, he sounds like me, he uses the same phrases I do, he makes the same gestures that I do when he speaks. Because we have spent so much time together, we have become a lot alike (although I concede that he is a much better version of me!) That principle carries over into my relationship with Jesus. To the extent that I follow Him, spend time with Him, listen to Him, obey Him, I become like Him. I find that I begin to think like He thinks. His priorities become my priorities. The things that bring Him joy bring me joy, also. Discipleship is my relationship with Jesus that allows Him to form His life in me!
Next week we’ll explore the cost of discipleship. Spoiler alert – it’s very expensive!
Hey, would you consider a couple of things for us? First, would you please remember us in prayer? God has already acted supernaturally on our behalf in so many ways, and it is because of prayer. Second, would you prayerfully consider supporting us financially in this ministry? Just click on “Support our 320 Network Planters” on our website. Thanks!