Now, we get to the main thrust of the Great Commission, the lone imperative, the command to make disciples. We should be clear from the outset. What is the goal of the disciple making. We are not making disciples who are loyal to us. We are not making disciples who are loyal to LBC. We are making disciples OF CHRIST. This means we should build up our believes such that our people don’t fall apart if they leave our church. Wherever God places you, you should be a thriving, mature disciple of Jesus. We can’t forget the goal–making each one of us a mature disciple of Christ wherever he places you.
We should note that evangelism is part of making disciples. We may put those two in separate categories in our mind or separate ministries–you guys evangelize, we will do the discipleship. No, evangelism is part of discipleship. You are planting seeds. In evangelism or in discipleship of a believer, the goal is the same. I think of it as moving a person down a path where the final destination is Christ, more of Him and growing into Christ-likeness. So discipleship is where you intentionally help somebody else move one step closer to Jesus Christ.
For a non-believer, you are trying to move them one step closer to a saving encounter with Christ. For a believer, we are trying to move them one step toward Christian maturity. For some in this room, we will be together for 1 year or 4 years or 40 years. But the point is, while we are together, we are called to make disciples and help each other take that next step. Planting seeds and watering the seeds and trusting that God will make each of us grow into a mature disciple of Christ.
Now we can tie the command, make disciples, with the rest of the participles. We talked about the participle, go, already. Go, going, in the midst of going. Two callings are in view. Petrine and Pauline.
Next, we have baptizing. As Baptists, we know that baptism is very important. Baptism is important for 2 reasons. One, it is a public profession of faith. It’s easy to be a closet Christian. It’s uncomfortable to tell others that you are a Christian. You don’t want to offend them. You don’t want to get weird stares–you mean, you believe in that stuff? We don’t like to be ridiculed or rejected. So it is easier to be Christian in private. But in a baptism service, you are saying to the world, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. Say what you want, but I am not ashamed. He died for me and I live for him. Nothing else, no one else is more important. That is one aspect of a baptism–public profession. It takes a lot of courage.
Second, baptism is important because it is often a rite of passage to welcome you into a particular community of faith. Historically, that is why baptism and church membership have been closely linked. There are no lone ranger Christians. We are all members of the body of Christ. This makes sense because even in a physical sense, human babies are not born in the wild and left on their own. If they were left alone, they would die. They are born into families because babies are utterly helpless. Likewise, Christian newborns who are born spiritually are baptized and welcomed into a faith family and somebody has to come alongside and teach them, this is how you pray, this is how you read the Bible, let me teach you how to love someone. And as older brothers and sisters, our hearts go out to the younger ones in faith. Because we were once there and someone older took us under their wings.
This connects well with the next participle, teaching. v20 – teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. In other translations, it says, teaching them to OBSERVE everything I have commanded you. This command is much more than showing up on a Sunday and listening to a sermon. If information transfer was the goal of disciple making, the verse would have ended with teaching. Then, you can come on Sunday and hear a sermon and go home. Teaching is important. I take the preaching and the study of the Word very seriously, as you would expect. You might not be able to tell by the finished product, but I spend hours and hours each week on the sermon because I think the Word of God is that critical. But teaching doesn’t end when the sermon is over. It says, teaching them to obey or teaching them to observe everything that Christ commanded.
How do you do that? To answer this, I believe we should take our cues from Jesus. How did he do it? He did his mass evangelism to the crowds. He took time to convert Gentiles here and there. But Jesus focused the bulk of his energy on one task. Over the course of his 3 year ministry, if you really boil it down, Jesus got to know 12 guys really well. They ate together, they laughed together, they cried together. They were with each other 24×7.
School was always in session. Which means, if one of the disciples was failing to observe one of Christ’s commands, Jesus would be able to speak truth into their sin and failings as it was happening. He could insure that they were obeying everything he commanded because he would teach them a lesson and then a situation would arise to test them to see if they really got the point of the lesson. He was able to move these abstract spiritual truths from their heads–teaching, do they really understand it, to their hearts–do they really believe it, and eventually to their hands–are they willing to obey it? If the ultimate goal of discipleship is Christ and to be more like him, the practical outworkings of discipleship is this movement of God’s teachings, His truth through our heads, down into our hearts and out through our hands.
We often stop at our heads. Give me a lesson. Teach me a new insight. It takes works, struggle to move the teaching from our heads to our hearts and out to our hands. And if you are young in the faith, it often requires the help of a mentor who is willing to disciple you. Discipleship is a two-way street. At our church, I think finding a mentor to disciple you is not the issue. The issue is that most people don’t think they need someone to disciple them.
If we take our cues from Jesus and his approach to discipleship, I think we can discern that effective discipleship requires two things. One, regarding the person you are discipling, you have to know where they are spiritually. It doesn’t make sense to talk about going to Afghanistan to be a martyr for the gospel if the person you are discipling is a young Christian and they are struggling with reading the Bible daily. You can’t help somebody else to take another step in their spiritual journey unless you know where he or she is currently. And two, it takes proximity. I can’t help somebody if they live in a foreign country and we have an occasional Skype video chat every few months. I can provide that person some guidance, but I have no idea, are they praying, are they reading their bible, how are their relationships, are they struggling with sin–I cannot provide anything more than guidance. I can’t disciple them if I don’t know the day to day context of their lives. In other words, effective discipleship requires relationship. Does that make sense?
Teaching someone to obey EVERYTHING Christ commanded is a lifelong endeavor. If you are discipling someone, we need to have a lifetime perspective when it comes to that person. 1 year, 4 year, 40 years, whatever amount of time we are together, how can I help that person to take the next step in their spiritual journey? I believe our church plays a vital role for college students because you are at a critical juncture of your lives.
Let me go out on a limb here. If you are a college student, then I think you need a mentor. Why? Because you are more proud and self-centered than you realize. I was when I was a college student. And I didn’t think I needed a mentor. Now, I’m in my late 30s and I still feel like I need a mentor. And I have several.
Growing up, I was the typical rebellious teenager who didn’t want to listen to the advice of my father. He is so old school, so first generation. I am a SECOND generation. He doesn’t understand me. That’s how I thought. Now that I am a father, there are many things I recall my dad saying and I think, it makes sense now. I see his heart. I understand him. He wanted to work on my character. He understood me better than I thought he did.
So if you don’t have a mentor, ask one of the older ones at this church and I am sure you will not be refused. Discipleship is a two-way street. In order for it to be effective, you have to want it. Otherwise, it won’t fly.