Imitate Me as I Imitate Christ

“Do you want to know what it is to follow Christ? Then follow me.”

Have you ever said that to anyone? It may sound like a bold claim—perhaps even an arrogant claim. But the scriptures clearly teach us the importance of living our lives in such a way that others can follow our example. (See this cute 4-minute video)

Consider these scriptures.

1 Corinthians 4:16
I urge you, then, be imitators of me.

1 Corinthians 11:1
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

Philippians 3:17
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

1 Thessalonians 1:6
And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,

1 Thessalonians 2:14
For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews,

2 Thessalonians 3:7
For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you,

2 Thessalonians 3:9
It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.

Hebrews 6:12
so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Hebrews 13:7
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

3 John 11
Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.

In these passages, the authors (i.e., Paul, John, and the author of Hebrews) express the importance, even the necessity, of imitating the faith of others. This is how the faith is delivered from one generation to the next. This is how disciples are made.

It’s not enough to tell someone what to do. That’s a good place to start, but we also need to show them what to do.

I like to work around the house and on my car. When I don’t have experience fixing a particular problem, I’ll often “YouTube” a video to see how to fix the problem. After watching the video, I will imitate the person in the video.

If “YouTube” is helpful for fixing a leaking toilet, how much more should imitation be helpful for walking obediently with Christ! How much more should we be making disciples by giving others an example to imitate.

Let me leave you with these two questions.

Are you living your life in such a way that you can encourage others to imitate your faith as you follow Christ? This doesn’t mean that you need to be perfect, but are you trying to walk in obedience to Christ?

Are you watching others and imitating their faithful obedience? Are you following the example of men and women who faithfully following Christ?

Disciple Making Isn’t Lawn Care

When I was a teenager, I didn’t like yardwork. I lived in South Carolina where the summers were always hot and my parents had a very large yard. It wasn’t that the yardwork all that bad. My dad had a riding mower so it didn’t take long to mow the grass, but I still didn’t like it. It was a never-ending pattern. I would mow the grass and then, like clockwork, 5-days later it was time to mow again.

One of the things that led to my teenage frustration, however, was this. I lacked perspective. I wanted immediate satisfaction, and I “couldn’t get no satisfaction” from yardwork (my apologies to Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones). I found my satisfaction in doing other things. There were other things in my life that provided me with immediate, positive feedback. Yardwork, at the time, wasn’t one of them.

Now, decades later, I’m faced with a similar frustration. As a Christian, I know that I’m called to make disciples, and making disciples can be tremendously rewarding. But it’s a slow process that doesn’t always provide immediate gratification. Now, decades later, I find that yardwork provides me with the immediate gratification for which I long. Let me explain.

When I go out into my yard with my lawnmower, weed-eater, and hedge-trimmers, if I work hard for two- or three-hours, when I finish, my yard will provide me with immediate, positive feedback. Earlier in the day the lawn was long and unkempt. Now, the lawn has a uniformed height. Earlier, I couldn’t tell where the lawn ended and my sidewalk began. Now, my lawn and my sidewalks have a nice, crisp edge. Earlier, my hedges were overgrown, now, they’re neatly trimmed. In just a few hours, my lawn has undergone a complete transformation.

But making disciples isn’t like caring for your lawn. You control many of the variables in caring for your lawn. You know when to water, when to apply the fertilizer, when to mow, etc. There’s a formula for mowing the grass. If you follow that formula, depending on the size of your yard, in just a few hours you will have a beautifully manicured yard.

Well, there’s a “formula” for disciple making as well, but in this formula, you don’t control the most important variables. The formula for disciple making involves people, the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit. Of those three variables, the only one that we control is the Word of God, and we only “control” it in the sense that we can read it and study it and apply it to our lives.

The formula for disciple making doesn’t prescribe an “amount” of the Word of God to apply into someone’s life before Christlike transformation begins to take place. The formula for disciple making is dependent both on the person and on the work of the Holy Spirit.

But allow me to state the obvious. Making disciples is infinitely more important that lawn care! Jesus commanded his followers to make disciples (Matthew 28:18–20). In his final letter, Paul urged young Timothy to be patient in the work of disciple making. He said, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2; emphasis added).

So, if you need some immediate gratification, if you need some immediate satisfaction, grab your mower, your weed-eater, and your hedge-clippers, and get out in your yard and work hard for a few hours. But if you’re interested in eternal work, if you’re interested in eternal rewards, grab your Bible and grab a friend and give yourself to the work of making disciples.

Making Disciples who Make Disciples, Part 6 (final)

Where to make disciples?

Where are we to make disciples? Here’s the simple answer. Wherever the church is, disciples are to be made. But I’m using the word “church” here in a biblical sense—not in a modern sense. The church doesn’t refer to a building. The church refers to God’s people.

  • So, when God’s people gather on Sunday mornings, we ought to be about disciple making.
  • When God’s people gather in a mid-week home growth group, we ought to be about disciple making.
  • When God’s people share a meal with other, we ought to be about disciple making.
  • When God’s people enjoy recreational activities together, we ought to be about disciple making.

Wherever we find ourselves we should be about making disciples. Whether we’re at home, at work, at school, or just hanging out, we should be about making disciples.

We should be helping other people to grow toward Christlikeness—moving towards Christlikeness. And at the same time we ought to be growing toward Christlikeness ourselves.

But notice this as well. Disciple making doesn’t just happen in our immediate locale, wherever that may be. We’re to make disciples of all the peoples of the world as well. That means that we’re supposed to be strategic and intentional in our disciple making.

It’s not enough to only make disciples in your home town or in your home state. It’s not enough to only make disciples in North America (or whatever continent you live on). Jesus told us to make disciples of all nations.

That word that’s translated “nation” in Matthew 28:19 is the word from which we get our English word “ethnic” or “ethnicity.” So, we’re to make disciples of every ethnic group all over the planet. Not just those who look like us and act like us.

God is greatly glorified when people from diverse backgrounds gather and worship him.

So, where are you going? Are you willing to go as far as the other side of the world to make disciples? Are you willing to go to the other side of the street to make disciples?

Wherever we go—wherever God’s church is—disciple making should be taking place.

Making Disciples who Make Disciples — Part 5

Who makes disciples?

In an ultimate sense, God is the one who makes disciples, but when we take a step back from that picture, we should understand that God uses ordinary means to accomplish that end.

Allow me to illustrate. If I were to use a shovel to dig a hole, and then I asked, “How was that hole dug?” One might answer, “You dug that hole,” or “The shovel dug that hole.” In a sense, both answers would be correct.

I was in control of the shovel. I could have used other means to dig the hole. If I had access, I could have used a backhoe to dig the hole. I could have used a pickaxe to dig the hole. But I chose to use the shovel.

One might say that I was the creator of the hole, but the shovel was the means by which the hole was dug.

Similarly, God is the creator or maker of all disciples, but God chooses to use human beings as his means by which he accomplishes this task.

And which human beings does God use to make disciples? Well, he uses those who are already disciples. Consider Matthew 28:18.

Matthew 28:18
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.”

Jesus came and said to “them.” Who are they? Who’s the “them”?

They’re his disciples. They’re the ones who have already trusted in Christ. So, Jesus takes those who are already his disciples and then he tells them to “go” and make other disciples (Matthew 28:19).

In other words, the task of disciple making isn’t given to a select few Christians. The task of disciple making isn’t given only to those who are seminary trained. The task isn’t given to those who have certain spiritual gifts. The task of making disciples is given to ALL Christians!

All disciples are supposed to be disciple makers. Listen to the word of God.

Acts 4:31
The place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (emphasis added)

And Paul to the Christians in Rome.

Romans 1:12
That we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. (emphasis added)

Mutual encouragement. Paul to the believers in Rome and the believers in Rome to Paul. Discipleship is happening both ways. And then later in that same letter Paul writes this.

Romans 15:14
I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. (emphasis added)

“To instruct one another.”

This idea is conveyed throughout the New Testament. We’re supposed to be so involved in each other’s life that we speak God’s word to each other and we grow in our relationship with Christ as a result.

  • This speaking the word to one another might happen in a mid-week home growth group.
  • It might happen in a one-on-one setting as two people read the Bible together.
  • It could and should happen as the Bible is regularly preached every Sunday.

The point is simple. This isn’t something only a select few Christians do. This is something all Christians should be doing.

Who makes disciples? Everyone who’s already a disciple should be involved in the process of disciple making.

Making Disciples who Make Disciples — Part 4

How are disciples made?

Disciples are made as the word of God is proclaimed and as the Spirit of God works through the activity of human beings. Disciples aren’t being made without the word of God being proclaimed. The apostle Paul wrote these words,

Romans 10:17
Faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.

Lasting life change in the direction of godliness doesn’t happen apart from hearing the word of God. We must proclaim the word of God. Any attempt to make disciples without the proclamation of the word of God is foolhardy. It’s a waste of time. The word must be proclaimed.

How can the word of Christ be proclaimed?

  • The word can and should be regularly proclaimed from every Christian pulpit.
  • The word can be proclaimed as we talk to our neighbor over the back fence.
  • The word can be proclaimed in the office as we share a lunch with a co-worker.
  • The word can be proclaimed in the check-out stand as we wait at the local grocery store.
  • The word may be proclaimed as we share a cup of coffee with a friend who’s asking us for advice.

There are a thousand ways the word can be proclaimed, but it must be proclaimed or else discipleship isn’t happening! Are we sharing the word of Christ with someone?

But it’s not enough to simply confront someone with the word and then to expect a discipleship transaction to happen. It’s not as if we say these certain words and then someone magically becomes a disciple.

We must rely every step of the way of the work of God through his Spirit. In other words, we need to be prayerfully dependent on the Spirit of God. Disciple making isn’t a man-centered formula. Disciple making is ultimately and finally a work of God. God uses us, yes, but it’s ultimately his work.

So, as we persevere in sharing the word of God and as we prayerfully rely on the Spirit of God, discipleship happens. That’s how disciples are made.

Making Disciples who Make Disciples — Part 3

What is a disciple?

When you think of the word “disciple,” what comes to mind?

  • Do you think of a super Christian?
  • Do you think of someone wearing sandals following after Jesus?
  • Do you think about people who are so engaged in religious stuff that they don’t have time for other things?

There might be a hundred different things that come to mind when you hear the word disciple, but what’s of first importance isn’t what we think of when we hear the word disciple, but what does the Bible say about the subject. What did Matthew think when he wrote “make disciples” in Matthew 28:19? What did Jesus mean when he told us to “make disciples”? What is a disciple according to the Bible?

First, an interesting fact about the word “disciple” in the Bible. “Disciple” is OVERWHELMINGLY the most common way of describing Christians in the Bible. The word “Christian” is only used 3 times in the New Testament, but the word “disciple” appears nearly 300 times in the New Testament. BUT . . . all 300 times are in the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—and in the book of Acts. After Acts 21:16, the word “disciple” is no longer used.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the concept of a disciple is no longer employed. On the contrary, the concept of a disciple appears throughout the New Testament, but the word itself is used nearly 300 times in 5 books of the Bible and then not again for the rest of the Bible.

So, what is a disciple? At its most basic level, the Greek word that’s translated disciple carries with the idea of learning or following. So, we could well say that a disciple is a learner or a follower.

For example, in Luke’s Gospel we hear the word disciple used in this way.

Luke 5:33
And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.”

Luke 6:40
A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.

So, whether we’re talking about disciples of John the Baptist or disciples of the Pharisees or disciples of Jesus, a disciple stands in relationship to his teacher. A disciple watches his teacher and learns from him and then imitates his teacher.

So, we might say that a disciple of Jesus is someone who is committed to learning how Jesus lived and then following how Jesus lived.

And, according to how it’s used by Jesus in Matthew 28, and with how it’s used elsewhere in the Bible, there are two important symbols that are regularly associated with the idea of discipleship.

The first important symbol is that of baptism. Jesus says,

Matthew 28:19
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them . . .

Baptism is a symbol of repentance and faith. It’s a symbol of turning away from that which is old and turning to something new. Baptism pictures a decisive turning from sin and turning to Jesus.

Discipleship, therefore, requires first a radical reorientation of our lives to the one we’re following. It’s the idea that I was once going “that way,” but now I’m going “this way.” My life has been reoriented around following Jesus. That’s the first symbol associated with discipleship.

The second symbol associated with discipleship is learning. Jesus says it this way,

Matthew 28:19–20
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

In another part of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus uses the imagery of a yoke to describe this teaching.

Matthew 11:28–30
28 
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. [emphasis added]

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.”

The yoke was a form of service and submission. The oxen who were in the yoke were under the complete command of their master.

These two ideas, baptism and learning, tell us what a disciple is. A disciple has radically reoriented her life to follow Jesus and she has put herself under the willing submission to her new master so that she might learn from him.

If I had to give you one sentence to describe to you what a disciple is, I would say a disciple is a “forgiven sinner who is learning to follow Christ.”

 

[I’m grateful for Colin Marshall and Tony Payne and their book, The Vine Project, available here. Many of the ideas in this series of blogs have come from this book.]

 

Making Disciples who Make Disciples — Part 2

Why make disciples?

The easy answer—and the most straightforward answer—to why we should make disciples is “because Jesus told us to do so.” I mean, that should be enough, shouldn’t it?

When you ask your 5-year-old to do something and he says to you, “why?” In a moment of parental exasperation, we say, “Because I told you to. That’s why!”

While this answer is true, it’s often not adequate. There’s more to the why question than a matter of simple obedience. The “why question” might be reframed into a “what question.”

What exactly is happening when a person becomes a disciple of Jesus?

And here we need to understand that every single human being on this planet—all who have ever lived and all who ever will live—every single one of us are born “on the wrong side of the tracks”—spiritually speaking.

The Bible teaches us that at one time we were all “by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2:3), and we were spiritually dead in our trespasses (Eph 2:5). Our sin had separated us from God so that there was a wall between us and God (Isa 59:1–2).

We all deserved God’s wrath to be poured out on us. We weren’t innocent—not one of us. We have earned his righteous wrath (Rom 6:23).

But God in his grace sent his Son into the world. His Son lived a perfect life. His Son was innocent in every sense of that word.

And then that innocent Son went to the cross to bear the penalty that we owed for our sin. As he died on that cross, he wasn’t dying for his sin—remember, he was innocent. No, he was dying for our sins. He was paying the price that we owe.

And then after he died, he was buried, and on the third day he rose victoriously from the grave and defeated even sin, death, and the devil.

So, let’s return to the original question. Why do we make disciples? Yes, we do it because God told us to, but more a important “big picture” answer. The reason we make disciples is because this is the way God rescues sinners from the punishment they deserve.

When you speak to “Unbelieving Bob” about Christ, and Bob turns from his sins and trusts in Christ, let me tell you what just happened. At that moment when Bob trusts in Christ, God rescued him from an eternal hell.

The reason we make disciples is because it’s God’s means of rescuing lost sinners into a relationship with him.

Do you know any sinners in need of rescue?

 

[I’m grateful for Colin Marshall and Tony Payne and their book, The Vine Project, available here. Many of the ideas in this series of blogs have come from this book.]

Making Disciples who Make Disciples — Part 1

What’s the main point of the Great Commission?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve heard countless sermons on the Great Commission.

Matthew 28:18–20
18 
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

But as much as we hear this passage preached, so many people still don’t really have a grasp on what the main point of this passage is.

Is the point of this passage the “authority” that Jesus has? He tells us that he has ALL authority in heaven and on earth—that’s a lot of authority! But, as important as that authority is, that’s not the main point of the passage.

So, maybe the main point is the “going.” Jesus tells us in verse 19 to “go” and make disciples. I know at least half of the sermons I’ve heard on this passage have made “going” the major thrust of this passage, but as important as “going” is, it isn’t the major thrust of the passage.

The word that’s translated, “go,” in the English is actually a participle in the original Greek language. Participles usually serve as adjectives and nouns, rarely (if ever) as main verbs, so we know this isn’t the major thrust of the passage.

There are two other participles in this passage. They are the words that are translated “baptizing” and “teaching.” Once again, “baptizing” and “teaching” are very important, but these things are not the main point of the passage.

In fact, in the Great Commission there’s only one command given. There’s only one thing which Jesus tells his followers, “DO THIS.” And that one thing is found in verse 19. Jesus tells us to “make disciples.”

Really, it’s that simple, friends. Immediately before Jesus ascended into heaven, his final command given to his disciples was to make more disciples.

Over the course of the next few blog posts, I’ll be unpacking what it means to make disciples who make more disciples.

Radical Individual Autonomy and Physician Assisted Suicide

It’s been a slow and steady progression, but little by little contemporary culture continues to chip away at the biblical notion of human dignity, and ironically enough, the method used to chip away at human dignity is radical individual autonomy. In 1973, the Roe v. Wade decision gave the woman radical individual autonomy over the baby in her womb. No one could compel her to carry the baby to full term. It was her choice and her choice alone. In 2015, the Obergefell v. Hodges decision gave individuals radical autonomy over whom they could marry. And today the LGBT movement promises radical individual autonomy even over one’s gender (or “perceived gender”). One’s gender identity has become sacrosanct.

Physician assisted suicide (PAS) is yet another example of radical individual autonomy. With PAS, individuals have radical autonomy over when and how they choose to die. In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize PAS. Since that time, other countries have followed suit, along with five US States (California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington). The State Legislature of Maryland tried unsuccessfully as recently as this past March (2017) to pass PAS legislation, but the bill was thankfully defeated.

Christians must learn to think through this issue from a biblical worldview. How does the Bible help Christians when it comes to this important issue? PAS denies two equally important biblical realities. First, PAS denies that God is the author of life (Acts 3:15). He is not only the Creator of life (Gen 1:1), but he is the author of life. God alone has the authority to write the script of human life. He created human beings in his image (Gen 1:27) so Christians recognize the sanctity of all human life—from conception to natural death. Human beings have inherent dignity and worth. God has ultimate authority over life and death (1 Sam 2:6; Ps 139:16).

Second, PAS sees suffering as unprofitable, but this is not true. The author of Hebrews writes that Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered” (5:18). The Apostle Paul writes, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom 8:28–29). Suffering, for the believer, serves the important purpose of conforming the believer into the image of the Son. Suffering is not pointless. Nor is suffering pointless for the unbeliever. Suffering points to the reality of sin and brokenness and to the need for healing and restoration that are ultimately found in Christ Jesus himself. There is much to profit from suffering.

But, some still argue, aren’t Christians supposed to have compassion? Isn’t that what Jesus modeled? True compassion is not found, as some suppose, in escaping suffering, but true compassion is found in recognizing that the Creator has a purpose for allowing suffering to be a part of one’s life (Rom 8:18ff; 2 Cor 4:7–12; 2 Cor 4:16–5:9). Part of that redemption involves making sure that pain and suffering are alleviated while the living still live, not by causing that life’s end.

Suffering itself is not anything new. Suffering has been a part of human life since Genesis 3. The Christian recognizes the reality of suffering in this broken world. Sin has thrown God’s good creation into chaos and God’s image bearers suffer as a result. But with advances in modern medicine, one need not turn to PAS to relieve suffering. Palliative care is a viable option for suffering. Compassion can and should be shown by providing palliative care to those who experience tremendous suffering.

Christians should be the first ones to recognize and decry suffering in this world, but even in the midst of suffering, Christians trust the hand of the all sufficient and benevolent Creator who has a purpose for everything he does. Christians must stand against the rise of radical individual autonomy that sees matters of life and death as individual choices. Christians should stand united against PAS as they recognize the value and dignity of all human life.

“A Vision for the Lost,” by William Booth

I recently read this illustration by William Booth. It cut me to the quick.

 

An-Illustration-of-William-Booth-visionI saw a dark and stormy ocean. Over it the black clouds hung heavily; through them every now and then vivid winds moaned, and the waves rose and foamed, towered and broke, only to rise and foam, tower and break again.

In that ocean I thought I say myriads of poor human beings plunging and floating, shouting and shrieking, cursing and struggling and drowning; and as they cursed and screamed they rose and shrieked again, and them some sank to rise no more.

And I saw out of this dark angry ocean, a mighty rock that rose up with its summit towering high above the black clouds that overhung the stormy sea. And all around the base of this great rock I saw a vast platform, I saw with delight a number of the poor struggling drowning wretches continually climbing out of the angry ocean. And I saw that a few of those who were already safe on the platform were helping the poor creatures still in the angry waters to reach the place of safety.

On looking more closely I found a number of those who had been rescued, industriously working and scheming by ladders, ropes, boats and other means more effective, to deliver the poor strugglers out of the sea. Here and there were some who actually jumped into the water, regardless of the consequences in their passion to “rescue the perishing.” And I hardly know which gladdened me the most—the sight of the poor drowning people climbing onto the rocks reaching a place of safety, or the devotion and self-sacrifice of those whose whole being was wrapped up in the effort for their deliverance.

As I looked on, I saw that the occupants of that platform were quite a mixed company. That is, they were divided into different “sets” or classes, and they occupied themselves with different pleasures and employments. But only a very few of them seemed to make it their business to get the people out of the sea.

But what puzzled me most was the fact that though all of them had been rescued at one time or another from the ocean, nearly everyone seemed to have forgotten all about it. Anyway, it seemed the memory of its darkness and danger no longer troubled them at all. And what seemed equally strange and perplexing to me was that these people did not even seem to have a care—that is any agonizing care—about the poor perishing ones who were struggling and drowning right before their very eyes . . . many of whom were their own husbands and wives, brothers and sisters and even their own children.

(William Booth, A Vision for the Lost, as quoted in The Vine Project by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, pages 55-56, Matthias Media)