What does “Lord” mean?

In Luke 6:46, Jesus asks a rather provocative question.

Luke 6:46
Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,” and not do what I tell you?

Wow! This question may as well have been asked today in the church. For the last 30-years there has existed a debate within the church over an issue that is called “Lordship salvation.”

Here’s the crux of the issue. Must Jesus be your Savior AND Lord for you to be saved? OR can he be your Savior now and then at some later time you can commit yourself to his Lordship?

Those who argue in favor of Lordship Salvation—that is, in the necessity of confessing Jesus as Savior AND Lord—they argue that not to do so is to invite people who unrepentantly practice sin to think that they have the assurance of salvation when, in point of fact, they shouldn’t have any assurance of salvation.

On the other hand, those who are against Lordship Salvation—that is, that Jesus can be your Savior first and then at some later time, he can become your Lord—well, they argue that Lordship Salvation is adding “works” to salvation. They say that we’re saved by grace alone and through faith alone.

We should agree that we’re saved by grace alone and through faith alone, but we should also agree with James, that we’re saved by a faith that doesn’t remain alone. We’re saved by a faith that produces good works. That means Christ must be our Savior AND Lord. It’s what the scriptures demand.

In Acts 16, the Philippian jailer asks Paul and Silas what he has to do to be saved. Here’s their response.

Acts 16:31
And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Now, there’s an evangelistic moment that’s hard to miss. You have someone coming up to you and asking you what he needs to do to be saved.

And notice what they tell him, “Believe in Jesus and you’ll be saved.” Right? Is that what they say—“believe in Jesus and you’ll be saved”?

No, that’s not what they said. They tell the jailer, “Believe in the LORD Jesus and you will be saved.” It’s not enough to simply believe in Jesus—in a Jesus of your own making—but we need believe in who Jesus is. He’s the Lord Jesus. No other Jesus can save you. Only the Lord Jesus can save you.

Here’s another scripture. This one is from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.

Romans 10:9–10
9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

Just to state the obvious. Did you see what we need confess in order to be saved? We need to confess Jesus IS LORD. If you want to be saved, you need to confess that Jesus is Lord.

Now, making that confession doesn’t mean that from that moment on, that you’re going to live your life in perfect obedience to Jesus. No, that’s not what it means.

As long as we walk on this earth, we will be going through a process called sanctification. We’ll be learning every day what it means to follow Christ in obedience. Some days we’ll do a really good job, and other days, we’ll do a lousy job.

But confessing Jesus as Lord means that we recognize that we’re not in charge of our lives any more. It means that we recognize that Jesus is in charge of our lives. He is our Lord.

By virtue of what he did on the cross—through his death, burial, and resurrection—by virtue of who he is—he is God in the flesh—by virtue of what he’s done and by virtue of who he is, we confess him as our Lord and we seek to live our lives in obedience to him.

Will there be times in my life when we stubbornly refuse to do what Jesus has told us to do. Yes, there will be those times. In the ongoing work of our sanctification—that is, in the ongoing work of God conforming us into the image of his Son Jesus—in that ongoing work there will be times when we will stubbornly give into sin and there will be times when we achieve victory over sin in our lives.

But the trajectory is always upward. The trajectory is always in submission to the Lordship of Christ. It’s a day-by-day decision. It’s a moment-by-moment decision. So, Jesus asks, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?”

And then after asking that question, Jesus tells a story in verses 47–49 to bring the point home. Allow me to paraphrase.

There are two people. One person comes to Jesus and confesses him as Lord and actually does what Jesus tells him to do. Jesus tells us that he is like a house that has a strong, firm foundation of rock. When the storms of this life come, he won’t be shaken because his foundation is Jesus.

The other guy is someone who confesses Jesus as Lord—that is, he says the right things—but he doesn’t actually do what Jesus tells him to do. This guy, when he builds his house, his house doesn’t have a foundation. When the storms of life come against his house, there’s going to be a great disaster. This house is going to crash and Jesus says, “the ruin of that house was great” (6:49b).

So, now we should ask ourselves these questions.

In which house do we live? Which house represents our life?

Is our life characterized by doing what Jesus has told us to do through his Word or is our life characterized by a lack of obedience to God and his word?

We’re not suggesting that anybody’s perfect, but is our life characterized by a desire to do what Jesus has commanded us to do?

Is our house built on a firm foundation?

Practically speaking, is Jesus our Lord?

Lordship demands obedience.

Loving Your Enemies

Jesus said a lot of countercultural things when he walked on this earth, but near the top of that list has to be when he told his followers to “love their enemies.” It’s hard enough to just love our neighbor—which is something else that Jesus told us to do—but to love our enemies—for many of us, that’s just a bridge too far. Why should I love my enemies?

Many people will recall that in 2012 the whole idea of same-sex marriage was in the media almost every day. It’d be another three-years before the Supreme Court would make same-sex marriage the law of the land, but in 2012 the movement was already gaining widespread momentum.

In May of 2012, President Obama addressed his “evolution” on the issue—he was for it, then he was against it, and then he was for it again. The whole country was in an uproar. There wasn’t any middle ground. There wasn’t a safe space to hide and avoid the controversy.

That summer, Dan Cathy—COO of Chick-fil-a—announced his opposition to same-sex marriage, and as a result of his announcement, Chick-fil-a was immediately thrown into the cultural firestorm.

There were those who adamantly disagreed with Chick-fil-a’s stance and they threatened to boycott Chick-fil-a, and there were those who equally as adamantly agreed with Chick-fil-a’s stance and they rushed to Chick-fil-a in droves. It was—if you will—a political stalemate.

But maybe you wonder, what did Dan Cathy do? What did Cathy do while some were threatening boycotts and others were cheering support?

According to media reports, here’s what he did. He decided to move toward his “enemy.” Cathy decided to reach out to Shane Windmeyer—the founder and executive director of Campus Pride, a pro-LGBT campus group. Windmeyer was a gay activist and an openly gay man.

Cathy reached out to him because Cathy wanted to hear more about LGBT concerns regarding Chick-fil-a. Cathy said this about why he reached out to Windmeyer.

“We don’t have to agree with our enemies but we still have to honor and love them.”

Not long after that meeting, Windmeyer told the Huffington Post that he considered Cathy a friend.

How might our lives—how might our culture—look different if instead of cutting off relationships, we chose to say, “I don’t share your convictions on such-and-such topic, but I would like to hear more about why this is so important to you.”

How might our lives and our culture look different if we began to be civil to one another again? How might our lives and our culture look different is we began to love our enemies?

Kathy Litton, a pastor’s wife in Mobile, Alabama, wrote this profound statement. “As long as I think of my enemies as ‘bad’ people, they will remain my enemy. The moment I choose to see them with a gospel lens, is the moment I can truly love my enemies.”

Jesus has called us to live counter-cultural lives. There are any number of ways we can live a counter-cultural life for Jesus, but we can start by loving our enemies (see Luke 6:27b). Straight away we notice the counter-cultural nature of Jesus’ call to discipleship. He tells us that we’re to love our enemies.

The word that used here for “enemy” means to “hate someone and wish them injury.” This isn’t just someone with whom you don’t get along. This is someone who wants to see you get hurt. And Jesus tells us that we’re to love that individual or that group of individuals.

There are several different Greek words that are variously translated as “love.” Some of these words are more powerful words for love than others. The word used here is the most powerful of all of those words. It’s agape love. Agape love is a love that seeks the best interest of the other. It’s the kind of love that God has for us.

When God so loved the world—in John 3:16—he “agaped” the world. That’s the type of love that we’re to have for our enemies. That’s the type of love that we’re to have for those who want to bring us harm.

To love someone with agape love is to delight yourself in them. It’s a love that’s not motivated by what the other person can do for you. Agape love is volitional. It’s making a decision of the will to love another.

If we “love” only because we know that we’ll be loved in return, friends, that’s not what Jesus is talking about here—or anywhere else in the New Testament, for that matter. In Luke 6:32, Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.”

Here’s what Jesus is saying.

If I love my wife (and I should love my wife and I do love my wife), it’s a pretty safe bet that I know my wife is going to love me back. And if I love my children (and I should love my children and I do love my children), it’s a pretty safe bet that they’ll love me back.

There’s nothing counter-cultural about that kind of love. Jesus tells us here that even “sinners” love those who will love them back. And by “sinners” here, he’s not referring to the fact that we’re all sinners (cf., Romans 3:23). He’s using sinners here in a more designated sense. He’s talking about those who consciously choose not to follow Christ.

Even they have no problem with loving someone who will love them in return. In essence, he’s saying, “Give me a break. Everyone does that. Everyone loves the person who will love them back.”

So Jesus asks, “what benefit is that for you?” The word translated here as “benefit” is the same Greek word that’s elsewhere translated as “grace” or “favor.” In essence, here’s what Jesus is saying.

“Why should God show you any grace, why should he show you any favor for loving those who love you in return?”

Christians—those who follow Jesus—ought to be different. We ought not to just blend into the crowd. There should be something distinctive about the way we live.

When we see racial injustice, we ought to reply in a way that’s distinctively Christian.

When we see oppression, we ought to reply in a way that’s distinctively Christian.

And here’s why that should happen. When a Christian grasps—I mean when she really begins to understand—what Jesus accomplished on her behalf on the cross, it’ll change everything.

When she begins to understand that it wasn’t because she was such a lovable person that Christ loved her, it’ll change everything.

When she begins to understand that before she came to Christ, she was God’s enemy (cf. Romans 5), and that while she was still God’s enemy, God sent his only Son to die for her, it’ll change everything.

The reason many of us aren’t regularly amazed at God’s great love for us is that we think that we somehow deserve his love. We think we had it coming. It’s almost as if we say to ourselves, “It’s the least God could have done for me.” That seems to be the attitude that many people have.

But no, no, no, friends, listen. We don’t deserve God’s love. We deserve God’s wrath. But listen closely, friends. Here’s the glorious news. Even though we deserve God’s wrath, God sent his wrath on his Son Jesus as he hung on that cross. Jesus took the wrath that we deserve. And in return God sent his love to us.

It’s what Martin Luther called the great exchange. Jesus takes our sin, and God gives us his Son’s righteousness. And why did he do that? For the joy set before him (Heb 12:2)—because he loved us.

And because he loves us, his love transforms us. John the apostle said it this way. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

His love transforms us. Because he loved us, we’re able to love even the vilest of sinners. Because he loved us, we’re able to love our enemies.

Do you see? Because of his love for us, our attitude toward others is changed. We now have an attitude of love for others—and not just those who love us in return.

So, why should we love our enemies? Because the love of Christ has transformed our hearts and his love for us compels us to love our enemies.

Discipleship Manifesto

Potomac Heights Baptist Church exists for the glory of God and to make Christ known by making disciples who make disciples to the ends of the earth. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:18b–20).

A disciple is a forgiven sinner who is becoming more like Christ as he learns Christ.

Disciple-making is a prayerful work of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God which is accomplished as God’s people work through a life-on-life process whereby we serve one another by helping each other progress toward Christlikeness—moving from spiritual darkness through spiritual infancy and toward spiritual maturity—to reproduce our lives (Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 3:18; 2 Tim 2:2). Disciple-making is a lifelong process that is marked by progress, not perfection. It is not a program, a class, a production line, or a Bible study.

There are many reasons why we should be about disciple-making. First, a Christ-centered reason, we make disciples because our Lord told us to do so (Matt 28:18–20). Second, a God-centered reason, we make disciples because this bring glory to God (Rev 7:13–17). And third, a human-centered reason, we make disciples because this is God’s means of rescuing those who are perishing (Titus 2:11–14; Col 1:13–20).

The making of disciples is ultimately God’s work, but it is accomplished as his disciples, who are prayerfully dependent on the Holy Spirit, persevere in proclaiming his Word into people’s hearts. As such, God’s people must be thoroughly saturated in prayer and with God’s Word. This disciple-making endeavor should happen wherever and whenever Christians are present (e.g., in the home, in the church, in the workplace, in our communities, in our state, in our nation, and any place in the world). Wherever Christians find themselves, they should be making disciples.

All Christian disciples should be disciple-makers. We should all play our role in helping one another learn Christ and grow toward Christlikeness. This should happen on multiple levels. It should happen as we engage non-believers with gospel truths. It should happen as we proclaim the gospel and urge non-believers to trust in Christ (i.e., evangelism). It should happen as we help new believers become established in their faith. And it should happen as we equip believers to better equip others (i.e., training trainers).

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.]