To follow Jesus is to make disciples.
There has been no shortage of new, and in many cases, excellent new content written on the topic of discipleship in recent years. Thankfully, evangelicalism, at least in some streams, is beginning to ask thoughtful questions about what discipleship should look like.
To be a disciple of Jesus is to be a “learner of Jesus”. Learning to trust Jesus by faith. Learning to rest in His finished work. Learning the life of the cross. Learning to die to self. Christian discipleship is unique because its fullest expression is in the making of more disciples of Jesus. It does not terminate in self-fulfillment but sacrificial service. To be a disciple of Jesus is to help others follow Jesus too. Even when it’s hard. Even when it hurts. That is what Jesus means when He tells His followers to “make disciples”. (Matthew 28:19-20) Followers of Jesus are crafted into Christ-likeness as they help others become like Christ.
As a pastor, I deal with people who are wrestling with how to begin making disciples. They know, the Gospel calls us to this sacred work, but they are nervous. “I’m messed up. I have issues. How will I be able to help anyone else be like Jesus when I am struggling to follow Him myself”? “How do I get started making disciples”?
I hope to dig into the practical nuts and bolts of making disciples in future posts, but let me begin by asking you to make 3 commitments before discipling someone.
If you are not prepared to be open and honest about your need for the Gospel of grace with those you are discipling, you are probably teaching them a cross-less form of religious self-reliance. Honesty and transparency is a must in the highly relational realm of making disciples. Discipleship is not a personal pathway to spiritual authority in the life of another, it is an intentional commitment to modeling confession, repentance, and Christ-dependency for others. I should add a caveat here: Be wise in how you share your struggles with weaker brothers and sisters. Avoid putting stumbling blocks before others when opening up about your own struggles.
Those who are slow to repent should typically be slow to rebuke.
I’ve seen “discipling” that looks a lot like spiritual bullying. And it’s ugly. Love for a fellow brother or sister is a pre-requisite for discipling them. Mark Dever defines “discipling’ as “doing deliberate spiritual good” to another follower of Jesus. To disciple someone is to love them in a very specific way. It is love that keeps us from giving up when someone you are discipling is dangerously close to going off the rails. What people need to know is that they are being loved in a way that the world just doesn’t understand. Before you disciple someone ask this question: Am i willing to love this person enough to remind them of the Gospel when they forget it for the 1000th time?
At the end of the day the Gospel itself is what disciples believers. Disciples and their Discipler’s need the exact same thing: regular reminders of what Jesus has done for us and won for us, in his life, death, burial and resurrection. Discipleship is in this respect, a relationship of reminders. It is a commitment to intentionally do spiritual good to others by telling them that Christ is good. That his grace is sufficient. If you are not fluent in the Gospel of grace, then your discipleship may behaviorally program religious know-it-alls but it will not shape and mold others into the likeness of Christ.
The difference in Christian discipleship and worldly mentorship is as wide as the Gospel. Not to discourage mentor-ship/apprenticeship at all. Both are immensely helpful and have their place in certain contexts. But discipleship is ultimately about sharing news, not advice. You see the answers to our deepest longings, our greatest fears, our most crippling insecurities cannot be found in a list, but in a declaration of another’s finished work.
The Finisher is Jesus.