Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Go and Make Disciples

Christ told us to make disciples (Matthew 28:19), but what does that mean? "Disciple" means "learner," and in the original context it referred to the follower of a teacher, someone who lived with him and learned from him. But what does it mean in a Christian context? Many of the passages in Scripture refer to the Twelve, though it is not always clear if others are included. But Scripture speaks of other disciples, too (Acts 6:1,2; 9:36; 11:29). The logical conclusion is that those who are or profess to be Christians are Christ's disciples (Acts 11:26; 9:1; 6:7). Joseph of Arimathea, who before the crucifixion was unwilling to declare himself publicly, was considered a disciple (Matthew 27:57). Even the crowd that met Jesus on His way into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday were called disciples (Luke 19:37,39). Those who walked no more with Him when confronted with difficult gospel truth were called disciples (John 6:66).

However, Scripture exhorts us to consider the price of being a disciple (Matthew 8:19-21; Luke 14:26-35; Mark8:34-38). Being a disciple results in a new manner of life (John 8:31; 13:35;15:8; Matthew 28:19,20) and ultimately in becoming like Christ (John 13:13-17; Luke 6:40: Matthew 10:24,25). Therefore, we should not distinguish between those Christians who are or are not disciples , but ask whether we are living like we should as disciples. This makes a difference because it makes discipleship a process we grow in (Hebrews 5:14; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 2:19), rather then something we either are or are not.

The current emphasis on discipleship is right in saying that we should not just make converts but encourage them to grow in Christ (Ephesians 4:13-15; Colossians 1:28,29; Philippians 3:12-15; Hebrews 12:1,2). It also avoids putting the entire burden of ministering to others on a few leaders (Ephesians 4:12; Romans 12:6-8; 1 Peter 4:10). It can sometimes become a one-size-fits-all approach, ignoring the differences in the members of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-25; Romans 12:3-5; 1 Peter 4:11). But we especially need to avoid the tendency to judge if others are disciples (Romans 14:4; 1 Corinthians 4:3-5; James 4:11,12). We are to correct specific sins with gentleness (Galatians 6:1; 2 Timothy 2:23-26; Matthew 18:15-17), but we are not the ultimate judge of another's spirituality. Also, there is a temptation to condense all the things Christ commanded us (Matthew 28:19,20; Acts 20:27; 2 Timothy 2:2; 3:16,17) into a simplified message of what is necessary to be a disciple. This results in young Christians being sent into the heat of the battle when they are not prepared. Admittedly, it is also possible to spend considerable time becoming prepared and never doing anything with it (Galatians 6:9,10; Romans 12:11; 1 John 3:18; James 1:27). The solution is being a lifelong disciple both in learning and in doing. Now obviously those in charge have to make decisions on who to train and put in leadership positions. But we should be careful not to label people spiritually.

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