Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Matthew 28:18-20
Original date: February 24, 2008

I was at the National Outreach Convention last November when I got into a conversation with a pastor from Maryland. He was an associate pastor at a Presbyterian church there and his title was Pastor for Discipleship.

He told a funny story about his title, Pastor for Discipleship. He said that he called someone who he was trying to get involved in a small group and left a message with his wife. He never got back to him, so he tried again a week later. Same deal. A third week, and finally the man called back. “OK,” he said, “what did I do wrong? My wife said the pastor for discipline was calling me.”

Discipleship/discipline—you can see the connection! As we come to the end of looking at the seven basic commands of Jesus, I want us to explore just what Jesus means when He says, “Make disciples.” As I thought about this, it seems to me that there are three key aspects to understand what He means by “make disciples” and that it’s going to take us three weeks to unpack this:

First, what is a disciple?

Second, how do you make a disciple?

Third, what’s the full implication when He says, “of all nations”?

That’s the map for the next three weeks. But today I just want to address the basic question, what is a disciple of Jesus?

Let’s look at that word disciple. In Greek, the New Testament used the word mathetes. It’s not a new word; the Greeks used the word for centuries to refer to pupils of a teacher. It came to have the meaning of an intern or an apprentice. Generically, the word means learner, but that’s a little deceiving. It has the idea of someone whose life is being changed by being in close contact with the master, and who is becoming like the master in the process.

Discipleship produces disciples who resemble the master, who take on the master’s beliefs and values as their own.

To be a disciple is to be much more that a convert or an adherent. It means that your life is conforming to the life of your Lord. A convert may check a box and show up at meetings and not be a disciple. An adherent may regard the teachings of a leader as the best and still not seek to make those teachings the guidepost to his or her life.

Now here’s something interesting: in the New Testament, there is no category for a non-disciple “convert” or “adherent” of Jesus. Anyone who follows Him is considered His disciple. The disciple who is lazy about applying Jesus’ teachings to His life isn’t “a believer (or a convert, etc.), but not a disciple” as I’ve heard some people say; the New Testament calls them “unfaithful disciples.”

Jesus really intends for us to be His interns, His learning apprentices, people whose lives are being formed to be more and more like His own.

Romans 8:29 says,

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

When I was a brand new Christian, I read this and thought maybe that in heaven we’ll all look like Jesus---you know, beard and sandals, the whole thing! It took me a while to realize that what God’s intention is that Jesus was raise up a people who would live like Jesus, love like Jesus, act like Jesus, serve like Jesus and by that show Jesus to the world.

This occurs through both a supernatural process and a natural process.

Supernaturally, there has to be the moment of decision that we talked about several weeks ago, when we repent and believe. We hear the message that Jesus is the way God has appointed to know Himself, we come to grips with our own spiritual brokenness, and we choose to follow Him now and forever. We can call that the New Birth, we can call that conversion, we can call that passing from death to life, from darkness to light, from being outside God’s family to being inside God’s family. This is a gift of God, a gift that comes from His grace, and it’s the work of God. It’s a gift that was won by the blood of Jesus on the cross. And when you receive that gift, the Holy Spirit comes to live within you.

That’s’ the supernatural process. Many of us act as if that’s all there is. God gives us salvation (spiritual rescue) and then we wait around until we die. We’ve slimmed down the good news of the kingdom of Jesus into a hell insurance policy!

Now let’s be really clear: I’m glad my eternal fire insurance policy is paid for, and it was paid for by the blood of Jesus on the cross. I’m glad for that. But Jesus didn’t just die to get us into heaven. He died to change the whole world, starting right now. It’s striking to me that when Jesus began His ministry, Mark tells us that the essence of His message was, "The time has come; the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15) It wasn’t, “Repent, one day you will die, you’d better get ready”—even though that’s the way we often try to present the good news. When Jesus came, He was talking about changing people’s lives right now.

Jesus’ disciples are the ones who understand the “right now” implications of His message. The Kingdom is here—therefore my life needs to be re-ordered along the lines of what’s important to my King.

And while the Spirit of God continues to work in us to empower us and to guide us, to continue on as a disciple is going to mean some real effort on our part. How do the supernatural work of God and our efforts work together?

Imagine a tropical island. It’s the end of July and it’s hot and humid and you’re sticky from head to toe. And you’re inland, too far from the beach and you just want to cool off. Lynann and I actually had an experience like this in Mexico in the summer of 2000, not far from Puerto Vallarta. We climbed a steep hill in a village not more than ten miles from the city because of a waterfall we’d been told was there, where there is a pool you can swim in.

But back to the story. So you see a waterfall on your humid island. Cool sheets of water come cascading down into a refreshing pool of water. Hot dog! Now you know how you’re going to cool off!

Think about it: that water comes down from above without any effort on your part at all. You might say this is a waterfall of grace. It’s a “supernatural waterfall”, coming down from above! I ask you a question: do you have to do anything to benefit from the waterfall? Be careful how you answer!

The answer is you still have to get under the waterfall to benefit from its blessings!

You can’t make it flow one drop, but knowing about it or admiring it or praising it doesn’t even get you wet! You’ve got to wade out into the pool and get under the flowing water!

In the same way, there’s a natural element in being a disciple of Jesus. You can say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, but it won’t do you any good until you open it up, read it, study it and apply it to your life! That’s getting under the waterfall of God’s truth. Bible intake is one of several spiritual growth habits that are parts of being a disciple of Jesus. One of the things that a Jesus-following disciple does is do the things He did when it came to following the Father. That brings us back to the seven basic commands of Jesus:

1. Repent and believe: Mark 1:15
2. Be baptized (and continue in the new life it initiates): Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:38; Romans 6:1-11
3. Love God and neighbor in a practical way: Matthew 22:37-40
4. Celebrate the Lord’s Supper: Luke 22:17-20
5. Pray: Matthew 6:5-15
6. Give: Matthew 6:19-21; Luke 6:38
7. Disciple others: Matthew 28:18-20
Several of these are these spiritual growth habits because they are repeatable, such as celebrating the Lord’s Supper, prayer, giving and making disciples.
There are all kinds of repeatable things we can engage in that will draw us closer to the Lord and that’s part of being a disciple, a learner, an apprentice of Jesus. Let’s think of how these spiritual growth habits imitate Jesus and makes us more like Him.
Another, more historic word for “spiritual growth habit” is a discipline, but don’t let that make you think that we’re talking about something terrible. (Remember the “Pastor for Discipline”?) Here’s a short list of disciplines that Jesus engaged in that He wants His disciples to engage in as well (see how these words are connected?) Also, to make it simple, I’m using Dallas Willard’s classification of “disciplines of abstinence” (things you don’t do) and “disciplines of engagement” (that that you actively do):
Disciplines of Abstinence

Solitude: The practice of spending time without any others or any distractions. Many times we’re told that Jesus went away to a place where it could be just He and the Father.

Fasting: Abstain from food, media, entertainment, or anything else that occupies your time. Jesus taught that His disciples would fast. It’s a great way to feast on God alone that engages the body. Jesus fasted right after His baptism, and certainly fasted during the times on the Jewish calendar when the Law required it.

Frugality: Use your money for purposes outside your own needs for a time.

Chastity: Jesus was someone whose sexuality was under control. And yes, Jesus was a real man, so this was a real part of his walk with God. Married or unmarried, chastity is supposed to be a part of the life of all of Jesus’ disciples.

Secrecy: That’s when you keep your identity quiet in terms of deeds or do, or money you give, because you know that all that matters is that the Lord sees.

Sacrifice: This stretches your sense of what you can do without for the sake of those who have less. Jesus gave up the security of the carpenter’s shop during His ministry, and often went without in order to do the will of the Father.

Those are disciplines of abstinence—the “do without” disciplines. Then there are the disciplines of engagement, the “do this” disciplines. Here’s a few.

Disciplines of Engagement

Study: Do you think that Jesus studied Scripture? You bet! He studied it, memorized it and pondered it. You can’t absorb the Bible by putting it under your pillow. This is how God speaks to us—by His word!

Worship: Jesus engaged in corporate worship (in the synagogue and at the temple) as well as in times alone worshipping the Father. If Jesus, the Son of God, made time for worship, even more so must His disciples!

Celebration: That’s the discipline of being grateful and thankful both in your own relationship with God and with other believers. Jesus said, “My joy I leave with you.”

Celebration, intentional joy in the Lord is an important and often neglected ingredient in spiritual growth.Service: That’s when you give time to the God’s work and to people in need. Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves.” (John 13)

Prayer: Jesus had a deliberate prayer life; it didn’t happen by accident. His prayer life so impressed His disciples that they asked, “Lord, teach us how to pray.” Take deliberate steps to pray regularly and with purpose.

Fellowship: Jesus craved time with the twelve, and forged an even closer bond with the inner three—Peter, James and John. If He needed fellowship, then so do I!
Does all this seem tedious? Maybe a story from the movies will help.
How many of you remember the movie The Karate Kid? In the movie, young Daniel (Ralph Macchio) asks Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) to teach him karate. Miyagi agrees under one condition: Daniel must submit totally to his instruction and never question his methods.
Daniel shows up the next day eager to learn. To his chagrin, Mister Miyagi has him paint a fence. Miyagi demonstrates the precise motion for the job: up and down, up and down. Daniel takes days to finish the job. Next, Miyagi has him scrub the deck using a prescribed stroke. Again the job takes days. Daniel wonders, what does this have to do with karate, but he says nothing. Next, Miyagi tells Daniel to wash and wax three weather-beaten cars and again prescribes the motion.

Finally, Daniel reaches his limit: "I thought you were going to teach me karate, but all you have done is have me do your unwanted chores!" Daniel has broken Miyagi's one condition, and the old man's face pulses with anger. "I have been teaching you karate! Defend yourself!" Miyagi thrusts his arm at Daniel, who instinctively defends himself with an arm motion exactly like that used in one of his chores. Miyagi unleashes a vicious kick, and again Daniel averts the blow with a motion used in his chores. After Daniel successfully defends himself from several more blows, Miyagi simply walks away, leaving Daniel to discover what the master had known all along: skill comes from repeating the correct but seemingly mundane actions.

The same is true of being a disciple of Jesus. What we deposit day by day in our lives by obedience to Master Jesus transforms us into different people, people who are armed to prevail in life and serve the Kingdom of God. Brothers and sisters let us be true disciples of Jesus!

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