by Stephen Johnson
This concludes our Distinctive Values blog series. If this is the first post on our Values that you’ve seen, be sure to go back and read the previous posts.
Our fourth value is:
We are committed to seeing people trust Christ, obey Christ and imitate Christ.
One of the most exciting parts of my faith is remembering that God didn’t just save me from something, but he saved me for something. Of course, what he saved me from—my bondage to sin—stirs gratitude and worshipful awe within me. But what I find truly amazing is that he saved me for a purpose—to further his mission to save a people for himself. My part of the mission is clear, articulated many times throughout the Scripture, and clearly stated by Jesus at the end of the book of Matthew: “Go therefore and make disciples...” (Matthew 28:18a).
The charge to make disciples wasn’t a new idea for those close to Jesus. In fact, when he picked the very first disciples, he stated that outcome clearly: “Follow me, and I will make your fishers of men,” (Matthew 4:19). Notice, though, that Jesus’ call starts with an invitation to personal discipleship. That’s important. In order to make disciples, you must first be a disciple. Do you love to follow Jesus? Are you a student of God’s Word? Do you long to worship him? Are you filled with gratitude because of his love for you? Does that gratitude drive you to obey his commands?
The second command, the charge to “make fishers of men,” or “make disciples,” can be more troubling. I think that most people feel a little tension when they are directly called to make disciples, and typically struggle with three questions:
1. Is making disciples really necessary?
2. What about my plan for my life?
3. What if I don’t know how?
First, yes, making disciples really is necessary. In Matthew 16, Jesus tells Peter, “I will build my church,” allowing us to rest in the fact that the church’s builder is God. But the method Jesus has chosen to use for the building process is incredible. God uses all Christ’s people to build his church by charging them to make disciples all over the world. It’s not a new design, nor is it unique to the New Testament stories of Jesus, either. At the beginning of the story, in Genesis 12, God tells Abram, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2). The blessing that we get to share with the world is the good news that Jesus saves! So yes, it’s necessary, and it’s a privilege.
Maybe you are more prone to ask the second question. That’s totally understandable, because we all have our own ambitions. I ask it often. When I was a kid, I wanted to be the left fielder for the Chicago Cubs (ok, I still dream about it). I planned on wearing #9, and being a mainstay in the heart of the order for a decade or more. Not only that, but I’d parlay my hall of fame baseball career into a successful run into politics. After all, it’s my life, and I get to make the plans. However, part of what makes God’s plan of using his people to make disciples as the primary means of building his church so genius is that anyone, anywhere, with any job can do it! Obviously, I didn’t wind up playing for Cubs, but even if I had, it wouldn’t have exempted me from God’s command to make disciples. God desires for his disciples to leverage where he has placed them so that people in all domains of society have access to the gospel. Following Jesus and making disciples doesn’t rob our plans, it gives them a purpose!
Perhaps the most common sentiment I hear about discipleship, though, is: I don’t know how. I hear it often in my interactions with students at Ignite, Summit’s college ministry. And again, I understand the feeling. My students’ description of discipling relationships often sounds more like a scientific formula than friends who daily walk with Jesus together. But perhaps we’ve been over-complicating things. How good is our God that he doesn’t just save us, and then leave us on our own to figure out life! No, he leads us through shepherding and care. Discipleship is no different. In discipling relationships, Jesus is our perfect model and teacher, the Bible is our perfect resource, and the Holy Spirit is our perfect guide.
Now we come to the critical point—the call to action. What does the command to make disciples mean for us today?
If we are committed to seeing people trust Christ, obey Christ, and imitate Christ, then we must employ a strategy that gives us the best chance of seeing success in those areas.
So, if we are committed to seeing people trust Christ, we must tell others about Jesus when we have the opportunity. A few weeks ago, I went out to play golf by myself. When I got to the course, I was told that I had to latch on with two other gentlemen if I wanted to play. So, even though I’m not very good, I chose to stick around. It didn’t take long for the conversation to take a religious turn. On the second green, one of my playing partners asked what I did for a living. Talk about a softball. I saw an opportunity to pivot from telling him about my job at the church to asking his thoughts on Jesus, the gospel, and the church. And the best part was that we still had sixteen more holes to play! Those opportunities are available every day. In your going—on the golf course, over lunch, at the grocery store—tell others about Jesus.
If we want to see people obey Christ, we must make sure that they know what Christ says. Perhaps the most important thing that I’ve learned by walking with the new believers at Ignite is that they are new believers. Intimacy with God through reading his Word and praying is a brand new phenomenon to them. Scripture, not my knowledge or voice, is useful for “teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16b). My commitment in discipling new believers is to help them get acquainted with the Word of God, to read His promises and commands, and to consistently and lovingly remind them that this Christian faith means regularly setting aside my sinful tendencies to pursue him as my treasure. So in a discipling relationship, what’s the best way to accomplish this? I do it by reading God’s Word and praying, and bringing others with me while I do.
Finally, if we are committed to seeing people imitate Christ, we must challenge them like Jesus challenged us: “go and make disciples.” Whenever I read Paul’s writings, I am amazed by the amount of people he loved, taught, and then sent to do the same. But one relationship sticks out to me more than the others, because I think the words Paul uses to describe it reveal a glimpse of his discipleship mindset. It’s the story of Onesimus, a runaway servant, who Paul discipled while in prison, challenging him to live and look like Christ. And after walking with him and watching him mature, he sent Onesimus back to his master, Philemon, to serve him faithfully—as a multiplying disciple of Christ. The words he uses to describe this sending in Philemon 12 are poignant, “I am sending [Onesimus] back to you, sending my very heart!” In discipling relationships, we must fight back the ease of isolation, and be careful not to neglect the command of Christ to make disciples who, in turn, go and do the same. We must, like Paul, challenge those we disciple and send them out to make disciples for themselves. Make it your aim to empower those you disciple to make disciples who make disciples.
Before I conclude, it’s very important that I point your heart toward the true disciple-maker once more. Whether you are a prolific people person who makes dozens of disciples, or if you disciple a few people over the course of time, remember to give credit where credit is due. In 1 Corinthians 3:6, Paul puts it succinctly, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”
For more in-depth study, consider the book 'Multiply' by Francis Chan.