GO AND MAKE DISCIPLES
© Carlos Padilla, February 2021
What is a disciple? Is any believer who considers himself a Christian a disciple? Jesus ordered the so called “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24:36-49; John 20:19-23) to the apostles as a work to be developed in all the nations, starting with them as first fruits and being carried out but those who would be made disciples of Jesus called Christians. Depending on what we believe is a disciple and of which characteristics define it we will accomplish or not the Great Commission, the one of making disciples. But what is not clear to most people is that discipleship or the Great Commission, are not a course or a program of a ministry of a church. Most believers who consider themselves Christians do not know that discipleship is a progressive way of life and that most part of the work is done by the Holy Spirit in those who have been born again, once these agree to cooperate in His work of sanctification.
THE CHRISTIAN IS A DISCIPLE
Is every Christian a disciple of Christ? The question should be the answer. However, many who call themselves Christians don’t reflect the character, or the fruits, or the works which according to Jesus Christ define a disciple who truly is. Jesus would say to the apostles in Matthew 16:24 that if any would be His disciple, would carry his cross and follow Him. Therefore, any who considers himself to be a Christian, is called to look at himself in the mirror of the Lord Jesus Christ – Yahshua to find out where he is found in the measure of growth as such. Now, we must first know what a is a disciple to then be able to look at ourselves in that mirror.
The word disciple in the Greek text of the New Testament is mathetes, an apprentice of an important master. The believers, born again Christians, holy, are, or Jesus. A live of continuous progress of spiritual growth, not perfection. Christians are born to become disciples. Each serves God in a way according to the gifts of the Spirit, but all must mature.
To make disciples, matheteusate (Matthew 28:19), in 3 steps: salvation, development and action of the Great Commission. Salvation through evangelization and “baptizing them”, and that all Christians seek those who are of Christ, not only an erudite elite in the Church. Development of the character and capacity “teaching them all things I have commanded”. Action, once prepared must “go” to fulfil the mission where he lives or works, knowing he is surrounded by the lost.
Discipleship is the progressive live of the disciple and a Christian experience of following Jesus. The spiritual formation includes sanctification and transformation. Discipleship is not a mere program, nor a course requested to graduate after learning certain knowledge, but a progressive life with Jesus. It is neither one more ministry of the Church, but it must be the nucleus of its ministry, of the entire congregation.
The disciples where called Christians for the first time in Antioquia or Syria, as we can read in Acts 11:26:
Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. 20 And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord. 22 Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. 23 Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. 24 For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord. 25 Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: 26 And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
Once we have determined what is a disciple, and the difference between a disciple and a mere believer, we can also learn from the Bible, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the stages and degrees of spiritual growth that are necessary to reach maturity, and be able to live as disciples for the rest of our lives.
Some Biblical Texts that confirm that the Christian cannot remain in a permanent stage of spiritual childhood, as Bill Hill says in his book about discipleship, without maturing as a person, without maturing spiritually are: Ephesians 4:14-16 and 1 Peter 2:2,3-9,10.
…That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. Ephesians 4:14-16.
… As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: 3 If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious... …But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; 10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. 1 Peter 2:2,3-9,10.
The target or purpose is that the Christian, the believer, gets to the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” Ephesians 4:13, in such a way that it becomes a faithful representative of the Lord on earth, an ambassador or Christ, a disciple.
But there is a fundamental key that every Christian must understand to walk on the way of Christ to become His disciple, and this is that, discipleship is not a theological class, or a punctual experience. It is not a degree that makes one superior than others. Discipleship is the way of life since the day when one is born again through faith, up to the day of his death, or of his rapture, if he lives when Jesus Christ – Yahshua comes back. With this in mind we must look into several characteristics of the disciple.
Jesus gave us example of humility, being God, He did not take into account being God, but He became man, and in His own words, did not come to be served, but to serve (Matthew 20:28). We disciples must imitate our Master and do the same.
Also in his book about discipleship, Bill Hull talks of the courage of Martin Luther, of the spiritual bases of John Calvin, of the devotionals for each person of Thomas Cranmer, of the disciplines of the interior life of Philip Jacob Spener, of doing community like the count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, of the discipleship done correctly by John Wesley, and of a Gospel that adopts discipleship of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
TOOLS OF DISCIPLESHIP
Being consistent to what are the footprints of the character of the spiritually mature disciple that we have been looking into, and that reflect in the historical figures that we have mentioned, it is also necessary to know with which tools does he count to overcome his flesh, the world and the devil, the three obstacles what always oppose the work of the disciple.
The disciple, really, must only imitate the Master Jesus Christ. If Jesus prayed, and prayed much, and in separated places, the disciple must implement a habit of spending time with God in prayer. Jesus fasted, went to places of solitude and silence; therefore we must imitate Him also. The disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, the apostles, were trained in all and every one of the situations which a disciple faces in life and their lives are for us a faithful reflexion we can learn when we read the New Testament. In the book “The Training of the Twelve” of Alexander Bruce, we find the life of Jesus as example to His disciples, like the life of Peter, who went from fishermen, to fisher or men, he who denied Jesus but who received from the Father through the Holy Spirit the most famous revelation: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” Matthew 16:16, and also saw three thousand convert to his preaching, once he was matured by Jesus in his discipleship. Through the miracles, the storm, the transfiguration, the cleaning of the Temple or the Crucifixion of Jesus, the disciples lived a firsthand training by He who also resurrected and would test their faith. The youngest of all, the apostle John arrived first to the open tomb, the same who was the only one who remained at the foot of the cross to whom Jesus entrust His mother to look after her.
Finally I would want to point out that discipleship confronts the disciple who is teaching with the life and the problems of the new Christian, many times making use of charity and help in situations of conflict and persecution, that the disciple must know how to face to help the new disciple. This is for those that now begin to make disciples, and must know this will be this way always until the return of the Lord.
Six aspects define who we are conformed to the image of Christ: 1 a transformed mind: to believe what Jesus believed, the mind of Christ, not only to believe in Jesus, the Sermon of the Mount, in how Jesus loves. 2 a transformed character: to live like Jesus lived, defeating temptations in the desert, after fasting forty days and nights, and spending time with the Father in the desert. 3 our relationships transformed: to love like Jesus loved, the essence of the New Commandment so that all may know that we are His disciples, with our defects. 4 our habits transformed: equipped like Jesus equipped Himself, that the Holy Spirit may equip us every day in the discipleship of life, and with the spiritual disciplines every time they are needed: silence, fasting, solitude, frugality, prayer, discretion, submission, humility, obedience, study and understanding of Scripture, sacrifice, brotherhood, worship and confession. 5 a transformed service: to minister like Jesus ministered, serving others, drinking from His cup; servants of Christ. 6 a transformed influence: to lead like Jesus leaded, humbly (Phil. 2:3) He become servant; submitted to His mission even though He was God, he would go apart to pray to the Father (Jn. 5:16-23); obeying as far as death on the Cross, after Gethsemane; Suffering like the passion of Christ; and be exalted by the Father, like Christ after raising.
If we have made ours, and have worked in us all these gifts putting them in practice, we will show spiritual maturity, because a person transformed in a disciple can change the world fulfilling the Great Commission.
The distinctive marks of discipleship are based in imitating Christ, and this way we will give the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. Paul asked they imitate him, like he imitated Christ, not because he was perfect, but because of what a disciple can emanate from Christ, it is a responsibility.
Discipleship, therefore, it is not only for beginners, leaving aside the more mature as if they did not need to continue to come closer to Jesus, and neither is only for leaders, as if the spiritual preparation was only for the elite, and the laics where separated, like they do in Episcopal churches. To avoid these separations: every Christian is a disciple; the spiritual formation is a way of life, from the beginning to the finish line, to be more like Christ; spiritual growth unites discipleship and formation under the New Testament perspective; both must be Biblically founded.
So, are you a believer or a disciple? Let us imitate our Lord Jesus Christ – Yahshua!