Posted on April 11, 2016.
By Pastor Skylar Spradlin
Making disciples is not a new command or invention in the life of the church. As has already been noted, our Lord commanded us to make disciples. Unfortunately, there has been a straying or a misconception within circles of the church as to what it really means to make disciples There are even misconceptions as to how to identify or know who are true disciples. The criteria for a “church leader” (lay-leader) is so far from Scripture in the mind of too many people that our churches are filled with unqualified leadership. A solid believer is identified in most churches as someone who tithes much, is there every week, and who will be at least occasionally involved. Rarely are uttered the words holiness, righteousness, and godliness when discussing faithful people in the church. As a result, churches have strayed from the path of true disciple making and are, instead, raising up very good volunteers of the church, but not real biblical disciples of Jesus Christ. So, the question must be asked, what is a biblical disciple?
The answer lies in what the Lord Jesus commanded His disciples in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Two instructions are given in that command for making disciples (something that will be examined later when we examine how to make disciples) and these two instructions show us the foundation of true disciples – those things that not only make but also identify a true disciple.
The Fruit of a Disciple
The first thing seen concerning true disciples is that they are baptized. Baptism is a symbolic act in which an individual stands before the church, and the world, and makes a public profession of faith in Christ. This is done by sharing their testimony and by partaking in the act of baptism in which the new believer is immersed into the water symbolizing their death with Christ (Rom. 6:8) and then they are raised out of the water symbolizing their new life with Christ (Rom. 6:4). This is the first and foundational act of a disciple. To publicly identify with Christ is expected of all who would follow Him.
In a simpler fashion, baptism is the aspect of discipleship that communicates two parts of the disciple’s life. First, and foremost, it communicates that they are born-again. Baptism is an act for the believer that takes place after their conversion. When a person is baptized they are communicating an internal truth that has already happened with the external act of baptism. Second, baptism communicates that you aren’t afraid to identify with Christ. In fact, it communicates that your whole life is wrapped up in Christ. Because of the internal truth of the new life found in Jesus baptism is that symbol of dying to self and living to Christ. Everything about a disciple is concerned with honoring and living for Jesus. This is the crux of being made holy, set apart from the world. It is denying self, denying the world, and embracing all that would exalt Jesus. A biblical disciple, while not perfect, will always be growing into this way of living. A disciple will grow into the kind of life where the world loses influence and Christ gains all control. We should be reminded, as the old hymn instructs us, to turn our eyes upon Jesus where we find that “the world grows strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”
This has far reaching implications in the life of a person. This means that true biblical disciples make decisions and live their lives with Christ ever before them. They grow in the desire to honor Christ above pleasing self. Thus, a true disciple will make decisions, will make choices, will live in a way that would please Christ. They will not, nay, they cannot go against Christ. Their regenerated souls are now longing to represent Christ as accurately as they possibly can. The world and its music, movies, drugs, pleasures, style, etc. no longer have any grip on the heart and actions of a biblical disciple. The biblical disciple is only concerned with living a life for Jesus. Two questions must now be asked: are you that kind of disciple? And, are our churches making these kind of disciples? These are questions that will probably yield unwanted answers, but they are serious questions that must regularly be asked.
Baptism is not the only fruit of a disciple or of disciple making mentioned in the passage. Jesus also instructs His disciples to teach these new disciples all of the things that the Lord has taught previously. This means that a disciple will be growing in the teaching of the Lord – Scripture. Simply put, genuine followers of Christ desire to know the Word of God. They desire to live by the Word of God, to memorize the Word of God, and to spend time in the Word of God. Scripture becomes the source of comfort, peace, and warmth in the life of a disciple. It is the solid, unchanging rock that followers of Christ turn to for stability in an ever changing, chaotic world.
Why does the Word of God have such a place in the life of a disciple? Because it is the Word of our Lord! All that He taught must be taught to a disciple where it will take deep root and be adorned with passion and affection simply because it is the Word of our Lord. No one perfectly understands all that is in Scripture, but biblical disciples are certainly marked by a growing understanding of Scripture and a growing desire to read Scripture.
Disciples of the Lord not only want to know Scripture; they want to live by Scripture. In every area of their lives they want to measure their decisions, choices, and actions to the teachings of God’s Word. According to this standard, we may be hard pressed to find a majority of disciples in the average church. Week after week our churches are full of people who do not know their Bible, do not care to know their Bible, and place no importance on the Sunday School hour or the preaching of Scripture. This is the biggest reason that unhealthy churches litter the Christian landscape, because they have no biblical disciples who have a hungering of God’s Word and are growing in God’s Word.
True disciples are marked by a true devotion and love for God’s Word. In John 8:31, Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are my disciple.” In John 14:13, He adds, “If any one loves Me, he will keep My word.” There are many passages indicating that a love for Christ will manifest itself in a love for Scripture. If one desires to follow Jesus, then they will adhere to His Word. If one adheres to the Word of God, then one is following Jesus. God’s Word and faithfully following Christ are inseparable. Thus, when churches are making true biblical disciples, they are raising up a people who are committed to God’s Word, who are growing in God’s Word, and who are living by God’s Word. This is the most trying and proven fruit in the disciples life. This is the identification of a biblical disciple.
If we limit the marks of a true disciple to these two instructions given by Jesus in Matthew 28 (although there are many other marks given throughout Scripture which cannot be discussed here) then we quickly discover that we are hard pressed to find many Christians meeting the mark. As a result, it cannot be said that a majority of churches are producing these kinds of followers by what they teach and what they do. It is my hope and prayer that churches, and individual believers, will see what constitutes a real biblical disciple, adjust the course setting, and pursue this reality of disciples found in Scripture.