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Disciple: Be One. Make One.

 
 
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(By Mark Fontecchio)

As a husband, I consider it my responsibility and honor to help my wife to become stronger in her faith in Christ Jesus. As a father of three wonderful children, I have it as one of my personal goals to help our children to understand their identity in Christ and what it means for them to walk by faith. As a pastor, I want the people I am honored to serve to know the joy that comes from growing, “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).[1] These objectives share the commonality of the importance of understanding discipleship. Yet, it is precisely at this point that the Church has become critically confused.

A survey of Scripture reveals a number of different biblical functions of the Church. Certainly, evangelism must be included in this list. The disciples were told to witness for Christ to, “the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). It is also unmistakable that fellowship was a key part of the early Church (Acts 2:44). This involved ministering to one another (Acts 2:45). The Church seen in the New Testament gathered together on a regular basis to worship the Lord (Heb. 10:25). Prayer played a vital role in the life of the Church (1 Thess. 1:2). Pastors and teachers were given to the Church, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry” (Eph. 4:12). Teaching believers the doctrines of Christ played an integral role in helping believers to mature by the renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:2).

Nevertheless, these stated functions of the Church do not adequately summarize the purpose of the Church. Rather, they are outcomes of a church that is fulfilling its biblical mission. The purpose of the Church can be summarized in the command given to the disciples after the resurrection when Christ told them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19). As followers of Christ, we are commanded to make disciples. Therefore, it is critical to understand correctly what this entails.

Laying a Foundation

To properly understand the ramifications and importance of discipleship we must take a step back to see the eternal purpose of God for His people. We read in the book of Isaiah that it is recorded, “Everyone who is called by My name, whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him” (Isa. 43:7). We were created to bring God glory. This starts with our salvation.

Unfortunately, the resurgence of Reformed Theology has greatly clouded the understanding of salvation and discipleship. Saving faith is, “the belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who died and rose again to pay one’s personal penalty for sin, and the one who gives eternal life to all who trust Him and Him alone for it.”[2] Discipleship should not be seen as a test of salvation. Instead, “we are dealing with a man’s relationship to Jesus Christ as his Teacher, his Master, and his Lord.”[3] A disciple is one that is learning from Christ to walk in fellowship with Him. There is a desire on the part of the disciple to be taught. It is this continued commitment that corresponds with being a disciple of Christ. Jesus stated to the Jews who believed in Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed” (John 8:31).

God is glorified in the redemption of men. Paul stated this to the church at Thessalonica when he wrote, “to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 2:14). But God is not just glorified in our salvation, “we also grow to bring God glory. In 2 Pet 3:18 we see the motivation for spiritual growth.”[4] After instructing the believers to grow in Christ, Peter stated, “To Him be the glory both now and forever.” God is glorified when believers grow because their lives begin to reflect His character and holiness. This underscores the importance of making disciples. Jesus told His disciples, “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” (John 15:8). Abiding in Christ leads to the fruit of the Spirit in the life of the believer (John 15:1-17; Gal. 5:16-25).

One that is learning from the Savior and is living out their faith is undoubtedly sharing his or her faith in Christ and teaching individuals to become disciples. It becomes a pattern of multiplication that is rooted in the love of Christ. God’s love, “has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5). For the disciple of Christ, this becomes the motivating factor that directly impacts how we work to build up believers. It also is the motivation for sharing our eternal hope with the lost. This love compels us to multiply. This is God’s plan for advancing His grace across the world throughout the ages.

Empowered for Success

Since discipleship starts with evangelism, understanding the role of the Spirit of God is vital to the process. It is the privilege of Church Age believers to be indwelt by the Spirit of God (Acts 2:1-4). It should be remembered that the Spirit of God convicts, “the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). The Spirit of God, “uses the Word of God to convince the nonbeliever of his sin.”[5] The Holy Spirit also teaches believers in Christ as they grow in their faith (John 14:26). This has a twofold application. Truthfully, the Spirit of God is the ultimate disciple-maker. God is in the business of making disciples. Secondly, the Spirit of God empowers and instructs us as we seek to replicate our faith in the lives of others. This includes both evangelizing others and our efforts to make disciples. It is a glorious truth of the New Testament that God has called us to a work that He has thoroughly equipped us for. He is the Author of life, and the Author of regeneration. Our role is to cooperate with His work in the lives of people. This is the pattern of the believers in the book of Acts as they shared the Gospel of Christ (Acts 2:1-41).

The Church and Disciple-Making

Understanding the distinction between salvation and becoming a disciple helps us to recognize that redeemed believers in Christ have a responsibility to make a commitment to becoming a disciple of Christ. This is not automatic and is something that some believers may never achieve. But once believers have begun to take this journey, there needs to be a plan to help others follow this same path. It is part and parcel of the disciple-making process. Here is where the Church can shine. Christ has already promised to build His Church (Matt. 16:18). Our role is to take the people that He has brought into our lives and help them down the discipleship road. This includes teaching, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12-13). When believers grow and begin to serve Christ, His work in the local body of believers begins to flourish. Every believer has been gifted to serve (1 Pet. 4:10-11). When God’s people use their spiritual gifts for His glory the Church is edified and strengthened, thereby further creating more disciples. The Church of Christ exists, “to spread the gospel and develop the believer to the point where they become the missionaries of the movement.”[6] Being a part of the work of Christ is the most rewarding endeavor that any believer can ever hope to partake in. Thankfully, it is just this opportunity that we have been called to. Discipleship is the means that God has chosen to strengthen His Church and raise up believers to reach the lost people of the world.

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Endnotes

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible: The New King James Version. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982).

[2] J. B. Hixson and Mark Fontecchio, What Lies Ahead: A Biblical Overview of the End Times (Brenham, TX: Lucid Books, 2013), 6.

[3] J. Dwight Pentecost, Design for Discipleship: Discovering God’s Blueprint for the Christian Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996), 10.

[4] Earley, Dave and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making is . . . How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence. (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013), 14.

[5] Ibid., 31.

[6] Ibid., 42.

 

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