The Two Sides of Discipleship
In my last blog I shared how a missionary named Wendell Broom compared the discipleship experience to a number line. Moving from the negative side to “The Cross” (or zero on the number line below) is evangelism. Wendell explained that leading someone to become a disciple of Jesus (evangelism) is rarely done in one big “jump.” Seldom does someone move from being an atheist to believing in Jesus all at once. Rather, people are moved one step, or maybe two, at a time toward faith. The track of becoming a disciple is more a move from -10 to -9 to -7 and so on until a person reaches the point of seeing Jesus as Savior and Lord and then committing to become his disciple. This is the initial phase of discipleship.
The positive side of the number line (0-infinity) illustrates the progressive growth of disciples. What does this progressive phase of discipleship look like? Often new Christians (and “older” Christians) are taught from Acts 2:42-47 that growing in Christ involves “going to church,” singing, sharing in the Lord’s supper, giving, reading scripture, and praying, which are all important behaviors for growth. However, Acts 2 and the life and teachings of Jesus shows us that there is something more to growing as disciples.
In John 13:34-35, just prior to his death, Jesus said that the distinguishing mark of his disciples is love.
34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
At another time, Jesus also stated this truth:
37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40
But what does love for God and each other look like? Jesus also defines that for us:
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Jesus, as he shares this discipleship commission, demonstrates the greatest act of love by dying for the sins of the world and returning to share with humanity his grace and unconditional love. In this discipleship commission, Jesus is telling his followers that loving God and other people means that you go and help other people discover and accept the truth of Jesus’ mercy and grace.
Spiritual disciplines like daily Bible reading, fasting, giving and prayer are vital to our growth as disciples, as is discovering your spiritual gifts and using them for God’s glory. Learning humility and meeting the needs of others are also imperatives for followers of Jesus. But all those practices are to help disciples to become skilled and equipped make to disciples. To progressively grow as disciples, Jesus wants us to continue his life's mission: helping others to initially become disciples and then teaching them how to become disciples who in turn make disciples.
Progressive growth in discipleship must always be about loving God and loving people by teaching and sharing how they too can become disciples of Jesus and experience the incredible gifts God gives.
Here's our challenge...it is so easy to get started!
Write down the names of three people God is calling you to disciple.
Pray for these people each day.
Wait and watch to see how God provides opportunities!