Trinity Baptist Church May 7, 2006
Discipleship as a Pattern
A couple of years ago I took a course in leadership at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Every week, we would read 10 or 12 articles on some aspect or theory of Leadership. Then we came to a week’s assignments which were completely different. That week the professor had decided we should read on “following“. Following isn’t a common topic -- and not a topic most people even warm up. But of course, leaders, by definition, need followers.
Do you realize that a key component of Christ’s influence in our world engages us in following? Jesus’ idea of following comes to us in an ancient word -- it’s a word that sounds obsolete in modern English. The word is disciple. Disciple and discipleship -- like following -- will never be hugely popular concepts. And yet, the call of Jesus is still given: He says, come and follow Me.
We’re spending eight weeks examining the biblical roots of what we call Trinity’s Core Values. These values are principles which God has begun to build into us. They therefore shape our ministry and point us toward how we should operate. The value we’re looking at today could not be more central to what we think of as biblical ministry.
So even though we employ an ancient term -- even though it sounds archaic to modern ears -- maybe even negative -- you and I must grapple with its significance.
The value is there in your worship folder -- “Discipleship as a Pattern.” You also have the expansion. “Christ invited every believer into a close following relationship with Himself. Our commission from Him is not simply to make converts or win church members, but to develop disciples. [Therefore] Our teaching and training is “life-change” oriented, not simply informational.”
Let me call your attention to 2 other items in your worship folder. If you’ve been at Trinity awhile, you notice we repeat these two every week.
One is our purpose statement. Our biblical reason for existing as a church is to develop maturing disciples. Three components of a disciple’s life are mentioned there. The other statement is on the front of the worship folder weekly. It’s just 3 words, but they too, aren’t incidental. Developing authentic Christians. These three concepts fit together hand-in-glove. “Authentic Christian” is a good paraphrase of the term disciple.
If a person is a disciple in NT terms, that person is a follower. He or she has set out on a path to pursue Jesus Christ. That’s what we need to talk about. I want to approach it in two ways:
First, we need the repeated reminder that this is what the church is about. As part of Christ’s body, we exist to develop disciples. If we miss that, we’re off course.
I read a sentence this week from someone named Warren Webster: Webster had been a missionary in Pakistan for 15 years. Thinking back over his life, he said: “If I had my life to live over again, I would live it to change the lives of men, because you haven’t changed anything until you’ve changed the lives of men."
The church doesn’t have another purpose. The central objective, defined by Jesus, is to produce changed lives -- disciples. There are lots of other things we can do or could do -- lots of needs we can address -- but if we fail in this -- if our ministry doesn’t produce maturing followers -- then we’ve failed.
The second reason we discuss discipleship is also foundational: every Christian among us needs to come to grips often with Christ’s claim and call on us. We need to review His call to follower-ship. He never stopped summoning men and women to an ever closer commitment to Himself. From the first day of His public ministry, He challenged people come follow Me.
The final time was what we heard read this morning in Matthew 28: it was the challenge to follow, and the commission to produce more followers. We’ll see this morning, following often begins at a distance but then progresses to ever closer levels of following.
Of course, for a church, it would be simpler, to just let people do whatever they feel like, remain where they are in the process of following Christ. It would be simpler not to challenge one another to move higher, go deeper, follow more closely. But that’s not why Christ has us here. And it’s certainly not the life He has for us.
So let’s think about the design of discipleship. We’ll be reminded of our high calling and of the goal to which we should urge each other as Christians. Let’s begin with the negative. I give you three statements on your outline which first tackle What discipleship is not
First: a distinction:
Discipleship is not the same as being a Christian.
I’ve said the term disciple means follower. It also means to be a learner, or pupil. If you study it all the way through the gospels, you’ll see the gospel writers refer to people as disciples who were not Christians. We’ll see that in a couple of passages this morning. When Jesus uses the term in Matthew 28, commanding His close followers to go and develop more close followers, He means that first they come to know Him, by grace, through faith; it‘s then that the process of development begins. So not everyone who puts their trust in Christ and receives forgiveness and salvation, is a disciple, according to the way Jesus progressively defined it.
Secondly, Discipleship is not simply doing the “right things”.
People sometimes think that being a disciple means you’re busier and more active -- you come to church a lot more, or you do a whole lot more religious things. Jesus critiqued the religious leaders of His day because they were disciplined “doers“. They did lots of “right” things -- they prided themselves on doing all that their traditions required of them, but their hearts weren’t in it. Their hearts didn’t belong to the God they claimed to serve.
When Jesus speaks of discipleship, He describes an intimate relationship which not only includes obedience, but one which brings us into a heart relationship with Himself. He said,
if you love Me, you will do what I say. And He said, I have not called you servants, I have called you friends. When you set out to become one of His followers, Jesus will engage you at every level of your being.
Third, Discipleship is not an issue of how much you know.
American Christians often equate knowing the Bible or theology with being mature. But remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 28: as He describes a process of developing disciples, He says the final step is teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. He invested 3 years in the first group of followers. They got to know Him, they came to trust Him, they came to obey Him and buy into His agenda. Discipleship is not as much what you know, it’s all about the person you become because of the One you follow.
That’s some of what discipleship is not. Let’s talk about How the New Testament describes “disciples”
In the ancient world, to become someone’s disciple meant you began to listen to -- and learn from -- and follow a particular leader or teacher. The Greek word is “mathetes” and it described first a teacher/pupil relationship -- but it was more -- it was kind of like a Master/Apprentice relationship today. Socrates, Plato, many of the Jewish rabbis had disciples.
The “mathetes” spent a lot of time listening to the teacher, studying their teachings, learning life from them, and to some degree, living life by those precepts. Jesus took the term and invested it with more meaning. He would allow people to begin at one level, but He always called them to higher levels. You can identify at least three levels in the gospels. First there are
The Curious (John 6:60-71)
Turn to John chapter 6. The widest meaning of disciple in relation to Jesus comes from the times in the gospels where the word gets applied to the crowds who followed after Jesus. In Matthew 5, the crowds who followed Him are called disciples. The same is true in Luke 6 where Jesus chose 12 from a much larger group who were also called disciples.
Jesus taught the great masses usually they willingly listened, and very often they physically followed Him from town to town. That’s why in a general sense they’re called disciples. But Jesus wasn’t satisfied with that bit of commitment.
John 6 shows us that. The chapter begins by separating the crowds from the close followers so we can determine that in the mooing herd sometimes called disciples there are people who aren’t even believers. Jesus describes Himself as the Bread of Life; then John 6:60, we read, many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “this is a difficult saying, who can listen to this?” Jesus answers in verse 64: He says, there are some of you who do not believe. John tells us that description of unbelief even applies to Judas who will betray Jesus.
But look verse 66: as a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him any more. (John 6:66) So, disciple in its broadest sense can refer to unbelievers. They’re given the title because outwardly they follow, or learn or seek, even though there’s only the barest of commitment to Christ personally. They may have motives like curiosity, or personal gain; Jesus told one crowd later in John, “you only follow because you ate bread.”
The second group of disciples are The Convinced (John 12:42, 43)
In John 6, many left. Some stayed. The ones who decided to stay with Jesus include the twelve. In verses 66-69 of John 6, Peter acts as their spokesman and declares faith in Jesus as the Messiah. At that point, it’s probably more a logical conclusion than a vow of personal devotion. But those first followers, except for Judas, were convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior. But there’s still a lack of deep commitment.
More than once people in the gospels are described as believers, but still holding back in commitment to Jesus. Over in John chapter 12, John describes some of the ruling Jews who avoided a full commitment to Jesus as Master: Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God (John 12:42-43).
You could argue that if they didn’t confess Christ publicly, they didn’t really believe. But that would ignore the context and details of John 12. Verse 42 begins with a strong adverse statement, showing that among the Jewish leaders, who mostly did not believe in Christ as Messiah, yet, there were individual exceptions who truly believed. John clearly states,
they believed in Him. Nicodemus was probably one. Joseph of Arimathea was another. Joseph was described as a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, because of fear.
Finally, after Jesus’ death, both men went public with their faith.
Those are two categories of followers who are called disciples in the gospels. But when
Jesus Himself uses the term, He has something more in mind than curious, or even convinced.
He’s describing the third group: and this is what He summons us to be and the kind we are to develop.
The Committed (Luke 9:23-26)
These are followers who throw in their lot with Jesus Christ. They come to Him in faith, but then they begin to trust Him with their lives and plans and futures and destinies. They come to know His character; they therefore know Who He is -- and that they can trust Him to do as He says. Jesus referred to followers like these as disciples indeed. They are the close followers. How are they different?
First, 1. Committed disciples have different character. (Luke 6:40, Galatians 5:22-23)
This is one of the distinctive of Jesus’ disciples, over those of other teachers and rabbis.
Jesus said in Luke 6:40, A disciple. . . when he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher. It
His expectation is, that when we walk after Him, we will begin to take on His character. You don’t follow Christ and remain rooted in your old ways or still simply live out of your “B.C.” personality. Jesus’ character is described for us in Galatians 5:22-23, that list called the fruit of the Spirit. Christ-like character is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Those qualities describe Jesus.
Galatians makes clear in if we just keep doing what comes naturally, if we live to please ourselves, those qualities won’t grow in my life. But they will however describe people who follow after Jesus. If you follow Him, if you allow His Holy Spirit to control you day by day, you’ll be less and less marked by self-driven expressions and more and more by Christ’s kind of character.
How’s your character? What comes out of you, especially in the character area, is a barometer of what’s in you. And that reflects what and to Whom you’re committed. Commitment to Jesus Christ bears fruit in your life. Committed disciples exhibit new character.
2. Committed disciples have different disciplines. (John 8:31)
There’s a word most of us love to hate. But disciplines simply refer to the habits of life to which Jesus calls us. They are habits we can choose, lifestyle patterns, modes of operating which will produce right thinking and right behavior.
A key ingredient is our approach and habit with Scripture. For instance, Jesus said, if you abide in My Word, you will be my disciples. He described there a choice to live in, to saturate our lives with, to continuously absorb Scripture. To do that, I will need to spend significant and serious time in Scripture.
Followers know what non-followers don’t know. That they can’t spend the bulk of their time doing, and watching and listening and absorbing all the “alternative inputs”. Alternatives to Christ and His Word that the world offers and still be close followers of His. Those kind of habits, no matter what they are, simply disqualify us as close followers.
The habits of committed followers are habits like Scripture, prayer, fellowship, witnessing. They flow out of the intentional choice that we will either be molded by the culture we inhabit or by the Christ we follow. These aren’t just things committed followers do, they are disciplines which engage your with the heart and mind of Jesus Christ.
How are your disciplines? Do the habits of your life, the entertainment, the books, the movies, the people around you press you toward Him? Committed followers have distinctive disciplines.
3. Committed disciples have different loyalties. (2 Timothy 2:4)
When Jesus interacted with several would-be followers once. One said, “I’ve just gotten married, I can’t follow you yet.” Another said, my parents are old, when they’re dead and buried, then I’ll come follow you.” Another said, he’d just bought livestock and had to go examine it!
Jesus said, if you put your hand on the plow and then turn and look back, you won’t be fit for the kingdom. In other words, earth’s demands will keep your heart from engaging in eternal kingdom priorities. He’s saying, “if you’ve got priorities which compete right up there alongside following Me, compete for your attention and pursuits” -- Jesus said, “you can‘t be one of My followers.”
One guy told me one time, “I want to do it all!” Jesus with directness, and sometimes with tears told people, “you cannot -- you disqualify yourself from following Me when you try.”
Paul wrote to younger Timothy, a good soldier doesn’t get entangled in the affairs of everyday life. Why? So that he may please the One who enlisted him (2 Timothy 2:4).
I said earlier, Jesus doesn’t just call us to busy-ness and activity, He calls us to Himself.
He requires our devotion. He asks for our love; He wants our hearts. So if anything: job, relationship, hobby, ranks up there on the list beside Him, Jesus simply says, “don’t bother.” You cannot do both.
4. Committed disciples have a different impact. (Matthew 28:19, 20)
Speaking to His disciples, Jesus says in Matthew 28, go, make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Triune God, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
His call on the very first group is to reproduce a life of following Him into others. None of the people who heard that commission made it into the 2nd century. Yet, Jesus says, I will be with you, even to the end of the age. This wasn’t a commission for the few and the first, it was a commission to every follower throughout the age. Until Jesus returns to earth, His command to His followers is develop more followers. Everywhere, in every people group on the planet, deliver the message of salvation, and baptize converts and get them moving in a life of Truth and obedience.
We sat at graduation at UNL yesterday and someone at one point said, “now go out and help change the world.” Most people want their life to matter, to leave some imprint or permanent difference. And I won’t tell you that making a difference in engineering or education or journalism or computer science are bad things. They’re not. But on the authority of Scripture I can go one better. You can make a difference, not just in life but in eternity. You can be a close follower of Jesus Christ and you can develop others to be His close followers.
Steps I need to take
Would you ask yourself this morning: “where do I need to grow?” Do you need to move, from curious to convinced? From convinced to committed? Are there character issues? Issues of habits that need to radically change? Loyalty issues?
If it’s time to move in the direction of following let me encourage you with a couple of specifics:
First, and foremost, tell Christ what’s on your heart. Ask Him to make you a follower. To work in your, to motivate you, to take other priorities away, to press you in His direction. And begin following.
Then, get around people who are close followers. Learn what they do to grow and keep on growing. Don’t let wrong influences determine your level of following.
Then, do whatever it takes to grow in Scripture, prayer, evangelism. Ask someone for some personal help. Take opportunities to develop, like small groups and Sunday morning classes.