By Benjamin C Maxson, Director, General Conference Stewardship Ministries
Summary: A disciple is one who walks with, learns from, and lives in submission to a master in order to become like the master. It is time to make disciples. It is time to let God be God and let the church become the Church--the Body of Christ
The scene repeats itself daily. God walks into your life and invites you to walk with Him--to open your life to His presence. It’s called discipleship, and it is the most exciting privilege available today. In the beginning Adam and Eve began life in an intimate relationship with God. Soon after that perfect beginning, sin distorted and destroyed that relationship. Ever since, God has sought to restore that relationship one person at a time.
Jesus began His ministry by calling 12 to accompany Him on a unique journey of ministry and sacrifice, a journey that would climax at the cross. The 12 were distinguished by their ordinariness, not by their talent, power, or position. Yet the journey took them from a cross to an upper room. From there, 120 disciples went out with a vision to change the world. And they did more than change--they turned the world upside down. Since the 120, the power of Christianity has transformed culture and become the pivotal point in history. Yet today, Christianity has lost its vitality; squandered its power; and become a cultural reflection of the world around it. So perhaps it is time to go back to the basics--making disciples.
A disciple is one who walks with, learns from, and lives in submission to a master in order to become like the master. An exploration of the lives of great men and women in Scripture reveals five characteristics of the true disciple.
A disciple is passionately in love with Jesus Christ. We have been God’s consuming passion for 6000 years. In 10 different passages, He calls us to love Him with all our hearts, mind, soul, and strength. He invites us to love Him as He loves us--passionately. If Jesus Christ is not our consuming passion, then someone or something else will be, and to that degree we would be practicing a form of idolatry.
A disciple maintains intimacy with God. The level of passion in any relationship is in direct proportion to the level of intimacy. The Christian builds intimacy through daily time in prayer, Bible study, scripture memorization, and meditation.
A disciple integrates God into every area of life. This is a second level of intimacy. A marriage needs two forms of intimacy--the physical and the sharing of life together. Without either of these, the passion will grow cold; so also in the walk with God. It is not enough to have just a devotional life--the first level of intimacy. We need the second intimacy of inviting God to share every part of our lives. In this way intimacy and passion grow in the relationship with God.
A disciple makes God a priority in every decision. If God is really God, then He is the most important factor in every area of life. When He is left out of our decision-making, we are in control. Some Christians are learning to decline promotions that offer more money because of the negative impact the promotion could have on their walk with God and their role in the church.
A disciple actively shares Christ with others. This does not mean the ability to explain all doctrines or answer all questions. It simply means sharing the testimony of what God has done in our lives.
These characteristics create a picture of vibrant Christianity that can transform daily life. Each one involves a process of ongoing growth. No one can reach a place where growth stops. Yet, tragically many Christians are such in name only--spiritual infants who never grow into disciples. Paul speaks of this kind of Christian when he prophesies that at the end of time there will be those who will have a form of godliness, but denying its power (2 Tim 3:5).
The gospel commission (Matt 28:18-20) clearly challenges us to make disciples in the context of Christ’s promised presence and His power or authority in heaven and on earth. Could it be that we have been so busy counting converts that we have overlooked making disciples? Have we confused the desired end product of our evangelism? Are we caught in the trap of institutional greatness that has led us to overlook the essence of our mission--making disciples?
Let’s allow the Holy Spirit to move us away from the institutional, numerical dynamics of baptizing for numbers. Let’s move to the higher agenda of discipling. We must recognize that we can only disciple those who have first responded to the wonder of the gospel, finding peace and assurance of salvation. Without this relationship, any attempt to disciple is doomed to the failure of producing legalistic slaves--people focused on their own performance rather than the kingdom of grace.
It is this experience of the gospel that initially awakens the disciple’s passion for God. We then nurture this passion as we help the disciple train to be godly (1 Tim 4:7). We must teach people to daily feed at God’s banquet table instead of relying on secondhand crumbs from others--to focus on the life and ministry of Jesus. As we behold Him, we grow to love Him and trust Him enough to accept Him as lord of our lives.
Still it is not enough to affirm the gospel or accept God as owner. For it is here that the Christian’s greatest frustration comes. We know what we should do. We want to do it. Each time we try, we find ourselves frustrated by good but ineffectual efforts. All our attempts are frustrated by our inherent sinful nature that keeps breaking through.
The secret of discipleship is found in accepting the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. He has promised to give us a new heart and to put His Spirit in our hearts (Eze 36:26, 27). This is the power that produces the fruit in the life of discipleship. Paul talks about being transformed by the Spirit so that Christ can dwell in our hearts through faith (Eph 3:15-19). Discipleship is this intimate and powerful union or partnership with God. It is growing in this friendship as we become one with Him, and it is taking this relationship into every area of life.
Today, once again, God walks into your life and calls Come, follow Me. Walk with Me. Live with Me. Let Me be part of your life. He invites you to extend the invitation to others, and then walk beside them to help them become disciples. It is a daily adventure, learning to live with the King of Kings, to live on His throne (Eph 2:6). Let God be God each day, in every decision and every area of life.