Sunday morning as we continued our series “Who Do You Think You Are?”, I used my dear, dear third grade Sunday school teacher to illustrate what is true discipleship. Mrs Altman has been with Jesus since 2012, having loved and followed Him for most of her beautiful 91 years. Her spiritual influence for a few short years in my life in the early 70s is virtually unmatched; she led me to Christ. Alas, if you’re familiar with the phrase, “led me to Christ,” you unfortunately might also misunderstand what I mean…that is, what true discipleship is.
Matthew records some of Jesus’ final words this way: “Therefore go and make disciples…” … and the Church has been struggling to fully understand and execute that simple command for thousands of years.
“Making disciples” has come to mean many things, and in our Western culture it often deteriorates into reproducing a certain “discipleship model.” That is, “making disciples” is to teach others (according to a certain model) about Jesus, about Jesus’ teachings, and about His saving work on the cross and from the grave. In short form, “making disciples” can boil down to an anemic “sharing the gospel.” Disciplined people do well here.
“Making disciples” can also become Biblo-centric…which makes some sense since it is in fact the Word of God that reveals God, records Jesus’ life, and explains and illustrates the gospel. Nonetheless, Biblo-centricty can become a theological exercise and debate. Knowing doctrine, knowing the Bible and being able to offer at least some form of apologetic (defense/proof) of Bible inerrancy and to articulate the differing systematic theologies. Smart, articulate people do well here.
“Making disciples” can also mean “being Jesus,” (not in an arrogant way, but in a practical way) – doing what Jesus did and taught us to do. Good things, like feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, caring for the sick. Heathy, strong people do well here.
“Making disciples” can also mean “making moral people.” To render our best understanding of God’s moral standard through the Old Testament and Jesus of the New Testament and call, educate and correct people to higher standards and morality. People of good conscience and discipline do well here.
These all have merit, but I argued Sunday that they miss the simple mark.
A disciple is a learner and in the context of the New Testament, a disciple is more specifically and accurately to be a learner of Jesus. Jesus commands the disciples in essence to do what He did with them…exactly…to make more disciples…more learners…more followers of…Jesus.
To follow Jesus, the Bible is irreplaceable, and followers of Jesus will share the Gospel and know doctrine, and they will be moral and compassionate people. But the objective of Jesus’ command is to make learners/followers of Jesus who in turn ultimately exhibit these heart attitudes and life behaviors. The attitudes and actions don’t make disciples of Jesus they more often than not produce religious people.
When I say, Mrs. Altman led me to Jesus, I mean it. She literally led me to Jesus. She gave me hand-written Bible references jotted on the torn corner of a bulletin or a napkin or a tiny spiral note paper. She didn’t give me behaviors to practice or answers to ponder; she gave me some direction by which I could go and hear from Jesus. She encouraged me to pray amd reminded me consistently that God can handle me and respond to my questions. She assured me that He had great plans for me if I would listen, learn and follow Him.
And here’s the thing: she was one of the wisest people in the church…she could’ve just settled to tell us everything she knew and had experienced. We’d have been better people for it too. But she thought it was better that Jesus teach us.
Mrs. Altman knew and believed something we often forget: Jesus is real! Along with the Spirit and Scripture and prayer and the Church, Jesus will teach and counsel and mature us better than ANYone else…our whole life. We need to be led to Jesus not once, but always, through everything.
Who or what are you leading people to? Lead people to Jesus.
Now then, go and make disciples…