Discipleship is under attack by those who dismiss doctrine as unimportant, and by those who believe that it ends with a certain level of progress in the Christian life. Is discipleship unimportant today? Does one ever outgrow the need for discipleship? These questions are relevant because people believe that discipleship seemingly ends when one reaches a certain level of maturity in Christ. If discipleship ends when one progresses to a certain level of maturity then there is no more need to learn because one has become God. It is precisely this attitude that saps the Church of Jesus Christ from any form of credibility outside the Church today. The other concern related to discipleship is the expressed desire of some to have a conversation about how to redesign the Church at the expense of doctrine.
How one defines knowledge demonstrates their view of what discipleship is. The popular approach to knowledge among evangelicals suggests that one never has anything to learn “after” believers “arrive” at a certain place in he/she walk with Christ. Proverbs 1:7 says, “The beginning of knowledge is the fear of the Lord and fools despise wisdom and correction.” No one ever achieves perfect knowledge as every believer even the most “mature” believer only knows in part not in whole. Ultimately only God knows everything, because He knows every hair on every head of every person in the world. Knowledge has its origins in one’s view of God. If discipleship is to be correctly understood how one thinks and understands God is of primary importance since the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”.
How should one “Fear the Lord?” Is the fear of the Lord the fear of man? Many people have fears of all kinds but this is not the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord, Solomon says, is the beginning of all knowledge. Knowledge relates to one’s understanding of the world and oneself as a creature of a magnificent and loving God. “Wisdom”, is the acquired skill of applying knowledge rightly or the skill of godly living. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of both wisdom and knowledge because both have at their root humility. In order to live a moral reverent life the believer has to understand who they are before their Maker and Redeemer.
The Greek’s pursuit of knowledge has at its basis the quest for perfection. It was this pursuit of knowledge which formed the basis for much of Western civilization. The Bible is clear that there is only one who lived a perfect life, and that is Jesus Christ the God-Man. Unlike the pursuit of knowledge through philosophy or any other academic discipline, biblical wisdom and knowledge asserts that submission to the Lord is foundational to the attainment of real understanding (Ps. 111:10; Proverbs 9:10). The covenant name of the Lord is used rather than the generic “God”, which makes the point of this verse (Proverbs 1:7), which is simply that truth is found only through Israel’s God. Solomon contrasts between the two ways of knowledge and folly, which dominates the whole book of Proverbs as the way of wisdom, righteousness, and the fear of the Lord is set against the way of folly, evil and scoffing.
Jesus “call to discipleship” is the call to abandon all, take up the Cross and follow Him. Jesus in [Luke 9:23-27] says, “Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”
“Come after Me” means to become a disciple of Jesus (Luke 14:27) and requires that one first deny himself (not just denying certain things they may prefer but denying sovereign control of one’s life). Take up his cross (Luke 14:27), means making a commitment that will lead to rejection and even death. And “follow me” (refers to following the example and teachings of Jesus). In Jesus’ day “follow me” also meant joining the company of his disciples who traveled in ministry with Jesus around Palestine. Gaining even the whole world is infinitely less valuable than one’s eternal destiny in relation to God (Mark 8:36). Being ashamed of Jesus means to deny any link with him (Luke 22:54-61) and is the opposite of acknowledging him as one’s Lord and teacher (Luke 12:8-9). The person and message of Jesus (me and my words) are indivisible: “When He comes in glory” refers to the second coming. Luke emphasizes the glory of Jesus (Luke 21:27; 24:27). Some standing here refers to Peter, John, and James, who will witness the transfiguration (Matthew 16:28).
Jesus the Lord of all Creation, the Master who paid for sin through His bloody death and resurrection, calls every born again believer to discipleship. Discipleship is not just a pursuit of knowledge, or the achievement of titles, degrees, or the accumulation of more money. Discipleship according to Jesus is following after His Word which sets forth His example. Jesus went to a Cross to die a bloody death and even before Jesus carried the Cross- He was beaten, scourged and whipped. As He walked with the Cross, Jesus fell down, and they beat Him again. Jesus went through the horrendous ordeal of cruxification and rose again triumphantly to not only give us an “eternal life prize”, but to also call believers to a life of discipleship where His followers rest, learn, exalt, glory, and worship Him.
Believers often look to the Cross as the place where salvation begins, but they should look at it as foundational to discipleship. The Cross, while a one-time event where Jesus died a bloody death and now offers forgiveness of sin and is more than just an object for the basis of discipleship in Jesus. The forgiveness of sins is offered by Christ through His death on the Cross, and the resurrection empowers believers to live new lives. As a result of what Christ has done; believers can not only look to the Cross for victory over sin, but live Cross-Centered lives that glorify Jesus.
A disciple knows who the Master is, and the Master calls His disciples to go forth and make disciples. Matthew 28:18-19 says, “18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Jesus the Lord, who alone can draw people to Himself (John 6:44), calls His followers to be His disciples. Jesus calls His disciples to go forth and make disciples for His glory; baptizing them, and teaching them to observe His teachings. The all authority here refers to the fact that Jesus, in his risen state, exercises absolute authority throughout heaven and earth, which shows his deity. His authority has been given by the Father, which indicates that he remains subject to the Father (1 Cor 15:28). The imperative make disciples, that is, call individuals to commit to Jesus as Master and Lord explains the central focus of the Great Commission, while the Greek participles (go, baptizing, and teachingv.20) describe aspects of the process. Jesus’ ministry in Israel was to be the beginning point of what would later be a proclamation of the Gospel to all the peoples of the earth, including Jews and Gentiles alike. Teaching is the means by which disciples of Jesus are continually transformed in order to become more like Christ (Matthew 10:24-25; Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18). “I am with you always” is where Jesus concludes the commission, and Matthew’s gospel ends with the crucial element of discipleship: The presence of the master, who is “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).
Discipleship is not a program, but the very mission Jesus gave the Church to fulfill. Discipleship is not just an object to be achieved because that focuses on the numbers of people while biblical discipleship focuses on becoming like Jesus. Jesus in His ministry cared about where people were going, and spent time with people who were hurting, ill, sick, afflicted, and demonized. Jesus shows people in His life how not only to care for people, but how to love people the way they were created to experience love. Biblical discipleship is thoroughly grounded in the person and work of Jesus.
The story of the Bible revolves around the person and work of Jesus Christ. A believers’ salvation does not rest in what is done for Jesus’ name, but in Jesus. Jesus died for sin, and rose again. Since this truth is fundamental it ought not be overlooked, but be central to the thought of every disciple of Jesus. If the story of the Bible is the story of Jesus, and Jesus calls us to be His disciples; then the more one knows of the Bible should lead to knowing Jesus better. Jesus- as the central point of the Bible- calls us to a life of discipleship whereby believers are to focuses their lives on His teachings, example, and mission. With so much talk about “reformation” and change in the Church, it’s about high time that the Church refocus the attention upon Jesus.
Jesus is not just some Savior (or some Lord), but the Lord who gave us this great hope through His death and resurrection. Without Jesus’ death and resurrection, believers are dead in their sins. Jesus, who is great in mercy and faithful to His children, died for sin to bring the ungodly to Him. It is through Jesus that believers are justified. Discipleship should be grounded in the finished work of Jesus because it is there that discipleship is grounded. Discipleship is not grounded in some program, or teaching, but in the finished work of the Savior who died for sin, and rose again. Jesus calls His children to be His disciples which means that believers must take up their Cross, follow Him, learn from Him, exalt Him, and glorify Him by living Cross centered lives that bear the marks of what a true disciple of Jesus is.
The state of discipleship is only going to change within evangelicalism when the Church returns to the Bible as the final authority for faith and practice instead of worshipping the latest teacher, fad, idea, or theology. Salvation is not grounded in what man can accomplish but in what Christ accomplished. Discipleship is thoroughly biblical, and it is Jesus who calls His disciples to pick up their Crosses, and follow Him. Follow Jesus, and make disciples for His glory, and majesty.