Few issues today are as important as understanding the connection between the gospel, discipleship, missions, and apologetics. I’ve learned these truths through ministering on the streets of Seattle, being in college campus ministry, and at local coffee shops around my area. Engaging in discipleship, missions, and apologetics in a manner worthy of the gospel means understanding how they relate first to the gospel and then to the Church’s mission. I hope to trace out some of these vital connections and in so doing help readers understand that the story of Jesus exposes faulty worldviews. For example, in John 4, Jesus unveils the woman at the well’s faulty worldview. He asks her questions designed to draw her closer to understanding who He is. As the woman’s understanding grows, she sees her need for Jesus. She understands that Jesus is the Son of God. Then she becomes a disciple of Jesus and goes on mission for Jesus in reaching her neighbors and town for Him. This is how the gospel works. Jesus exposes the faulty worldview story we find ourselves in by showing us our need for His better and truer story, then He saves us by showing us the majesty of His death and resurrection. From there He grows our understanding of Himself and sends us out on mission. Part and parcel of this mission is to show the truthfulness of His story in history in comparison to the faultiness of every other story.
As the Church, we come together on the Lord’s Day because of the gospel. We gather to be reminded of what Jesus accomplished in His death, burial, and resurrection. We assemble together because God has taken those who were formerly not His and redeemed us through the blood of the Lamb of God. The Apostle Peter calls us to “give an answer for the reason for the hope that we have but to do so with gentleness and respect” (1 Pt. 3:15) because we are honoring Christ the Lord as holy in our hearts (1 Pt. 3:15).
Apologetics exists not because we know all the right answers to doctrinal and theological questions. Apologetics is the result of a life centered on Christ being formed in our lives. This is what Peter emphasized in 1 Peter 1:13-17, namely that God who is holy has called us to be his own and as a result, we’re called to manifest godly character in keeping with our status as his beloved.
Redeemed people long to see Christ formed not only in the lives of others but in their own lives and to share their stories so that others may come to know of the Savior they love. The real work of apologetics is sharing the stories of God’s grace, goodness, and work in our lives with others. Part of apologetics does deal with objections and responds to error, heresy, and false teaching, but, before we do that, Christ must be honored preeminently in our hearts as noted in 1 Peter 3:15. We’ve been called as a people because of the gospel to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pt. 3:16) and to have a Christ-like character being formed in our lives (2 Pt. 1:3-15).
Because we are disciples of Jesus, we must grow in Christ-like character. Jesus had much to say to the disciples about discipleship. Luke’s Gospel is arranged around the question of “Who is Jesus?”, a question explored in great detail from Luke 1:1 to Luke 9:51. Luke also spends considerable time noting the training of the disciples in his Gospel. This training focuses on helping the disciples learn about Jesus. To be a disciple of Jesus is to be a learner of Jesus. To be a disciple of Jesus means to grow in understanding of who Jesus is, what He has done, and what He demands.
This is why exposing faulty worldviews as I mentioned at the outset is so important. Faulty views of the gospel, discipleship, and missions abound today. One prime example of a faulty perspective on these issues can be found in the book Heaven is for Real. In Heaven is for Real, the author promotes a worldview where God’s words are not enough, instead suggesting that in some way we need more assurance than Christ has given us that we will rise from the dead. The truth is one day when we die we will be with Jesus. This truth compelled the Apostle Paul to long for this Day, the Day Jesus said we would receive the crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:8). Mature disciples of Jesus are those who are growing in their understanding of the gospel and can apply that knowledge in real-world situations. As disciples of Jesus therefore, we must grow in our understanding of Jesus for the purpose of exercising godly discernment so we might speak the truth in love to people.
The message of the King demands faithfulness to the means the King has given. King Jesus died on the cross, was buried, and rose again. Jesus, through the work of the Holy Spirit, indwells believers for the task of growth in Him and also to be about doing the work of the Kingdom. When either growth in Him or missions for Him are emphasized above the other, the redeeming message of the gospel is compromised. The gospel’s call is personal in that it alone justifies the sinner, as well as transforming every area of one’s life. Furthermore, the gospel is corporate in that it calls people everywhere to repent and believe in who Christ is and what Christ has done in His death, burial and resurrection.
The reason we engage worldviews comes from the mission of Jesus who came into the world to redeem man from sin. By coming in human form, the God-Man Jesus lived a sinless life, performed miracles, taught His disciples, and demonstrated how to engage people with the truth in love. When dealing with the religious leaders of Israel, Jesus often asked questions and went against the grain of theological thought of His day. Jesus was not novel with the Old Testament, but he did interpret it through the perspective that He came to fulfill its meaning. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, and the Prophets all looked ahead to the hope they would have in a coming Savior. New Testament believers today look back to what Jesus has done in His finished work. Jesus engaged people where they were and helped them to understand who He is and what he has done. This should provide believers today with the urge to engage people through a biblical worldview.
The mission of Jesus is to rescue sinners (Lk. 19:10) from sin through His death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus called his disciples to mission. During His earthly ministry, Christ called His disciples to a small missions trip to prepare them for future service (Lk. 9), He called the seventy-two to ministry (Lk. 10:1-16), and now He calls believers in our day to a mission to make disciples. While the mission of Jesus is to redeem lost sinners, his mission is also to grow in intimacy with those who follow Him. Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 that the gospel is both inward and outward. The gospel is a message that one first must believe personally and then confess outwardly. The gospel is a message we first must apply to our own life and context before we can ever hope to confess it outwardly with any degree of effectiveness. Preaching the gospel to ourselves is the greatest way to fight against sin and grow in sanctification. We first must be a disciple before we can do the work of a disciple. Jesus taught that a disciple is not greater than his master, so a disciple must first learn from his master before they do the work of the Master.
The mission of Jesus is to go out and make disciples (Math. 28:18-20, Lk. 24; Acts 1:8). As a result of going out on mission, we will engage all manner of worldviews and the interaction with these various worldviews is ultimately a Great Commission concern. The gospel is the timeless message we are to preach but the way one ministers that message may change depending on the context we find ourselves or the background of the person we interact with. Regardless of context or background, the Christian must preach the gospel in such a way as to make it clear to the person listening that Christ died, was buried, and rose again.
We live in a rapidly changing world where many voices are calling for Christians to compromise on matters related to the gospel, the Bible, and ethics. Christians have been called to be in the world but not of the world. This is why as Christians we must know what we believe so we can accurately, boldly, and precisely represent Christ as his ambassador in a pluralistic therapeutic culture. This is why understanding the gospel will help us to have a biblical view of discipleship and missions with the result that we’ll be able to be an effective witness for Christ in the world in the context of the local church that makes, matures, and multiples disciples to the glory of God.