A FEW KEY DISCIPLESHIP PASSAGES
I’ve been talking a little bit about discipleship recently. And I do think it’s important for a church to have some sort of “intentional” (ohhh that’s such a buzzword… but it fits here) plan for discipleship in the church. But I think so many churches have such a warped idea of what discipleship is, their discipleship “programs” are utterly ineffective in producing true, sold out, followers of Christ.
Before a church tries to decide what kind of discipleship program to implement, the church must know what kind of disciple Christ desires. Therefore, it will be useful to examine several key passages of Scripture on discipleship. To get an overview of the mandate, goal, and mark of a disciple, we’ll look at three texts – Matthew 28:19, Luke 6:40, and John 13:34-35. Today, we’ll just look at the Matthew passage.
Matthew 28:19, the well known Great Commission, records Christ’s last words to His disciples in the book of Matthew: “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 everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
In this passage, the command is not to go, but rather, to make disciples. The commission is not to individuals as much as to the apostles as the “church in embryo.” The apostles were the initial recipients of this command, but it is a mandate for the church (of which the apostles were the foundation – Ephesians 2:20) as its corporate responsibility. Those who are already the disciples of Christ are to be the instruments by which He makes more disciples.
The Means of Discipling
Making disciples is further qualified by the requirements Christ gives to baptize new believers, and to teach them to obey Christ’s commandments. Baptizing and teaching are not separate commands. Rather they are “the means by which disciples are developed.”
“Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” refers to the disciple being brought into the “possession and protection” of God. Soldiers of ancient Greece would swear themselves into the name of Zeus. In similar manner, new believers in Christ are baptized into the name of the triune God. The name speaks of the essence and fullness of a person, referring to everything he is and represents. In baptism, believers are identified as having been united to Christ and now belonging fully to God.
Baptism plays no part in the salvation of the individual. However, the willingness of the saved person to publicly identify with Christ through the act of baptism is so linked to the genuineness of the individual’s conversion that Christ says in Mark 16:16, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” Making disciples is accompanied by baptism as an initial act of obedience to proclaim the union the believer has with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.
The second requirement of disciple-makers is to teach believers to obey Christ in all things. The church is not only to evangelize the lost, but also to teach Christians to obey everything Christ has commanded. Believers are called to not simply believe in Christ, but then to pursue a life of obedience and devotion to Him.
A disciple is not simply one who acknowledges the work of Christ, but rather one who gives his life to learning from and obeying Christ. Studying the Word of God in order to understand and obey it is the disciple’s lifelong mission, because, as John MacArthur puts it, “in order to obey Him it is obviously necessary to know what He requires.” According to Matthew 28:19-20 then, a disciple is “a born again believer who desires to learn what the Bible teaches, seeks to obey God’s instruction, is committed to following Christ’s example, and teaches the truths of Scripture to others” (MacArthur Commentary).