Make Disciples – but who am I?

 

To begin, an excerpt from Bob Diffinbaugh

“Apart from His sacrificial work on the cross, the most significant thing our Lord did upon the earth was to make disciples. Our Lord had written no books, He had built no organization; there were no physical structures or monuments left to commemorate Him. He had placed the future of His earthly work entirely in the hands of His disciples. Had they failed their task, humanly speaking, the church of Jesus Christ would not exist today.

In the last decade, discipleship has become a popular subject in Christian circles. The great difficulty is that when we use this term we frequently mean something entirely different from that denoted by the biblical term. For instance, we hear much talk about discipling others or being discipled. Being in close proximity to a great seminary, I have seen many young and enthusiastic theologs come and go …..

We almost completely fail to grasp the biblical concept of discipleship. It is interesting that we never find the term ‘disciple’ used with reference to the relationship between Paul and Timothy. As a matter of fact, we find the two primary terms for discipleship employed very frequently in the Gospels, sporadically in the book of Acts, and almost never in the rest of the New Testament. …… What was so important in the life and ministry of our Lord should be very clear to us today who wish to be known as His disciples.”

 

To repeat the quote above – “ What was so important in the life and ministry of our Lord should be very clear to us today who wish to be known as His disciples.”

 

But Who Am I?

How would I like to be defined?

A Disciple , a Christian, a Believer in Christ, or a Saint?

Which identity describes my blessedness?  How would God name me?

whoami

 

Does the term disciple best describe me? Does it allude to my intention or does it characterize my faith?

Does the term disciple suggest or hint of my noble pursuits?

Should my identity point to my intents and integrity as one who follows and learns from Jesus or should it point to my God Who set me apart, cleanse me, sanctified me and qualified me to be His ?

If the apostles were to write to a group of us, how would they address us?

Or does the term “saint” best describe the love of God and His sole initiative and awesome and amazing grace to set me apart and give me the gift of repentance and gift of faith to be incorporated into His glorious kingdom?

 

 

“Personal Commitment to Jesus. During Jesus’ earthly ministry the disciple was to “follow” Jesus, an allegiance to his person regarded as the decisive act, whether a literal or figurative attachment. Jewish disciples would follow their master around, often literally imitating him. The goal of Jewish disciples was someday to become masters, or rabbis, themselves, and to have their own disciples who would follow them. But Jesus’ disciples were to remain disciples of their Master and Teacher, Jesus, and to follow him only. Following Jesus means togetherness with him and service to him while traveling on the Way.”

(Michael J. Wilkins)

 

And lastly to quote Jerry Bridges again –

I believe grace motivates a person to obedience. I use Isaiah’s experience – the vision in Isaiah 6 – as a paradigm. At the conclusion of my sermon on Isaiah 6, I said that passage can be summed up in four words: God, guilt, grace, and gratitude. God’s holiness, our guilt, the gospel of God’s grace, and Isaiah’s gratitude is expressed. When God said, “Who shall I send?” Isaiah didn’t ask where he would go and what he would do. Instead, he answered, “Here am I.” And I believe that when we read of Jesus’ experience with the sinful women in Luke 7, we are seeing only the tail end of the story. The only way we can understand that story is to assume she had a prior encounter with Jesus and had become acutely aware of her sin and received his forgiveness. So now she comes out of gratitude to wash his feet. The parable of the debtor brings that out, of course. I define grace these days not just as unmerited favor. I say without guilt there’s no grace. So I define grace in this fashion: it is God’s blessings through Christ to the people who deserved his curse.

 

Thank you Heavenly Father for calling me and saving me, cleaning me up so that Your Holy Spirit can indwell me, and sealing Him in me, never to leave, and making me Your child – yes a saint, called, set-apart and sanctified.  Indeed You are Great, Good, full and overflowing with Grace to me!

Disciples are made, not born (according to a bestselling author.)

But Saints are Born, nod made!

 

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Make Disciples (6) – who is the disciple

So Jerry Bridges emphasized that the imperatives for our sanctification follows our conviction of the indicatives of our salvation – to daily preach the Gospel to ourselves. I have shared often how every church should spend six months in a year to teach what it means to be saved; and we are saved by Grace, and sanctified by Grace.

 

“Performance is the default mode of every human”

We are ever so eager to prove ourselves, to show our commitment to obey, especially the great commission, and to recruit others (teaching them) to obey.  Even before the ten commandments were given to Moses, the Israelites committed to be obedient

Exodus 19: 8 “All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.”

Or in the NT,

Matthew 26:35 “Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.”

 

We are ever so eager to please our Lord! But can we truly please Him Who said all our good deeds are as filthy rags.

 

The Jewish people have categorized 613 commandments of God in the first five books of the Old Testament .  ((http://www.covenantpeaceministries.com/resources/Article+-+1050+New+Testament+Commands.pdf). )

And when I googled on indicatives and imperatives, the findings include “1050 New Testament Commands”    ( https://www.cai.org/bible-studies/1050-new-testament-commands  )

 

But I couldn’t find any literature of ‘indicatives in the NT’ (not that I know of)

We are drawn to the imperatives – as performance is the default mode of every human!

 

To contrast how vital it is to be a “disciple”, we highlight the 260 occasions the term is used in the NT (ESV) (72 in Matthew, 44x in Mark, 40x in Luke, 76x in John, 28x in Acts), compared to the 17 times the word “Christian” is assigned in Acts to followers of Christ, while the term  ‘believers’ is used  (18x)  and saints (61x) in the NT.

Surely it becomes persuasive and convincing to declare that God is looking for disciples as the term is so frequently used, rather than the term Christians or believers!

But then, if that is the case, had the apostles failed in making disciples since not many disciples were mentioned in the later period of the NT church?  Had disciples and discipleship faded away and groups are now trying to complete what the apostles failed to do?

 

So who is the disciple?  Continuing on my reading, I found the following resources helpful

 

“One of the best axioms in teaching can be expressed in this way,

Define your terms, then stick to your definitions.”

In considering the subject DISCIPLESHIP AND ITS DANGERS IN THE LAST DAYS, we must first define the term “discipleship”. What do we mean by discipleship? Here we are faced with a problem inasmuch as the term is not employed in any of the epistles of the New Testament.”

(The whole article can be found here    http://www.lifehouse.org/tracts/hgmdisipleshipanditsdangers.htm  )

 

And from  https://bible.org/seriespage/15-discipleship-its-definitions-and-dangers-matthew-231-12

The New Testament Definition of a Disciple

In the New Testament, the picture of a disciple is not as clear or simplistic as one might wish, for the terms, mathetes (disciple, learner) and akoloutheo(to follow) are used in a variety of ways.204

Not only did Jesus have His disciples, but so did John the Baptist (Matthew 9:14; 11:2; John 1:35,37, etc.), the Pharisees (Matthew 22:16; Mark 2:18; Luke 5:33), and even Moses (John 9:28).

There is great diversity among those who are identified as the disciples of Jesus in the Scriptures. John (John 6:60,66) uses the term ‘disciple’ to refer to those who are uncommitted, unbelieving followers of Jesus, motivated mainly by curiosity or impure desires. The masses who have come to faith and trusted in Jesus as their Messiah were also called disciples (John 8:30,31). Then, of course, the term was used particularly and most frequently of the twelve disciples (Matthew 10:1, etc.) one of whom was His betrayer (John 6:70,71). Within the circle of the twelve was an inner circle of three: Peter, James and John (Luke 9:28). In the book of Acts, the word ‘disciple’ seems to be used synonymously with the term ‘believer’ (cf. Acts 6:1,2,7).

What is a disciple? I suspect that Mark summarizes it best in his gospel: “And He went up to the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him. And He appointed the twelve, that they might be with Him, and that He might send them out to preach, and to have authority to cast out demons” (Mark 3:13-15).

Who is a disciple of our Lord? Anyone who is deeply and personally committed to Jesus Christ by faith, who manifests the power and authority of our Lord, and who continues and extends His work.”

 

And from   https://bible.org/seriespage/2-understanding-meaning-term-disciple

 

DISCIPLESHIP AS A CALL TO FOLLOW JESUS

Discipleship is a call to be with, know and enjoy the Master. In this sense, the call to Biblical discipleship presupposes salvation, i.e., that a person has believed in Christ as Lord and Savior and continues to believe in Him. But discipleship is also a summons to follow Jesus and this is, at times, no easy matter. He demands exclusive, complete, and unflinching obedience to Himself. This is where his summons to discipleship is so radically different from Plato who stressed the freedom of the student from the teacher or even the Jewish religious leaders who focused more on the Torah and steered their disciples away from themselves. Jesus, on the other hand, pointed people to himself9 (and still does) and calls them to radical commitment to him. Jesus’ call to discipleship is a call to Christlikeness which includes at least three related facts: (1) the demand; (2) the added promise; and (3) the grace.

 

THE DEMAND

Jesus’ call to discipleship is an all-or-nothing summons, reaching into every area of our lives. It involves giving him preeminence over the closest of our human relationships and over the desires we have for our lives. In short, it involves becoming his servant in the world and giving your life to that end. Paradoxically we give up that which we cannot keep to gain that which we cannot lose. If we don’t, we lose all in the end (cf. Matt 16:25).

The cross was an instrument of death and well known to the Jews. The suffering was intolerable. But Jesus says we are to take it up and follow him. This will, in the nature of the case, involve self-denial. The one who picked up the cross-beam of his cross was headed down a one-way street, never to return.

The GRACE

The demand of Jesus’ call to discipleship is impossible for a human being, unaided, to fulfill. We must have resources to accomplish this kind of life. Those resources come directly from Christ and are promised to us if we abide in him. This is the point of Jesus’ teaching in John 15:1-11ff. He told his disciples that even though he was departing the world, he would nonetheless carry on his life and ministry through them, his chosen ones (15:16). From John 14:26, 15:26 and 16:13-14 we know that his life would be lived in and through the disciples via the indwelling Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 3:16).”

 

 

 

 

 

Make Disciples (5) – more of Jerry Bridges

Kristen Wetherell, reporting on an interview with Jerry Bridges in 2016 wrote :-

If you’ve become discouraged by your Christian life; if you often feel the weight of condemnation; if you think God has a low opinion of you or is often frustrated by your efforts; if you believe your good works get you higher marks on his judgment scale, you need to preach the gospel to yourself!

Performance is the default mode of every human: thinking we have to do good works to please God (and even other people). Our identities have become wrapped up in our own accomplishments, the opinions of others, and even the spiritual disciplines we practice, rather than the once-for-all saving work of Jesus Christ.

Author Jerry Bridges wants us to remember the gospel by preaching it to ourselves on a daily basis.”

http://unlockingthebible.org/how-to-preach-the-gospel-to-yourself-an-interview-with-jerry-bridges/

 

So I need to preach the Gospel to myself everyday!  I must return to the Gospel of Grace, the power of God to sozo me totally.  My identity is not wrapped up in my performance and discipleship, not even my spiritual disciplines and service to make disciples!   (more of this in the next post – what does it really mean?)

 

And again from the previous post –

http://www.signetringministries.org/2009/10/25/breakfast-with-mr-bridges/

Bridges preaches and teaches Gospel-driven sanctification. The call of conformity to the image of Christ is given throughout the Scriptures. However, it becomes easy for us to become, in Bridge’s words, “duty-driven” rather than “gospel-driven.” To further define, we often see the pursuit of sanctification as something we must do to earn or remain in God’s favor. This thought may be a subtle thought in the believer’s mind. Yet, we still can fall into this erroneous way of thinking. Bridges clearly and boldly established that we are called to pursue conformity to the image of Christ because we are saved. We are totally pure in the eyes of God because what Christ has done on the cross. We are totally secure in the love of God because of what Christ is doing right now—interceding for us at God right hand. We are destined for the resurrection because of His promise to raise us up with Christ when He returns. These are the truths that should be spurring us on to good works, and causing us to pursue holiness.”   

 

Jerry Bridges influenced and impacted many – notable is his call to return to the Gospel of Grace.  Appended are articles and interviews by various people –

 

http://www.booksataglance.com/author-interviews/interview-with-jerry-bridges-on-his-autobiography-god-took-me-by-the-hand-part-2/

“Shortly after The Pursuit of Holiness was published a large evangelical church in our city asked me to teach it as one of the electives in a 10-week Bible study program. Preparing for these lectures forced me to go back to the book. Toward the end of the 10-week series I thought to myself, “There is not enough gospel in this book. ……. I spent the next 10 years thinking about the role of the gospel in the pursuit of holiness. Finally, in 1991, what began as the chapter I wish I had written became a full-fledged book entitled Transforming Grace. This was followed in subsequent years by two other books The Discipline of Grace and The Transforming Power of the Gospel.

 

with C.J. Mahaney

(http://www.cjmahaney.com/blog/an-interview-with-jerry-bridges/)

Jerry: Well, I preached the gospel to myself in light of the fact that I was coming here to teach and one of my favorite phrases, which is not a biblical phrase, but it is based on the Bible, is from the old hymn “Christ the Solid Rock.” This says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” And I just said to the Lord, “Lord, my hope for any blessing on my ministry today at The Pastors College is based on Jesus’ blood and righteousness. His death to pay for my sin, his righteousness imputed to me.”

CJ: Well, let me add my own recommendation. The Discipline of Grace is, I think, a must read and I recommend and have recommended for years that individuals read, in particular the first three chapters, although I commend the entire book, but the first three chapters every day for the rest of your life.

 

And from the Spurgeon Fellowship Journal

(http://www.thespurgeonfellowship.org/journal/int_sp09.pdf)

JB: So there was this barrenness, and I suspect it was due to the modernist/fundamentalist debate. They lost sight of the gospel and the fundamentalists took the theological and moral high ground, becoming very self-righteous. Of course, when you’re self-righteous, you don’t need the gospel because the gospel is only for sinners. Even though I’m a saved sinner, I am still a practicing sinner which means I must preach the gospel to myself everyday. But if you’re looking down your nose at other people then you don’t recognize your own need for the gospel. So that’s my suspicion; that is where it started. I was born in 1929 so I grew up in that era. The first 15 years of my ministry could be described as an “ought-to” ministry. I was always saying, “you ought-to do this.” Thankfully, by God’s grace, I recognized the error of my ways. Now I would like to describe it as a “want-to” ministry. I hope people “want-to” to obey because they have been motivated by the gospel.  

JB: I believe grace motivates a person to obedience. I use Isaiah’s experience – the vision in Isaiah 6 – as a paradigm. At the conclusion of my sermon on Isaiah 6, I said that passage can be summed up in four words: God, guilt, grace, and gratitude. God’s holiness, our guilt, the gospel of God’s grace, and Isaiah’s gratitude is expressed. When God said, “Who shall I send?” Isaiah didn’t ask where he would go and what he would do. Instead, he answered, “Here am I.” And I believe that when we read of Jesus’ experience with the sinful women in Luke 7, we are seeing only the tail end of the story. The only way we can understand that story is to assume she had a prior encounter with Jesus and had become acutely aware of her sin and received his forgiveness. So now she comes out of gratitude to wash his feet. The parable of the debtor brings that out, of course. I define grace these days not just as unmerited favor. I say without guilt there’s no grace. So I define grace in this fashion: it is God’s blessings through Christ to the people who deserved his curse.

AA: So we’re not un-meriting; rather, we are ill-meriting.

JB: Yes; we are ill-meriting and ill-worthy.

AA: Right!

AA: If you were asked to address a group of pastors in a conference setting and given complete freedom to preach your passions, what subjects would you address and why?

JB: Living by the gospel. I would eventually get into progressive sanctification but I would start with the gospel. At Sinclair Ferguson’s church I am going to preach on 2 Corinthians 5:14-15. We are constrained by the love of Christ. I spent too many years preaching “ought-to” and that’s the way I lived. And I can recall one day when I was going through 2 Corinthians and the Holy Spirit arrested me with the phrase “Christ’s love compels me.” I asked myself, “What compels me?” And my answer was “duty.” Duty is a high virtue for me. I realized, however, that my sense of duty would not last a lifetime. I prayed, “God, will you begin to compel me by your love?” He led me back to the gospel. AA: It’s the performance treadmill you talk about in Transforming Grace, right? JB: Yes. But you see, the way to the cross is through our sin. We don’t need the cross until we see our sin. The gospel frees you up to be honest about your sin. Without the gospel you have to live in denial. Otherwise, you can’t take it. AA: You mean, as a self-righteous person? JB: Yes, as a self-righteous person you live in denial. But when you see the gospel and when you see that Christ really has died for your sin and you really have been forgiven, then it’s okay to be honest. When the Holy Spirit convicts of sin you don’t fight with it; rather, you say, “Okay Lord, that’s true. That’s the way I am. But thanks be to God for the gospel.

 

 

In March 2016, the Logos Bible Software blog put up a “in memory of Jerry Bridges – with a roundup of articles and quotes” –

https://blog.logos.com/2016/03/in-memory-of-jerry-bridges-a-roundup-of-articles-and-quotes/

The fourth great truth that I learned was the necessity of preaching the gospel to myself every day. I learned to look to Christ as my righteousness rather than to my own performance. Early in my Christian life, I had gone from one extreme, what I call self-effort — this is what the Bible says, so just obey it — to the opposite extreme — you can’t do anything, just trust Jesus to live his life through you. . . . I am responsible to deal with sin, I am responsible to grow in the fruit of the Spirit, but I am dependent on the enabling power of Christ through the Holy Spirit to enable me to do that.”

 

(Next – what does it mean to be a disciple)

Make Disciples (4) – Breakfast with Jerry Bridges

Jerry Bridges went to be with his savior in 2016, after working for nearly 60 years with the Navigators – THE disciple-making ministry.  In his lifetime, a few of his books became classics – The Pursuit of Holiness, The Practice of Godliness.  Less well-known are his other powerful books which steers readers back to the indicatives of the Gospel of Grace – Transforming Grace, The Discipline of Grace and The Gospel for Real Life. (I’ve highly given and recommended these 3 books to others to remind ourselves that it is all by HIS Grace, and not be MY discipleship.)

Jerry Bridges reminds me of the Navigators with the mission to “spread the Good News of Jesus Christ by establishing life-on-life mentoring—or discipling—relationships with people, equipping them to make an impact on those around them for God’s glory.”

Indeed not only a prolific writer, but one who is profound and perceptive – in the ways and workings of God! I am grateful and glad that the Lord has raised him to remind ‘disciples’ and ‘disciple-makers’ that we must anchor our efforts and energy on Jesus, and the Holy Spirit Whom He sent, lest we lose sight of Jesus and His good news of grace, the power to sozo us in all ways, always.

 

Appended below is a Ryan Habbena‘s account of his breakfast with Jerry Bridges, followed by excerpts from J Bridges’ books.

 

Bridges preaches and teaches Gospel-driven sanctification. The call of conformity to the image of Christ is given throughout the Scriptures. However, it becomes easy for us to become, in Bridge’s words, “duty-driven” rather than “gospel-driven.” To further define, we often see the pursuit of sanctification as something we must do to earn or remain in God’s favor. This thought may be a subtle thought in the believer’s mind. Yet, we still can fall into this erroneous way of thinking. Bridges clearly and boldly established that we are called to pursue conformity to the image of Christ because we are saved. We are totally pure in the eyes of God because what Christ has done on the cross. We are totally secure in the love of God because of what Christ is doing right now—interceding for us at God right hand. 

http://www.signetringministries.org/2009/10/25/breakfast-with-mr-bridges/

 

From “Transforming Grace”

The grace of God is one of the most important subjects in all of Scripture. At the same time it is probably one of the least understood.

The realization that my daily relationship with God is based on the infinite merit of Christ instead of on my own performance is a very freeing and joyous experience. But it is not meant to be a one-time experience; the truth needs to be reaffirmed daily.

My observation of Christendom is that most of us tend to base our personal relationship with God on our performance instead of on His grace. If we’ve performed well—whatever “well” is in our opinion—then we expect God to bless us. If we haven’t done so well, our expectations are reduced accordingly. In this sense, we live by works rather than by grace. We are saved by grace, but we are living by the “sweat” of our own performance.

Moreover, we are always challenging ourselves and one another to “try harder.” We seem to believe success in the Christian life (however we define success) is basically up to us: our commitment, our discipline, and our zeal, with some help from God along the way.

Here is a spiritual principle regarding the grace of God: To the extent you are clinging to any vestiges of self-righteousness or are putting any confidence in your own spiritual attainments, to that degree you are not living by the grace of God in your life.

 

From “The Discipline of Grace”

.. the day when your spiritual disciplines are all in place and you are reasonably satisfied with your Christian performance. Have you thereby earned God’s blessing that day? Will God be pleased to bless you because you’ve been good? You are probably thinking, Well, when you put it like that, the answer is no. But doesn’t God only work through clean vessels? To which I reply, “Let’s assume that is true. How good then do you have to be to be a clean vessel? How good is good enough?”

When one of the Pharisees asked Jesus, “‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'” (Matthew 2236-39).

Using Jesus’ response to the Pharisee as a standard, how good has your good day been? Have you perfectly kept those two commandments? If not, does God grade on a curve? Is 90 percent a passing grade with God? We know the answers to those questions, don’t we? We know that Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). And we remember that James wrote, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10).

The point of this good-day-bad-day comparison is this: Regardless of our performance, we are always dependent on God’s grace, His undeserved favor to those who deserve His wrath.

 

(I am like the Ethiopian –  Acts 8 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him”

Jerry Bridges is my Philip!

Make Disciples (3) – the Imperative

In June 2016, I joined in the discussion that grace preachers did not major on the imperatives of our faith (https://wwwpilgrim.wordpress.com/2016/06/11/indicatives-and-imperatives/).  And a few days ago, I was stirred to re-visit this issue of imperatives and indicatives, associating it with discipleship and disciple-making.

This time round, I discovered that there had been much discussion on this; and it was way beyond what I know and expected.  Previously, it was like picking up a camera and and viewing this scene (scenario of indicatives and imperatives) without any focus. And as I searched and surfed on this (wow, the conversations on the I&I are awesome), my vision is beginning to sharpen (yes – beginning, still to be brought to sharp focus) on this.

So I asked myself, are the two “greats” – The Great Commandment and The Great Commission indicatives or imperatives?  I also asked others. The answer was clear.

And many movements and groups have been founded and formed to motivate and mobilize believers behind and around the Great Commission.

 

The great gospel imperatives to holiness are ever rooted in indicatives of grace that are able to sustain the weight of those imperatives. The Apostles do not make the mistake that’s often made in Christian ministry. [For the Apostles] the indicatives are more powerful than the imperatives in gospel preaching. So often in our preaching our indicatives are not strong enough, great enough, holy enough, or gracious enough to sustain the power of the imperatives. And so our teaching on holiness becomes a whip or a rod to beat our people’s backs because we’ve looked at the New Testament and that’s all we ourselves have seen. We’ve seen our own failure and we’ve seen the imperatives to holiness and we’ve lost sight of the great indicatives of the gospel that sustain those imperatives. Woven into the warp and woof of the New Testament’s exposition of what it means for us to be holy is the great groundwork that the self-existent, thrice holy, triune God has — in Himself, by Himself and for Himself — committed Himself and all three Persons of His being to bringing about the holiness of His own people. This is the Father’s purpose, the Son’s purchase and the Spirit’s ministry.”Sinclair Ferguson

https://pjcockrell.wordpress.com/2008/08/28/become-who-you-are-indicatives-imperatives/

 

So in view of what Ferguson wrote, (and many others out there); have we in our love and dedication to our Lord, and to the lost;  launched off correctly, or cruised on correctly, with the indicatives anchoring and driving our imperatives?

And if the imperative to make disciples has been our motive and motivation, would it have been a case of the flesh (effort and works) striving to please God, and unconsciously building on a wrong foundation?  When I was in such a disciple-making ministry, indeed there was a sense of superiority that came the involvement in the DM activities –  more spiritual, more disciplined …. .

And now I can echo with Jared Bumpers (http://ftc.co/resource-library/blog-entries/indicatives-and-imperatives) how my moralistic (no, a superior self-righteous feeling of being different from the average church member) have set me apart from the others – a clear demonstration of self-righteousness –

“By focusing on the imperatives, the preacher (disciple maker?) unwittingly fosters a false sense of self-righteousness.”

 

Please don’t get me wrong. The exposure and training in the DM ministry has helped me to know more of the scriptures and pushed me to different and diverse situations in working out my faith. There is much merit in such ministries founded on the imperatives.

Could it have been better?

No it would have been right and authentic and proper if I had been nursed, nurtured and nourished first on the indicatives rather than the imperatives – like the Great Compassion of God in loving me, the Great Commitment of Jesus to be with me, the Great Certainty that Jesus is my Life and my Liberty, how my Great Captain and Commander is rolling out His purpose in Jesus, His plan to redeem man and accept man as a bride for the Bridegroom, and His program through the ages, and the future to fulfill all things in His Son, in Whom He is well pleased.

Making Disciples (2) – giving up all

I wrote about ‘giving up all’, but only mentioned examples in Acts and the epistles.  There is another account – in the Gospels – The Widow’s Mite.

 

The Widow’s Mite

As I said, one way to understand difficult passages or practices in the OT would be to see how Jesus or the early church referenced and flesh it out. And when it comes to the topic of giving (tithing), Jesus actually did not say much; but He mentioned much about the hazardous preoccupation with wealth, and about the poor.

In the account of “The Widow’s Mite”, many use the account from Luke, where the warning against the scribes and the sacrificial giving of the poor widow was separated by the artificial chapter division.  There is another account in Mark, which brings out the context more.

 

Mark 12  38 And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

 

 

James Matheny wrote about this. It makes more sense when I read the text in context.

Was the account about sacrificial giving or was Jesus illustrating on his warning about religious folks asking people to give, and give?  = by pointing out a widow who in obedience about temple ‘tithes’ probably had sold what she had, and then gave everything she had.

One of my favorite films is “The Book of Eli”.  I first watched it aboard a plane, and had to get the DVD.  That was the impact of the movie on me.  It’s about how the scriptures can be abused to control others   Here’s the review from Christianity Today –

(http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/januaryweb-only/bookofeli.html)

Denzel Washington stars as Eli, a lone traveler wandering America’s wastelands presumably devastated by nuclear war 30 years prior.

Carnegie a crime boss is looking to expand his territory and knows that knowledge is power in a world where most people don’t know how to read. His gang searches the area (and hapless travelers) for books to help him gain control. There’s one in particular he’s desperate to find, a book with the power to rally people under his leadership—and Eli just happens to have the world’s last remaining copy of The Bible.

Eli and Carnegie want the Scriptures for very different reasons. Carnegie recognizes that the Bible can influence people’s hearts and minds—a “weapon” to bend people’s wills to his own. But Eli believes he is on a mission from God, following the instructions of the “still small voice” within to protect the holy book at all costs and save his devastated world with the divine wisdom it contains. 

 

Using, or abusing Scriptures?

I remember how my previous church spent months in each year raising money for her worthy projects – yes, they were all worthy projects, missions, church planting, sending out workers.  One Sunday, the appeal to give was transmitted from one of our satellite venues, and we watched the sermon on the screen.  Then I prayed, ‘Lord, close our ears, our eyes to what the speaker is saying, as the scriptures are being quoted out of context’.  (I had been reading up on ‘twisting the scriptures’).  Then the sound system became muffled, and the projection screen began to sway.  Not too sure whether it was an answer to prayer, but anyway, I thought so.

 

So, have I been exposed to much incomplete and distorted interpretations of the scriptures?  How did term “Great Commission” came about?  Or the “Great Commandment”.  What about the “Great Compassion” (John 3:16).  I realized now that these two ‘greats’ draw attention to what we must do, and not what Jesus has done.  Has the church been subjected to a narrow definition of the word ‘disciple’ and various groups of people, in faithfulness, sincerity and personal obedience went forth to make disciples – in their own image!  To ‘hothouse’ converts for the task of world evangelism, a type of special forces, marine corps, rather than just a mere soldier, a son, a sower, a steward, a student, a sprinter, a sibling (to the community) [from the letters to Timothy]?

Or have we been subjected to a rigid nuance of the term ‘discipleship’ and disciple – see https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B130207/what-does-it-mean-to-make-disciples

The text for the Great Commission is taken from Matthew.  Mark stated that it was to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation”.  I suppose Luke’s account of this commission would be in Acts 1:8 – to witness to Him.  John corroborated the command in Acts 1:8 when he wrote John 20: “ 24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.”

 

I have perused the multiplication charts of the disciple-making movements. But I wonder why the fastest growing churches in the world are the Pentecostals and the Charismatics. Maybe there is something I have missed – The Great Commitment of Jesus.  Its not about my discipleship.  Its about God’s purpose in Jesus, God’s plan in Jesus, God’s program in Jesus.  And when someone told me how they fasted, how they prayed – I chipped in – yes, wow, but it is going to be a OMO – One Man Operation, and it is finished. We just follow along, and learn how He did it, how He is doing it – to be a learner follower as John MacArthur explained.

THE GREAT COMMITMENT

Yes, I repeat for emphasis   THE GREAT COMMITMENT

 Acts 1: … 5you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses …”

Matthew 28 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore ……  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

May the Companion (paraclete) Whom the Lord Jesus sent, our Comforter, our Captain, our Covering also be our Counsellor, so that we can know Jesus 

Making Disciples – teaching them to obey

Matthew 28″  16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

Dee Xai Per, a believer in his forties has been attending a local fellowship.  One Sunday, the pastor gave an altar call, and asked the church to deny oneself, and give up all. The pastor had Luke 9:23 in mind.  This passage is one of the seven commandments Jesus gave from the Gospels.  And any faithful disciple maker would be ‘teaching them to observe all that Jesus have commanded”

 

Luke 9:23  23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

Many groups and churches exhort their members to discipleship and use “discipleship” passages as above, in carrying out the Great Commission.

 Dee Xai Per wanted to be faithful and obedient, but at the same time he was unsettled, and shared his feelings with another church member.  This other church member asked me what does it really mean, to deny ourselves?

It is clear that v27 was specifically about how Peter, John, and James would witness Jesus’ transfiguration with their own eyes.  But was Jesus also tenderly exhorting and hinting to  Peter ahead of time (at Jesus’ trial) to deny himself rather than to deny Jesus (Luke 22:34).

And what about 2 Tim 2:12 – if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;”?   

Did Jesus rejected Peter who denied him, or was Jesus inconsistent.  We know Jesus reinstated and restored Peter!

And when we go into all the world to make disciples, like the pastor, we are to ask people to deny themselves.  Where else in the NT do the apostles demanded that believers deny themselves and give up all?

I found the following passages of denial –

2 Tim 2:12   if we deny him

2 Tim 2:3    He cannot deny himself

Titus 1:16   but they deny him by their works

2 Pet 2:1   denying the Master who bought them,

Jude 1:4   deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

Oh, the apostles didn’t do a very good job!  They failed to ask believers to deny themselves! They proclaimed that we cannot deny the Master!  I wonder what it means not to deny my Master? (Why then do the pulpit command and charge believers to deny oneself; rather than point to Jesus [like the greatest man borne of women – Behold the Lamb])

I always remind myself to return to the scriptures when I come across any difficult passages.  If they are from the OT, and if they are important, Jesus and the Apostles would have explained, illumined, applied and fleshed out the application of the teaching or truth in the NT.  And if the words of Jesus are knotty, a good approach would be to find allusions and examples  from the Apostles.

As mentioned above, why can’t we find any incidence of the Apostles teaching the believers to deny themselves?  When I grappled with this, I was brought to the example of Paul, of how, implicitly, in a single-minded and resolute manner, denied himself, putting no confidence in the flesh – and its about solely relying on Jesus, relishing Him in all ways, always!

 

Phil 3: For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of ChristIndeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

 

Paul is saying, it is all about HIM Do not deny His sufficiency and supremacy! He cannot be replaced, misplaced or diplaced!

Jared Bumbers wrote in   http://ftc.co/resource-library/blog-entries/indicatives-and-imperatives, (and the underlined words reflect the conundrum faced by Dee Xai Per.)

Read most of the books on Redemptive Historical/Christocentric preaching, and you will find warnings against moralistic preaching. Moralistic preaching is preaching that focuses on the biblical commands without connecting them to the gospel. It is preaching that is heavy on the imperatives and lacking in gospel content. Moralistic preaching leads to one of two things: a false sense of self-righteousness, or despair.

 

But I must not forget about the “give up all …”  Is there any example of the Apostles teaching the early church to give up all?  And sacrificing wealth would be archetypal of giving up all. Well, I can think of two accounts –

1)  Acts 2: 44″And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need…”

2)  2 Cor 8  We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, …

I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich…” 

 

Well, we get the drift.  The early church, upon knowing Jesus, willingly and wholeheartedly, gave.

I used to get worked up by churches’ plea to give. And I just had to voice my conviction on this.  If any pastor or church advocate and cojole giving a specific definite amount (it happened to me – give the year-end bonus, give ten percent, give the entire GST cash voucher from the government etc), they would be going against the scriptural teaching.  Scriptures say I am to decide in my own heart, (Paul probably understood the pattern by Abraham and Jacob who both unilaterally decided the amount, as against distorted teaching of a certain amount of the tithe demanded in the abolished levitical system. Melchizedek and the Lord would accept whatever Abraham and Jacob offered – it happened to be 10%.  It could be 2%, or 20% – it is acceptable. But it was willing, and wholehearted.  We need to define the 10% freely offered, or the 10% tithe demanded in the levitical system.  So I want to determine what the church means.  If it is defined as the former willing and wholehearted offering, then the teaching is “12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.”)  being willing and wholehearted  (2 Cor 9: “Each one must give as he has decided in his hear t not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”)

No body should dictate to me.  It would be joyful, spontaneous, invigorating and life-giving when my faithfulness is willing and wholehearted. The entire book of Hebrews is an excellent pattern and application in teaching, persuasion, and exhortation. The author could have just used Heb 13:17 – “Hey guys, just listen to me, obey me …..”.  No the author presented Jesus, portrayed Him as Great, Good, Gracious, Glorious and worthy of faith, solely on Him.

 

I believe the same principle and practice applies to discipleship and obedience. Just lift Jesus up. Point to Jesus.  And see how believers will respond to HIM! (as in Acts 2, and 2 Cor 8).  Upon knowing His awesome love and amazing grace, those who are forgiven much will love much!