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!

 

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)

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