How Are You Fulfilling Your Role in Making Disciples?
Sitting on a mountain in Galilee some 75 miles north of Jerusalem, the resurrected Jesus Christ presented very specific directions to His followers in AD 31: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:18 Matthew 28:18And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, All power is given to me in heaven and in earth.
American King James Version×, emphasis added throughout).
What does that mean for you and me today? This direct command from the living Head of the Church (Ephesians 5:23 Ephesians 5:23For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body.
American King James Version×) is today deliberately reflected in the mission statement for the United Church of God. The mission statement has three elements that flow from this passage, and these statements hold part of the answer.
“The mission of the Church of God is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God in all the world, make disciples in all nations, and care for those disciples.”
When we consider what our personal role might be in fulfilling Christ’s directive, let’s understand that the word “disciple” is the biblical term most used to define a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. It appears about 300 times in the New Testament. In contrast, the term “Christian”—which is broadly used today to describe people who adhere to a faith based on Christ—appears a remarkably scant three times. Ironically, two of those references are made by non-Christians as they referred to the followers of Jesus.
If we’re supposed to be making disciples, the question follows: what exactly then is a disciple? If we’re supposed to be “making” disciples, how does that square up with the fact that Jesus Himself pointed out that only God can call someone to His truth? (John 6:44 John 6:44No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
American King James Version×). Do the two statements contradict each other?
The answer, of course, is no. Let’s review what the Bible says.
God the Father does indeed do the calling, spiritually awakening His truth within a person. As a new convert, one who is taking his or her first spiritual “baby steps,” a commanded choice to become a disciple lies ahead.
When you do some research about where the word “disciple” comes from, you’ll find that the Greek word transliterated matheteuo (to be a disciple, to make a disciple) reflects someone who is actively learning, who is actively growing toward spiritual maturity. A biblically defined disciple is someone who has fully surrendered themselves to God and Jesus Christ, and who has set about on an active course of personal development and transformation.
For this spiritual development to ultimately succeed, the person who has become aware of biblical truths must receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The knowledge and new way of thinking imparted by the Holy Spirit radically change a worldly man or woman. As the new convert begins to fellowship with other Spirit-led Christians, they dig deeper, personally seeking to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2 Romans 12:2And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
American King James Version×). These gifts change the way they think and act. You are truly a disciple when the Holy Spirit works in you.
A disciple of Jesus Christ reflects and is known for their belief and practice of that belief. Disciples seek and nurture a direct spiritual relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ. Their goal is continuous and is fully conscious of contact with God that grows daily. The Christian disciple will commit themselves to become a learning believer, growing more each day in “the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 2 Peter 3:18But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.
American King James Version×).
What are the practical applications of this? As Jesus outlines in Luke 14, a person who wants to be a disciple puts his spiritual relationship with God and Jesus first. That mirrors the first and greatest commandment that reverberates throughout the entire Bible: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37 Matthew 22:37Jesus said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
American King James Version×).
By human standards, the cost of becoming a disciple is high. When Jesus was asked by the large crowds about what a disciple was, He answered by demanding total devotion to Him. It was to be above every human relationship, be it parents, mate or siblings.
What standard did Jesus set? You must love Jesus Christ more than yourself (Luke 14:26 Luke 14:26If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
American King James Version×). You have to be prepared to endure multiple trials: “but he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13 Matthew 24:13But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.
American King James Version×). You must count the cost of lifelong discipleship and make an unbreakable commitment to it: “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’” (Luke 14:28-30 Luke 14:28-30  For which of you, intending to build a tower, sits not down first, and counts the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?  Lest haply, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,  Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
American King James Version×).
One must first be a disciple before one can make disciples. An energized disciple eagerly disciplines him or herself to submit to a path of literal spiritual training and development that leads to a maturing of spiritual growth. Paul drew this analogy for Timothy: “Train yourself to be godly. Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8 1 Timothy 4:7-8  But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise yourself rather to godliness.
 For bodily exercise profits little: but godliness is profitable to all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.
American King James Version×, New Living Translation).
A disciple does not conform to the world. He or she is not materialistic nor narcissistic. A disciple embarks on a life of Christlikeness, service and mission that leads to life eternal.
Where do disciples come from and how are they made?
Allow me to relate a personal example. When I was a teenager, I wondered about why my church was keeping Sunday when the commandment stated: “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8 Exodus 20:8Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
American King James Version×). At first, I thought that the translated word for Sabbath must have meant Sunday. I spoke to my priest who told me that reference to Sabbath was indeed Saturday, the seventh day of the week but that the church had changed it to Sunday. I felt uneasy that such a change would be made about what was written in the Holy Bible.
Then I learned that the major holidays that we were keeping were actually Roman holidays with pagan origins and dates. Other beliefs began to be challenged, such as life after death, the Kingdom of God and the nature of God. God was opening my mind to His truth. I learned to pray to God in a personal way and not by rote through a prayer book. I came to repentance of my sins, was ultimately baptized and, through God’s grace, hold to the commitment of discipleship to this day.
This underscores the fact that God has called people in different ways among all nations. We have the biblical account of the gentile Roman centurion Cornelius in Caesarea. Through a vision, he was referred to the apostle Peter in Joppa, who ended up traveling 40 miles up the Mediterranean coast to Caesarea, where he baptized Cornelius and his believing household (Acts 10).
Another person who God called and made a disciple was the gentile woman Lydia of Thyatira. She was a God-fearer who answered the call. She heard Paul preaching on the Sabbath in Philippi and “the Lord opened her heart to pay attention” (Acts 16:14 Acts 16:14And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended to the things which were spoken of Paul.
American King James Version×, English Standard Version).
As you can read, the book of Acts relates many examples about making disciples. Sometimes, like Corinth in Greece and Ephesus in Turkey, many were called and large churches established. Sometimes, such as in Athens, the gospel was powerfully preached, but only a few responded.
Making disciples is core to our mission, something we all focus on every day. Even though you may not always be aware of it, you play an important role in making the Word of God come alive through your personal example (Matthew 5:13-16 Matthew 5:13-16  You are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his flavor, with which shall it be salted? it is thereafter good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
 You are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it gives light to all that are in the house.
 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
American King James Version×). Let’s be about our Father’s business and fulfill our mission together!