Successful Christian Living, Pt. 12 – Discipleship

Grace Bible Church

(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font)

Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
December 16, 2001

Successful Christian Living, Part 12


This morning we will conclude our series on successful Christian living. We have defined a successful Christian as “a person who has been saved from their sins by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and, as an adopted child of God who worships Him, is bringing glory to His name by being conformed into the image of Jesus by submitting themselves to the will of God in faithfully pursuing holiness and blamelessness along with serving the Lord in doing the good works He has prepared before hand.” Each phrase in this definition comes directly from the Scriptures, so these are not my own thoughts, but what God has revealed to us about how He wants us to live. This definition may not be completely comprehensive, but I think it does cover all the basic aspects of living for Christ. Over the last three months we have examined the foundational aspects of living as a Biblical Christian. We have looked at the importance of knowing the Bible, of being self-disciplined and good stewards of the time, talents and resources God has entrusted to us. We have also examined prayer, worship, holiness, fellowship, evangelism, service and dealing with temptation through obedience to God. This morning we are going to conclude by pulling all of these together under an essential term that defines the successful Christian – a disciple.
In Luke 6:40 Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher” (NKJV). The goal of Biblical Christianity is for the individual who professes faith in Jesus Christ to become like Him in character. As I have pointed out many times before from Romans 8:29, that is a purpose of our salvation. We are to be “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” Every successful Christian will say along with Paul in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the [life] which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.” The disciple, or as the NASB translates it here, the pupil, will be like his teacher when he is fully trained. That is the essence of what it means to be a disciple. A disciple is one who is a learner and follower of a teacher, in this case, a follower of Jesus Christ. The term “disciple” was the common name given to the early followers of Christ. Acts 11:26 tells us that the “disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” The term “Christian” itself means “little Christ” or “Christ one.” The commission that Jesus has given us is to make disciples, to prompt people to follow Jesus that they too might be “little Christs.” Turn to Matthew 28:18. Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” We can fulfill this command because Jesus has all authority. He has the right to command us what to do and expect us to obey Him, and He has the power to work through us to accomplish His goals. The command is not dependent upon our ability, but rather our availability to Him. The command itself is to “make disciples.” It is carried out by the three participles – Going, baptizing and teaching them. It takes all three to make disciples. The first part, going, is evangelism. There is a theological error common in some circles of evangelical Christianity that claims that those who are saved do not have to be disciples and that being a disciple is something that happens subsequent to salvation. This is a serious error. The truth is that the two cannot be separated. As we saw in our study of John sometime ago that there can be those who claim to be disciples of Jesus who are not saved (John 6:66), but you cannot be saved without also being Jesus’ disciple, for that is the very nature of salvation. Salvation is from sin to righteousness (Rom. 6). Salvation is a transfer from Satan’s domain to the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1). The error actually goes back to a distortion of the gospel that bend’s its message to appeal to our natural self centered nature. We want to get what is good and avoid what is bad. The result is the gospel being presented as either the means to escape what is not wanted – hell, or gain what is wanted – a “wonderful life” – however the individual defines that. The gospel becomes man centered instead of God centered. We sell Jesus instead of proclaiming him. When I was in Los Angeles there was a young man that had a great desire to reach the street people for Christ. Garrett developed a whole ministry to them. He talked with them on the streets. He preached in parks and even started a special service on Monday nights for them that might be more “culturally relevant.” Garrett had plenty of opportunities. People would come, and for the most part they would pay attention to what he said. But as time went on he began to become discouraged and even little angry. He consistently found that most of these street people – drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes and bums – had already heard the gospel and claimed they had already “made a decision for,” “received,” “accepted” Christ at some point, but it had made no difference in their lives. Garrett wanted to know what was wrong? Why hadn’t the gospel made a difference in their lives as it had his? What had gone wrong was that these people did not want to change? They were supposedly “saved,” but they were not converted. Jesus had been marketed to them in some a way that brought an initial response, but when the whole truth about the gospel started to come through, they did not want anything to do with it. In a sense they were actually inoculated against the true gospel. Like a vaccine that works because the body develops antibodies to a disease because they were given something close to, but not the actual disease, these people were given something that was close to but not the actual truth. When they were finally told the truth they rejected it because they thought they already had it and it had not worked. True evangelism does not hide the negative aspects of the gospel, like God’s judgement of the sinner, and the world’s persecution of the righteous, in order to get someone saved. It should be clearly understood that there is no command for us to go save anyone. We are commanded to preach the gospel and to make disciples. True evangelism cannot be separated from making disciples. Evangelism is the starting point of making a disciple, and evangelism is proclaiming the good news of forgiveness of sin. As I pointed out a few weeks ago, what J.I. Packer said about evangelism is true. “Evangelism is to so present Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, in order that men may put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Saviour, and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His church,” and “the way to tell whether in fact you are evangelizing is not to ask whether conversions are known to have resulted from your witness. It is to ask whether you are faithfully making known the gospel message.”
Again, evangelism leads to salvation, but it itself is not saving people. I cannot save anyone and neither can you. God does the saving. Evangelism is proclaiming who Jesus is and what He has done in providing a way to be reconciled to God. We tell people the good news of Jesus Christ, but it is God that does the work of salvation. Jesus’ own example in dealing with people demonstrates that the emphasis is on truth and not on getting the person to “pray a prayer” or “get saved.” Jesus invited people to come to Him, to learn of Him and to believe in Him. At the same time Jesus allowed people the room to say no. And to those who would begin to follow, Jesus would make it harder to continue in following Him. In some cases Jesus made it very difficult to yes to follow Him. The example of the rich young ruler in Mark 10 is a case in point. Outwardly this man looked ready. What an opening question! Verse 17, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” You almost want to jump into the text and say, “quick Jesus get this man saved before he gets away. Tell Him to believe in you and have him pray.” But what does Jesus do? He challenges him and makes it very difficult for him to say yes. 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 “You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'” 20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” 21 And looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But at these words his face fell, and he went away grieved, for he was one who owned much property. 23 And Jesus, looking around, ^said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” The problem with this man was not his wealth, but his heart. Like many rich people he heart was attached to his wealth. Jesus was not being mean. The text says that Jesus felt a love for the man, but salvation is a matter of the heart and this man’s heart was not really on God. Jesus gave him an invitation to come and follow Him, but his wealth was more important to him than a relationship with the living God. He wanted salvation, but only on his terms, not on God’s. I believe that this is the truth behind so many that profess to be Christians but have no evidence of it being a reality. They wanted salvation on their own terms and someone told them they could have it that way. The reality is that their hearts are still far from God and they do not know Jesus as Lord or savior. Evangelism is not “marketing salvation” or “selling Jesus.” Neither Jesus nor the apostles did that. They proclaimed the whole truth that others might become disciples of Jesus. That is true evangelism. That is the “going” of making disciples. This brings us to the second aspect of making a disciple mentioned in the Great Commission, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The word, “name,” here is singular. We are baptized into one name, not three. This verse backs up the doctrine of the trinity. God is triune. There is one God self-revealed in three persons which are all co-equal and co-eternal. But why baptism? Why would this be included as part of disciple making and what significance does it have? What does baptism have to do with following Jesus? Christian baptism is an adaptation of the Jewish rite of baptism which traces back to the Levitical precedent of ceremonial washing. In fact the word “baptize” which means “to dip,” “to immerse,” was also used to refer to washing, as in immersing dishes in water to clean them or dipping in a pool to clean yourself. The baptism of John was a baptism of repentance. It symbolized the cleansing away of sin after they had confessed their sins (Matt. 3:6). The baptism itself did not take away sins, but it symbolized the righteousness and cleansing given to the individual as they confessed their sins and placed their trust in God alone. 1 John 1:9 tells us that cleansing from sin is related to our confession of them and not in the keeping of any ritual. Christian baptism is similar to that of John in that they are both baptisms that occur as a response of the repentant heart. They differ in that John’s baptism looked forward to the Messiah coming while Christian baptism looks back on what Jesus has done on the cross. The apostle Paul further explains Romans 6 that Christian baptism is a full identification with Jesus Christ. “3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Baptism is a symbol of what occurs spiritually within you at salvation. You are identified with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection. You die to sin and are raised to new life in Christ. That is why Christian baptism is to be by immersion. Only immersion, submerging completely in water, is in keeping with both the meaning of the word, “baptize,” and the symbolism of death, burial and resurrection with Christ. Baptism, in short, is an outward sign of identification of a person with Jesus Christ. They have learned enough about Jesus to want to be a true disciple of His and be identified with Him. Baptism does not make the person a disciple, it only identifies him as such. That is why it is the second aspect of making disciples. They have been told the truth and now they are identifying themselves with Jesus. I like professor Henry Holloman’s description of this, “Christian baptism is like a soldier who puts on his uniform, not to become a soldier, but because he is a soldier and wants to publicly identify himself as a soldier. In Christian Baptism the believer publicly identifies himself with Christ and His people.” If you have not been baptized since your profession of faith, then please pick up the information sheet on baptism in the rack at the back of the church and then talk with me and we will arrange it for you.

The third area of making disciples is in “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” Obedience to God is not an optional part of Christianity. In Matthew 12:50 Jesus states clearly that it is obedience to God that demonstrates a relationship with Him – “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” He states the same thing in John 14. In verse 21 He says, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him.” He adds in verses 23,24, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him. 24 “He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” God rules over His creatures and gives commands to them. The fact that men rebel and disobey the commands does not in anyway diminish the fact that God commands and He requires men to obey. There are blessings for obedience and punishment for disobedience. That was true in the Old Testament, it was true in the New Testament, it is still true today. Obedience to God is inherent within the gospel message. It is man’s disobedience that has got him in trouble to start with. It is Christ’s obedience and substitutionary sacrifice of His own life that allows for our justification so that in Him we might be made righteous before God because of His sinlessness. Obedience to God is central in the Christian life. You were saved from sin that you might obey God. A couple of weeks ago we looked at how to deal with temptation and saw that conquering temptation boils down to trusting and obeying God. I have to believe what He says and then obey Him. The ministries of the church actually revolve around this aspect of making disciples. Evangelism is a matter of obedience in proclaiming the message of Christ. Baptism is a matter of obedience of identifying yourself with Jesus. The ministry of edification is all about teaching you what God has commanded so that you can obey Him. The ministry of true Christian fellowship is all about helping one another live for Christ, and that means helping each other learn to obey Christ. Why is making disciples so important? Very simply put, without it Christianity could not expand and within a generation it would cease to exist. Jesus could have had the angels proclaim the gospel or have just done it Himself. Instead, 1 Cor. 1 tells us that God has chosen to demonstrate His power and glory by using ordinary, weak, sometimes foolish people like you and me and in that way to glorify Himself. In addition, discipleship uses the principle of multiplication instead of addition. Which would you rather have, someone give you $1 million cash now or to give you a penny and then double the amount every day for 30 days? A million dollars is attractive, but if you take the penny and simply double it for 30 days the result is $10,737,000. That is quite a bit more! Jesus trained the 12 for three years then sent them out after the Holy Spirit came. The result was not just the 10,000+ saved in Jerusalem in the first few weeks after the birth of the church, but the estimated 1.5 million who were followers of Christ by the turn of the century despite the persecution that had risen against the church. In Acts 17:6 those who were opposing Paul & Silas were charging them with “upsetting the world.” That is quite a charge, but is based on the fact that wherever they went they left followers of Christ who then affected others for Christ who then affected even others for Christ. The gospel message spreads both farther and in the long run faster through making disciples.
In addition, making disciples is only way to ensure the message will endure throughout the generations. A great event is soon forgotten because the people born after it have no personal memory of it. There were all the miracles that God did in bringing the children of Israel of Egypt. Then there were those in wilderness and those that occurred as Joshua captured the promised land, yet the second generation following did not “know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10).
Making disciples ensures that the message will continue through the generations and so we find throughout the Old Testament that God commanded one generation to proclaim to the next His glory and works as well as His commandments. The fathers were to diligently teach their children to love the Lord God with all their heart, soul and might (Deut. 6:4-9). Psalm 78:4 – But tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done. Children certainly should be disciples of their parents, and in a real sense they always are, but making disciples also crosses family lines and creates new lines of spiritual descendants. This principle is seen in 2 Timothy 2:2 where Paul says to Timothy, “And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” Paul had learned from Jesus (1 Cor. 9:1; Gal. 1:15-19) and he discipled Timothy. Now Paul is telling Timothy to disciple other men who will in turn disciple other men. That is four spiritual generations.
Making disciples advances the kingdom of God and keeps it living throughout succeeding generations. It is also a way in which God matures His people because that is how He has designed the body of Christ to function. Each believer uses their spiritual gift for the benefit of the rest of the body. Each believer obeys the “one another” commands and the rest of the body is built up. This is just what Eph. 4:11-16 speaks of. Each individual believer is to become “mature” and the whole body together is to grow and be built up.
There are five stages in discipleship. The first stage is evangelism. This stage is when a person begins to learn about Jesus. It continues until the person understands the gospel and believes in Jesus. It ends with their personal identification with Christ in their profession of faith and baptism. The second stage is Foundational Christianity in which the person learns the fundamentals of what it means to follow Christ. The new believer gains basic understanding and\or application in their own life of things like the nature and attributes of God, the Bible and how to study it, prayer and praying, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, fellowship, witnessing, and dealing with temptations. It should only take two or three months to learn all these things, and that is all it does take if the new believer is paired up with a more mature believer who will help then along. That is what discipleship is all about. One believer helping another believer to gain additional understanding of God, His commandments and how to obey Him. I call the third stage basic Christianity. It is really only an expansion of Foundational Christianity. While it may only take a few months to gain the fundamentals of Christian living, it can take a lot longer for all the major areas of your life to be affected by them. We will be in the process of “learning to obey whatsoever [Jesus] has commanded” for the rest of our lives. In basic Christianity the believer is further established in all the fundamental elements such as Bible study, prayer, fellowship, witnessing and loving others, but in this stage the new disciple begins to become self feeding. The teaching is no longer bringing up brand new concepts, but corollaries to things that have already been learned. The disciple no longer needs to be told exactly what to do, for they are gaining the ability and sensitivity to apply the Biblical precepts in their own life.
The fourth stage is Personal Involvement. Any and every Christian, even new ones, should be personally involved in ministry. The difference in this stage is that they are now taking on more responsibility in those ministries. After Jesus’ disciples had been with Him for awhile they began to work with as His apprentices. First He would show them and they would watch. Then He would allow them to start doing things as He watched. As they were successful, He would let them do even more. It is still same today. You start by helping out with a ministry and then gain positions of increasing responsibility. Those who are faithful in little things are given greater responsibility (Lk 16:10). The last stage in discipleship is being fully equipped to lead others. Personal Involvement was the training ground for this level. Jesus trained His disciples over a period of several years, and then He released them to go out and repeat the process. This did not mean that the disciples were perfect, in fact they still learned things as they went along, but now the full responsibility was on their shoulders to make sure that Jesus commission was carried out. This is the responsibility that rests on the shoulders of the mature Christians. We easily understand that this is the duty of pastors, missionaries and such. We may also understand that Elders, deacons and deaconesses have an official duty to shoulder this responsibility, but this is the goal for every believer. God may not have gifted you to be in an official leadership position, but you still have a responsibility to disciple others into spiritual maturity. You can disciple anyone less mature in Christ than you are. You can also disciple other believers in the area you are spiritually gifted, even if they are more mature in other areas. And since none of us are perfectly mature in all areas, there will always be those we are learning from as well as those we are teaching. In addition, discipleship relationship is often a two-way street for the discipler gaining as much or more than the disciplee.
The Great Commission has a two-sided responsibility. Those who have been trained must disciple those who have not, and those who have not must peruse being trained. No Christian will ever have an excuse for not becoming mature because God is always faithful to provide a way for that to happen, though it may be difficult at times. The goal is spiritual maturity in life and service to our Lord. The goal of this church is to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. We want to train everyone who comes here that wants to follow Christ to be mature in Him in an efficient and effective manner. We want people to live successful Christian lives. Jesus trained His disciples and they turned the world upside down. That task is now given to the church. Let’s make sure each of us is involved in the process whereby we can turn the Hudson Valley upside down for Christ and that there will be Christians living successfully for Christ all around.

Sermon Study Sheets
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the term “disciple” used in the sermon. Talk with your parents about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What is a disciple? What does “Christian” mean? What is the connection between the two? Can a person be saved without being a disciple? Why or why not? What distortion(s) to the gospel create people who profess salvation but have no change in their life style? What is true evangelism? What is the way to tell if evangelization has actually taken place? How did Jesus react to the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17f? Why? Why didn’t he get saved? What are the three aspects of making disciples? What is the importance of baptism? Why is baptism by immersion the best mode? What is the importance of teaching disciples to observe all that Jesus has commanded? If someone refuses to obey Christ, what does that indicate about them? What is the importance of making disciples? What characterizes the first stage of discipleship? When does it end? What characterizes the next two stages of discipleship? What is the importance of the fourth stage? Who should be involved in the last stage? Which stage do you think you are in? Why? What are you doing to progress to the next stage? Who are you discipling? Who is discipling you?
Sermon Notes – 12/16/2001 A.M.

Successful Christian Living, Part 12 – Discipleship
A successful Christian is a person who has been saved from their sins by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and, as an adopted child of God who worships Him, is bringing glory to His name by being conformed into the image of Jesus by submitting themselves to the will of God in faithfully pursuing holiness and blamelessness along with serving the Lord in doing the good works He has prepared before hand.

A Disciple
Luke 6:40

A disciple is someone who is ________________________________________________________________

The Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20)
The command is to “make disciples.” It is carried out by the three participles – going, baptizing and teaching.

Going – Evangelism
Theological Error

True Evangelism: “Evangelism is to so present Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, in order that men may put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Saviour, and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His church,” and “the way to tell whether in fact you are evangelizing is not to ask whether conversions are known to have resulted from your witness. It is to ask whether you are faithfully making known the gospel message.”

Jesus’ Example – Mark 10:17f


“Christian baptism is like a soldier who puts on his uniform, not to become a soldier, but because he is a soldier and wants to publicly identify himself as a soldier. In Christian Baptism the believer publicly identifies himself with Christ and His people”
– Dr. Henry Holloman

Matt. 12:50; John 14:21f

Importance of Discipleship
Expansion – 1 Cor. 1; Acts 17:6

Continuance – Judges 2:10; Deut. 6:4-9; Psalm 78:4

Maturation – Eph. 4:11-16

Stages of Discipleship

Foundational Christianity

Basic Christianity

Personal Involvement


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