“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
The church is where disciples are being made.
Where disciples are being made there is the church.
The Biblical definition of church has always been about making disciples. It is easy to gather and even easier to build a building than to build disciples. Somehow, we have mistaken church to be about buildings and programs. Yet the church is the people, the body of Christ.
Consider what we are told about the early church,
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Acts 2:42
The early church was formed of simple and small communities of people where instruction and understanding naturally flowed in the context of fellowship, of eating together, and in prayer. There were no large gatherings, and there were no ‘church’ buildings, gatherings, or agendas, as we know it today.
Simply put, church is where the gospel and manner of Jesus Christ is passed on to others and where we are to take on identification with Christ and become like him.
Yet we have, in our formalization of the gospel in our church attendance and programs, in fact watered down the gospel. We easily miss that Jesus offers to any who would be his disciple, a two part invitation, the first, ‘come to me’, the second, ‘learn to die to yourself’.
KEY: Disciples are those who have 1) turned toward Christ in the fullness of their heart, and 2) who are learning to die to self.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:17
This is a hard message. It does not support much of our modern preaching where we are told that if we come to God he will make us big, or wealthy, or happy. Instead, Jesus basically says, ‘come and die with me’.
It is important that we understand this. The gospel is an invitation to die to our selfishness, our own comfort, our need to be recognized, our arrogance and pride, our own best thinking and understanding, our prejudices, our self-pity, and more.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6
It is as we come into contact with the true Lord Jesus Christ that we will become more gentle, we will honour all people, and we will be faithful to walk alongside others through the messiness of life rather than demanding some sort of christian facade.
Our hatreds, our impatience, our contempt, our disdain, our bitterness, our arrogance, our pride, our selfishness, our need for vengeance, and more, will all be put at the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we will become new creatures in Him. The persons we once were, we will no longer be. And we will grow in steadfastness and faithfulness, regardless of the circumstance or difficulties of our life.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
This is the promise of our Lord to us. To grow us up in Him, to strengthen us through the trials, and to change our hearts and minds and lives from the inside out.
So, the first mark of a disciple is someone who has turned to Jesus and is in process of dying to self. The second mark of a disciple is the ability to both give and receive, to enter into true fellowship with the Lord and each other. Consider this,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 7:21
And we may ask, what is the will of our Father in heaven? It is this:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
Here Jesus is giving a new commandment. Now, just prior to these verses Jesus had this conversation with Peter,
“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” John 13:3-9
Jesus was taking the role of a servant and performing the lowest act possible, that of washing the dirty and dusty feet of his disciples. He was modelling to them the attitude that they were to take with others. He took on the job no one wanted.
But Peter could not, at first, receive from the Lord. His pride was too great to enter into the vulnerability of having Jesus serve him and minister to him. And Jesus, as we see in verse 8, asserts that without the washing of the Lord we have no part in him.
Jesus’ death and resurrection is where we are first washed, but then this ‘washing of the Lord’ continues within our faith communities as acts of service to one another, primarily coupled with the ability to receive acts of service from others.
Now some will more easily receive, and these ones must learn to serve. Others more easily serve, and these ones must learn to receive. There is no division on this. In the Kingdom of God there are not some who serve and some who receive. We are all to serve and we are all to receive.
The early church was marked by this mutual uplifting and teaching of each other. And where this radical, God-centered model of church is today, there is thriving presence of the Lord with much growth and delight in Him.
This manner, this attitude of fellowship, of giving and receiving, is what marks a disciple:
A disciple does not count him or herself better than others.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3
A disciple serves the people around him or her.
“My brothers, you were called, as you know, to liberty; but be careful, or this liberty will provide an opening for self-indulgence. Serve one another, rather, in works of love.” Galatians 5:13
A disciple becomes vulnerable and receives from others.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
A disciple knows his or her brokenness and welcomes the healing touch of the Lord through others.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:3-5
Disciples allow no division amongst themselves.
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:27-28
Jesus brought a model of corporate service to each other. He calls us to himself, and he then calls us to die to ourselves. Here, in humility and love we have the ingredients of a revolution, something so vastly different from our natural human natures that Jesus said these are the marks by which others will come to know God.
Model the Lord Jesus Christ in all you do. Be blessed as you pass Him on.
“Let all that you do be done in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:14
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45