My earliest memories revolve around fishing trips with my father. He taught me how to bait a hook, cast a line, and land a catfish without getting stabbed to death. But fishing wasn’t all I learned. I learned about my father. I learned how he walked, how he talked, how he joked, how he prayed, how he spoke to others, and how he always thought about my mother on the drive home.
More than fishing, I learned about being a man.
To this day, the lessons I learned from my dad impact the way I live and love others. What happened in my time with my father was a form of discipleship. He led and I followed.
What is biblical discipleship? Of all the questions Christians need to wrestle with, this is one of the most important. Being disciples of Jesus gets to the very core of who we are and what we should be doing with our lives.
In this article I suggest that discipleship—helping others follow Jesus—flows directly from being a disciple of Jesus. Disciples are called to follow Christ, and following him means helping others follow him.
Are you a disciple that makes disciples?
DISCIPLES FOLLOW JESUS
When we encounter Jesus, we meet a man who calls us to come and die (Mk. 8:34-35). And he calls us to follow him and learn from him (Mt. 4:19, 11:29). It doesn’t matter whether we’re smart or stupid, rich or poor, young or old, Asian, African, or American. The only requirement is that we repent of rebelling against our Creator and cling to him through faith (Mk. 1:15; 1 Thess. 1:9). If we do this, we’re promised forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation to God (Col. 1:13-14; 2 Cor. 5:17-21). Jesus calls us to come and die so that we might live.
Those who follow Jesus by faith are known as his disciples. Some suggest that disciples are the “super Christians” who are gettin’ it done for Jesus, while Christians are just “normal believers.” Scripture, however, offers no support for this distinction. (See, for example, Mt. 10:38, 16:24-28; Mk. 8:34; Lk. 9:23, 57-62; Jn. 10:27, 12:25-26). We are either following Jesus or we aren’t; there is no middle ground (Mt. 12:30).
DISCIPLES IMITATE AND REPLICATE JESUS
At the heart of following Jesus is Jesus’ call to imitate him and replicate him. As disciples, we are called to imitate Jesus’ love (Jn. 13:34), his mission (Mt. 4:19), his humility (Phil. 2:5), his service (Jn. 13:14), his suffering (1 Pt. 2:21) and his obedience to the Father (1 Jn. 2:3-6). Since he is our teacher, we are to learn from him and strive in the power of the Holy Spirit to become like him (Lk. 6:40). This growth in Christ-likeness is a lifelong endeavor that is fueled by the hopeful expectation that one day we will see him face to face (1 Jn. 3:2-3).
DISCIPLES HELP OTHERS FOLLOW JESUS
As we follow our Lord, we quickly learn that part of imitation is replication. Having a personal relationship with Jesus is magnificent, but it is incomplete if it ends with us. Part of being his follower is to intentionally help others learn from him and become more like him. As a friend of mine says, “If you aren’t helping other people follow Jesus, I don’t know what you mean when you say you’re following Jesus.” To be his follower is to help others follow him.
Being a disciple that makes disciples happens in two particular ways. First, we’re called to evangelize. Evangelism is telling people who don’t follow Jesus what it means to follow him. We do this by proclaiming and portraying the gospel in our neighborhood and among the nations (Mt. 28:19-20). We must never forget that God has placed us in the families, workplaces, and circles of friends that we are in so that we can proclaim the gospel of grace to those who are destined to hell apart from Christ. We must help people learn how to begin to follow Jesus.
The second aspect of making disciples is helping other believers grow in Christ-likeness. Jesus has designed his church to be a body (1 Cor. 12), a kingdom of citizens and a family who actively build each other up into the fullness of Christ (Eph. 2:19; 4:13, 29). We are called to instruct each other about Christ (Rom. 15:14) and to imitate others who are following Christ (1 Cor. 4:16, 11:1; 2 Thess. 3:7, 9). As disciples, we are to intentionally pour into other disciples so they can pour into still others (2 Tim. 2:1-2).
DISCIPLES INTENTIONALLY BUILD RELATIONSHIPS
Discipleship does not just happen. We need to be intentional about cultivating deep, honest relationships in which we do spiritual good to other Christians. While we can have discipleship relationships anywhere, the most natural place for them to develop is in the community of the local church. In the church Christians are commanded to meet together regularly, spur each other on in Christ-likeness, and protect each other against sin (Heb. 3:12-13; 10:24-25).
The discipleship relationships that spring out of this type of committed community should be both structured and spontaneous. When we study the life of Jesus, we see that he formally taught his disciples (Mt. 5-7; Mk. 10:1) while also allowing them to observe his obedience to God as they lived life together (Jn 4:27; Lk. 22:39-56).
In the same way, some of our discipleship relationships should be structured. Maybe two friends decide to read a chapter from the Gospel of John and then discuss it over coffee or a workout at the gym. Maybe two businessmen read a chapter each week from a Christian book and then talk about it on a Saturday walk through the neighborhood with their kids. Maybe two couples do a date night together once a month and talk about what the Bible says about marriage. Maybe a godly older lady has a younger single woman over to her home on Tuesday afternoon to pray and study a Christian biography. Maybe a mom spends time at the park with other moms each week. Regardless of the format, some of our discipleship should involve scheduled times of reading, praying, confessing, encouraging, and challenging each other to become more like Christ.
Discipleship can also be spontaneous. Maybe friends go to a movie together and then grab ice cream afterwards to compare the movie’s message to what the Bible says. Maybe a father and a son sit on the porch and reflect on God’s glory being displayed in a sunset. Maybe you invite visitors from church over for lunch and ask everyone how they came to know Jesus.
We always need to be intentional, but we don’t always need to be structured. In fact, Deuteronomy 6 shows us that discipleship happens “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (v. 7). Every moment presents an opportunity to discuss who God is and what he’s doing. Since we are always following Jesus, we always have the opportunity to help others follow him as well.
DISCIPLES DEPEND UPON GRACE
While it is true that a disciple of Jesus ought to help others follow Jesus, we must always remember that apart from the sustaining and empowering grace of God we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5). Whether you’re a pastor, a plumber, a policeman, or a stay at home parent, you never graduate from your need for God’s grace.
As we follow Christ and help others follow him, we’re constantly made aware that we need grace. We fail. We sin. We struggle. But thankfully, God’s grace abounds to his children. This is good news as we seek to follow Jesus together and daily be transformed into his glorious image (2 Cor. 3:18). May we faithfully follow Christ and help others to do the same until we see his face. Come soon, Lord Jesus!
Garrett Kell is the senior pastor of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia.
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