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Faith Bible Church, NY
October 1, 1995
How to Make Disciples
Let’s begin our study this morning by turning again to Matthew 28:18. We concluded our verse by verse study of this book last week. This morning I want to expand on this final commandment Jesus gives in the book of Matthew. Jesus did not leave heaven and become a man just so man could escape hell. He came to break the bonds of sin and restore man back to the purpose for which he was created: to have relationship with God, glorify Him, and do His will. Jesus’ command to go and make disciples of all nations would ensure that each generation would hear the gospel message and be instructed in how to live for Christ.
Look again at this commandment. Jesus says “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. “
The commandment can be carried out because of who Jesus is, not because who you are. He has all authority over all creation. In practical terms that means that He has the right to command you and the power to enable you to do what He says. The command itself is to make disciples, which is accomplished by going, baptizing and teaching. We went over each of those elements briefly last week.
It is our responsibility to reach out to nonbelievers and tell them about Jesus, what He has done for them and how He wants them to live.
Those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ need to identify with Him through baptism. There is nothing magical about it. It is an act of obedience by which you proclaim to the world that you are trusting Jesus Christ alone for salvation from sin.
And then the bulk of making disciples is to teach them to obey all things whatsoever He has commanded. A Christian needs to both know what the Lord has said and how to live according to His commandments, principles and precepts.
How can you carry out this command in practical terms? It is one thing to say go and do it and it is another to actually accomplish it. Where do you start? How do you get the process going?
Remember that a “disciple” is simply a “learner,” a “follower of a teacher,” and being a disciple of Jesus is not an option for a Christian. The term “Christian” itself means “little Christ” or “Christ one,” and as Acts 11:26 says, it was the “disciples [who] were first called Christians in Antioch.” There is no separation in the Bible between those who are saved and those who are disciples of Christ. They are both one and the same. Jesus has not told us to go and save people, and we cannot do that anyway. He has told us to make disciples. Proclaiming the gospel with the result that someone becomes a believer and is saved is the first element in making a disciple. That may sound simple enough, yet it is also the first area of failure in making a disciple.
THE FAILURE OF AMERICAN EVANGELISM
Evangelism in America has changed radically in America over the last century. The preaching of the gospel has became increasingly man centered. Even churches that were doctrinally Calvinistic became Arminian in their evangelism. The goal of evangelism became how many you could “save” from hell and send to heaven. And in true American style this must be done as quickly as possible. We need to get the person to walk the aisle, raise their hands, pray the prayer so that they will be saved.
The gospel message became distorted as it was bent to appeal to our natural self-centered nature. We want to get what is good and avoid what is bad. Too often the gospel is presented as either the means to escape what is not wanted (hell), or gain what is wanted (a “wonderful life”) by however the individual defines that.
The gospel has also been distorted by our American pragmatism. We tend to do what works. The hellfire and brimstone preachers use fear. Many if not most evangelists use emotionalism (praise the Lord for the exceptions). More recently under the guise of “church growth techniques” we have seen a lot “selling Jesus.” The Madison Avenue approach is used to get the person to make the purchase before they fully realize what they have getting. The result of this is gospel presentations that will not talk about repentance from sin, a changed life or the lordship of Christ until after the person has prayed to receive Christ. Why? Because talking about such things might scare the person away.
What are the consequences of this type of evangelism? We live in a nation where the vast majority of people claim to be Christians, and if I recall correctly, forty something percent even say they have had a “born again” experience. However, our nation is awash in immorality. The soap operas no longer reflect the steamier side of life, common life often reflects them.
When I was in Los Angeles I was privileged to know a young man had developed a great desire to reach the street people for Christ. Garrett developed a whole ministry to them. Talking with them on the streets, preaching in parks and even bringing them to a special service we would hold for them that might be more “culturally relevant.” Garrett had plenty of opportunities; people would come and for the most part would pay attention to what he said. But as time went on he began to become discouraged and an even little angry. He consistently found that most of these street people (drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes and bums) had already heard the gospel with most professing to have “made a decision for,” “received,” “accepted” Christ at some point, but it had made no difference in their lives.
Garrett wanted to know why the gospel had made no difference in their lives as it had his? What had gone wrong? He soon realized that these people would need more than he could offer by himself but they did not want to come to any of the regular church ministries precisely because they did not want to change.
What had gone wrong? Simply put, these people were “saved” but not converted. They had Jesus sold 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 too but not the actual disease, these people were given something that was close enough to the truth but was not the truth so that when they were finally told the truth they rejected it because they thought it was what they already had.
Someone, probably well meaning, had come to these people and in a great desire to see them saved from hell had persuaded them to respond to his invitation for them to receive Christ. That evangelist probably went away thinking things were wonderful and he had saved another one. I have found too many evangelists who love to boast about how many people were saved during their meetings. The tragic reality is that most of those supposedly saved were not. There was no change in their lives, no new relationship developed with God , no desire demonstrated by them to learn of God and how to live for Him, and no desire to be with God’s people. I know because I grew up seeing plenty of revival and evangelistic meetings, and rarely saw any lasting results from them.
THE TRUTH ABOUT SALVATION
The gospel is the good news that God Himself has provided a way through faith in Christ for the sinner to be made righteous and enter into a personal relationship with Him. Salvation has to do with being made free from the bondage of sin (Rom. 6). Being saved from hell is simply a side benefit. Hell is the consequence of being estranged from God due to your sin (2 Thess. 1:8,9). Heaven is the consequence of having the bondage to sin broken and being made righteous before God through Jesus Christ Rom. 4,6 & 8). The gospel message has to do with a changed relationship with God made possible because of Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17,18)
The gospel is an invitation to enter into a relationship with Jesus as His disciple (Matt. 16:24). It is in following after Jesus that a person learns about their own sinfulness, who He is, what He has done and how that is appropriated into their own lives through faith. That is why Jesus’ command is for us to make disciples by going to all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them to observe whatsoever He has commanded. We invite men and women to Jesus, but He is the one that saves them. We then teach them what He has said and train them to obey Him.
Jesus pattern of calling people to Himself is quite different from much of what occurs throughout American churches today. Jesus made it easy to say no, and on occasion He even made it hard to say yes. Jesus did not come selling Himself. He did not come with a quick fix for sin or an easy way to heaven. He did come inviting people to develop a new relationship with Him and the Father. The pattern of the apostles was the same. I want to spend the rest of our time remaining showing this to you in scripture.
The first thing we see is that Jesus used the interests that people already had to invite them to come and learn more about Him. Jesus’ public ministry opens along the banks of the Jordan River near its southern end. We find in John 1:35 “Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked upon Jesus as He walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. And Jesus turned, and beheld them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” And they said to Him, “Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are You staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” They came therefore and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.”
We find out in verses 40 and 41 that one of these two men is Simon Peter’s brother Andrew and that they had been looking for the Messiah to come. The other disciple is not named in the text, but the evidence suggests that it was John. Jesus did not come up to Andrew and John and say, “I am the messiah, follow Me.” Instead He said, “Come and see.” He let their interest in finding the Messiah be the basis for inviting them to spend the rest of the day with Him with the result that they would come to their own conclusion. Andrew became convinced that Jesus was the Messiah so he went and got Peter. Peter and Andrew then talked with Philip. Philip then went and told Nathaniel. All of them then went with Jesus back to Galilee.
When people are already interested in what you are offering your task is easy, but note what Jesus did not do. He did not command them to come, and He did not ask them for a life time commitment. Jesus did not “sign them up.” He simply invited them to come and spend time with Him. Any of them could easily have said no for a variety of reasons. Jesus let their already stated interest be the basis for inviting them to learn more about Him. It was the start of a relationship with them.
On the way back to Galilee they would stop in Cana for a wedding and see Jesus’ first miracle. Since the relationship developed further on that trip they then went with Him to Jerusalem for Passover (note that going back to Galilee was not out of their way since they were all from that area, and going to Jerusalem at Passover was the normal thing for good Jews to do anyway). Their lives where changed as they traveled with Jesus. they learned more of Him, became more confidant in Him, and more willing to do what He would ask. They would all return to their normal jobs for awhile before Jesus would offer another invitation to follow Him again, but we will take that up next level of discipleship next week.
The first level of discipleship is sparking an interest in a person to learn of Jesus that they might become followers of Him. Jesus took advantage of a person’s natural interest to invite them to learn of more of Him. We need to do the same. Jesus would go to the synagogues where there were people who were interested in spiritual things and teach the Scriptures in a way they had never heard before and from that there would be some that would want to know more. Religious people are good people to invite to learn more about Jesus. Paul did the same thing in Acts 17 when in Athens. The Greeks were pagan, but they were also religious. Paul used that interest to tell them about the God who created them. Out of that came a few who wanted to know more about Jesus. Talk about religion with people. You will find some that will want to know more, and if they won’t to come to church service, have a personal Bible study with them.
Jesus often used the various festivals and ceremonies of Judaism to proclaim to the people how he fulfilled it and invite them to come and learn more of Him (John 7, etc). We can certainly use the Christian religious holidays to tell people about Jesus and invite them to learn more. You can talk about God’s blessing on this nation on any national holiday. You can even use holidays we do not care for as an opportunity. Stuff gospel tracts in the bags of those kids that come around on Halloween, or be even more bold. Dress up as some Bible character and go out door to door giving tracts to your neighbors.
Probably the area of people’s lives that gave Jesus the most opportunity to spark an interest in them to learn more of Him was His personal ministry of compassion to the sick and hurting. When people know you care they will care about what you say. People are most inclined to change when they are facing a crisis in their life. Some people will never look up to heaven until they are on their back. Many people are reluctant to trust God until they have no other choice. Are we ready and available to show the compassion of Christ to others.
What was it in Jesus that attracted people to want to know more about Him? He was different. He had something others wanted. He was calm, peaceful, confident about the future. He was wise, gentle and kind. He was trustworthy, consistent and uncompromising. He was encouraging even when rebuking and correcting an errant disciple. Jesus has a relationship with God the Father that no one else had, but it is a relationship that He offered to His followers. “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.”
Do people see Jesus Christ in you. If they do that will spark an interest in some to know more about Christ. You will be different from everyone else and they will want to know why.
There are two reasons that I believe are the major causes of “spiritual lockjaw” being a common malady among Christians. 1) We fear what people will think of us. 2) Our personal relationship with God is so feeble that we are not sure we have anything to tell them.
It is hard to tell someone about the “peace that passes all understanding” that comes from trusting God when you are fearful yourself. You cannot point out the wonder of God’s creation when you do not recognize His handiwork yourself . It is hard to bring comfort to a hurting person when you unsure about what it means to be comforted in Christ yourself. It’s impossible to tell someone about the joy of being in a personal relationship with the God of the universe when you lack that joy yourself because you do not spend time in His word, prayer and personal worship.
Talking to others about Jesus should be the outflow of our relationship with Him. We naturally talk to people about the things that are important to us. Our relationship to God should not be a separate subject to talk about, but one that intertwines with everything we do. We talk about the weather, we talk about God’s power. We talk about our jobs, we talk about God’s sustenance. We talk about our family, we talk about God’s design for husbands, wives, parents, children. We talk about science, we talk about God’s creation. We talk about history, we talk about God’s providence. We talk about politics, we talk about God’s sovereignty and moral directives to all nations. We talk about the news, we talk about God’s wrath on sin and His mercy to mankind. There is no subject we can talk about that God does not somehow figure in, but do we talk about Him?
You do not have to have everything together in order to begin the process of discipleship. You simply have to tell them what you do know and invite them to learn more. Isn’t that what Andrew did to Peter and then they did to Philip and then Philip did to Nathaniel? All of them then grew together. You may not know Chronicles from Corinthians, but you can do that much. Invite people to come learn of Jesus with you.
If you have been a Christian for awhile and find you do have spiritual lockjaw because of one of the reasons I talked about then you have some growing in Christ to do. Next week I will talk about the various levels within discipleship and what this church specifically offers at those various levels.
Just because someone seems ready to “make a decision for Christ” does not mean that they really are ready to follow Jesus. Look at Mark 10:17. This is the story of the rich young ruler. Outwardly this many looked ready. What an opening question! Verse 17, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” We 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 saying that he does so that he is in.” But what do we find that Jesus does? He challenges him and makes it 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 that he was wealthy, but that his heart – like many rich people – 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 on God as much as he had thought. Jesus gave him an invitation to come and follow Him, but his wealth was more important to him than developing a relationship with the living God. He wanted salvation on his terms, not on God’s. I fear that is the real 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 when the reality is that their hearts are still far from God and they do not know Jesus.
We must be careful not to bring people into a false profession of faith or give them false assurance. We need to tell people the gospel and invite them to respond, but we also need to make it easy for them to say no. They do not have to pray with us to get saved. In fact, I am becoming more convinced all the time that it is better to point them to Christ and let them pray on their own than to lead them in a prayer. I have found too many people that are trusting they are saved because they said a prayer or something else (raised their hand, went forward at an altar call, got baptized, joined the church, etc.) instead of faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The “sinner’s prayer” can too easily become a magical incantation instead of an expression of a person’s belief and faith.
The church would be much healthier if it stopped using the techniques of evangelists to “win souls” and instead followed the model of Jesus in calling people to repent and place their faith in Christ for salvation. The focus of evangelism must be upon calling people to become disciples of Jesus, not in manipulating people to get the response we want.
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