As mentioned in a previous article, true biblical discipleship must begin with the God-man, Jesus Christ. In coming to earth, Christ not only accomplished redemption on behalf of his people but left them with divine marching orders for the building up of his body.
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 28:18-20
The Mandate of Discipleship: Christ’s Command
Biblical discipleship is the only church growth method approved by the Lord Jesus. When a person becomes a true disciple of Christ they are instantly accountable to his mandate to make disciples. For this reason, the command given by our Lord was not just for those disciples who were present on the Mount of Olives, but for every disciple of Christ until his Second Coming. A close examination of the text reveals that the main imperative to make disciples is supported by three participles that describe what the process entails.
First, there is the importance of going. One cannot properly make disciples apart from going to those who are without the gospel. Paul understood that those who were without the gospel would have no way to hear the gospel unless a preacher was sent to them with the good news (Rom 10:13-17). This is why he was so zealous to travel to places where Christ had not already been preached (Rom 15:20-21).
Scripture also demonstrates the importance of proximity as individuals seek to use their time and resources most effectively for discipleship. Christ commanded that his witnesses begin locally, going with the gospel to those in their community, before gradually increasing the scope of their discipleship efforts until the ends of the earth have been reached (Acts 1:8). Disciples are to be motivated by the exclusivity of the gospel message (Acts 4:12) and Christ’s promise that he has more sheep to bring into the fold of salvation who have not yet believed (John 10:16). While God’s providence ultimately dictates the complete success of his purposes and the provision of laborers for the harvest (Acts 8:1; 16:6-10), it does not undermine our responsibility to obey Christ’s command to make disciples by going.
Second, Christ’s disciples are to call repentant believers to give public testimony of their profession of faith through baptism. Baptism plays no role in salvation, for that would add a work to God’s free gift of redemption and give man a cause for boasting (Eph 2:8-9). Rather, baptism is an external manifestation of an already present internal reality (Rom 6:4). Public profession of Christ in baptism demonstrates to the world that an individual has been united with him and is not afraid to own him as their Lord and Savior. Therefore, when the faithful act of going with the gospel results in professions of faith in Christ, it is crucial that they be baptized out of obedience to their Savior and as a testimony to the world of their new life in Christ.
The final step of the discipleship process is teaching disciples to observe all that Jesus commanded with the goal of presenting every believer complete in Christ (Col 1:28). Scripture is the only authoritative source that contains Christ’s commandments. It is the only source of God-breathed instruction that is therefore profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be complete and equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). In order to accomplish this task of teaching Jesus’ disciples to observe everything he taught, God graciously gives pastors and teachers to the church for the edification of the saints and the building up of the body of Christ (Eph 4:11-12).
It is important to recall at this point that true discipleship only occurs when truth is present. This is why Paul takes the local church so seriously, for it is was designed to be the pillar and foundation of the truth in this life (1 Tim 3:15). As a result, God takes very seriously those who instruct others in the truth and promises to hold them accountable through a stricter judgment for every word that is spoken (James 3:1).
When all of these elements are combined in a biblical way the kingdom of God moves forward through the power of the Holy Spirit and the Lord Jesus Christ as he builds his church. A few questions for reflection are warranted in view of the above points: Are you a true disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ? If you are unsure or do not know the answer, please do not hesitate to contact us for a thorough explanation. (Here are some resources so you can learn more about Jesus and the good news of salvation.)
Questions for Reflection
When was the last time you went out of your way to go with the good news of the gospel to someone without saving faith in Christ? This is an area where every Christian could be more intentional with the only news that saves. (You can read more of our articles on effective evangelism here.)
Are people being baptized as a result of the ministry(s) in which you are presently active? This is a great opportunity for assessment. If it has been a while since the last baptism, this is an opportunity to be more intentional in prayer to the Lord who alone can save and supply the faith needed to believe the gospel.
Are the ministries in which you are presently active faithfully adhering to the truth of God’s Word? Every ministry, even those of mercy and compassion, are to be governed by the principles of Scripture. Even members within faithful Bible churches are called to be discerning like the Bereans (Acts 17:10-12). The absence of biblical truth will not only prevent true discipleship from occurring but will incur the Lord’s discipline (Rev 2:12-29).