“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age." ―Jesus’ final command to His followers, Mt 28:18b-20
Scripture could not be any clearer about the mission of the Church. It is not about bricks and mortar, amassing Sunday crowds, creating spiritual safe zones for holy huddles, or advancing political kingdoms on earth. The church has but one mission: to make disciples.
What does “disciple” mean, and what does it entail?
The Greek word for disciple is mathetes. The word is used for a person who submits to someone in order to be their student. In this case, the submission is to intentionally follow Christ to become just like Him. It presupposes a personal relationship with Him based on faith in Him.
The idea of mathetes was deeply rooted in Jesus’ time, not only in the Jewish culture but in the Mediterranean as a whole. For example, a devout Jew would apprentice to a respected rabbi ― living with him, sharing life with him, learning his teachings, imitating his way of life. A young Greek sculptor would rigorously follow a master artist in every aspect of his art and craft, from marble block to monument. An apprentice fisherman would study and imitate the ways of mending nets, finding and catching fish, and bringing them to market.
Yet discipleship is hardly a relic of ancient cultures. It is alive and well today in many secular enterprises, from trade apprenticeships to graduate-school mentoring to immersion-style language schools. There is a reason why this intensive, relational method of learning has persisted through the ages: it works! It moves a fledgling student along a pathway that results in professional maturity, making him a disciple-maker himself. Perhaps that’s why the word mathetes appears some 230 times in the gospels and 28 times in Acts. Jesus places the highest priority on discipleship.
So what are the characteristics of a maturing disciple of Jesus? He or she…
• Knows Jesus: has placed their faith in Him and put Him in authority over their life.
• Submits to a more mature teacher who shows how to follow Jesus.
• Learns the words of Jesus.
• Learns Jesus’ way of ministry.
• Imitates Jesus’ life and character.
• Finds and teaches other disciples how to follow Jesus.
Make no mistake: discipleship is costly. As Jesus bluntly stated: “…anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Twentieth-century pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously summed up discipleship this way: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” To die to self-will, self-determination, and self-agenda. But to live for Christ’s will and agenda. As Jesus warned, a person should carefully count the cost of discipleship.
But consider the rewards. The path of discipleship leads directly through the will of God, where there is tremendous blessing in seeing His kingdom advance on earth, and where lives are transformed from pointlessness to purpose. Part of that process occurs through the mature phases of discipleship, in which the disciple becomes a maker of disciples. True discipleship is always reproductive in mindset. As Paul stated to his closest disciple, Timothy: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Ti 2:2). A disciple-maker looks forward to having not just spiritual children, but grandchildren as well.
How about you? Will you respond in obedience to the One who possesses “all authority in heaven and on earth” by learning His words, ways, and character? Will you, mathetes, live up to the disciple-making potential He saw in you when He bled for you on the cross?
Discipleship Opportunities at Grace
Would you like to jump-start your growth in Christ? Grace offers a multilayered discipling process, including:
• Sound Biblical teaching, typically by working through particular books of the Bible.
• Instruction in practicing spiritual disciplines that will help you grow.
• Small groups (GraceGroups) where you grow in biblical relationships with other believers.
• Life-on-life mentoring by more mature disciples.
• Putting feet to faith: living the gospel, sharing the gospel, reproducing the gospel.