Westwood Presbyterian Church
Wednesday, January 17, 2018
With Jesus, Like Jesus, For Jesus
"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 am with you always, to the very end
of the age."
Matthew 28:19-20

Making Disciples


A discussion with Don Waite, Westwood's pastor
 
What is a "disciple?"
I like Dallas Willard’s description: “a disciple is an apprentice. . .of Jesus in Kingdom living." Some other synonyms for disciple are student, follower, or intern. The term describes someone who is intentionally committed to learning practical skills from another with more expertise. In the New Testament context, the disciple enters into a special relationship with the teacher or rabbi. This relationship becomes the defining relationship in the disciple’s life, even more significant than relationships within the disciple’s family. The disciple/apprentice shares life with the teacher for years. The disciple goes where the teacher goes, lives as the teacher lives, interprets the Bible as the teacher interprets the Bible, and seeks to become just like the teacher. The teacher is the supervisor, model, and the most important person in the disciple’s life. Jesus sought to teach his disciples a new way of living – Kingdom living (a term I borrowed from Dallas Willard). 
 
Is a disciple different from a “Christian?” 
Not from a biblical perspective. Christian is another synonym for disciple. They mean the same thing. Yet disciple was the term Jesus preferred. The word disciple, or disciples, appears 296 times in the New Testament. On the other hand Christian, or Christians, is used only three times in the Bible. Disciple appears 99 times for each usage of Christian. I find this significant and have chosen to use the word used by our Lord.
 
Does it matter which term we use?
There is no distinction between “disciple” and “Christian” in the Bible. They are interchangeable terms. However, I prefer to use the term disciple because Christian is frequently misunderstood or misused. There are many negative associations with this word. Outside the church, a Christian is often associated with a harsh and intolerant person who wants to impose their beliefs on others. Many associate the term with the most conservative wing of the Republican Party. Increasingly, irreligious people do not associate the word with Christ, but with a particular political ideology.
 
Elsewhere in the world, especially in Muslim countries, “Christian” is associated with the excesses and immorality of Western culture. They see America as a Christian nation and they know America through the lens of Hollywood: immorality, immodesty, foul language, greed, and violence. Muslims respect Jesus. The Quran says Jesus was a prophet who will return at the end of the age. Unfortunately, Muslims do not associate Christians with followers of Jesus, but with the social vices of our society.
 
Even professing Christians can’t agree on what it means to be a Christian. So we add adjectives to the word to clarify what we mean by “Christian.” Some identify themselves as Bible-believing Christians, born-again Christians, Spirit-filled Christians, non-denominational Christians, Protestant Christians, post-modern Christians or Messianic Christians.
 
Since those who call themselves Christians can’t agree on what it means, and those outside the church have so many negative associations with the term, I decided to go back to the term Jesus used. Disciple may have some baggage, but I find it more useful and so use it regularly. 
 
What baggage is associated with “disciple?”
There are three major misunderstandings associated with this word within the church. First, many associate it with a special category of Christians – super saints. They think disciples are more committed than ordinary Christians. However, this is not the Biblical meaning of disciple. Disciples are not a special class of more dedicated believers.
 
Secondly and perhaps closely related to the first group, some people associate disciples with those in the church who seek to make evangelism a priority. This group associates the term with an emphasis on evangelism. Disciples are those in the church who seek opportunities to share their faith with others. They are the group within the church who are more vocal about their faith in Jesus.
 
A third group tweaks the biblical term disciple by adding a suffix to the word. Disciple becomes discipleship. The focus is on becoming an expert in the Bible through intense study. People in this camp place emphasis on attending classes, participating in Bible study, and in “learning” as much as possible about the Bible. I usually speak about making disciples or living as disciples while avoiding the term discipleship as much as possible.

Is this disciple making emphasis a new trend in the church?

Making disciples is not new or original. The ancient church embraced this as its mission; even through they never developed formal mission statements. In Matthew’s gospel, the resurrected and living Lord appeared to his followers and said, “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.” We call this “The Great Commission” because it is Jesus’ final mandate to the church. This is like spiritual DNA that Jesus passed on to his church. It defines who we are. Without it, the church ceases to exist. We simply become another powerless, but good-intentioned, religious organization. The imperative in this passage is to “make disciples.” I believe this is the central mandate for the church. However, only a disciple can make a disciple. We reproduce what we are. Those listening were his disciples or apprentices. They had spent three years with him. They knew and loved Jesus. Jesus had taught them another way of living that grew out of their relationships with him. Now he was instructing them to invite other people to become his disciples and to teach them this new and wonderful way of living.
 
Is this the focus of the Westwood Mission statement?
Yes, it is. We articulate our mission in this way:
Simply making disciples, who…
            Walk with Jesus
            Grow to become like Jesus
            Live for Jesus by loving others.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Our central focus is “simply making disciples.” Everything else flows from this single priority. The three phrases underneath the first line describe both what we understand a disciple does and how we are to make disciples. Walkwith Jesus describes a special type of relationship. The relationship with Jesus becomes the defining relationship in the life of a disciple. It is of such importance and significance that it inevitably shapes the way a disciple lives. 
 
The next phrase, Grow to become like Jesus, clarifies the personal changes that naturally occur when we have that type of relationship with Jesus. The more we get to know Jesus, the more we desire to become like him. Godtransforms our character until we reflect the character of Jesus.
 
The third and last phrase, Live for Jesus by loving others, describes our highest ambition, our reason for living. Our lives revolve around our relationship with Jesus. As God transforms our character, we begin living for Jesus instead for ourselves. We seek to please him by loving and serving others. This is our highest calling and greatest joy. 
 
The preposition used in each phrase is very important: with Jesus, like Jesus, and for Jesus. They are a shorthand way describing our mission, our highest aspirations, and the essence of what a disciple is and does. This is why you see this graphic all over our website and in all of our literature. It reminds us who we are. 
 
 

Obviously, Westwood is committed to making disciples. Is that all there is? Do you care about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the poor, corporate worship, outreach, Bible study, prayer, families, children and youth? 

Those are all very important ministries. In the Great Commission Jesus instructed us to make disciples by “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Jesus taught about all those things and so faithfulness to Jesus requires that we love others in these concrete ways. I believe each of these ministries falls under the mandate to make disciples who obey everything Jesus taught.
 
Our commitment to “making disciples’ is our central, organizing principle. Every department plays an essential role in this process. If a ministry doesn’t assist us in making disciples; it diverts our attention and resources and we let it go. Our mission drives everything we do. This single-minded focus unifies all our ministries and departments. “Making disciples” is the thread holding them all together. It keeps everyone pulling in the same direction.

Can we go back to “Kingdom living”? You said, “a disciple is an apprentice in Kingdom living.” What is Kingdom living? 

Kingdom living is living the way Jesus lived. He is our King and we joyfully submit to his rule. We want him to run our lives because we believe he knows and wants what is best for us. Our lives are better when we live them as God intended. Jesus showed us and told us how to live. We are convinced that this is the best way to live. It has the added advantage of preparing us for life in heaven – which is where kingdom living is the norm instead of the exception.
 

Is Kingdom living the same thing as living God’s commandments? 

That is not how I describe it. Kingdom living is not driven by obeying a bunch of rules, even if they are God-given rules, but a living in a loving relationship with the King. Everything in the Kingdom is an expression of love. So Kingdom living is about receiving and giving love. First, we receive God’s love through Jesus. The natural response to such amazing love is to love back – to love God and to love others. Love starts in the heart. Laws focus on externals – conformity to rules. Laws may control behavior, but they are powerless to change hearts. Laws generate guilt and a sense of obligation. Kingdom living, however, begins with an internal change. It is a response to love, not to law. Love seeks to please God, not because it is my duty, but simply as an expression of love.
 
Placing emphasis on externals generates guilt and shame. Most of us have learned to use guilt as a way of getting our own way. Too often, churches also seek to use guilt to motivate certain behavior. Guilt may move people to obey rules, but it has no power to change their hearts. It brings no joy. Only love can change the heart and bring joy. Love is the most powerful force in the universe. God rules his Kingdom by love, not guilt. Kingdom living flows outward from a heart changed by God’s love experienced through Jesus.
 
I sincerely believe that Kingdom living is the best way of living. That is why people flocked to Jesus when he physically lived on earth. Life was better in his presence. In Jesus, people experienced genuine and life-changing love. 
 

Kingdom living may be a wonderful aspiration or ideal, but is it practical? 

Actually, I believe Kingdom living is beyond our reach. We can’t do it by simply trying harder. That may be why we give up and substitute rules and guilt. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus gave us the most detailed description of Kingdom living. He began by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The starting point for Kingdom living is realizing we cannot live as God intends. We are flawed and broken people. We carry too much baggage. It is beyond our ability to live such a love-centered life. Kingdom living is not something we can achieve by our own efforts.
 
Jesus’ original disciples became overwhelmed by the challenge of Kingdom living. It seemed like an impossible goal. Jesus responded to their concern by sharing a profound truth: “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:27). Kingdom living is something God accomplishes in us. It begins when we acknowledge, “I can’t save myself. I can’t live this way. I need God’s help.” Kingdom living emerges as we depend upon God’s help and resources. 
 
God never intended us to live this way without his help. We become more “like Jesus” (character transformation) by relying upon God – just as Jesus did. Kingdom living requires a growing faith, always trusting God to help us do what is beyond our ability. God gives us his Spirit and power to help us live as he intends. We receive his assistance as wewalk “with Jesus” (authentic relationship with Jesus). 
 
Kingdom living requires an entirely differently way of thinking – learning to think as Jesus thought. The Scriptures say, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Elsewhere, the Bible calls this radical change of mind “repentance.” Entering into this new kind living requires us to repent by changing the way we think. Thinking is an internal change. Kingdom living is the product of an internal transformation that manifests itself in external behaviors. It’s all a response to God’s love.
 
The original disciples learned the basics of Kingdom living by spending three years with Jesus. Then he told them to go and teach/show others how to live in this way. Living as a disciple and making disciples are like the opposite sides of a coin. As we enter into this new way of living, we are able to help others do the same. Only disciples can make disciples. Love requires that we share such good news. Our mission statement says it this way, “live for Jesus by loving others.” We love others by introducing them to Jesus and inviting them join us as living as his apprentices in Kingdom living.