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, 20 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)
The Great Commission! Every Christian has heard of that (I hope). And yet, according to The Barna Group in last month’s State of the Church study, the church is not doing so good. The study, which was conducted over the last 20 years, shows that fewer people believe that the Bible is accurate in all of the principles that it teaches, fewer people are attending church, reading the bible and attending Sunday school. Still 80% of the population identify themselves as Christians.
So … what is a Christian? A dictionary definition of a Christian would be something similar to “a person professing belief in Jesus as the Christ or in the religion based on the teachings of Jesus.” While this is a good starting point, like many dictionary definitions, it falls somewhat short of really communicating the biblical truth of what it means to be a Christian. The first time the word Christian was used in the New Testament was in Acts 11:26. The term was used to describe people whose behavior, activity and speech were like Christ. The word Christian literally means “follower of Christ”.
Jesus teachings were all about loving and worshipping His Father. In the gospel of John, Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Yet in Mark 10, the rich young ruler stated that He had kept the commandments all his life. Yet his problem was that he did not love God above all things. Because of this, he could not inherit eternal life.
Now we know what a Christian is, so what is a disciple? I typed this question into Google and the only answers that were returned pertained to being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Ok then, What is a disciple of Jesus Christ. Intervarsity answers the question as follows.
A disciple is someone who does certain things. This view of a disciple emphasizes discipline and obedience. You demonstrate that you are a follower of Christ by trying to live as He lived and by carrying out His commands. A disciple does “good things,” such as quiet times, evangelism, involvement with other believers, and social justice work. We feel deep concern for righteousness, whether personal or cultural. Moral choices and behavior matter deeply and are of more ultimate importance than emotional hardship. For example, I should remain moral even if friends reject me for not participating in their kind of behavior.
A disciple is someone who understands certain things. This view of a disciple emphasizes accurate thinking and insight concerning God, people, salvation, and so on. The theory is that if you think correctly about the important things, then the rest of your life will assume the proper prospective. A disciple must understand that God is both holy and loving; that people, though sinners, are made in the image of God; that Christ’s death was the substitute payment for our sin; and that because of Jesus’ payment, we are granted access to the heart of God.
This view holds that we can acquire a substantial understanding of God’s redemptive work, which enables us to correctly see Him and our position in Him. An extension of this view is that we can also gain a substantial understanding of our own lives, our personal history and family background. This understanding enables us to make progress in our relationship with Christ. For instance, understanding that your father’s past ridicule has hobbled your self-image helps you begin to confidently give yourself to others.
The dilemma with defining a disciple is that you are not defining a static object that stands alone and possesses such and such properties. Rather, you are defining a person who is in relationship with another person. A disciple is defined by his or her relationship with God. Acts 11:26 reports that the disciples were first called Christians Antioch. So Christians and disciples are by definition the same thing.
Obviously, many of the people that call themselves Christians are not disciplined or obedient. The Barna Report is evidence of this. But what of the Great Commission? Who is supposed to teach them to obey? That would be us! Great, how do you teach someone to obey? Many of us are parents; we know how to teach our children to obey. This is no different. It takes consistency and discipline. Part of that discipline is immediate consequences. The problem is that our Spiritual children, when disciplined, just go shopping for new parents. Of course there is no shortage of “parents” willing to look the other way and take the offering brought to them by the prodigal.
Then again, many of us are not doing our part of teaching them to obey. Most of us say “I don’t know how” or “I’m not qualified”. When you became a parent you didn’t know how to do that job nor were you qualified. But you did try. Just remember, you will not be judged on your results but on your obedience; on your effort.
Think about it.