Ben Messina is a rare young leader. While in our church, he served faithfully in children’s ministry while at the same time he was on staff with Cru at Virginia Tech. He also helped lead a small group. He was a team player, a source of deeply wise insight (you’ll see that in the article below), and he was also a great laugher. You can usually judge a person’s maturity by their sense of humor, and Ben tells great stories that will make you belly laugh. Ben recently moved from Blacksburg to begin seminary. I’m grateful and excited for him. Ben’s entry in this series is not a story of his own discipleship but his deep reflections on discipleship in general. It’s been adapted for this post.

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] 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.”

Going AND making disciples

One of the most common passages in all the Bible, Matthew 28:18-20, is often emphasized in a way that we can lose track of the command Jesus is giving. Often, the emphasis in this passage is placed on the “going.” And don’t get me wrong, the going is absolutely necessary and characteristic of Christianity. We “go” to the world to share the gospel with the lost. But sometimes we can get so focused on the “going” aspect, we can lose sight of the “making disciples” aspect.

This command to make disciples should not simply be understood as preaching the gospel so that we have more converts. Jesus clarifies what these disciples look like based on the way He qualifies how we should make disciples.

Questions to ask

What kind of disciples are we to make? Ones that follow Christ and observe all that Jesus commanded. How do we know what Jesus has commanded? We search the scriptures, both Old and New Testaments. Why do we search the scriptures? It is how God has given us revelatory knowledge so that we, the finite, may know the infinite God

Discipleship is about helping people know God – not in a relationship of condemnation that all humanity is born into. I’m talking about a relationship founded upon the grace of God in which our sin has been dealt with by Christ’s perfect sacrifice. His righteousness is given to us so that we may be adopted as children of God. We cannot worship the God of the universe if we don’t know Him as He has revealed himself in scripture. If how we’re approaching Him in our prayers, singing to Him in our worship, and viewing Him in how we live is being shaped only by how we wish to view God and not by the scriptures, we are just as guilty as the Mormon, the Atheist, the Muslim, or Jehovah’s Witness in worshipping a false God; a god that is made in our own image.

The importance of real discipleship

This is why discipleship is such an important aspect of the Christian life. It’s purpose is so that we, and those we interact with, may know God – the authoritative, infinite, ruler of all creation – through Jesus Christ whom He has sent, by the means of the Holy Spirit’s regenerating and sanctifying work on our hearts, for the end goal of worshipping God for all eternity. And what greater an endeavor can there be for the children of God than knowing Him so that we can worship him rightly and can bring others along with us? Discipleship cannot be comprehensively experienced by a program, system, or by an abundance of coffee dates. It is a lifelong state of the Christian life, empowered by the work of the Holy Spirit – a continual dying to self and growing in the grace and knowledge of God, so that He may be made known to all of creation.

As incredible and high of an endeavor as this is, I want to warn you. Discipleship is not easy – it is sufferingly costly. All I need to do is mention the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was executed in Nazi Germany for refusing to bend a knee to the apostate, false Christianity of German nationalism, to make that point understood. We cannot look at discipleship through a rosy-eyed lens that depicts it as a first-class ticket on our way to holiness. To do so would not only be dishonest, but potentially damning. Discipleship is a matter of life and death. This isn’t simply something you can add on to your life as though you were putting avocado on top of your toast (apparently millennials, such as myself, do that). We are talking, very literally, about the state of eternal destinies. Are we in Christ or in darkness? A slave to our sin or set free from it? Under grace or under the just wrath of God for our sin? How we understand being a disciple of Christ has eternal significance.

In Luke 9:23, Jesus laid the path of real discipleship:

 “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” 

Jesus is bidding those who want to follow him to come and die. This is crucial to understanding what it means to be a disciple of Christ. It is also why many people find Christianity and the message of the gospel to be exclusive, foolish, and at times unloving toward those who want to tolerate sin. There is no room to simply add Jesus onto your life. Our highest love must be Christ. It’s all or nothing.  We are to die to self, die to our desires, and confess Christ. The gospel message is not shared with the language of, “Give Jesus a try”. The gospel message is proclaimed with the understanding of, “Come and die”.  Death to self, so that we may be alive in Christ. Death to sinful desires so that our desires become His desires. Death to appetites that attempt to gratify our pleasures so that Christ is the fountain of living water our thirst is quenched with, given free of charge because of the great love with which God loved us. We no longer can live how we choose. Our desires must be left behind. The way we live must now be forever changed.

Knowing God

The ultimate goal of all of discipleship is to both know God and make Him known to others. Paul describes his own passion in these words:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8-11)

“..that I may gain Christ and be found in Him.. that I may know Him..” is the heartbeat of a disciple maker. Yes, Paul went. He traveled thousands of miles for the sake of the gospel. But Paul made disciples wherever he went. It was his focus, and Jesus was his

Book Recommendations:

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Ben Messina
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