Mathew 28:18-20: 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 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.”
This is known as the Great Commission. This was the last command given to us from our Lord and Savior before He ascended into heaven. This is the life’s work of each disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ until death or the Rapture. This is the goal of every local Church. This is the primary purpose of the universal Church. Make disciples.
And simply put, a disciple is a learner or follower.
My old Bible School professor once said that there are a lot of “Christians” out there but few disciples. However, if my understanding of the Scriptures is correct, every Christian is automatically a disciple of Jesus. The first step is salvation. The very next step is following Jesus’ teachings; modeling His life; reaching out to others with the gospel.
Now we don’t start out with all the knowledge and understanding of the apostles Paul and Peter. So we need to be discipled ourselves. We need to have a mentor in the faith. We are never called to grow and live the Christian life on your own. It seems to me that many Christians are just trying to “wing it” so to speak. Who do they think they are trying to live the Christian life on their own? Whatever gave them that idea in the first place? You don’t put a newborn baby on the street curb with a diaper bag and expect him/her to grow and mature let alone to survive. Why would we do that to a newborn Christian?
So now if you are a Christian, a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you are also His disciple – His follower. And as His disciple, He has provided everything we need to grow and succeed in this life as His disciple. By God’s grace we are never alone in this life because we have at least three things to get us through it to become productive disciples of His:
A. God’s Word.
Paul tells us in Romans 10:17, Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Consistent Bible study is essential for any type of success as a Christian. Now what do I mean by consistent? The average church attendees reads his or her Bible about 54 minutes a month! That’s 1.8 minutes a day. That’s not going to cut it. No wonder the Church in this country is a mess today.
But why is this number so far off the mark? I submit to you that much of this is the result of the increased popularity of the “seeker-friendly,” prosperity gospel preaching churches which are packed to the gills each week while the discipleship focused churches can barely pay the bills. I say this because Bible Study is not encouraged all that much by this movement.
Today’s American church goers rely on their weekly pop-culture sermons filled with the prosperity gospel – not the Word of God. They preach how God wants us to be wealthy, healthy, happy and successful. But what does Jesus say to His followers? Pick up your cross, die to yourself and your desires and follow me. Daily! Treat your bodies as a living sacrifice which is holy and acceptable. Daily! That doesn’t sound very prosperous, does it?
Regarding wealth and finances: This may be hard for some of you to believe but there are no stock tips in the Bible! Now I know there are books and websites out there that if you pay them X-amount of dollars they will reveal the financial secrets of the Bible but my friend, it just isn’t there. If being a Christian meant being rich, why did Paul take up a collection from Gentile believers to help the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem? Why then, in 1 Corinthians 4, Paul, the super apostle of God, write:
11 To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; 13 … we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.
Regarding health: There are few medical advices given in scripture but, I’m afraid to tell you, not everyone was healed during Jesus’ time on earth. Moreover, the Apostles, who had the power to heal, didn’t heal all the sick either. And it seems that as time went on, they didn’t seem to have that gift of healing any more. Paul’s writings are filled with notations of those in his party that he left behind somewhere to recover from illness while he continued on his missionary journey. In fact, he had a chronic medical condition that God refused to heal!
And what about success as promised by the prosperity gospel preachers? Jesus was successfully crucified. The Apostle Paul was successfully stoned, beaten and chased out of most the towns and cities he preached in. All the Apostles were successfully hunted down and murdered or put into exile. In fact, the first and second century Christians were considered traitorous to the Roman government and had to live in hiding. To this day you can visit the catacombs they hid in. If they were caught, all their property was confiscated by the government and their bodies were sacrificed for entertainment. I think Donald Trump would tell you that Christian discipleship is not a recipe for success.
This is why Bible Study is so important. God’s word is truth. It is living and powerful and changes lives every day. As American disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have His Word in abundance, in dozen of translations and paraphrases, in print and on the internet. There are countless study guides, commentaries, Bible dictionaries, maps, devotions, Christian music videos, sermon videos or just audio broadcasts in abundance on the internet. All free!
We all have at our fingertips endless Biblical resources to do consistent Bible study so there are no excuses that we can offer up to God and tell Him: “I’m doing this alone. Don’t need any help here. I’m living what I think the Christian life should be so I don’t really need to read the Bible much. I got my prosperity-gospel preacher on Sunday and maybe I’ll put in my 1.8 minutes a day of Bible reading if I can fit it into my busy schedule.”
B. Other Believers.
The second resource we have as disciples are other Christians. One of the primary precepts of being a disciple is to develop relationships with other believers for the purpose of spiritual growth. Iron sharpens iron and, let’s face it, no man is an island.
The example of the early Church shows us that believers were meeting at least once a week but sometimes daily. Why do you think that is? We are to pray together; worship together; eat together; encourage one another; and bare each other’s burdens. The New Testament is filled with teaching and examples of all of this. That’s why the writer of the book of Hebrews commands us not to neglect meeting together. Not just once a week on Sundays for “church.” We should be “hanging out” with other Christians throughout the week. The church needs to be active outside the buildings she calls, “church”. We are called by Jesus to be a: a light in a dark world; a city on a hill for the world to see; salt of the earth!
If discipleship is going to be real in your life, you should be meeting with a mentor at least once a week. The same holds true if you are mentoring someone. In fact, the disciple group I’m a part of teaches that each believer should be both a disciple and a discipler. Even if you don’t know much, you can still mentor a new believer, or point him or her to a more mature discipler. As you mature in the faith, so will the disciple you mentor.
Discipleship within the church is: Jesus’ command so that we can grow and be effective; a lifelong process, not an eight-week program; and makes the church vibrant and healthy, not dysfunctional.
C. The Holy Spirit.
The third resource a disciple has to help him or her live the Christian life is the indwelling Holy Spirit.
There are at least five things the Holy Spirit accomplishes supernaturally in every believer.
1. The first event in a new Christian’s life is the baptism of the Spirit through which he is placed into union with Christ and becomes a member of the Royal Family of God.
1 Corinthians 12:13: For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body;
1 Peter 2:9: But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
Now when it comes to baptism, I need to clarify myself. There are two baptisms described in scripture that the believer goes through. One is done by the Holy Spirit and the other by the believer. There is water baptism, which a believer does after salvation to proclaim to the world his faith in and affiliation with Christ. He identifies himself with the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, water baptism is an outward symbol of an inward occurrence or experience.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs at the moment of salvation whereby the Holy Spirit places you in the family of God. This is the work of God, not the believer. Before salvation, you were an enemy of God, in truth, a child of the devil. That’s not my word; that’s what Jesus said. Your allegiance, whether you knew it or not, was with Satan himself. At salvation, you switched sides so to speak. You now belong to God. But more than that, you have become a family member.
As such, your number one enemy is now Satan and he is in constant battle with you. That is why we need to put on the whole armor of God as detailed in Ephesians chapter 6. That is just one of the benefits of being a part of God’s family. You are not alone in this battle. When the Romans fought they fought together as a unit. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if each local church would fight the spiritual battles we face as a unit? I believe that is what Paul is getting at in Ephesians six.
2. The second thing the Holy Spirit accomplishes in the believer’s life is regeneration or the new birth, by which we are made spiritually alive.
In John chapter 3 we have a story about a Pharisee who seeks out Jesus after hours.
John 3:3-7: Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’”
Titus 3:5: He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,
Only by the work of the Holy Spirit can one be made spiritually alive.
But let’s examine what it means to be born-again. There are a few different theories regarding this but the bottom line is that before one places his or her faith in Jesus for salvation, he or she is dead in their sin. The best way I can explain this is by going back to the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 2:7 the Bible tells us that God breathed into Adam the breath of life and he became a living being – a spiritual being distinguished from the rest of creation.
But when Adam sinned, he died; not physically (at least not yet) but spiritually. What does that mean? He lost fellowship with God. He was separated from God. He lost his spiritual connection with God, because God is spirit. God then killed an animal and covered Adam with its skin. Blood was shed for Adam’s sin in order for him to get God’s fellowship back.
However, Adam’s sin was now inputted to all mankind from that moment on. All of Adam’s children and their children and all generations since Adam are now born into sin. They are born spiritually dead. We are born spiritually dead.
Now Adam was not born into sin and it would take someone else down the road to not be born into sin in order to save us from the curse of sin which is death. That person was Jesus, God’s Son, who died on the cross, shedding His blood to atone for all sin. So now when a person places his or her faith in Jesus, they are born into the family of God, or born again. They are made spiritually alive by the Holy Spirit.
3. Another role of the Holy Spirit is His indwelling of the believer, which enables us to function in the Christian life.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20: Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.
The primary purpose of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of every believer is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. The indwelling of the Spirit is a permanent and once-and-for-all function.
Now if you are a Christian, you have the Holy Spirit living in you. Why? So that He can glorify God in you. You were created to do good works from the beginning of time.
Ephesians 2:10: For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Again, let me be clear; you were created to perform good works to glorify God, but only in the power of the Holy Spirit, not in your power. There are far too many Christian trying to please God by doing good works hoping that God will grant them health, wealth and happiness. You don’t do good works hoping that God will accept you or bless you in some way. You let the Holy Spirit empower you to do these things because you love Him, not because you want something from God. That would be conditional behavior. That would be a dysfunctional relationship.
Ephesians 3:16-19: that would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what [is] the width and length and depth and height — to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
This fullness of God is at your disposal if you are a Christian because the Holy Spirit indwells the believer. Stop trying to get God on your side because you cannot manipulate God!
4. The fourth role of the Holy Spirit is the sealing of the Spirit, a guarantee of the security of our salvation until the “day of redemption.”
Ephesians 1:13: In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise,
Ephesians 4:30: Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Are you all familiar with the doctrine of the security of the Believer? Can you ever lose your salvation? Of course not. If these verses in Ephesians are not enough, here are some more:
John 10:27-30: My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given [them] to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch [them] out of My Father’s hand. I and [My] Father are one.
5. The last role of the Holy Spirit I want to discuss is His sovereignty bestowing at least one spiritual gift to each believer upon salvation.
1 Corinthians 12:4, 5: Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.
7; But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
11; But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
Ephesians 4:11: And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,
Earlier we discussed how God wants us to let the Holy Spirit glorify God in the good works prepared for us from the beginning of time. He does that by providing spiritual gifts. There are a few places in the New Testament that lists a number of these spiritual gifts and I pray you all have discovered what yours are. You will only be truly fulfilled as a Christian when you are exercising your gifts and only when you do so in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Because even though you might have multiple spiritual gifts, no divine good can be produced in the Christian life apart from the filling of the Spirit. We are commanded in Ephesians 5:18 to be filled or controlled by the Holy Spirit. When we are being controlled by the Spirit and exercising our spiritual gifts, fruit is being produced; namely, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – the Christian life! The abundant life! The life with the fullness of God!
I hope you walk away from this lesson realizing that the Christian life is not a solo performance. We need to be in God’s Word. We need to be with God’s people. And we certainly need to be controlled by God’s Holy Spirit.
Brian Whiteside has served the Lord and the Church as a pastor, teacher and conference speaker for around 30 years, preaching and teaching God’s Word to all ages. He is the author of two books (The Discipling Church and 2002 Bike Odyssey, My O Canada to Ole Mexico Border to Border Bike Trip) and has written numerous articles for Christian publications. He has been very active in AWANA ministries serving as a commander, pastor and missionary advisory board member. He is currently a co-host on the Alive in Christ radio network.