I recently heard a discussion about the importance of discipleship, and as anytime two or more believers get together, there are more opinions than the number of people. I wondered where they were heading as it almost immediately began with a definition of Christian. It is true, that many who call themselves Christian are far from the true definition of the word, “little Christs,” so it’s incumbent upon all who claim the name of Christ to be proactive in knowing a person’s Jesus story before making assumptions.
This led me to ponder further the issue of discipleship, and what it looks like in any setting, cross-cultural or not, for there should be no differences in how we approach evangelism and discipleship in our home country and overseas. Paul changed countries, languages, and situations frequently in his years of ministry, but his method changed little.
Before I get to that, I want to set some parameters for the conversation as well as definitions.
My late husband was an evangelist, and while he was truly gifted at building bridges to share the gospel message, he knew that evangelism was only one stage of the process. My giftings were more in the area of discipleship or teaching/mentoring. I loved working with new believers, teaching them in the foundations of the faith and watching them grow and then disciple others.
So, here I’ve used two words already for this discussion: evangelism and discipleship. Though some may disagree, I think Scripture is clear in the fact that evangelism (the sharing of the Good News of Jesus Christ) comes first.
Peter proclaimed it to the Jews:
The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him. (Acts 5:30-32)
Paul shared it to Jews and Greeks:
As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. (Acts 17:2-3)
The message is the same for us today: Men and women are lost in their sin, unable to save themselves. God loved the world so much that he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die on our behalf. Through his death, resurrection, ascension, he has made the way for us to be in right relationship with God…that is to all those who believe.
Belief—Faith. The one who sows the seed, proclaiming the Good News, can do it every moment of every day for his or her entire life, but until the hearer hears and accepts, it is without effect. That is not to say, the proclamation of the Gospel is of no effect, but we are not always the ones to see it.
Jesus set the rule: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)
Faith is crucial. The writer of Hebrews wrote an entire chapter on it!
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
So, where does discipleship come in? Did Jesus call disciples those who were not willing to leave everything and follow him? No, he called those who believed. He spent three years teaching them and modeling for them that life of faith and service.
We all know the Great Commission as the calling card for disciple makers:
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)
I entitled this post A Cord of Three Strands because I believe Scripture is clear in saying that true believers in Christ are those who have a life composed of these three aspects:
- They heard the truth of the gospel shared by another Christ follower: a preacher, a friend, a parent, a missionary, or even a stranger.
- They were convicted by the Holy Spirit of their need for a Savior, because of their inability to save themselves from their sin. They then put their faith in Jesus Christ as the only one who could save their soul and change their life from death to life.
- They had a hunger to know God’s Word, to learn more about Christ, to understand this thing call the Christian life, and a person, more mature in the faith, took them under their wing, shared with them, taught them, and modeled the life for them.
When you have this, the verse which reads: “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12b) holds true.
Otherwise, you have people who have heard the gospel, maybe even been drawn to it, but never accepted it as truth. Or, you have people who are in Bible studies, who are gaining head knowledge, but bearing no fruit, because they’ve never believed in the first place. Life unravels quickly when disaster strikes or Satan attacks.
Are you sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ? Don’t forget to seek a response from the hearer. Ask them what would stop them from accepting this truth today.
Have you met a person who claims to be a Christian for the first time? As you share your Christ-story, ask them theirs. Don’t take it for granted that they have the faith they claim with the title they give.
Are you working with a person one-on-one or in a group but not seeing a hunger for the Word or the fruit of the Spirit in their life? Go back to number one and ask them if they have accepted the truth of the Gospel.
As Christ followers, we must be careful, in these days of increasing darkness and deception, not to assume where a person stands with the Lord. May the Lord use us all to build strong cords of fellowship with growing disciples, while spending even more time with those who have yet to believe.
Grace and Peace