“You! Yes, You Christian, Make Disciples”

Like most of the country, our city just emerged from an unusually intense winter storm. In a few short days, we were sunk under a heavy blanket of snow. While our children were thrilled to death about getting to go sledding, the hazardous snow conditions made us uneasy about driving. Our driveway is fairly steep and while attempting to return from the grocery story one day our poor little minivan got about halfway up the driveway before the van slowed, stopped moving, and then slowly began to slide backwards–all the while the front tires were fruitlessly spinning forward. A kind neighbor with (apparently) more automotive intuition than myself walked over and pointed out that our two front tires were as bald and smooth as our children’s sleds.

Losing the tread on your car’s tires is dangerous–especially in a snow storm!–but the same thing can happen to certain truths of God’s Word. Promises of God begin to feel trite, pre-packaged, and sterile: Yea, yea, I know, God works all things together for good…Somehow, we’ve heard it so much that it just doesn’t grip us. The tires feel like they’ve lost their tread and the wheels just spin.

Similarly, certain commands of Scripture can be repeated so much that they run the risk of feeling somehow less authoritative, less urgent. This is the danger of the command to “make disciples” which we find explicitly in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 and implicitly all over the New Testament. It encompasses more than just evangelism and welcoming someone into the church (“baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”), but also the whole of Christian formation (“teaching them to obey everything I commanded you”). It is the task of helping another individual know, follow, and submit to Jesus Christ. It is so basic to the shape of Christian life that every book in the New Testament has something to say on the matter–which results in the danger of it being so familiar that we might yawn.

Life and Death

But the issue of discipleship is no yawning matter–it is quite literally an issue of life and death. Jesus explains that if someone is not following Him on the path of discipleship, they are on the path to eternal destruction (Matt 7:13-14; John 14:6). While I have never been a brain surgeon, I’d doubt one would treat an operation–even one they’ve done countless times–as something not worth their attention; people’s lives are hanging in the balance. It is no less dire for the Christian’s disciple making task: people’s eternal destinies are hanging in the balance. While this may seem more evident in regards to “making disciples” of outsiders (evangelism), have you considered your responsibility to fellow church members?

Consider two passages:

In Ephesians 4:11-16 we are told that God gives pastors to the church to “equip the saints [Christians] for the work of the ministry,” (4:12), and then goes on to define that work of the ministry as “building up the body of Christ,” through “speaking the truth to one another in love,” (4:13, 15). If we fail to do this–if we don’t speak God’s truths to each other and labor to help one another grow–then we (and the others in our church) will become deceived by false teaching and make a shipwreck of our faith (4:14).

In Hebrews 3:12-14 we are told that Christians must be on guard against an “evil and unbelieving heart” which will lead to us “falling away from the living God” (3:12). This is a serious warning; we will know if we genuinely believed in Jesus if we persevere in the faith by not falling away from the living God (3:14). Let me put it more starkly: if we have an “evil and unbelieving heart” we will go to Hell, we will prove that we never really believed (cf. 1 John 2:19). Remember, this warning is directed at Christians (3:12). How do we prevent this from happening? We must exhort one another with God’s truth regularly (the verse says “daily”); this will keep us from having our hearts being hardened by the “deceitfulness of sin” (3:13).

What do these passages tell us?

(1) Participation in a local church is not optional for a Christian. God gives pastors as the equipping gift for this work and pastors (as well as other church members who can exhort you!) are found within local churches.

(2) The “work of the ministry” (read: making disciples) is something for every member in the church, not just the pastors.

(3) One of the ways God will keep His children from eternal destruction is through the ministry of other church members: through their exhortation, speaking the truth in love to one another. In other words, we can help each other make it to Heaven.

Wait–I thought I was saved by God’s grace, not by works? You are making it sound like there is something I have to do to save myself… you might wonder. And, no, there is nothing we add to God’s work in salvation. And yes, of course, it is the sovereign work of God alone that saves: the Father elects us from before time begins, the Son atones for our sins, and the Spirit regenerates us. But God also has sovereignly appointed means which all of His elect are to walk out their faith and be kept from destruction: the ministry of other members within a church. And if we don’t walk that path? Well, then we may reveal to ourselves and others that we never were actually one of the elect. It is possible to assume you know Jesus but the fruit of your life says otherwise (Matt 7:15-23). Again, Hebrews explains: “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end,” (3:14). All of God’s children will make it to the end. But how do they make it to the end? Through the mutual discipleship of one another.

Normal Christianity

This means that the normal pattern for Christian discipleship and growth happens within the confines of the local church where pastors are working to equip all of the Christians there to do this job (Eph 4:11-12). This means that every church member bears some sort of responsibility for the other members around him or her. And that means that we all have a critical task on our hands.

We cannot view participation in the church from a consumeristic stand-point (I’ll participate if it meets my need and preferences). We can’t allow relationships with other church members to remain paper thin (I’ll prioritize my comfort over other people in relationships). We certainly cannot treat our attendance and activity in the life of the church as some optional addition to our personal relationship with Jesus (I’ll be there if I don’t have anything else going on). This isn’t a summons to the Navy SEALS of Christianity; this is average, normal, Biblical Christianity. Nothing more, nothing less. This is one reason why the church I pastor practices church membership and has new members sign a membership covenant. We are acknowledging that commitment to a body of other Christians within a local church is simply the normal shape of the Christian life.

Consider this: what happens if you let the tires on this command fruitlessly spin in your mind? What happens if we neglect pursuing intentional relationships with others; if we stay distant from the local church where God provides pastors to shepherd you in this; if we keep casual, polite, but by no means “speak the truth in love” to one another relationships within the church? What would have happened if I just ignored my neighbor’s comments and kept driving around with bald tires in a snow storm?

Count the cost, friend. Peoples’ souls–yours included–are at stake in this.

Read: 8 Ways to Cultivate a Culture of Discipleship in the Church

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