Being, Not Just Making, Disciples

Being, Not Just Making, Disciples

Being, Not Just Making, Disciples

          We describe the mission of our church this way: “To make, mature, and multiply disciples of Jesus Christ.” We’ve known other churches who use this as their mission statement, and we thought it was a good summary of Matthew 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.’”

          Hopefully you can see the connection between our mission statement and Jesus’s climactic instructions to his Apostles, the initial members and appointed leaders of the New Covenant church. (The “multiply” part of our mission statement refers to our commitment to raising our children in the knowledge and ways of the Lord [Eph 6:4] and to our desire to see evangelistic churches established among more and more people groups). We see Jesus’s words here as summing up the reason God has sent his church into the world. Our “mission” as it relates to the world around us is focused on proclaiming the things this passage emphasizes: the authority of king Jesus; the gospel call to repent, believe, and be baptized; the sufficiency and authority of Scripture for every area of faith and practice; the presence of Christ through his Spirit until his return. Proclaiming these things and instructing others in them, with the desire to see more and more people following Christ, sums up our church’s mission.

          But…our mission does not sum up our identity or our calling as a church. In other words, there’s more to being a church, to being a Christian, than “doing ministry” or being “on mission.”

          That’s because before we are disciple-makers, we are disciples ourselves. Ours is not fundamentally to proclaim, but to believe. Ours is not primarily to teach, but to learn. Ours is not mainly to make disciples, but to be disciples. Of course, these things should never be separated, but they should be distinguished—much like a house and its foundation cannot be separated; still, the integrity of the foundation merits primary attention.

           Our commitment to following Jesus cannot be boiled down to activities aimed at getting others to follow him. He is worthy of our worship and sufficient as our heart’s desire—regardless of whether anybody else joins us or not. We are subjects in Christ’s kingdom, by the grace of God. We are recipients of the gospel that brings salvation and of the baptism that marks us out as God’s beloved and holy people. We are in the process of learning to observe all that Christ has commanded. We are invited and compelled to trust in and rest in the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, the down payment of our inheritance.
           All this is to say that we have been called to worship Jesus Christ as Savior, King and God and to call others to do the same. The disciples worshiped before they were commissioned (v. 17). Our “mission” statement focuses on the latter—to make, mature, and multiply disciples—but this will shrivel up if it is not an outgrowth of the
former, more foundational calling of every Christian: to be and be maturing as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

          So what about you? Are you a worshiper of Christ—not just in public, not just in private—in the personal and in the public sphere, are you living and growing as a disciple of Christ, your Savior and King? Regardless of whether anyone joins you or not?

          And if so—will you also heed his call to try to get others to join you? Are you seeking and striving and praying to participate in the mission of Christ’s church: to lead others to faith in Jesus, baptism into his church, and a growing understanding of his Word and his ways?

Are you a disciple?
Are you making disciples?

At a Word From Jesus

At a Word From Jesus

At a Word From Jesus

“[B]ut say the word, and let my servant be healed.”

—Luke 7:7b

When the Roman centurion said this to Jesus, Jesus was amazed. Many people misunderstood and underestimated Jesus. Some had already openly opposed him. And yet this outsider recognized something about Jesus that should ring with divine familiarity… “Say the word, Jesus, and let my servant be healed.” Clearly he was right—Jesus has this kind of power, just this sort of authority.

But in the context of the Bible, what kind of power and authority is this? It’s the same kind on astonishing display on the first page of Genesis:

“Let there be light—” and there was light.
“Let the dry land appear—” and it was so.
“Let us make man in our image—” so God created man in his own image.

“Let my servant be healed—” and they found the servant well.

We are invited to exercise this kind of faith in this particular Jesus: the one who, as Hebrews 1:3 tells us, “upholds the universe by the word of his power.” When we pray to our Savior, we pray to the God-man whose power is immense and whose authority ultimate. At a word from Jesus, it is so.

Though our faith may be weak, let it be in this Jesus.

“Say the word, Jesus, and let my sins be forgiven.”
“Say the word, Jesus, and give me your Holy Spirit.”
“Say the word, Jesus, and deliver us from evil.”
“Say the word, Jesus, and increase our faith.”
“Say the word, Jesus, and purify my heart and life.”
“Say the word, Jesus, and help this brother or this sister.”
“Say the word, Jesus, and lead me through this valley of death’s shadow.”
“Say the word, Jesus, and help me trust you to meet my needs.”
“Say the word, Jesus, and let your kingdom come.”

There is no question that Jesus posseses the power and authority to grant these requests. But is
he willing to? He whose word created the galaxies, whose command grants life to the dead—has also said:

“[W]hoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37b).

Let us come in worshipful faith to this Jesus, humble yet confident: he need merely say the word, and it will be so.

Merciful Father

Merciful Father

Merciful Father

Luke 6:35 “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great…”

Why should I love my enemies?

Here’s one major reason we weren’t able to delve into fully in this past Sunday’s sermon on Luke 6:27–36:

Because you should want to look like your Father.

Look at the rest of v. 35: “and you will be sons of the Most High.”

If you love your enemies, you will be sons of God. Think about that. About all the implications!

Now, Jesus is not saying this is how you earn your right into the family. (v. 36, God is already your Father!) Jesus is saying this is how you show you’re in the family. It’s like he’s saying “You will be sons of the Most High indeed”—like when my son does something that looks a lot like me, my sister might say “Oh my goodness, that is definitely YOUR son.” Loving your enemies is how you demonstrate the family resemblance.

Do you see this as the kind of love God has called you to grow up into as a Christian? If you love your Father in heaven, you should want people to say you look like him—that you love like him. And he, in loving mercy, wants and works for the good—even of those who are dead-set against him.

Think about his kindness to the ungrateful and evil; think about his mercy:

35b: You will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

This is why Christians are commanded to be kind to the wicked—because God is kind to the ungrateful and evil.

Consider how he’s kind to the ungrateful and evil:

Every day, for thousands of years, God has filled the world with beauty and let people who ignore him have it. He has filled the world with wonders, and let people who hate him enjoy them.

The people who vilified the Son of God and secured his crucifixion went back to warm homes and enjoyed roast lamb and laughed with their children and looked up at the stars and breathed in deep, refreshing air—all gifts from the God whose Son just died by asphyxiation.

All over the planet, since the dawn of time, rebels against the Creator run and eat and joke; enjoy married love and dawdle at the seaside and play soccer and feel the satisfaction of a job well-done and the thrill of romance and the joy of family and the ecstasy of adventure and the simple pleasures of coffee and donuts and music and dance—and the breath-taking beauty of the sunrise—

And every single one of these things are from the hand of the God we’ve hated and His Son whom we killed. He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

And you, Christian…will you choose not to be? No—Christ does not leave that open to us:

v. 36 “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

Mercy. O, what mercy he calls us to show: rather than treating people as they deserve to be treated—we treat them…how? Here we come to the is deepest rationale for loving our enemies, brothers and sisters: We are called to treat them…as we have been treated by God. We are to show them mercy, as our Father is merciful…Because the fact that Jesus would call God our Father—and the price he paid to secure such an adoption—is the highest mercy of all.

Romans 5:8 “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:10: “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son”

God Is Like This

God Is Like This

God Is Like This

How does God make himself known? Our triune God, being infinite and everywhere-present, is invisible—and I’ve become more comfortable with this reality over the years. I think there were times when it used to trouble me, the question, Why doesn’t God show himself?

I think I must’ve been picturing God as a very big, stubbornly invisible human being. If he would just “appear,” I’d know he was real! Right?

Impossible Question

Sometimes my kids and I play a game we call “Impossible Questions.” We try to come up with questions that are impossible to give logically satisfying answers to—like “Why haven’t I stopped asking this question yet?” or “How many spoonfuls of muffin equal a song?” Deep stuff like that.

Why doesn’t God show himself? is kind of like an impossible question. How could the immense and infinite God “show himself?” What would that look like? If we were able to somehow “stand back” at a distance to take him in, so that we could say “Ah, there he is,” we could at that moment rest assured we’d gotten the wrong god (hence, one reason for the second commandment)! How could God’s infinite essence ever be contained in a field of vision? I am beginning to understand why God didn’t let Moses see all of his glory (Exodus 33:17–23).

But he did show Moses his glory, didn’t he? God does not show himself exhaustively; but he does reveal himself truly. The Scriptures testify that God condescends to make himself known in ways human beings can genuinely understand—understand not perfectly, but genuinely. This is one reason why forever will take forever: we will never finish comprehending God’s glory!

But in the meantime, God makes his invisible attributes known not by appearing in the sky—but through the sky itself (Psalm 8)! The sky—and all the rest of creation, of course. He reveals himself in the works of his hands; he reveals himself through his acts of providence and in particular through his acts of redemption; he reveals himself through words.

Lately I’ve been reflecting on this question—the question I asked at the beginning: How does God make himself known? If creation, providence, redemption, and speech are God’s media, what are his techniques? How does he use these media to reveal himself?

I’ve noticed one “technique” in particular I want to draw your attention to: God makes himself known through comparison and contrast.

Knowing God via Comparison

He does this all the time in Scripture. He is like a rock. He is like the sun. He is like a shepherd. Or is he? Probably we’ve got to put it the other way around, since he’s the original and everything else is derivative: Rocks are a little bit like him; the sun is a dim illustration of his glorious, dazzling purity; shepherds reflect God’s tender, tenacious care, in a way.

As inadequate as any one comparison is to capture God, he’s filled the world with such comparisons! And he loves to use them, apparently, as a look through Scripture shows: streams, fathers, warriors, winds, builders, singers, bread, kings—the list goes on. He has filled the world, filled history, with tiny illustrations of his glory and character, to which he can point and say “I’m like this!”

Our task—our privilege as creatures made like him as well, and designed for relationship with him—is to become practiced in letting his self-revelation in nature, in history, and in Scripture draw our hearts back to him (see Acts 17:24–27). The heavens don’t just testify to God in the way a person’s house bears the marks of an absent owner or a former builder; God is speaking to us now through these things. As Gerald Manley Hopkins puts it, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” God is making himself known NOW, in the things that he has made and in the way he sustains them (see Romans 1:18ff, for example).

Tragically, our souls, gutted by the ravages of sin’s infection, struggle to see, struggle to hear. Don’t want to see or hear, apart from his grace (see Eph 2:1–10). Hence our great need for God’s self-revelation in redemption.

Knowing God via Contrast

The nature of God’s relationship to creation and his way of speaking invites us to know him via contrast as well. This can apply, for example, to the very things he offers up as comparisons!

Because God is the Creator and all else is creature, everything to which he can point and say “this is like me” simultaneously possesses qualities that God (and we) can confidently say are not like him. So the rock in its enduring strength is like God; but it’s also not like God because, for one thing, it’s dead as a doornail and cares nothing for those whom it shelters. Hence we are invited, in considering that our God is a rock of refuge, to compare and contrast him with the object lesson the mountain fortress offers us: our loving, all-seeing God is like, but so much better than, any inanimate object, place, or possession on which we set our hope.

God has also built absolute contrasts into creation and time. We can know God better, for example, through the way he frames his own being as perfect holiness and truth in contrast to darkness. God is not like darkness; he is light. God is not like Satan. Heaven is not like hell. These contrasts are absolute. And God makes himself more clearly, more gloriously, known through orchestrating even evil itself to the great end of blessing his people forever with the fullest knowledge of all his goodness that we can endure.

Yet even these contrasts fail to exhaust the infinite character of God. “Showing” himself—via comparison and contrast—is necessary but not sufficient. We want, we need, him to speak to us, too.

Knowing God in Christ

So here’s one more impossible question, of a sort: how could the Son, being God, become man? Given all I’ve said, how could God both show himself and speak to us—through a human being we could see, touch, hug, sing with, cry with?

I don’t know.

I do know that Jesus is the ultimate self-revelation of the Father. God has spoken to us—speaks to us now, will speak to us forever—through this human King. He is the self-revelation of God, come down to us on a creaturely level, yet constantly displaying God to us (Hebrews 1:1–4).

In him the whole fullness of God dwells bodily (see the letter to the Colossians!)—and though we will never know him exhaustively, we who believe in Jesus behold by faith now, and one day by sight, God himself.

In Jesus, God makes himself known in the fullest way possible for a creature to comprehend. In his first coming, Christ displayed (and accomplished) what no other creature, comparison, or contrast could ever convey: God’s grace.

Jesus Christ, the living Savior crucified once for all to deliver us from sin’s curse, became part of the comparison/contrast painting itself, so that he can point to himself and say, “I’m like this.”

And in the gospel, wonder of wonders, we see Jesus—we hear his voice—beckoning us to come to him, and to know our God.

Friends, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, and never give up seeking deeper knowledge of him—deeper knowledge of our God. One day, we will see God in the sky. On the day of Christ’s return, every eye will see him. Come, Lord Jesus!

Don’t Forget They’re Dead

Don’t Forget They’re Dead

Don’t Forget They’re Dead

“I see dead people.”

It’s just a quote from a famous movie; it’s not a common phenomenon, and not, I trust, something any of us would like to experience—hallucinations of the walking dead. Creepy!

And yet, in a way, I ought to see more dead people. At least, I ought to see more people as dead. If you’re a born-again believer, you should too.

I base this on an inference from Ephesians 2: “We were dead in our trespasses and sins.” I infer that this means people who don’t yet know Jesus are dead right now in their trespasses and sins—and Christians should remember that!

When we forget it, I think, we’ll be less likely to talk to people about Jesus, and less likely to talk to Jesus about those people.

Why do we so often forget?

Christians believe that we have new life in Christ. We believe that before Christ saved us, we were walking corpses, spiritually. But when it comes to interacting with unbelievers, we can find it so natural to experience them as being…just like us. In many cases unbelievers can seem happier, friendlier, “livelier” than us weary saints. Simply put, they don’t seem dead! And that makes it harder, for me at least, to long for them to have life in Christ.

As I’ve thought about this, two analogies have helped me sort out my difficulties.


Analogy #1: Roadkill.

Driving across NJ’s Route 80 on Memorial Day led my family past more than 15 dead deer. I’m no expert, but I know what a living deer looks like, and these were definitely dead deer, no question about it. We all know pretty intuitively the difference between a living creature and roadkill. The fact of the matter is roadkill can’t do a thing except decompose. Dead animals cannot do what living animals are designed to do: they can’t hunt or hibernate, they can’t grow or reproduce, they can’t forage, frolic, sing or howl. They do nothing but rot.

Spiritually dead humans have bodies that are headed that direction too. We’re not biologically dead yet, but we’re on our way. We’re as good as dead: physically our fate is sealed. But here’s the key, and the thing that’s easy to forget: unlike animals, human life is not merely biological. We have souls. Souls that are designed for relationship with God, souls that make us capable of reverent worship and loving obedience.

That’s what’s dead. Our souls. We know a dead body when we see one: it’s not doing what living bodies are supposed to do! Do we know a dead soul when we see one?

If one definition of a dead animal is an organism that has ceased to perform any of the activities associated with biological life, then perhaps a good explanation of how unregenerated sinners are dead is that we are conceived and born, suckled and schooled, married and buried without ever performing any of the activities comprising spiritual life: We do not, and we cannot, glorify and enjoy God. At all. We’re dead.

Ah, you might say, but we’re still worshippers, we still can desire good things, and love people. Surely we’re not totally dead spiritually, just sick!

Consider, in response, a second analogy:


Analogy #2: A Dead Car.

Imagine a wiry boy straight out of Jungle Book, raised by wolves, venturing from the trees into the outskirts of an Indian village. Across the dirt road he sees a creature he’s never seen before: a rusty, dusty pickup truck. After making sure it won’t bite him (it looks safely dead, but maybe it’s just sleeping!), he climbs inside. He fiddles with the buttons and the levers. There’s a key, and he discovers that it turns in its socket. click-click-click-click…. “THE INDIAN PRIME MINISTER ANNOUNCED TODAY A NEW INITIATIVE AIMED”—at the loud voice blaring from the speakers, Mowgli flings himself out of the truck, somersaults across the road and bounds up a tree. The beast is alive after all! The car is working!

Only…we know it’s not. There’s still some juice in the battery, for now. Enough to keep the radio going for a few days more, maybe. But if we could open up the hood, we’d see the engine troubles responsible for its recent abandonment. It’s dead.

See, cars are made for driving. A car that can’t drive may have some elements that still work. But if it is unable to perform its most essential function, we would be right to consider it dead, even though it’s not completely “broken” in every respect.

Can you see what I’m getting at? Human beings’ essential function—our “chief end” as the old catechisms have it—is to live in the awareness and service and worship of God, the Creator and Lord of the universe. It is this essential function that is dead in every human being—dead as a gutted car in a junkyard—apart from the saving work of Christ.

I hope that this is a challenge to you; it is to me. I can very easily be impressed by the fact that my neighbors have functioning radios and headlights and windshield wipers, if you will. They seem to be quite fine, some of them! It is only as I remember and reflect on the truth that they were created to know and love and worship and listen to and serve and sing to and live for God that the alarming state of their souls becomes apparent, that the sad absence of admiration for God or interest in the Bible or routines of worship or desire for wisdom or love of Christians begins click-click-clicking, and I get a whiff of the reality: they are dead and rotting, spiritually.

Recalling what people were created for helps me want to keep in mind that they are dead spiritually. This should serve as a motivation to see the gospel as something everyone around me needs. Sometimes I find it much more natural and comfortable to share the gospel with people who are obviously broken, obviously a mess, obviously in need of major spiritual renovation. But wait long enough and roadkill of the noblest variety is going to stink. Whether it’s a Lexus or a lemon, a car that won’t drive is dead, period.

I’m no mechanic, no veterinarian, no physician; but I do know a gospel-message and a God-man that give life to the dead. My prayer is that he will open our eyes to see the spiritual deadness of people more clearly, so we’ll cry out on their behalf to the God who gives life to the dead, and so that we’ll be emboldened to tell them about Christ—that “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”


-Jordan Roberts