Following his resurrection and immediately before his ascension, Jesus commissioned his followers to “go and make disciples.” After being baptized into the triune name of God, Jesus said that his disciples should be taught to “observe all that he has commanded” (Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus’ point is clear: obedience is the distinguishing mark of true discipleship. Or, to put it negatively, a disobedient disciple is an oxymoron.
In John 14:15 Jesus said that if we love him, we will “keep his commandments.” And in Romans 1:5 the apostle Paul said that he had “received grace and apostleship in order to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of Jesus’ name among all the nations.” This was so important to him that he later said that he would “not venture to speak of anything except what Christ had accomplished through him to bring the Gentiles to obedience — by word and deed . . .” (Romans 15:18).
A number of years ago, the strong biblical emphasis on discipleship and obedience got me thinking about the state of the North American church. How could it be that many who claim to follow Jesus live lives that are no different from the rest of the world? Where is the evidence of lives being transformed through the hope of the gospel? Where is the fruitfulness that proves we are Jesus’ disciples (John 15:8)? Many others have noticed the gap between our Christian rhetoric on the one hand and our Christlike walk on the other. This situation sent me back to my Bible in order to discover all I could about discipleship. After months of study, I became convinced that the call to make, mature, and multiply disciples is the mission of the church. Being a follower of Jesus is a matter of becoming more like him along the way (Romans 8:29) or we are just fooling ourselves.
In the coming weeks, I will be looking at discipleship in some detail in order to describe what it is and how it happens in the life of the church.