Without true followers who exhibit godly character and demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit, it is impossible to build Kingdom churches like those found in the book of Acts. In the great commission, Jesus commanded us to make disciples, not just converts, of all the nations.
Matthew 28:19-20 NKJV- Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you;
The great commission of the Church is twofold – evangelism and discipleship. If we evangelize without discipling new converts, then we run the risk of Christianity that is a mile wide and an inch deep. We have surface conformity but little inner change. We have people professing faith and claiming salvation but not walking in obedience. We have people living outside the Kingdom and unable to experience covenant blessings. We have people unprepared to deal with the pervasiveness of sin and the reality of spiritual warfare. We end up with people backsliding into their old habits and behavior patterns or giving up following Christ altogether.
What is a disciple? The Greek word “mathetes,” from which “disciple” is translated, means “a learner.” The root of “mathetes” is “math”, indicating thought accompanied by endeavor. So, a disciple is not only a student who listens to the teacher, but also one who puts into practice what he or she has learned. (1) A true disciple is an imitator of his or her teacher and a loyal adherent of His values, ideas, and lifestyle. Jesus said His true disciples are those who:
- Love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30)
- Believe upon Him and confess Him as Lord and Savior (1 John 4:15, Romans 10:9-10)
- Abide in His Word (John 8:31) [Abide means to continue, dwell in, endure, remain, stand]
- Obey His commandments (John 14:21).
God is not looking for converts, refugees from the world, or spiritual groupies. He is looking for disciples – obedient, loyal followers of Christ. He is looking for people who want Jesus as their Lord as well as Savior. If we call ourselves Christian, then we have a responsibility to uphold the glory of Christ’s name on earth. We are meant to be set apart from the world – different in attitude, actions, and allegiance. Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthian church is still relevant today:
2 Corinthians 6: 14-17 NLT- Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the LORD.”
Jesus calls believers to be both salt and light.
Matthew 5:13-16 NKJV- “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
We cannot be effective in our lifestyle evangelism if there is a great gap between what we say we believe and what we do. This kind of behavior is called hypocrisy and it gives the enemies of God great opportunity to ridicule Him and blaspheme His name. True disciples emulate their master. Jesus called us to reflect God’s glory on earth. When we call ourselves Christian, but our values, behavior, and lifestyle remain indistinguishable from the world, we become a stumbling block to unbelievers as well as an embarrassment to our Master.
Jesus asks us in Luke 6:46 “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?”
The Development of Godly Character
People who have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior become true disciples through a process called Sanctification. The heart of this sanctification process is the development of godly character. Jesus wants deep, permanent, inner change. He knows we will not become effective disciples if all we exhibit is the “superficial subculture adaptation” that Pastor Jan Hettinga noticed. (2) Jesus spoke His harshest words against the hypocrisy of the religious establishment whose outward conformity to the law hid hardened hearts, sinful attitudes, and blindness to spiritual truth (Matthew 23: 1-28.) We are created in God’s image and His goal for us is holiness.
1 Peter 1:15-16 AMP- But as the One Who called you is holy, you yourselves also be holy in all your conduct and manner of living. For it is written, you shall be holy, for I am holy. [Lev. 11:44, 45.]
Pastor and author Warren Wiersbe describes holiness this way: “holiness is to the inner person what health is to the body. Holiness is wholeness, Christlikeness, the fruit of the Spirit being revealed in our lives.” (3) The evidence of Christ’s holy Presence within us is the outward expression of His character in our attitude and actions. This outward expression is described by the apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22-23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. NKJV
All the fruit of the spirit are internal qualities. Therefore, to God, character is so much more important than talent, appearance, resources, or connections in accomplishing His Kingdom work. Let’s compare reputation and character. Reputation is based on externals such as popularity, achievement, and wealth. Reputation is determined by what the world values and can change with situation, circumstance, or prevailing cultural more. Character, on the other hand, is developed by the internal process of bringing Soul (heart, mind, and will) into conformity with Christ. God imparts His own qualities to us, and the results are eternal and unchanging. Warren Wiersbe says that character development is essential to becoming a follower God can trust.
“Certainly, God wants to use our talents. After all, he gave them to us. But along with the developing of our talents and spiritual gifts is the perfecting of our character … There’s no substitute for character … Life is built on character, but character is built on decisions. The decisions you make, small and great, do to your life what the sculptor’s chisel does to the block of marble. You are shaping your life by your thoughts, attitudes, and actions and becoming either more or less like Jesus Christ. The more you are like Christ, the more God can trust you with His blessing. (4)
Key Actions for Disciples of Christ
To become disciples of Christ we need to make the following decisions and take the following actions:
Salvation: we need to believe in and confess the deity of Jesus Christ, His death and His bodily resurrection as remission for our sin to be reconciled with God.
Sanctification: we need to enter the process of dying to self and becoming just like Jesus willingly and actively.
Surrender: we need to ask Jesus Christ to be the Lord of our life; we need to surrender everything we have and everything we are to His leadership.
Submission: we need to obey His commandments and willingly submit to His ways and will.
Sacrifice: we need to die to our old worldly selves and invite Christ to live in and through us.
Self-Denial: we need to empty ourselves of our own plans, dreams, pleasures, ambitions, and priorities.
Service: we need to become part of the body of Christ on earth and enter Kingdom service.
- W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, & William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985), as listed under “disciple,” pp. 171-172.
- Jan David Hettinga, Follow Me – Experiencing the Loving Leadership of Jesus (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPres s, 1996), p. 140.
- Warren W. Wiersbe, On Being a Servant of God (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993), p. 42.
- Ibid, pp. 40-41