Some people are a little wary when they hear the words discipleship, evangelism, or outreach. Of course, we should be a little cautious if our zeal amounts to merely wanting to grow numbers, develop growth charts, and conduct strategy sessions. But at the same time, Jesus Christ Himself implemented a discipleship program. What was the goal of Christ’s form of discipleship? “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). The goal of discipleship is Christlikeness in character and behavior. Christ teaches that there are specific ways in which this change happens:
1. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Jesus wanted His disciples to be known for one characteristic—love; not only the abstract form of love or the theory of love, but the actual practice of love. Verse 35 states that love is for “one another.” Selfless love for those around you is one of the greatest arguments that Christ is living in the community of disciples. The reason it is so great is that it is so unnatural. It is unnatural to take on a negative for another person with no direct benefit; yet that is precisely what love does. Think of parents who have nothing to benefit from having a helpless baby around. They are deprived of sleep, alone time, money, health—the works! Yet because of love, the parent takes on all those negatives for the baby.
But that is a parent-child relationship. What would cause an individual to take on a negative for an unrelated individual? Nothing. But the example and power of Jesus Christ in the context of discipleship can miraculously change the individual to one who loves others. In short, disciples are loving.
2. “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me’ ” (Matt. 16:24). Not only should disciples love each other, but Jesus also instructs them to deny self. Similar to the first point, the individual not only takes on a negative for someone else but also denies a positive for self! No, this is not some form of religious self-flagellation. Rather, it is the simple teaching of being noble, unselfish, self-sacrificing. Again, what would cause an individual to deny a positive for themselves? Nothing. But the example and power of Jesus Christ in the context of discipleship can change the individual to one who is selfless. In short, disciples are self-denying.
3. “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men’ ” (Mark 1:17). Along with loving each other and denying self, Christ also called His disciples to be fishers of men. Taking note of their secular profession of being fishermen, Christ now promises the ability to catch individuals for the kingdom of God. But it is not they who are to do it, but Christ who makes them become the fishers of men. Too often, we rely on programs, strategies, and training systems for evangelism (and they do have their place). But Christ here is not commanding; rather He is promising that if we only follow Him, it is He who will do the transforming. What would cause an individual to bring individuals to God? Nothing. But the example and power of Jesus Christ in the context of discipleship can change the individual to one who is evangelistic. In short, disciples are soul-winners.
Whereas so-called Christians should be loving, self-denying soul-winners, those who are disciples, that is, those who follow Jesus, are loving, self-denying soul-winners. Their association with Him changes them to be just like Jesus.