BY DAVID STEEL
Jesus once said, “The student [disciple] is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher” (Luke 6:40). The statement is freighted with implications. It means that the goal of being a disciple of Jesus is to become like him and that reaching this goal depends on being fully trained.
We know that in the Jesus school of discipleship, being fully trained means learning to obey everything he commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). Therefore, any approach to disciple making that settles for teaching people to obey some—as opposed to all—of the things Jesus commanded not only falls short of our master’s commission but, strictly speaking, makes the goal of discipleship unreachable. This is not to say that teaching people to obey some of the things Jesus commanded is not worthwhile. On the contrary, this is exactly what we must do on the way to teaching them to obey everything he commanded! It’s only a problem when we decide that some of what Jesus commanded is enough.
Whether it’s due to ignorance of what constitutes everything Jesus commanded or complacency about teaching disciples to obey all of it, the “hit or miss” approach to disciple making is not just ineffective. It can actually be detrimental to the disciple’s development. That’s because deficiencies in discipleship training naturally result in corresponding spiritual deformities in the disciple. For instance, a disciple who embraces Christ’s teaching that, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36) but is unaware of Christ’s other statements, such as, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24) might get the wrong idea that coming to Christ is just a transaction that’s unrelated to transformation.
Many evangelical writers, in fact, have lamented this very deformity among Christians today. Keith Matthews, for example, contends that,
We have substituted a reduced gospel that focuses solely on “forgiveness of sins and the assurance of heaven” as our present gospel appeal. But here’s the most obvious problem: This conversion-centered approach to the gospel has for many people been interpreted as a finish line or an ending, instead of a starting line or new beginning. . . If being forgiven and now having heaven assured is what it means to become a Christian, anything I do from there on is an add-on. “Why talk to me about discipleship? Why do I need that? I’ve been forgiven. I’m already going to heaven. What more do I need to do?”
What Matthews is describing here is one of the deforming effects of a haphazard discipleship, one that has not taught disciples everything Jesus commanded.
No doubt, one of the first steps in remedying these kinds of deformities is to identify and synthesize everything Jesus commanded.
Most pastors and church leaders will find this to be a daunting task, which is one reason I’m so excited about the release of the first guidebook in the Get DISCIPLED series. This series of nine guidebooks is based on an exhaustive synthesis of well over 600 commands of Jesus. The research has already been done. Everything that Jesus taught and modeled has been synthesized into this highly accessible and transferable disciple-making resource. Check it out here.
Discipleship was never intended to be haphazard.
Keith J. Matthews, “The Transformation Process,” in The Kingdom Life, ed. Alan Andrews (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress), 86.