Demands of discipleship

Discipleship Starts with Repentance


I was on my way to an important meeting in an unfamiliar part of town. Though I had never been to this particular sandwich shop before, I had a rough idea where it might be, based on the street address. Yes, I had a GPS with me, but who needs one of those when you already have a vague idea where you’re going and an ill-founded confidence that you’ll get there?

(You know where this is going, don’t you?)

I got lost. When I could deny it no longer, I consulted Maggie (that’s what we called our GPS, though I don’t think that was her real name). She had four words for me: Turn around when possible.

Not bear left. Not slight right.

Turn around. It was Maggie’s way of saying I was going the wrong way, and the sooner I reversed course the better. Confronted with this reality, I changed my mind about the direction I was headed. I made a U-turn and followed Maggie’s instructions. To use a biblical term, I repented.

Jesus used that word repent a lot. Scripture says that early in his ministry Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt. 4:17). What did Jesus mean by calling us to repent?

Essentially, he was calling us to change our minds (that’s what the Greek word metanoeō means[1]). It was an appeal for us to admit that we’ve gone the wrong way and to turn around and pursue a new direction, because it’s the only way we’ll ever get to experience the gracious rule and reign of God.

Eugene Peterson described repentance this way:

Repentance is not an emotion. It is not feeling sorry for your sins. It is a decision. It is deciding that you have been wrong in supposing that you could manage your own life and be your own god; it is deciding that you were wrong in thinking you had, or could get, the strength, education and training to make it on your own; it is deciding that you have been told a pack of lies about yourself and your neighbors and your world. And it is deciding that God in Jesus Christ is telling you the truth. Repentance is a realization that what God wants from you and what you want from God are not going to be achieved by doing the same old things, thinking the same old thoughts. Repentance is a decision to follow Jesus Christ and become his pilgrim in the path of peace.[2]

Had I disregarded Maggie’s directive to repent, I probably would have missed my lunch appointment. That would have been an embarrassing mistake, but one from which I would have recovered. That’s more than can be said when someone chooses to disregard Christ’s call to repentance.

Until we repent we’re still going our own way, which means we’re still lost. 


[1]BAGD, s.v. “μετανοέω,” 511-512.

[2]Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, 2nd Edition (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000), 29-30. 

Your Brand New Life



“Narnia! It's all in the wardrobe just like I told you!” So declared Lucy Pevensie in C. S. Lewis’s classic, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Lucy perceived the otherworldly kingdom of Narnia while her siblings were still oblivious to it.

And so it is with the kingdom of God. It’s real, though not everyone can see it. 

Why is that?

Jesus declared, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3). In saying this, he identified an essential prerequisite for participation in his program.

So what does it mean to be born again? How can a person be re-born? A religious leader named Nicodemus asked Jesus that very question. It turns out that being re-born is not something we do. It’s something that happens to us. Only the Spirit of God can impart the spiritual life we’re talking about here. No one can make themselves be born again any more than they could make themselves be born the first time. This new birth is, in the words of the apostle Peter, an act of God’s “great mercy” (1 Pet. 1:3).

And yet we do have to receive this new birth by faith, as Jesus explains to Nicodemus. In what has become one of the most quoted verses in the Bible, Jesus says that, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

As the “author of life” (Acts 3:15), Jesus often spoke with delight about his mission to impart new life to all who came to him. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10), he said. And again, “I give them eternal life and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

This “eternal life” Christ gives us is not simply an extended life. It’s a fundamentally different life. In profoundly personal terms, the apostle Paul described it this way: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).

This new life is so much better than a “do-over.” We’re not simply given another chance at life. We now share in Christ’s own divine life, a life that enables us to live beyond our selfish, sinful nature, a life that brings us into vital union with Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul summed it up when he said, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Praise God! Through Jesus Christ, he imparts to us new life, without which none of us could see the kingdom of God. 

The Most Neglected Word in the Great Commission


The Lion King is a 1994 animated Disney film about a lion cub named Simba who is to succeed his father, Mufasa, as king. The story opens with the two side-by-side on a mountain ledge overlooking the African plain. There King Mufasa commissions young Simba. The conversation goes like this:

Mufasa: Look, Simba. Everything the light touches is our kingdom.

Simba: Whoa . . .

Mufasa: A king's time as ruler rises and falls like the sun. One day, Simba, the sun will set on my time here, and will rise with you as the new king.

Simba: And this'll all be mine?

Mufasa: Everything . . .

Simba [awe-struck]: Everything the light touches . . .

What makes this commissioning so significant is that word everything. Had Mufasa told Simba, “One day some of the things the light touches will be yours” it would not have evoked the response it got from Simba.

And when King Jesus commissioned his disciples on a mountainside, he used that same word everything. “Go and make disciples of all nations,” he says, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).

As disciples of Jesus, the kingdom we’ve inherited includes everything the light of his Word touches. Everything he taught us through word and deed is now ours to be obeyed and passed on. Everything.

Michael Wilkins, author of Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship, writes, “We have a relatively good strategy for accomplishing the first two attendant participles, ‘Go’ . . . and ‘baptizing’ . . . but a nearly non-existent strategy for accomplishing the final participle: ‘and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’”[1]

And if we’ve neglected that last phrase, then surely that word everything at the heart of the phrase is the most neglected word of all. We read it but we don’t hear its significance. Once we do, we can’t help but respond as Simba did: “Whoa . . .” Suddenly we realize, as J. I. Packer and Gary Parrett did, that “This task requires the ministry of serious, sustained, systematic, and substantive teaching.”[2]

In more than one way, to neglect that word is to neglect everything. If we settle for obeying some of the things Jesus commanded we end up with a lackluster vision of discipleship that will not invoke the response King Jesus intended.  


[1]Michael J. Wilkins, “An Outline Study Guide to Issues in Biblical Discipleship to Jesus” (Doctor of Ministry: Discipleship to Jesus for the Twenty-first Century, Year One Residency class notes, Talbot School of Theology, 2010), 13.

[2]J. I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett, Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-fashioned Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013), Kindle Electronic Edition, location 911.