“Make disciples of all the nations.”– Matthew 28:19
Christ’s command to “make disciples” means something significantly more than counting raised hands or decision cards at the end of an evangelistic campaign. A disciple of Christ is someone who has been soundly converted through the preaching of gospel and brings forth fruit corresponding to repentance and faith.1 He is a person who, having been justify by faith in his Master, continues to be transformed into the likeness of his Master.
Throughout the Gospels, various characteristics of true discipleship are given. Although it is beyond the scope of this book to address them all, there are three texts in the Gospel of John where Christ describes the essential characteristics of a disciple. These three texts act as something of a comprehensive summary of what it means to be and make disciples.
The first characteristic of a true disciple is found in John 8:31-32. The text reads: “So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’” Here we learn that the genuine disciple of Christ continues in subjection to His word or teaching, and consequently experiences greater and greater freedom from the bondage of sin. In no way is Jesus teaching sinless perfection in the life of His disciples, but He is telling us that the true disciple will hold to His word and grow in grace as a result of it.
The second characteristic of a true disciple is found in John 13:35. The text reads: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Here we learn that the disciple of Christ will openly identify with other disciples and love them to such an extraordinary degree in practical works of service that even the unbelieving world will attest to their relationship with Christ. This love breaks down every barrier of ethnicity, social class, and economic stratum.2
The third characteristic of a true disciple is found in John 15:8. The text reads: “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” Here we learn that the disciple of Christ will bring forth fruit or works that prove or demonstrate the validity of his confession. This is one of Christ’s most fundamental teaching on the matter of genuine conversion and discipleship: “So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”3
It is evident from the above texts that there is nothing trite or superficial about true discipleship. As we have already stated, a true disciple is someone who devotes his life to learn from and imitate his master. Yet how is this to be done in the context of the Christian faith? Two millenniums have passed since Christ walked upon this earth. How can we be confident that we are truly walking as He walked?4 The answer to this fundamental question is revealed in the Great Commission itself. The disciple learns to follow Christ through the commands that Christ has given.5 In other words, we cannot be Christ’s disciples apart from His teaching and commands that He has preserved for us in the Scriptures. Apart from the full-counsel of God recorded in the Bible, mature discipleship is an absolute impossibility, and any “discipleship-making” that is not built upon the inerrant word of God is an absurdity, a contradiction of the worst sort. For the harvest to be healthy, proper seed must be sown abundantly and without mixture of another grain. If this rule is not strictly followed, the result will be a mutated crop, a dangerous blend of all sorts of strands.
For this reason, if the missionary is going to be a disciple maker, he must be a disciple himself. He must be devoted to the teachings of His Master that are found in the Scriptures. He must dedicate His entire life to obeying, teaching, and exemplifying Christ’s commands to others. This is a great truth that we will continue to set forth throughout this book. Its importance cannot be exaggerated!
- Matthew 3:8; Luke 3:8
- Colossians 3:11 – “A renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.”
- Matthew 7:20-21
- I John 2:6
- Matthew 20:19 – “…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”
Paul is the founder of HeartCry Missionary Society and currently serves as its missions director. He also ministered as a missionary in Peru for ten years. He has preached hundreds of sermons and has authored a dozen published works. Paul lives in Radford, Virginia, with his wife Charo and their four children: Ian, Evan, Rowan, and Bronwyn.More By Paul David Washer