Who Are We? [The Re-branding of Discipleship] E

A disciple is crucified.

And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.[a]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 10:38–39). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?[b]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 16:24–27). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.[c]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ga 6:14–15). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

The cross is not symbolic.

It is popular for Christians to adopt the symbol of the cross. We put a cross on top of our church buildings. We wear it as a pendant. Some get it tattooed into their flesh. In fiction, it has power to ward off vampires. The symbol of the cross is a big money-maker. One could truthfully say that the cross is a powerful symbol.

What does it symbolize? Religious pride? Political affiliation? Societal concern? Love? Faith? Membership in the Klan? Effingham, Illinois? It ought to symbolize death. The Apostles wrote that identification with the death of Jesus Christ on the cross produces death to self.

A cross is a death machine. The cross was a mechanism used by First Century Romans to torture and execute bad guys. The condemned parties were publicly displayed while they gradually died from exhaustion, asphyxiation, or exsanguination. Crucifixion also served as a form of publicity intended to intimidate (terrorize) the enemies of the Empire. Crucifixion transformed a living person into a dead person.

The cross was not a significant symbol until the Third Century. The “crucifix” doesn’t appear until the Fifth Century[d]Brett Scott Provance, Pocket Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship, The IVP Pocket Reference Series (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 45..

My church history instructor taught that Constantine was responsible for the sudden rise of the symbolic cross, related to a vision that he received at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312. The interpretation of the vision embraced double meanings of the symbolism, effectively merging Christianity with the idolatry of the Roman Empire. The gallows that once brought death to the opposition became a symbol that assimilated them. It became possible for a citizen to live legally as a Christian-in-name-only. Paint a cross on anything, even a pagan temple, and it becomes “Christian” without regard to the teachings and principles of Christ.

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.[e]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ga 5:24.

A disciple must belong to Christ Jesus, must identify with the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, must die to self.

A disciple must take up his cross to follow Jesus, lose his life to find it.

A disciple does not paint a cross on a pagan temple and call it Christian. A disciple becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit. A disciple is a transformed person.


Who Are We? [The Re-branding of Discipleship] D

Discipleship is supernatural.

I once saw a little sticker that still makes me laugh when I think of it.

“The two great facts of life: 1) There is a God. 2) You are not Him.”

There is a difference between man and God, a vast contrast between the methods of human ingenuity and the work of the Holy Spirit. Coaching a softball team is human and natural. Discipling Christians is miraculous and spiritual.

The task of discipleship requires a miracle.

The Apostle Paul contrasts the natural flesh[a]Flesh is a synonym for carnal nature, sinful nature, old nature, natural man. The word σάρξ (sarx) can mean meat, or the physical body, or the entire physical existence of a person, or the sinful … Continue reading, with the supernatural Holy Spirit. He warns us against following our own natural desires and wisdom. A disciple must be spiritual. Spiritual means Spirit-controlled. A disciple must stop letting his natural self control him. This is accomplished by dying to the old sinful nature, the flesh, and experiencing life in the Spirit.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.[b]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ga 5:16–26). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Walk by the Spirit…

Human nature solves problems by natural means. The natural man pursues satisfaction in sex, impurity, and sensuality. It is natural to react to relationship frustrations with enmity, strife, jealousy, angry outbursts. It is natural to respond to social situations with selfishness, competition, envy, and dissension into team polarity.

The Holy Spirit solves problems by supernatural means. The Spirit-filled, Spirit-controlled man pursues love, experiences joy, spreads peace, responds patiently, acts with goodness and kindness and gentleness, demonstrates faithful integrity, and has mastery over his bodily appetites and selfish desires. This requires a miraculous transformation of character.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love…

Disciples are led by the Spirit. This means that they are dead to the works of the flesh. They are not selfish. Disciples are filled with the Spirit and grow the fruit of the Spirit, love.

John 15 commands us to be fruitful.

The task of discipleship is to make extraordinary, sanctified, willing, faithful Christians out of typical selfish, ungodly, stubborn human beings. That is impossible. I perceive no natural way for it to succeed. It would take a miracle.

God commissioned His Church to discipleship. God is needed for the process of disciple-making. Natural solutions need to fail. Supernatural solutions must be presented. You may mistakenly think that a person with natural leadership traits and experience would be perfect to head up your discipleship program. If you find it natural to disciple others, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t strategize the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit out of your discipleship program or mentoring groups or curricula. Discipleship isn’t a business leadership program or a team-building exercise. You are unqualified to disciple anyone. You need God to qualify and equip you. Don’t rely on your own natural-born talents, astonishing intellect, magnetic personality, and stunning good looks. Deliberately devote yourself to the Holy Bible and the Holy Spirit with the view of producing supernaturally Spirit-controlled disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh…

The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is the distinctive trait of disciples, those redeemed through the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the life of a disciple, someone who identifies with the crucifixion of Jesus, the evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit is transformation of character, a purified heart, a permanent placement of Jesus upon His rightful throne of the disciple’s heart.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit…

God provided a supernatural Paraclete so that His Church could miraculously accomplish an impossible mission: the discipleship of the nations. The Great Commission is tied to the Promise of the Father. Jesus was leaving his role as a disciple-making companion to His disciples so that God would be an indwelling disciple-making Companion to every disciple. The Holy Spirit brings the supernatural power needed for discipleship. Sadly, some churches simply don’t have room for the Holy Spirit. Maybe we can fit Him in for a 10-minute window on the second Sunday of August next year.

If you want to be a disciple, you need the Holy Spirit. If you want to make disciples, you need the Holy Spirit. Ask for the Holy Spirit. Pray in the Spirit. Live in the Spirit. Be controlled and led by the Holy Spirit.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.
…But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”[c]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 1:4–8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

A disciple is an individual miraculously transformed into Christ’s likeness. You cannot make disciples until you are a disciple. You cannot lead others into the supernatural transformation of character until you have been transformed into Christ’s likeness. If you are not controlled by the Holy Spirit, you will never make a disciple that is controlled by the Holy Spirit. It is absurd for you to expect to pass along any quality that you do not possess.


Who Are We? [The Re-branding of Discipleship] C


The biblical words for fellowship and communion are identical and indicate a “commonness” or “community.” Every believer is a participant in a larger, much larger, organism. There are characteristics and functions that all believers share in common. It is interesting that the New Testament shows fellowship happening in conjunction with sharing a meal. Never underestimate the value of sitting down together to share bread and share your life. This seems to work in smaller church groups, but large groups seem to succeed at providing great banquets and buffet lines, but if they only provide surface relationships and fail at providing honest deep fellowship between people. Fund-raising dinners should be outlawed. Paul commented strongly about dinners that do more harm than good.

How can we get believers to move from casual how-are-you-today relationships in church to genuine fellowship with commitment and trust? It seems that it is easier for some of us to connect with non-believers.

The Andy Griffith show has been a favorite television show for as long as I can remember. To receive it when I was a child, we had to go outside and turn the antenna. Now, my Amazon Prime account allows me to watch it on any electronic device. Over the years, I have observed at least four levels of relationships that were demonstrated, four gradual steps to deeper relationships as demonstrated by Andy’s house in Mayberry. Some folks just stood on the sidewalk and talked in front of the house. I’m not sure these characters all had names, as they may have been extras. Some closer friends were invited into the living room and dining room for pie. There were some great parties there with Howard and Goober. More intimate friends were invited to stay late and sit on the front porch for more personal conversation, guitar playing, and maybe even shared a smoke with Andy which probably wasn’t as shocking to viewers from North Carolina. But only a very few people got to fellowship in Aunt Bea’s kitchen for a midnight snack of home-made pickles. All that to say that for discipleship to happen we need to invite people into a deeper level of our lives, probably that front porch level, but without the tobacco smoke. Also to say that we cannot disciple 100% of everyone at the same time.

There is something fundamentally self-contradictory about all-church discipleship programs in which dozens or hundreds of people gather at one time and engage in a discipleship program. The Bible calls Jesus’ disciples “Dodeka” [a]δώδεκαdōdeka or The Twelve, so I recommend we keep it under that. Jesus also appears to indicate that a group of two or three is appropriate. Me and you is two. One more is three.

Christian fellowhip is an ancient practice.

There is nothing new in this document, and I am unqualified to write it.

God has provided a supernatural library from which we can glean a successful discipleship program based upon His wisdom and purpose. My document is a personal gleaning from God’s official documents. My document contains nothing new, just the same old Christian texts that we have studied and read over and over since we were kids in Sunday School. In fact, if you find a new discipleship, not based upon God’s amazing ancient apostolic texts, just ignore it, no matter how sensational it is. A business guy will tell you how to disciple by applying business principles that get good results. Ignore him. Ignore both the slick marketing and the dramatic results. If you are familiar with the teachings of the New Testament, you know this stuff. You don’t need a new idea. You simply need to implement the original idea. It is much simpler and less expensive.

Discipleship should not be an expensive novelty. It should be the normal everyday function of every Believer in every church.

I say that I have nothing new to say about discipleship because there have been a multitude of pastors that have preached and practiced biblical discipleship since the days of the Apostles. I am saddened to see modern authors and experts telling Christians that they have been doing it wrong all along. I say to my co-laborers in the Gospel, those of you that have been guiding believers to become stronger, healthier followers of Jesus, that you have been doing it right all along. I hope I can affirm your efforts in some way. Hold fast to what is good.

I have based my writing upon my personal examination of the instructions in the Christian Scriptures. The study and commentary is tainted by my own ministry experience.

Furthermore, I am unqualified to write anything. I have not attained a high degree in education. I do not boast of proven techniques that have produced sensational results. I have never pastored a mega-church or launched a massive small group program. I am not a published author. I am merely a Christian minister who reads my Bible. With God’s help, I believe we can follow His instructions. This text is my free advice and worth every cent.


Who Are We? [The Re-branding of Discipleship] B

The Disappearance of Disciple

The word “disciple” is not used after the first five books of the New Testament. The followers of Jesus are not called “disciples” outside of the Gospels and Acts. Twenty-one New Testament books don’t use the title “disciple.” Twenty-two books don’t use the verb “disciple” or “make disciples.”

I would think that after the Great Commission (“Go and make disciples”) that the Apostles would have emphasized that specific word.

We sure like that word today. We keep writing books about disciple-making. Churches keep studying how to be a disciple and how to disciple disciples. If the word “disciple” is missing from the New Testament letters to the Church, where do we get all of the material for so many books and seminars on discipleship? If the Bible doesn’t call us disciples, then who are we?

Relax. We are disciples of Christ, but there happens to be a bunch of other words to describe our relationship to Christ. Disciples are the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the flock, the holy temple of God, God’s building, God’s special people, the elect, and Christians. Can you think of some others?

For example, here are a couple more synonyms. Look at the titles used by Paul to address the Colossian disciples. He focused upon the attributes of holiness and faithfulness, both extremely important for being a disciple of Jesus wherever you live:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.[a]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Col 1:1–2). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

The disciples at Colossae are called saints and faithful brothers..

I assert that after Jesus delivered the Great Commission to go and make disciples, it was not important to continue to repeat the command for the followers of Jesus to make disciples. It was more important to tell them how to be disciples and how to disciple more disciples. This involved using many nouns and verbs to carry the complex and varied functions required to make disciples.

My writing will consider all titles for the followers of Jesus as synonyms for disciples.

We are the Church.

In place of disciples, Christians are most often called the Church. A group of caterpillars is called an army. Some other interesting group names are a knot of toads, a parade of elephants, a bloat of hippopotami, a crash of rhinoceros, and a zeal of zebras.[b]https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/explore/what-do-you-call-a-group-of I guess a group of disciples is a church.

There is a reason that disciples are called the Church. [c]Jesus said, “Upon this rock, I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18) The Church intended by Jesus is not a building. It is his Group of disciples. The original word, ἐκκλησία – … Continue reading

Church means a gathering. Modern sports and business often refer to the unity of their staff as “teams.” Christians are intended to be attached, together, unified, cooperative, collaborative. Discipleship cannot be accomplished in isolation. Jesus did it in various sizes of groups: twelve, seventy, one-hundred-twenty. The individuals in these groups were not “going to church.” They were the Church coming together. Disciples must have sincere connections with each other.

I’m not even thinking of church membership with voting privileges. I’m talking about a group of disciples bonded together for the purpose of making more disciples.

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.[d]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Col 2:1–3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.[e]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Col 3:14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Disciples are fused together (συμβιβάζω) and bonded together (σύνδεσμος) in love (ἀγάπη).

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”[f]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 13:35). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

A disciple must have a collective mindset, a desire for social connection to others of like precious faith. Even the Lone Ranger took off his mask and lived among the other cowboys and cowgirls. A pastor needs to place a high value upon prayer and study, but he cannot fulfill his role as a disciple-maker during his quiet time or while alone in his study. …or even from the pulpit. A pastor must connect and collaborate with those that he would make into disciples.

Modern churches know that people need to bond with each other, so we create artificial connections and small groups that were unnecessary in the early church when believers were clinging to one another for fear of their lives under severe persecution. I will not say that the modern church needs more persecution, but we do need more bonding. Back then, they had a lot in common. In fact, there is a word for holding things commonly: fellowship, κοινωνία (koinonia). [g]Koinonia could mean fellowhip, community, collective, collaborative participation, a shared thing or activity. In verb form, koinoneo could mean share, communicate, participate together.


Who Are We? [The Re-branding of Discipleship] A

“And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” [a]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 11:26). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

We call ourselves “Christians.” Yet, it is a word that is cited only three times in the entire Bible. [b]Χριστιανός – Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28; 1st Peter 4:16.

The word “disciple” is used 267 times in the New Testament, a significantly more frequent usage than the three uses of the word “Christian.”

One verse uses both words, “And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” A new word was created at Antioch as a label for those who were disciples. The label identified a person who was united with Christ. Christians are disciples.

The label stuck. We are still calling each other Christians. However, eventually, we expanded the label to include not only disciples but to include those persons who want the name of Christian without any of the demands of discipleship. I maintain that this was not the original intent.

Many of us have defined a Christian as someone who has accepted Christ. We have practically reinterpreted the Great Commission to say, “Go and make converts to Christianity.” We may have mistakenly thought that the main mission of the Church is to convince people to invite Jesus into their hearts and to say the sinner’s prayer.

In some countries, the name Christian is so firmly attached to political ideas or earthly governments that it has nothing familiar to the original use of the word. In some places, if you say that you are a Christian, it identifies you with a lifestyle that is not based upon following Jesus at all. I propose that it might even be detrimental to the cause of Christ for His disciples to call themselves Christians. Since the word has been so corrupted, some believers do not call themselves Christians. I remember the sixties when some believers took the name of Jesus’ People to demonstrate their identity with the person of Jesus and not with the organized religion of Christianity. I often call myself a follower of Jesus instead of a Christian.

As you look around, you may notice a large number of people who have adopted the name of Christian but do not sense any obligation to behave as disciples.[c]When I “got saved,” I was still behaving sinfully, living in rebellion against God, disobedient to the teachings of the New Testament. I was told that I had accepted Jesus as my Savior, but had … Continue reading

Only disciples are Christians.

In the early church only the disciples in the narrow sense and their ‘following’ Jesus were the models for being a Christian. It is basically wrong to think of the ‘disciples’ as models for some special or ‘higher quality’ Christians among other Christians.[d]Hans Kvalbein, “Go Therefore and Make Disciples … The Concept of Discipleship in the New Testament,” Themelios 13, no. 2 (1988): 51.

The true mission of the Church is to be disciples and to disciple. A true disciple is one that disciples another disciple. Conversion to Christ is certainly an important starting point for discipleship. The modern church enjoys counting up the numbers of every signer-upper who raises a hand. What did Jesus say?

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”[e]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 9:23–26.

A disciple is someone who has given up everything to follow Jesus. A Christians is a disciple. A disciple is a devoted follower of Jesus. A follower of Jesus denies self, lives a daily crucified life, loses his life for the cause of Jesus, denies desires of worldly gain, and is never ashamed of Jesus and His Word.

One of those three New Testament usages of the word Χριστιανός, a Christian, indicates that we can glorify God through suffering for identifying with Christ.

John Stott says that “disciple” is a stronger title than “Christian.”

Then the apostle Peter, whose first letter was written against the background of growing persecution, found it necessary to distinguish between those who suffered ‘as a criminal’ and those who suffered ‘as a Christian’ (1 Peter 4:16); that is, because they belonged to Christ. Both words (Christian and disciple) imply a relationship with Jesus, although perhaps ‘disciple’ is the stronger of the two because it inevitably implies the relationship of pupil to teacher.[f]John Stott, The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2012).

The English word “disciple” can be either a noun or a verb. The original language of the Great Commission employs a verb, μαθητεύσατε, that was translated as a combined verb+noun: make disciples.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.[g]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 28:19–20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Eugene Peterson reduces it back down to a one-word verb, “Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life.[h]The Message. (1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002). Eugene H. Peterson by NavPress Publishing. Training merges knowledge and behavior. Training goes far beyond signing people up or counting how many hands were raised at the end of an emotional Sunday Service.