CONVERTING AND DISCIPLING
By Mark Anderson
In combining the ‘Great Commission’ as recorded in Matt.28 and Mk.16 we see two key tasks – ‘preach the gospel’ and ‘make disciples.’ For the ‘Great Commission’ to be fulfilled, it’s imperative that we as believers understand the implications of such a charge laid upon us by Christ Himself.
It may seem obvious that we need to preach the gospel, but what gospel message are people hearing today? In this age of political correctness, many are being conditioned not to offend people of different religions. Whilst as believers we need to respect the sincerity of adherents to other faiths, respect is not a call to compromise. Jesus did not say that we are the sugar of the earth, but salt. Sugar sweetens, but salt bites. So many sermons today are being ‘sugar-coated’ and the gospel sweetened so as not to offend. A radical overhaul is overdue. As salt, we are to be rubbed into our communities; we are to be rubbed into wounds which have been inflicted by sin and satan. In practical terms this means telling people in love, that they have offended a Holy God; they have violated His laws and failed to attain to His level of Holiness and righteousness; in the light of God’s law they are guilty as charged. It’s time to preach the law of God. Contrary to popular belief, law is not the opposite of grace. The opposite of law is lawlessness. Preaching the law is not legalism. Paul said that ‘the law is good if a man uses it lawfully.'1 Legalism however is an unlawful use of the law. Let the law be used lawfully in our preaching the good news of Christ. Spurgeon stated the following:
‘Lower the Law and you dim the light by which man perceives his guilt; this is a very serious loss to the sinner rather than a gain; for it lessens the likelihood of his conviction and conversion. I say you have deprived the Gospel of its ablest auxiliary [its most powerful weapon] when you have set aside the Law. You have taken away from it the schoolmaster that is to bring men to Christ...They will never accept grace till they tremble before a just and holy Law. Therefore the Law serves a most necessary purpose, and it must not be removed from its place.’
Once the sinner perceives his guilt, he must also be made aware of God’s love and grace. It must be stressed that God is both a God of love and a God of wrath. His wrath rests upon the unbeliever2, but God who is rich in mercy and grace, has made provision in the sacrifice of Christ for the sinner to be reconciled to Him and be adopted into His family.
Let’s not succumb to treating our evangelistic efforts like running a business. We don’t rebrand the gospel and employ a new marketing strategy to boost numbers; we aren’t out to attract customers, but we are out to create converts.
In accordance with the ‘Great Commission,’ new converts must become disciples. A prominent speaker once stated ‘never has it been easier to preach the gospel to the lost. But never has it been harder to make disciples of the saved.’ There is a difference between being a believer and a disciple. While it’s true to say that all disciples are believers, not all believers are disciples. Disciple essentially means a learner or apprentice. Jesus said take ‘My yoke upon you and learn of Me.'3 We are always learning and will never take our L-plates off until Christ returns. Christ commands us to follow Him. The word ‘follow’ has a twofold meaning. Firstly, it means to accompany as a disciple. Secondly, ‘follow’ comes from a Greek word mimoai, from which we get the English word ‘mimic.’ To follow means to mimic or imitate. Paul instructed the Ephesians to be imitators of God4 and when Jesus tells us to follow Him, He is saying that we are to be like Him. A principle of discipleship is that we become like the one we are following. We see this illustrated in two incidents. John the Baptist’s disciples fasted, because John fasted5 and the Jews noted in Acts 4:13 that Peter and John had been with Jesus. Evidently they saw something of Christ in His followers.
To be a disciple of Christ can be a lonely and painful route where one will experience misunderstanding and persecution.
When noted explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton was planning an expedition, he placed an advert in a London newspaper to recruit the calibre of people he required. He did what many evangelists fail to do today. He spelt out the commitment required for such a venture.
‘Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.’
As servants of Christ, let’s not compromise the gospel message and let’s seek to make disciples who will in turn make more to speedily hasten His return.