Summary: Jesus commanded His Church to “go and make disciples,” not just to make new Christians—as important as that is. The word “disciple(s)” in the King James Bible occurs in 256 verses. “Christian(s)” occurs in only 3 verses. These are some truths for us there to ponder that may cause a radical rethinking of just why we are on this earth and how we should direct our efforts.
As disciples (vs. 16) we are commanded to “make disciples” everywhere, getting them immersed into the fullness of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded us to do.
Jesus’ Great Commission command is not to “make Christians,” but to “make disciples.”
The word “Christian(s)” occurs only 3 times in the Bible. But the word “disciple(s)” occurs in 256 verses of the King James Version, all but one of those in the New Testament. In the vast majority of instances, the word referred to a dedicated, obedient follower/student/apprentice of Jesus Christ, who listened to His teachings and was committed to obeying them.
Strong’s concordance defines disciple as a learner, a pupil. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words defines the disciple as a learner, one who follows someone’s teaching. Vine’s adds that “a disciple was not only a pupil, but an adherent; hence they are spoken of as imitators of their teacher.” Both in Jesus’ time on earth and in our day the disciple was/is intended to describe one who hungers for and receives and attempts to put into practice the Lord’s teachings.
Sadly, in our 21st century the word “Christian” has often come to describe someone who has gotten saved, who has been born again by repentance for sin and faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21)—period. Too often there is no further pressing into the Word of God, no further seeking of spiritual maturity. This may explain why the word Christian occurs only 3 times in the Bible, but disciple occurs over 250 times.
Jesus’ Great Commission command was not to “make Christians” simply so that they could go to heaven when they die. Of course it included that indescribably great blessing. But Jesus called us to “make disciples,” to lead people to saving faith in Jesus, yes, but also to “teach them to obey everything” He has commanded us to do. Let’s do a quick review of what Christ’s Great Commission says, then take a look at a few more Scriptures which, I hope, may cause many to radically rethink why we are here on this earth.
Hopefully we have a fuller, clearer picture of the Great Commission now in our minds. Let’s go forward to some Scriptures that will motivate us even further into successfully participating in the making of disciples unto the Lord Jesus Christ, along with being such disciples ourselves!
I’ve heard Christians—no doubt well-meaning, but biblically in error—say things like, “I accepted Jesus as my Savior, then months (years?) later I made Him my Lord.” To the ear not attuned to Scripture that may sound acceptable, but it is not. The Scripture says (Romans 10:9, NLT): “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Salvation comes (Acts 20:21) by repentance from sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ’s saving death on the cross for us.
In his great sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached that God the Father had made “Jesus…both Lord and Christ.” When we turn from our sins and receive salvation in Jesus, we are receiving Him as Lord and Christ. It’s not simply a great man, even a great religious figure, who saves us. It is Jesus Christ the “Lord of all”! And it is that very same Lord-of-all Jesus to Whom we are called to submit as obedient, ever-learning and maturing disciples.
His Lordship is one of the things that distinguishes the Christian faith as the one true religion, the one and only way of reconciling lost sinners to God the Father. Do the followers of, say, Hinduism, Islam, or Buddhism acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord of all, as the One with “all authority in heaven and on earth”? No, they do not. In fact, neither does Judaism. That’s why the Jewish apostle Paul said, “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge” (Romans 10:1). As zealous for God as his non-Christian Jewish countrymen were, the apostle was still praying for them to “be saved.” Why? Because zeal does not save; Jesus saves! Paul went on to explain that we become righteous before God by our faith in the crucified, resurrected Son of God, Jesus Christ the Lord, and that (vs. 13) “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”—that is, the Lord of whom Paul wrote in vs. 9: “Jesus is Lord.”
Jesus rebuked those who called Him, “Lord, Lord,” but did not do what He said. It would be a good thing for each of us reading this right now to stop and ask ourselves, “Do I just call Him ‘Lord,’ or do I make effort every day to obey His teachings as the Lord of my life and my conduct?”
While on earth Jesus was surrounded by many Jews who had believed Him. But He didn’t let them stop there. He plainly told them, “If you hold to my teaching [King James: ‘if ye continue in my word’], you are really my disciples.” Jesus was the preeminent Teacher ever to walk the earth. By virtue of His Deity (John 1:1, et al.), He spoke and taught infallibly the very words of God. The urgent importance of us being disciples dedicated to following Christ’s teachings is emphasized by this Bible fact — in the NIV New Testament Jesus is called “Savior” about 16 times; He is called “Teacher” about 44 times! As eternally important as salvation in Christ is for each of us, His role as
In His great personal prayer to the Father in John 17, Jesus reveals the essence of eternal life: knowing God the Father and Jesus His Son. God desires that we know Him and His Son Jesus personally, not just intellectually. I had mental knowledge of God and Jesus since my early childhood. But it was not until age 25 that I had a genuine, life-changing conversion experience and came to know the Father and the Son personally. And we are helped in this pursuit of knowing Him by the third person of the trinity, the Holy Spirit, who is given to the born-again believer to enable us to know the Lord better (Ephesians 1:17).
The apostle Peter urged us to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18, KJV). And as we grow in our personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, we “are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). The more we know our Lord and Savior, and the greater our knowledge and our doing of his matchless teachings, the closer we come to full discipleship to our Lord—“…everyone who is fully trained will be
That is a noble and entirely biblical goal: to be like our Teacher Jesus. From the beginning God has predestined His born-again sons and daughters “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). By now I trust it is abundantly clear: Jesus Great Commission is not simply to “make new Christians” [that is good], but to “make disciples” [that is the deeper calling]. Fully trained, like their teacher, conformed to his image, full-bore disciples. Those noble goals—not just getting saved, then cruising through life waiting to go to heaven—are what our Lord and Savior Jesus has called us to and has commanded us in his Great Commission.
Do you love Jesus? He said, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15). And one of His many always-perfect commands is that we become full-fledged disciples, obeying everything He has commanded His followers to do (Matthew 28:18-20).
The inspired writer 2,000 years ago was seeing something that is still widespread among today’s believers in Christ. That is, despite perhaps even years in the faith, they were still “infants” in their knowledge of God’s Word, when they should have been teachers able to help others also to grow into disciples of our Lord Jesus. This should not be so! And the solution is not hard to discover. It’s in verse 14. Those who know and partake of the “solid food”—of God’s Word, in context—are those who “by constant use have trained themselves” in these things. My believing friends, determine unswervingly to be men and women of the Word, of prayer, of worship, of godly character. In a word, do whatever it takes to allow Jesus and those He has helpfully placed in your life to make you into one of His “disciples indeed.”
Develop a godly perspective: “Fix your eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2). “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord” (1 Peter 3:15). Let Him be the motive and focus of all that you do: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). Don’t let down, don’t give up, keep pressing forward every day “
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©2021, James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons & Bible Studies
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.