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The Sermon on the Mount is a rich place to begin exploring this life of discipleship.22 As you discover more of what is involved in being a faithful disciple, you may be surprised at what it entails, but do not become discouraged or overwhelmed. Remind yourself that Jesus is loving, gracious, and patient toward you, just as He was with the twelve, who often failed to understand and respond properly to what He was teaching them. He will help you, just as He helped them. He will also use you, just as He used them. When you fail, ask His forgiveness and commit yourself to making every effort to do better next time. And pray daily, and throughout the day, for the Holy Spirit’s leading, empowerment, and joy. To help solidify and reinforce your true identity, consider referring to yourself not as a Christian but as a disciple of Jesus. (This seems clearer and more winsome than the phrase Christ-follower, which is a somewhat awkward use of English.)
A second implication is that as disciples of Jesus, we need to resume our mission of making disciples for Jesus. The Great Commission was not given to the twelve only, but through them to all believers. It was a simple but brilliant idea. They were to reproduce themselves by doing with others what Jesus had done with them. Then their disciples were to go out and do the same with others. In that way, Christ’s kingdom would expand from generation to generation until He returns.
To make a disciple, you must be a disciple. This means that you have repented, believed the gospel, been baptized, and are in a church where you are in the (lifelong) process of learning to understand and obey all that Jesus taught the twelve (Matt. 28:19).23
Ideally, you have been in a discipling relationship in the past or are in one now. It is probably wisest to start your discipling ministry with someone who is already a believer and wants to become a stronger and more faithful disciple.24 However, at some point, you will want to reach out to those who do not know Christ to help them come to salvation. To do so, prepare yourself by learning what the gospel message consists of and how to share it in a wise, winsome, and grace-filled way. There are many good resources for this.25 Remember that in seeking to reach nonbelievers, you’ll want to keep the focus on Jesus Christ, who He is, what He did on the cross, and the forgiveness and new life He offers to those who want it. Communicate in language free of theological terms and religious jargon; for example, the words Christian and Christianity are so laden with baggage (the periodic massacre of Jews, the Crusades, Inquisition, Thirty-Years’ War, Holocaust, televangelist scandals, pedophile priests, etc.) that they can easily divert attention from Jesus and the gospel to distracting objections and confusing, controversial issues. Those who actively share the gospel periodically run into problems with the word Christian. As early as 1983, John Stott said, “Because of its common misuse, we could profitably dispense with it.”26 Whether you use the word Christian or not, the main point is to keep the focus on Jesus: who He was, what He did, and why it matters.
As you recover your identity as a disciple of Jesus and resume your mission of helping others become His disciples, you will become increasingly fruitful and joyful. As pastors catch this vision and lead their churches in it, they will become deeply satisfied as they see lives being transformed and church growth coming from conversions, not just transfers from other churches. And the light of Christ will burn brightly once again in our land.
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