The Transforming Impact of True Discipleship - Page 1

From the Spring 2011 issue of Knowing & Doing


The Transforming Impact of True Discipleship

by Thomas A. Tarrants III, D. Min.
Director of Ministry, The C.S. Lewis Institute

There is a crisis of discipleship in the American church today.

Reams of research confirm the simple observation that in many ways the lives of most professing Christians are not much different from their nonbelieving neighbors. Like ancient Israel and the church in some periods of history, we have adopted the beliefs, values, and behaviors of the surrounding culture to an alarming degree. Although there are exceptions among individuals and congregations, they only serve to confirm the reality.

This sad situation is bringing reproach on the name of Jesus Christ, undermining the credibility of the church, strengthening atheist rhetoric, and bringing frequent charges of hypocrisy against God’s people and his work. It stands in stark contrast with the teachings of Jesus about discipleship and the witness of the church in other eras, and it presents us with an urgent and unavoidable challenge.

A significant part of our problem today is widespread misunderstanding about the nature of discipleship. Let’s briefly look at what Jesus taught about discipleship, how the early church responded, and where we are today. Perhaps this will help us see more clearly what we need to do.

Jesus on Discipleship
Jesus began his public ministry with a simple message of grace: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand ” (Matt. 4:17), or, as Mark records it, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15 ESV). By this Jesus meant that in his own Person, God’s kingdom was now uniquely present and people should respond by believing this good news, turning from their sins, and trusting him. Soon after he began his ministry, Jesus called his first followers, Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John, who were fishermen. One day, as they were plying their trade on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus came up and said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). The call came at an inconvenient time, took precedence over family, friends, and livelihood and carried a high personal price. All they could do was respond in obedient faith to the command of Jesus or walk away in unbelief.  

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