I have been mulling the last few weeks over the age-old question and dilemma of the Church, “How do we best disciple someone”? Jesus Himself came and spent three years with twelve guys who knew the Jewish faith and traditions. He spent three intensive years teaching them, empowering them, sending them out and helping them understand their successes and failures. He taught them Scripture, He explained to them prophecies and revealed to them that the missing factor in the religiosity of the day was love. If someone had purposefully set out to know the Old Testament Law (the religion and practices of the day, and the foundation on which Jesus came), he would see that the first commandment of the ten is:
“You shall have no other gods before Me.”
– Ex 20.3
God is concerned with our heart being first and foremost His. The Shema, the foundation of the Jewish faith which is the opening of ritualistic prayers, is what Jesus quoted as the greatest commandment:
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
– Deut 6.4-9
It is a strange thing to command someone to love. We know what love looks like, we equate it with an emotional experience, but how often do we expect ourselves and discipline ourselves to love someone? We want it to be easy. We want it to be natural. If it is not easy, then we assume it was not meant to be.
And it is based on this commandment to love God that my thoughts have been affected today. When someone newly comes to the faith, we must teach them how to read and study the Bible. We cannot simply tell them what it says, for then they will be dependent on us. Teach a man to fish, right? There are historical facts and themes that are helpful to illuminate, and explaining how the pieces of the Bible fit together gives this new believer a foundation on which to build, but the primary factor is teaching and exhorting this new believer to love God.
Most people, when they first come to faith, have no problem loving God. They realize the weight of their burden of guilt and their expectation of death and damnation, and the relief, joy and love that replaces that burden at the moment of salvation is almost tangible. If a person truly understands his salvation, he is ecstatic about it. Then we plunge into the discipleship process and we who have lost that passion force the new believer into a routine of loveless obedience and legalism. Get up, read your Bible, pray for fifteen minutes, go about your day, pray when things go bad, go to church, and tithe 10%. Or worse, we set an agenda to teach specific doctrines and cram weighty issues down their throats trying to make disciples of ourselves instead of disciples of Jesus.
“If you’re doctrinally correct, but don’t reflect the love of Jesus, you don’t understand the doctrine you’re correct about.”
– Matt Chandler
Doctrine is extremely important. Paul wrote most of the New Testament for the sake of correct doctrine, and Jesus Himself praises the Churches in the end who maintained pure and right doctrine and kicked out false teachers. New believers must be taught how to understand Scripture and interpret doctrine. All of us are standing on 2,000 years of Church History, we have forefathers who translated the Bible, wrote study Bibles and concordances, who have written books and developed extra-biblical terms like “trinity” to help us understand deep and difficult truths. We should not rob a new believer of these tools for the sake of letting the Spirit alone teach. God has given us the gifts of language, printing tools, study tools, and forefathers to teach us, so let’s utilize them to their fullest and help people learn how to do the same.
It all must be founded in love. You cannot force someone to love God. You can teach him how to study all day long. You can teach him how to pray. He might even develop the same disciplines as you and become a morally upstanding citizen and Church member. But the main factor, the basis of discipleship is falling in love with Jesus. And only God can affect that in someone’s heart. It is the Spirit who calls. It is the Spirit who breathes life into a dead body. It is the Spirit who takes away our hearts of stone and gives us hearts of flesh. It is the Spirit who convicts of sin, and it is the Spirit who enables us to die to sin and live to righteousness.
We must trust the Spirit. If a person falls head over heels in love with Jesus, he will desire to be in the Bible. He will eat it up! He will be in it every chance he gets. He will read the Old Testament and have a lot of questions. He will study the epistles and desire to obey and apply the commandments expressed therein. We must not focus primarily on the doctrine. We must teach the doctrine – we cannot ignore it or consider it secondary. But it can only be built on the foundation of love.
Do you love God? Do you love His Word? Do you obey as an outpouring of love? Honor the doctrine that you hold so deeply by loving Him and your neighbor. And if you do not yet know the doctrine, find someone to teach you, because in it you learn the heart of God!