You don’t understand…

discipleship

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.

However.

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!

A Contempt of Death

As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.  And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”

– Acts 21.10-11

Our culture is consumed with self.  Happiness, independence and financial success are some of our highest goals and we believe that God, who is love, exists to make us happy and more successful.  We quote verses like Jeremiah 29.11:

“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope’.”

And we make best sellers out of a book that glorifies an obscure prayer in the Old Testament which teaches us to pray for more stuff and safety,

“Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from harm that it may not pain me!”

– 1 Chr 4.10

And these promises are true.  God has our eternal best in mind.  Everything will ultimately work together for our good (Rom 8.28).  On the New Earth.

But today I am struck with the prophecy of Agabus who told Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that he would be bound and imprisoned when he entered Jerusalem.  The Spirit was leading Paul to Jerusalem (Acts 20.22).  Not only was the Spirit leading him there, He was letting him know that he would be bound and afflicted there (Acts 20.23).  And then the Spirit made it known not only to Paul but everyone else through this prophecy of Agabus.

If the Spirit were leading you somewhere to preach the Gospel, and the consequence of doing so would be imprisonment and death, would you go?

Mission agencies like to speak of “closed countries”.  But I have heard it said that there is no such thing as a closed country.  You can always get in!  They might just be closed on your way out if you go in and boldly proclaim Jesus Christ as the hope and salvation of the world.

The believers in Tyre were urging Paul not to go to Jerusalem (Acts 21.4), as did the disciples and believers at Caesarea after hearing Agabus’ prophecy (Acts 21.12).  Often times our friends’ and relatives’ response to the call of God on our lives is not objective.  If they understand the risk and the consequence of what God has called us to do, they might use their human logic to urge us to not follow through in obedience.

Peter did this to Jesus.

“God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You!”

Imagine if Jesus had listened to Peter.  Jesus came to the Earth to die, descend to Hell and raise after three days to conquer death and offer propitiation for the sins of any who would believe.  If He had been swayed by Peter’s desire to see Him not suffer harm, there would be no salvation except through the Law (which no man can keep).

Is it then too great a sacrifice to give our own lives for the salvation of those who have never heard the good news, and who currently have no way to hear?  Would you rather be like Jesus and Paul, or like Demas who fell in love with the world and chose to live a comfortable life rather than serve God (2 Tim 4.10)?

We are promised that all who desire to live godly lives will suffer persecution (2 Tim 3.12).

Statement- The goal of persecution is to silence witness.
Question- Why is there no persecution of the American church?
Answer- We have silenced ourselves.

John Calvin says it well in His commentary on 2 Cor 5:

Observe here — what has been once stated already — that true faith begets not merely a contempt of death, but even a desire for it, and that it is, accordingly, on the other hand, a token of unbelief, when dread of death predominates in us above the joy and consolation of hope. Believers, however, desire death — not as if they would, by an importunate desire, anticipate their Lord’s day, for they willingly retain their footing in their earthly station, so long as their Lord may see good, for they would rather live to the glory of Christ than die to themselves, (Romans 14:7,) and for their own advantage; for the desire, of which Paul speaks, springs from faith. Hence it is not at all at variance with the will of God. We may, also, gather from these words of Paul, that souls, when released from the body, live in the presence of God, for if, on being absent from the body, they have God present, they assuredly live with him.

– John Calvin

We will never be fully sold out for God until we have a contempt of death.  Until we are ready to be led by the Spirit of God to Jerusalem where we will be bound and killed for the sake of preaching the Gospel to those who have never heard.  Until we can say with Paul that,

For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

 – Phil 1.21

Are you willing?

shackles